A Life Among Many Others
Literature has always played a pivotal role in my life. I was born and raised in Mexico City. Despite the fact that my father was a truck driver and my mother was a housewife, they used to collect and read a variety of novels. When I was thirteen, my mother lost all her vision as a result of her diabetes and I felt that by reading to her I could still help her perceive those images of the world that she would not be able to see anymore. I used to sit on her bedside almost every evening and read to her novels translated into Spanish such as: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, among others. From my mother I learned how to read aloud using different voice intonations in order to call the attention of my audience. She also taught me to pay attention to the correct spelling of words and the grammar in Spanish. But most importantly, she reinforced my love for reading and the excitement in learning something new every day. Unfortunately, she did not have more time left to share with me since she died when she was only forty five years old.
Through those formative years, I learned that heroines did not only exist in novels; on the contrary, they are real and live among us. We only need to open our eyes and see them. They are here because every day, everywhere, people are making heroic acts. Our heroes are of flesh and bone! I was lucky to have met very interesting women who became role models for me: my older sisters Maria and Consuelo. They were rebellious women and left my father's home at a very young age looking for more opportunities. More importantly, they wanted to at least be able to decide for themselves what they really wanted to do. It is not easy to survive a patriarchal society where women in general were marginalized and did not get their right to vote until 1953. The early eighties were still a very difficult time period for a woman to be accepted
as an independent individual. In this case, my sisters were able to rent an apartment and finance their education thanks to a job they got in a factory where they worked eight hours per day.
My father was so mad at them that he prohibited me to contact them again. For me, those were the most difficult years of my life because of the fact that I was the only woman living with very controlling men: my father, my grandfather, and two brothers. When I asked my father for his permission to continue my education after I graduated from junior high he said: “there is scientific evidence that a woman’s brain is smaller than that of men, so how do you expect to excel in school if you do not have the brain? Besides, school is a luxury you cannot afford, the only possibility for you is to earn your own money to pay for your expenses and obviously you are not capable of doing so.” Then he demanded me to become a modern “Cinderella” by cleaning his house, doing the laundry, ironing their clothes, and cooking. After so much insistence from my part, he gave me his permission to attend a public high school on the condition that I completed all my daily chores before it was school time.
Although it was not an easy transition for me, I attended one of the best public high schools in Mexico City. My sisters were often assisting me with food or money and they persistently encouraged me not to give up on my education. In those high school years I read some of the works of classic authors such as Homer, Cicero, Horace, etc.; Golden Age Spanish writers such as Calderón de
After I graduated from high school, I planned to finish a technical, and more practical, career in order to be able to finance my higher education. I was admitted to a prestigious institution, which was financed entirely by the Mexican government. When I completed my career as a secretary, I was offered a position to one of the official branches, equivalent to the IRS in the United States. There I learned, first hand, how corrupt and inefficient official workers were (and continue to be). I remember I was so bored when talking to other secretaries because their conversations always centered on the current episodes of the most popular soap operas in television. It seemed that they did not really care about people paying their taxes for them to be able to earn their wages. At first I escaped from that absurd reality by reading my favorite novels, but once my supervisor noticed I devoted most of my time to this activity, he said to me: “I do not feel comfortable seeing you just seated in your desk reading all those books, I prefer to see you talking to other women, walking or eating rather than doing what you like to do.” That was when I decided to move on.
When I was admitted to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), I was excited and nervous at the same time. I knew it was one of the biggest challenges for me because of its reputation as being one of the best universities in the world. Although it is a free institution (there are no tuition or enrollment fees, just a symbolic $20 gesture), it is very difficult for the majority of students to complete satisfactorily their education. The cost of books, transportation, and daily expenses are key factors for a student to abandon his/her goal of pursuing a higher education. Unfortunately, I became part of those desertion statistics. My father was continuously pressing me to abandon school; he kept saying I should be satisfied with my technical career and should save my earnings to pay my own apartment. He even prohibited me to eat at home the food that he and my brothers had bought with their efforts. He blamed me for becoming as rebellious and subversive as my older sisters and assured me he was not going to tolerate my insubordination. One day he told me he was certain I was never going to get married because no man, in his five senses, would like to marry a brainless woman like me, and I replied to him: “Well, if that man is going to be as macho as you and my brothers are then you are right, I will never get married.” Happily for me, I met the most “feminist” man in the world, Demetrio Anzaldo-González and a few months later I married him when I was twenty-two years old.
