Foto: Gayle Walker
Lifestory of Doña Rosa López
Interviewed by Gayle Walker
You know, I don’t even know my real name. Uuuyyy! And God only knows in what year I was born. I really can’t tell you. My great grandson, Ivan, tells me that I’m one hundred and twenty-five years old. But my daughter, Rosita, says I’m one hundred and eight. Who knows!
I was born in Chamula. Later I ended up on the ranch of an Indian family, but I don’t remember how I got there. There had been a great famine and there was very little food, just a penny’s worth of panela. This was back when there was no such thing as sugar, just panela.
I was looking for something to eat and, at the same time, looking from one place to another for my parents. But they were nowhere to be found. Yes, I used to have a mother and a father, but I don’t remember what happened to them.
I do remember that some Indians gave me a tortilla, but without salt. “Do you want to go with us?” they asked.
“Yes, I’ll go,” I said.
They had a huge blanket and they set me down on top of it, folded me inside, and threw me over their shoulders. I was about seven years old, not very big at all. I don’t remember where we slept, but I think it was around Tenejapa. When I woke up I was in a grove of oranges, limes, and bananas beside a big river. Later we climbed a big hill and walked into a forest. “Ay, Lord! Why did I come here?” I was missing my parents terribly and felt very sad.
The people I was with had very little food, and it was hardly fit to eat anyway. Oh, dear God! No salt! I more or less ate some beans and a little tortilla. But I didn’t want to stay with them, and about three weeks later I left their little house. I walked back down the hill and put my faith in God. Later I met some people on the road.
“Where are you going?” they asked.
“I’m going to San Cristóbal.”
“Why don’t you eat some soup before you go?”
So they took me to a house and there they left me. Some workers were there gathering peanuts, others cutting bananas. I was afraid of them and decided not to stay.
But where was I going to find my parents? God knows where they had gone. All I know is that I don’t have a memory of them. Where was I going to go? I just knew that I had to go somewhere. But what road should I take? This way, that way, or the other? So I wandered on the trails until I found a big rock and sat down.
Soon two ladies passed by and asked, “What are you doing sitting here?”
“I’m on my way to San Cristóbal,” I told them.
“Do you want to go with us?”
“Yes,” I said, and I went with them even though I didn’t know them. What else was I going to do?
After we had walked for a long time, it began to rain very hard. Uuuyyy! I couldn’t go on any longer.
One of the women said to me, “We wanted to take you with us, but you can’t keep up with us. So you’re going to have to stay in that house over there and see if they will give you something to eat.”
I entered the house and saw that two families were living there. Soon the mother came in and began to heat up some food. They gave me a tamal. How wonderful it tasted. I usually didn’t like tamales, but I was so hungry that I ate it anyway. With hunger, you can eat just about anything. Afterwards, someone brought me a goat skin to lie on.
“Where are you going?” they asked.
“I’m going to San Cristóbal.”
“But how are you going? Why don’t you just stay here?”
So I stayed with them for about a month. But before long, a group of men passed by, looking for food. I was afraid of them and started running. I ran and ran until I came to another ranch.
The maid came out and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to San Cristóbal,” I said.
“And where is your mother?” she asked.
“I don’t have a mother. I don’t have a father, either. I don’t have a-n-y-b-o-d-y!”
“Who did you come with, then?”
“I came all a-l-o-o-o-n-e.”
She took me into the house and asked me, “Are you hungry?”
“Yes, I’m very hungry.”
She gave me a little beans, a piece of cheese, and a cup of coffee and told me, “Now you’re going to stay here with us.”
But while I was eating, a mean lady I had met before on the road came and stuck her head in the door.
“What are you doing here?” she barked.
“Nothing,” I replied.
“You have to come with me,” she said.
“Where?” I asked with suspicion.
“To my house,” she answered.
“No. You’re going to take me away and then you’re going to kill me.”
Who was going to protect me? Oh, dear God! But the owner of the house said, “Let’s go, let’s go.” Thank heavens for those wonderful people. They hid me at the edge of the river where no one would find me. Later they came to look for me and the lady said, “Those people came looking for you and they even came with armed men. But you are safe with us. Ay, dear Lord, you’re still just a baby. You poor child!”
So she caressed me, bathed me, and cut my hair. Then she made me new clothes. And I stayed with them forever.
What I’ve done in my life is work, young lady. We ground corn on a metate and made tortillas by hand. It was so much fun. Nobody ever slept very much. We didn’t go to bed until ten or eleven at night. At three o’clock in the morning I was already up, and by four I was making tortillas. What a joy!
We woke up happy, enchanted with life. After we finished making tortillas, we bathed in the river. We didn’t have plumbing. Nothing. After bathing, we ate and then went back to work. You wouldn’t believe how much we worked. First we cleaned the cotton, taking out the seeds and the trash. Then we rolled it into wicks and made candles to sell. Back then we didn’t have candles like we have now. We decorated our candles with red, yellow, and green papers. If the candles were decorated, they sold well. If not, they would hardly sell at all.
