Encounters with the Memory of My Abuelo
Abuelo, going back to the pueblo, the home, the place where I grew up,
and not finding you there, makes me feel lost. I feel like I’m in a limbo, in an empty space …
I cannot think, I just feel a lot of emotions emerging from the bottom of my chest.
It is like a flock of birds hit my body and the impact made me collapse on ground.
I realize I cannot stand up because I don’t have the strength to do it,
and you are not there to help me.
My body hurts a lot abuelo.
Until you passed, I realized how much my body carries your voice and your memory.
I feel like a rhapsody of emotions emerge from my chest,
emotions that relate to our memories,
to the happiness and the difficulties we faced together.
I remember while sitting in your garden that you will give me consejos.
Consejos about how to overcome life’s challenges, about taking care of our ancestors,
and how I should keep fighting for my dreams in the norte (the United States) without forgetting my roots.
Abuelo, my heart doesn’t understand god’s reasons and religious precepts.
I don’t understand your physical absence and why you left us suddenly.
I am here, standing in your room, next to your bed, and I can still smell your perfume.
It seems the time has frozen and that you left in that brief stop of it.
You departed far away.
I can’t perceive your presence, but I feel you still here. In me somehow,
you are here, but I don’t find you.
I like to imagine that you hide somewhere in the house,
and that suddenly I will find you cantando like a bird …
Oh abuelo, I think I am losing my head.
I would like to find you there, sitting in your sillita tejida,
next to your garden, but I don’t find you.
The flowers lost color after your departure,
they seem transparent and withered.
I stop everything I am doing. I breathe very deep,
and I feel the silence, and I am anxious,
and I hope at least to find your canto, the bird’s canto.
That sound that echoes with the sigh of the trees and the peaceful weaves our lake Camécuaro.
Maybe your canto could save me from this concussion,
but your canto never arrives.
And I wait, I wait forever.
Waiting, waiting, just waiting, but you don’t arrive.
Since I am deeply connected to your memory, the pain hurts my entire body.
It feels like cramps, and they are hurting each of my muscles.
I lose my capacity to move and even my heart feels like it is forging iron.
And the pieces of metal scream in my heart, they feel cold and rough.
It feels cold abuelo,
the atmosphere seems dead.
And I feel worried thinking that the flowers in your garden will not flourish anymore.
Abuelo, my major fear is to not hear the canto of your memories again.
Memories that now fly in my mind … I don’t want to forget them.
Abuelo, it hurts to not listen to the stories of your childhood memories.
When you learned to cultivate the land in the Sierra P’urhépecha, you said:
“With our foot, with the toes of our foot we cultivated the land, yes, just like that, without machines, with our foot we sowed the corn, my uncles taught me well.”
It hurts me to think that I would not listen to your stories about the caminos you walked,
crossing the Sierra P’urhépecha as a little child, walking between pueblos to help your mom to deliver loza de barro (crafts made with clay).
Abuelo, I don’t find your voice. I don’t find the memories about when you learned to paint murals with your father, or when you met my grandma, mamá Lupe, in Paracho, Michoacán.
It hurts a lot to not listen to your voice.
The voice that would shout out my name before I would arrive at your door:
“Mijo, I am glad you are here, don’t go anymore pa’ el norte … come here, let’s talk (indicating me to sit next to him).”
The echo of your voice will not arrive anymore.
They are part of the past and they are our memories abuelo …
Memories that my heart preserves as treasures.
Abuelo, maybe because I keep them in my heart is why they hurt so much.
That heritage you left me hurts. It hurts to feel your memories embedded in my body.
Before leaving pa’ el norte, I told you I would come back soon …
That I would see you soon to talk again, and walk caminos together,
while you would share stories.
But abuelo … that time didn’t arrive!
On a warm night, when nana kútsï (P’urhépecha deity of the moon) illuminated with her rising radiance on our pueblo, you left.
She took you peacefully under her long and white manto to the path of the dead,
where I am sure you were received with cempasúchil flowers and birds’ cantos.
You left believing in life and in whenever would come for you …
Abuelo, 17 months have passed since you left.
Today, when nana kútsï shows her duality of ascending light on
this night, I honor your memory and your camino in this world.
I ask you for the strength and wisdom to face the adversities in my way.
And although this memory hurts, it is part of me, and I don’t want to reject them …
Abuelo, as you used to say: “Mijo doesn’t forget your people, don’t forget your pueblo and your community, and don’t forget who you are; aim your intentions to one direction and follow them, I am sure you will reach very far.”
Abuelo, I don’t deny that I would love to hug you very strong … very strong.
I would like to find you at home and tell you:
“I am back, I am back to weave memories together.”
But this pain in my chest really reminds me of your absence.
That memory, your ancestral memory sows me and gives me an identity.
It helps me embrace my Indigenous past … That memory helps me draw possible caminos.
And at the same time, it allows me to heal and forge a more diverse world
where queerness is possible,
and where the memory can be the spearhead to break the traditions that hurt us and to forge a world with more freedom and justice.
And I just ask if one day the memory will stop hurting.
If one day, if one day thinking of you will stop stealing tears from my eyes.
because today abuelo, your memory really hurts me.
It hurts to carry your memories …
It hurts to have a memory …
Vevina-Anne Swanson, She was my Flower and I was her Bee
Publab Fellow 2021
Mario Alberto Gómez-Zamora is a P’urhépecha-michoacano-migrant-queer-spirit. He grew up in Tangancícuaro, a small town in Michoacán, México. His maternal grandfather was one of his community’s first braceros (seasonal workers in the U.S.) during the 1940s. Mario’s parents are immigrants, whose hard work as a painter and janitor in California has made a place for him to achieve his dreams.
Mario is a first gen and English learner. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education, with concentration in History from Normal Superior Juana de Asbaje, and a master’s degree in Education of History from Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo (UMSNH). Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the fields of Latin American and Latinx Studies, and Anthropology. He is a Cota-Robles and a Crossing Latinidades Mellon Humanities Fellow. His most current publication, “Un Ejercicio Pedagógico para Descolonizar la Enseñanza de la Historia,” was published in La escuela más allá de los pupitres: Experiencias de educación Histórica en Michoacán, edited by Deni Trejo y Francisco Dosil, and it was published by the UMSNH.
His current work examines Memory, Gender and Sexualities, LGBGTQ+ and Indigenous Identities, Migration, and Violence against queer Indigenous P’urhépecha people in Michoacán and the United States.
During his free time, Mario enjoys hanging out with his kitty Anís, cooking Mexican food, taking walks, and talking to gente.