From the July-August 2022 issue of News & Letters
Veracrz, Mexico–My grandmother, 86, is still alive, but it feels as if she weren’t. Seventeen years ago, one of her sons imposed himself back into her house, treating her as the housewife she was when she and my grandfather lived together. Just because “that’s how things are,” my grandmother must take care of all the unpaid, invisible domestic labor. She is also verbally abused and economically controlled.
As it happened in all the world, pandemics didn’t do any better for my grandmother. The “Stay at home” policy forced her to be with her “son” 24/7, without the tiny little window she had had during the job hours he had to spend outside. As many feminists pointed out, “the home is not a safe place” when sexism and violence live inside.
‘HOME IS NOT A SAFE PLACE’
Born in 1936 and raised by a conservative family in a town in Veracruz, my grandmother doesn’t conceive her situation as violence. Neither do her other two sons and most of the relatives. For them, it is indeed a “difficult situation,” but “family” is above all and must remain “united.” Only a couple people —including her only daughter, my mother—are aware of the graveness of the situation and try to do something about it.
Catholicism plays a major role in this. Imposed in Latin America since the 16th Century as the religion of the conquerors, Catholicism is deeply embedded in our roots in the form of fear, guilt and obedience to power, along with its sexist ideology. My grandmother was educated in all these “values.” It is not surprising that, in the face of abuse, her only, natural response is “to turn the other cheek.”
One of the greatest contributions of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s has been its concept of “the personal is political.” What husbands and sons do in the shadows of their house to wives and mothers, is also a question of human emancipation. The concept of “family” has been thus demystified. It can no longer be the “ultimate universal” in which the structure of society lies. That universal is Freedom.
All these historical achievements have occurred behind the backs of my grandmother’s family. Since they have never seen her son abusing her in public, they think it is a “private affair.” That’s their excuse for not doing anything. Meanwhile, in the shadows of domestic life, where cowards grow free, my grandmother keeps on living a daily, earthly hell.
She doesn’t want to speak about it. Catholicism has taught her to keep her mouth shut. I wanted to give her a voice, for whatever good it may do. She is another victim of this sexist system, personified here in the figure of her own son. A flower for her, hoping that her generation is the last one who normalizes domestic violence. It is up to all of us to make sure that it is so.