My grandmother passed away almost a year ago; today would have been her 81st birthday. A few years ago, while I was still in grad school, I interviewed her for my oral history course. What follows is an excerpt from one of our three interviews.
I also want to note that unless they’re in brackets, all of the ellipses I included were long pauses:
What did you want to be when you grew up, going to school?
A nurse. And when they got sick at home I was taking care of them.
Yeah…That’s something I would have liked very much. But none of my sisters graduated, just Tere and Chela. They’re the only ones that graduated from school. Because they were using shorts. And daddy didn’t like for us to use shorts.
At school. That’s why I quit school, because I was gonna start using shorts.
For a uniform, or what?
For PE. I wasn’t supposed to use shorts.
And now that I’m old…yeah, I use shorts. At that time no.
What did you wear to school?
Dresses. We weren’t supposed to use pants, either. Just dresses. And we didn’t use slips de rayon. Oh, no, they had to be cotton. And mother made them. She used to make them for us. For eight of us?! She would sit there, if I wanted a dress I’d say, “Mom, I want for you to make me a dress.” I was always asking her to make me a dress. And she would make it for me, but I had to do a lot of work at home. More cooking, more sewing, more this, more that. But it was kind of hard.
Yeah. So, when did you stop going to school?
I was in third grade. At that time I was about nine, because at that time [you started school when you were older].
So you started in first grade?
First. First, second, and third.
Did you finish third grade, or no?
So who was it that said you had to stop going to school?
Because, I don’t know…It wasn’t really him. It was…Mother went to school. She was in the ninth grade. Mother was in the ninth grade, and she was a proofreader [at] The Monitor. […] She was very good at reading. But it was like he didn’t want her to do so much or read so much or do so much… In Mexico they can read, but you’re not supposed to be… My mother knew a lot of things here, more than he did.
More than your dad did?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. But daddy went to school to second grade in Spanish. So he knew a lot of reading and he learned a lot of English, too, because he handled the lumberyard.
But he went only to school in Spanish, second grade. He didn’t [go to school here in America], no. […] He learned—like, I learned Spanish—that’s the way he learned English. But he could read English, and he had The Monitor at home all the time. But that was hard. He had a business of his own, and he had the lumber company, and then he had the pharmacy.
How did you feel when you stopped going to school?
Terrible. Oh, yes. Up until now I regret it. Because I think that I’d, I’d be something…else. I would’ve made something out of myself.
Did your parents fight about letting you stay, or get out?
It was better for them for me to be at home, I think, because I’d do everything.
Did you fight with them, like when they told you—
—And when I…there were times that it was so hard for me just to do things, uh, because it wasn’t only me. [My brothers and sisters could help’ve helped out], they could do it, but daddy and mother were so used for me to do it that when, sometimes they would tell me, “You’re gonna do this. I want this.” […] And I’d say, “I’m not gonna do it.” I was tired. Tired of being pushed, and I didn’t like it. But I had to take it.
[She talks about how she found a job working for a neighbor who owned a laundry business, only to have her parents eventually force her to quit so she could stay home and take care of the household.]
[Daddy] said, “you come home right away.” Not to work. And I didn’t work. I just came home crying—like a baby—you know, like…They wanted me at home.
Yeah. Were they like that with any of your other sisters?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so…it’s not…I say that it’s because I gave up too quick. If they say no, okay. You don’t have a boyfriend, you don’t…nothing like that. […] I had it hard, mija. I had it hard. […] There are times when it gets tiring. I was so used to doing things around the house, always cleaning, doing.
Before I end this, I’d also like to add that although my grandmother stopped going to school in the third grade, she was an avid reader and probably read thousands of books throughout her life. She was one of the few relatives who wouldn’t give me a hard time when I visited (because I always had my nose stuck in a book, even at the table).