Financial hardships were always a constant in my married life and my husband and I were forced to leave behind our professional careers. We both had intended to become journalists and were in the final year to finish our goal when I got pregnant. Since our combined wages were not enough to sustain a family, my husband was determined to look for new opportunities to improve our social status. He moved to the United States planning to stay only three months; the time he supposedly needed to earn enough money to start a lucrative business in Mexico. As a former migrant worker, he was granted amnesty during the late eighties. Afterward, my son and I moved to this country as well. While it was a very complicated situation for all of us, due to the fact that we didn't have a relative or a friend whom we could trust nor did we know how to speak English at all, we managed to overcome all obstacles.
My husband and I were fortunate to meet an excellent person and better friend, Mr. Benjamin Andrade who informed us about the possibility to attend a community college. He insisted it was vital for us to acquire the English language skills in order to succeed in this society. It was a surprise for us to find out how students in this country were rewarded just by obtaining excellent notes. This crucial fact motivated us to finally move ahead in our education. My husband devoted his time to excel in all his classes, to work as a gardener to support his little family, and to spend some time with us. We both were attending the University of California, Riverside, but we were never enrolled in the same course at the same time. As an undergraduate student, I felt alienated and lonely because of my personality and/or physical appearance: African-American and White American women did not want to talk to me arguing it was very difficult for them to understand my accent; most Mexican-American women considered me too old to get along with them and I was also rejected since I did not have the ability of code switching (combining both languages, Spanish and English, in my speaking); and Mexican women simply did not accept me because I was not a traditional Mexican woman.
When my husband completed his B.A. he was accepted into the University of California, Irvine. By receiving an excellent scholarship, our economic situation improved. The second time I got pregnant, I decided to wait a year before continuing my studies. I applied to the same graduate school my husband was attending and I was also admitted. I had the idea that being with him things would be easier for me, but most of the people I met there refuse to consider me as an equal: they always referred to me as “Demetrio’s wife” and did not even care about using my own name. In particular, I remember one classmate who once told me: “Your husband is avery smart student, and I’m surprised you are not as smart as him.” The worst experience came when I completed my Masters Degree. I was not able to celebrate this because my older sister, Juanita, died due to Diabetes. I then went to talk to my academic advisor and when I asked him if he could help guide me to request a leave of absence since I was emotionally impacted for this loss, he told me, “Guadalupe, when you agreed to study at this institution, you knew this required a lot of work from the students, and now you’re making excuses. Your husband is about to get his P.h.D. and he will probably be offered a very good job position. So why are you suffering here when you could just stay at home and take care of your children?” I was shocked to hear his “advice”, however that made me try even harder to prove everyone wrong. A few years later, I finally completed my P.h.D.
I decided to write my dissertation on Jewish-Mexican Women Writers. I chose this topic because I considered them to be as marginal subjects such as myself. Their families had immigrated to a country where the majority of people speak a different language than theirs and practiced a different religion. These writers illustrated their fascinating stories about family sagas that, in some ways, were similar to many Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. I also found out that there was discrimination against them even from within the Jewish communities because they were feminists trying to gain recognition in society. Their society is also very patriarchal and does not allow women to have much freedom. The Orthodox Jewish faction, especially, denies women their rights by believing they are dirty and inferior to men; that is the reason why they are not allow to even touch their Torah (their sacred book). One writer, in particular, named Sara Levy-Calderón was forced to hide her real identity by using a pseudonym. She was then exiled to the U.S. because her father, a prominent entrepreneur in Mexico, as well as the Azkenazi Jewish community were ashamed of her openly expressed lesbianism. During this research process, I was also shocked to discover that lesbianism was also a cause of censorship in the U.S. as it happened in the case of Anne Frank. Schools in this country have censored some parts of her diary which deals with lesbianism and sexuality.
I am proud to say my dissertation has been published as a book. That has been one of my greatest accomplishments, but certainly not the last. After all the challenges in my life, people have learned to recognize my work and my persistence. My father, for example, asked me to make copies of my publications since he is planning to read them all. He has finally seen me as a knowledgeable woman with talent. Of my two rebellious sisters, only one, Consuelo, has finished her Masters Degree in Psychology and she was nominated as the Woman of the Year in the institution where she works in, southern Mexico. We are a rare statistic, but I am confident there will be many more opportunities for women like us. It has been a pleasure to share with you some fragments of my life. I aspire to inspire other women to pursue a higher education. These kaleidoscopic episodes can be seen as a prism where others can successfully see themselves because women of past and present generations are an important part, the most important part, in our ever changing society.