Sunday, October 02, 2005

Two Hermanas

Two hermanas grew up in the same small town in Western Puerto Rico. One looks back at her childhood without an ounce of nostalgia. She remembers the poverty, exacerbated by her father spending money on alcohol instead of on the family. The physical abuse she witnessed her mother endure. The physical abuse she and her siblings endured at the hands of their alcoholic father. This hermana remembers feeling shame when the night before her wedding, her husband passed by the window of her house and saw her bare feet as she stood on a chair cleaning. That hermana is my abuelita.

Another hermana can't or won't speak of what happened inside that small two room house. She can tell you about the lives of her neighbors though and her family tree going all the way back to when the conquistadors arrived en Puerto Rico. This hermana remembers seeing the first car on the island and remembers waterfalls that have since been destroyed by sprawling resorts. This hermana remembers not going to school past the 5th grade because the school was too far. She remembers who owned the sugar plantation her father worked on and her planting gandules. This hermana is my great aunt.

Last weekend I visited on separate occasions my great aunt and my abuela. Both told bawdy stories but both of their personal histories were so different, so telling in what one was willing to speak and what the other dared not. Slowly from their narratives, and the narratives of other family members I am putting together a family portrait and history that is filled with more drama than an novela. I am understanding the root of sibling rivalries and why some things are not to be spoken in front of certain people. It is fascinating to me and I feel like I bear some responsibility in making sure these stories are recorded before they become lost when the hermanas are no longer here.

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