I was born and raised in Guanajuato, Mexico. Growing up there was unique, and my family lacked a lot of the basic items that are often taken for granted. Of course, at that point even though we were lacking, to me it didn’t seem that way because everybody was lacking stuff, and I didn’t know any better. When there was no food, other people didn’t have food either. I never saw somebody who had enough food so to me it was normal to not have food. Not being able to wear shoes was normal because other kids didn’t have shoes, and other things like that. Just playing in the dirt with nothing or not having toys; it was normal because I didn’t know anyone else who had toys. Now that I look back after living another lifestyle I can see that I was really poor and I did not have so many things. But when I was in that situation and didn’t know any better, I would say it was a very happy and joyful time. It was good.
I was into school at a really early age. I was not even four years old when I started, and there was no preschool. My mom didn’t know what to do with me because she needed to do a lot of farm work, and take care of my baby brother. To have a toddler and a baby was a lot of work, so she sent me to school. I remember doing what they call the pine tree because I didn’t know how to write or anything. So they just gave me a pencil and they said “you make the lines like this…start small and then make them bigger and you’re going to draw a pine tree. And then your hand is going to get loose and you’re going to be able to write.” I also did inverted pine trees so I would start big and go small, and that was an inverted pine tree.
I had a teacher who used to get really mad and he used to spank us because we didn’t know how to read or write. I remember him always pulling my ears and my side burns Then, of course, I would cry and I would try to clean my nose with my hand. I rubbed the stuff from my nose I would rub on my cheeks. “You are so nasty,” he would say, and then he would hit me more for doing that which just made it worse. I had another teacher who would wear a large ring on his knuckle, and hit us on the head with it because we didn’t know how to read and write. Those are basically the memories that I got from school. We also used to play a lot with other kids so that was fun. They were not really good at teaching how to read or write and some of them just didn’t care if you learned or not. Their attitudes were, ‘I’ll come, I’ll do my hours and then I’ll get my paycheck at the end of the month and I’m good.’
My grandfather saw that I was not learning like I was supposed to, so he started teaching me how to read and write, but since we didn’t have paper he used to do it on the sand. He would have me sit with him and tell him which letter he was drawing. He would write it with a stick and then erase it with his foot and write another one. He would also ask me to do addition, subtraction, and multiplication. That’s how I learned to read and write—not properly but at least how to write and how to add, subtract and multiply. I did not learn how to divide because my grandfather didn’t know. My grandfather would also make me read old newspapers (because we didn’t have the current ones) and that helped me develop my reading skills, which I would say were the best that I had when I was in Guanajuato.
It was as if my grandfather was my father because my father used to come to the United States. I never got to spend much time with my dad, so I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, and we were very close. My grandfather and I are very similar. I like my food really salty and so does he. When my grandmother used to go to the city he would say “I just want Violeta to cook my meals,” because I would make it salty enough for me, and they were perfect for him too. He preferred for me to cook his meals over anyone else, which I thought was funny. Even though females were restricted to a specific role, he didn’t try to make me stay within the role that was defined for me. Girls were not allowed to ride horses and he would allow me to ride horses if I wanted to. He would allow me to learn how to throw with a toy that was a piece of copper that you put a rock in the pocket of and then you just swing it and then throw it. I don’t know what it’s called, but he would allow me to do that too. Basically anything that the boys would do that girls were not allowed to do, he would let me to do, which was fun and exciting.