It was at the age of eight when I realized who was to be my greatest adversary in life: mi mamá.

Má. Amá. Madre. Jefa. Those were your names – aloud, anyway. Never Mamá. Ever.

Surrendering to the term when in your presence was a synonym of defeat, of weakness: a recognition of my wholehearted alliance with a woman who’s very presence put my hairs on edge. After all, my brothers never called you by any endearing term. They couldn’t. They were men, and like them I longed to be. Not out of physical unsatisfaction, but out of need for equal treatment and delight in all things that were wronged me.

But every time you stepped into a room, I would jolt to my feet, eerily aware that any snap that came either from your fingers or the raspiness of your tongue meant business.

It was the only way you knew how to love your only daughter then: the same way your mother loved you, and her mother before you. You and your husband might have forcefully traded your México for an immigrant life in the United States, in the rightful pursuit of dignified lives, but your customs remained intact. And for my formative years to come, this was essential in order to raise una mujer decente.

It was never my father I feared would scorn me for playing outside with the neighbors; for not doing my chores as commanded; for befriending boys; for asking permission to have a novio; for wanting to stay out past 8 p.m. after my 18 years of age. It was never his harshness I would fear, but rather his machismo that rebounded in your being at an exponential depth. He was the head of the household, but you were the keeper of our home and our lives, and if you said “jump,” I would never dare ask “how high?”; I’d simply launch myself.

I was as submissive as they came, you thought. Except, I wasn’t.

You never knew how often I prayed that this time, this day around, my significance in a sexist household would be more than a young lady, more than a daughter that never hissed back with groserías hanging from her unreleased tongue; more than a person sent to you to hold true your so-called family honor, you know, the one that you protected; why you never allowed her to part thighs.

But how was an eight-year-old to say, do or rebel in accordance to sentiments she did not yet comprehend? It would take more than a decade to come to terms with an upbringing that forged me into the gender rights activist that you now argue and debate with every time I visit.

I blamed everything that was you and reminded myself how much I never wanted to resemble any of it: the mujercita that is you, the Mexicanness of you, the madrecita in you, the Santa de tu Devoción that is your entire existence.

And then, one day, I confessed the most atrocious incident of all: intercourse with a man that was not only not my husband, but not my boyfriend. It was as if you hadn’t just asked if I had deliberately handed off the only valuable object gifted to me by the all powerful Padre, the one that, according to the wise men in luxuriously tailored robes, orders you to be obedient. As if you hadn’t just begged me to negate that I had indeed deflowered myself; tainted my body, dishonored my family’s name and scribbled the word “whore” with my no-longer-virgin’s blood on your forehead.

My actions, any and all, were yours to bear, to wear graciously and to ponder in absolute disgust.

“Qué asco me das”, you hissed, only to drop to your knees and beg Diocito for forgiveness on my behalf; only to embrace me in your arms and demonstrate with kiss after kiss how loved I was; only to finally understand that you were not a player, but moreso a pawn in this game tailored to repulsive perfection by religion and its patriarchal governors.

It was then, at past two decades of life, that I came to admire you for the woman that you really are: una mujer chingona, the truest version of you that remained obscure behind a veil of years of oppression, ignorance and what can only be described now as hatred.

Maybe that’s why I’m like you, in every way. Even as my liberalism could very well set to flames the church-abiding creed you adhere to.

Know that my love for all beings and things, my passion for everyday tasks and the intelligence with which I employ each of these functions derive from one creature, and one creature alone: mi mamá.

No, mother, I will never grow to be a woman like you.

But I will always be honored to be of you.


By Joanna Jacobo Rivera

Joa, is a multimedia journalist, poet, gender rights activist and peace builder based all over SoCal. When not writing and cursing at the world for its lack of grammar proficiency, she enjoys singing to Carla Morrison and taking long walks with Dexter, her Australian Shepherd.