Birds and Bees
Parental obligations and sexuality are taboo topics in my Mexican American family. My parents and siblings point out what our obligations, each of the children, are concerning our parents. My mother has informed us that they will be spending 4 months at a time with each of us in our homes. They are selling their completely paid for condominium to travel from house to house. According to my mother’s budget, they will no longer have any expenses, except travel. My siblings listened and said that it was a good idea, and I said that it was not. I could not understand what their thought process was, deciding to not have a home to come to, and imposing all their living costs upon us. My parents did what was best for them. They sold their condo, and did as planned. My sister welcomed them, and all was good. My brother was next, and all accommodations were made, and lastly, me. Things did not go smoothly, or as planned.
Discussions on anything, especially sexuality and learning about your body, were non-existent in my home. Questions were ignored, and I quickly learned not to ask anything about the birds and the bees. Yet, all kids are curious, but especially this girl and her body. I wanted to know what “it” looked like. Why did I have pretty, thick lips down there? I couldn’t ask my mother. She didn’t talk about any of these things related to growing up, or bodily functions. I had tried before, but could not get an answer out of her, después, después, which means later, later. I understood it to mean I don’t want to talk about it, now or later.
My mother and I have never had a close relationship. It probably goes back to her being a teenage mother, at 18, and having an over-involved mother, and me, a quiet daughter. She continued being the daughter, and never accepted her new role as my mother. I never complained, she never explained, and I never brought it up. I couldn’t ask my Mexican grandmother. She raised my mother, so that’s where she got her ideas about sexuality and childrearing from. My grandmother was also a teenage mother, 16, and married already. My mother was her youngest child. She had 7 other children before my mother was born. In our culture, the youngest provides for the parent if the other is not alive, or around. My mother provided for my grandmother, a second home, authority, more kids, and all that it meant. She did the cooking, cleaning, and the child rearing. She was the authority figure, even when my father was home. Their relationship was toxic when she moved in permanently. This did not happen for a good number of years, maybe when I was 7 years old.
In a parallel life, you have a girl wondering about her body. With the music of wonderment playing in the background, she looks at herself and smiles with joy at being able to know what it looked like. Finding a mirror, and holding it up to her vagina, she sits and smiles at the beauty of it. So, there I was in my shared bedroom with my hand held mirror looking at my vagina as I wiggled around on the floor sitting Indian style. My grandmother was screaming at the top of her lungs from across the house at me to go find my siblings. My mother was busy on the phone, or doing something from which she could not be bothered. And I want to know about the birds and the bees, as much as this other girl does. I am thinking, her mother may read her a picture book about it, or even show her what hers looks like. Not in my Mexican American family, there were no birds and bees, but pigeons and wasps. They were loud and in your face at all times. Questioning you, screaming at you, ignoring you, and making you feel bad for what you are doing. No peace and quiet, no time to think, and no time to wonder.
I became a mother at 36. I remember my daughter asking if we could shower together so that I could help with her hair. Here I thought she had outgrown me washing her hair, I did it happily and lovingly. Her face looking up at my face, smiling, blinking her eyes as the suds rolled down. We hugged, and that’s when she asked if we had the same privates. I smiled and said we did, but that mine were a little bigger. She wanted to confirm that even our ginas were alike. Gina was her vagina. Yes, even the ginas was my response. I kissed her soapy hair.
Hiding and feeling shame for my curiosity was part of my growing up and lashing out. I did not know it was bad to look at yourself. I did not know it was dirty to be curious. When I started to be interested and liking boys, I was shy. I felt ashamed of my body, of my curves, of my desires. That early experience stands out because it was the first time I saw, touched, smelled, and loved my vagina. I thought no one could feel this way about me. I expected the same thing my grandmother said and did, repugnance and shame. I expected no support or positive words remembering my mother’s absence and silence. The pigeon was nowhere to be found, or heard. This pigeon was always around my siblings. I felt its presence once in awhile. I did not trust its appearance in my bedroom. I knew something bad was about to happen.
Being a pigeon is exactly what it sounds like. A noisy and detestable bird, yet, white and pretty to look at when it wasn’t being so noisy. The wasp was exactly that, it flew around you being a nuisance. It stung you when it thought it was appropriate, usually when the wasp believed you did something wrong. The pigeon just watched, sometimes it chirped. Here I was, in my room sitting Indian style looking at my vagina with the pigeon sitting outside my window. There was screaming coming into my room. I tried getting dressed as fast as possible, but I was stung by the wasp. The pigeon heard the noise and flew away.
My mother and I still do not have a close, or good relationship. After I voiced my opinion and concern about selling their condominium, my parents did not come to my home and stay for those 4 months my mother had pre-planned after my sister and brother had their turn. Instead, they followed old cultural practices, my parents live with my brother who is the youngest. My parents visit my sister once a year for two to three months. We are civil to each other, ask about our well-being, and what is happening in our lives. It is superficial at worst, and superficial at best. We can go weeks without talking, but I can also sense some of the toxicity she learned from my grandmother. My father is there in the background. I do not know if I am hurt or relieved, sometimes only hurt, but mostly relieved.
Leaving the nest, my childhood home, was easy, but surviving without tools was hard. I asked for help, about how to learn to fly, but especially about life’s necessities. I looked and searched for guidance at school, and often found it. People offered services on living arrangements, surviving on campus, and financial aid. They were helpful, but this is where I learned and realized truths about my parents. My parents’ survival depended on their kids. They used my social security number for other things besides their taxes. I had credit lines in my name that they paid for, as I was told. Going back to the nest, believing the deep emotional and socialized American beliefs that parents will help their children when they are off in college, I foolishly thought they would be supportive of me. That they would be proud of what I was doing, off at college, and living and taking care of myself. They did not send me the $20 I would beg for every week.
Yet, it took me years, therapy, and soul searching to understand that maybe they thought, or knew I would survive and make it without much help, any help, or their help. That is what I want to believe. I will never know because I will not ask. I am that good daughter, or as my mother describes me, the noble one. They did pay for my gas card. And they did get all that credit in my name that I eventually paid for, while living with bad credit and all the repercussions it comes with. I was unable to get my own apartment, my own car, and any major credit card for years, seven to be specific. That pigeon watched while the wasps stung me over and over. The pigeon came in after to peck at me.
Letting them off easily is my method of operation. I was the first to graduate college, with many loans, and I know some took credit. I was the first to graduate from a Master’s program, partially paid for by my employers, and I’m sure some took credit. I have now earned my Ph.D., paid by me, and there is no credit left. I did this on my own, with my own family supporting me and being there for me. The family I picked and created, with the daughter who learned about her body. There was no pigeon or wasp to confuse the situation.
There is anger and resentfulness in my writing. The pigeon and wasps are still flying overhead. I have a slingshot, rocks, and a bug repellent, or I can go back to my favorite method of operation. I have words.
Dr. Diana D Gunnoe, Texas public school educator for 24 years, am a Chicana, mother, wife, friend, and social activist. In the classroom, teaching bilingual, English as a Second Language, Reading, Spanish, and Mexican American Studies has allowed me to see the inequalities and inequities in the classroom, and education has prepared me to teach in today’s public schools. Presently, working at Southwest ISD.