My godmother’s job was to make cigarettes. She used three kinds of paper: orosuz, linen, and rice paper. At night, after eating, we would bundle up the cigarettes to sell. We prepared the tobacco by sprinkling it with liquor, cloves, and lemon rind. Then we let it sit for three days. The tobacco was delicious. My dear deceased godmother made many, many cigarettes. But, you know, I never learned to smoke. What for?
But how I loved to eat! Who doesn’t? I didn’t like to get fat though. No. But I ate anyway. I still eat, but not as much as before. I used to love green onions. I ate lots of onions. I won’t tell you I didn’t. But no more. My stomach can’t take it. I can eat only soft things. I used to eat everything—green tomatoes with tons of chili. I used to love chilies. But no more. They make me burp. My stomach can’t stand it anymore. Now I eat a piece of chicken and some plain soup. That’s all.
I grew up, got married, and had four children—two girls and two boys. One of my sons, who was a very hard worker, was killed in Soconusco de Tapachula. My other son, Alberto, lives around here and comes to visit me. My younger daughter lives in San Cristóbal with her husband. He has some ranches. My other daughter lives far away. She comes to visit when she wants to, or when she has the money. Without money, how is she going to come? And if she wants to live so far away, then she can just go! I think she just doesn’t want her mother’s love.
Now I live all alone in Tenejapa, but someone looks after me. I can’t walk well anymore, but I’m still strong. With the blessing of God I enjoy good health. Nowadays there’s lots of sickness. People put fertilizers on their crops and cook with sugar. Aaaayyy!
How delicious the bread used to be. We ate lots of bread and corn, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, all from the holy earth. Nowadays you don’t see potatoes like there used to be. Where are you going to see that now?
We used to have all kinds of sugar cane in white and red, sweet and soft. Where are you going to find cane like that now? There just isn’t any. Not to mention the chicken. We used to eat lots of chicken, because we raised them at home. And they were cheap. Four chickens for twenty-five cents. So cheap! Or turkeys for fifty cents. Everything was cheap then, but now everything is so expensive. Before, just from the pure vapor of the blessed earth came everything—potatoes, squashes, cabbage. Have you eaten a tasty chicken lately? Of course not. Now the chicken is tough, tougher than my nose!
You know what I used to eat a lot? Venison. There used to be lots of deer around here. Don Manuel Castillo had a ranch somewhere and he brought us pieces of venison for just twenty cents.
People used to be healthier back then because there weren’t any doctors. When I was growing up I never once went to a doctor. Doctors are worthless! I once knew a woman who had spots on her nose. She had problems with her liver and kidneys. They cured her with very simple medicines, herbs like “holy stick” and red cloves. They rubbed a pomade of herbs on the spots. That was her medicine. A cup of chamomile tea would make you well. A cup of mint on an empty stomach is wonderful. Now doctors just give pills and injections.
Do you know what we used for cars back then? Wagons pulled by horses or oxen. Yes, there have been many changes in Chiapas. They’ve destroyed the forests, for one thing. When my son bought his land, just past La Hormiga, his house was out there all by itself. A gringo lived on the corner. Oh, dear God! I prayed no one would kill him.
My comadre, Doña Maria, asked me, “Why don’t you buy some land out there?”
“What do you mean? Do you want them to kill me? They’re always killing people out there because there’s a lot of envy,” I told her.
Doña María Estrada died years ago. Her daughter lives near Na Bolom where Doña Ruby-Duby used to live, there where they used to tie up the horses when Doña Ruby-Duby went on trips to the jungle. Ruby-Duby used to go to Tenejapa. I first met her when she was hunting rabbits out there. But now the rabbits are gone. Many things are gone. The deer, too. There used to be so many things to eat. But no more. The forests were destroyed when they made the roads. The roads did away with everything—deer, all kinds of birds, gone.
The locusts came a long time ago. They covered the sky. And what a noise they made! They ate every leaf. Just left the sticks. Here in cold country it wasn’t so bad. But in Cancuc they did away with the fruit, bananas, everything. Poor people! I used to wash clothes down at the pond. Every day the women in town swept and swept the locusts away. The government had to dig big ditches to bury them. It lasted for a long time. My children were babies when that happened, many years ago.
I lived for nine years in Cancuc. Have you been there? Oh, what a beautiful view! The muleteers used to pass through from Yajalón, Chilón, and Ocosingo. It was lots of fun. Great merchants from Tabasco passed through on foot. They all wore huaraches. Shoes? Of course not! Nothing but huaraches. Their sandals lasted for the round trip, there and back. How those men suffered. They carried things on their backs to sell and then brought things back. What great salesmen they were, I’ll never forget. “I’ll take it, wrap it up!”
But now I live in Tenejapa and here the patron saint is San Idelfonso. Each year we make a party for Carnaval. The government gives us money for it. They send us two bulls, one for the north part of town and one for the southern part. One bull for each, so that we don’t lose the custom.
And how I used to take walks! When I was in good shape, I used to walk all over San Cristóbal and the next day I’d do the same in Tenejapa. I never got tired. But not anymore. I used to visit all the churches. And I used to love to visit my friends and chat. Now, when the women in Tenejapa don’t have work to do, they come to sit and talk with me. I love to talk.
I can’t get out like I once did. And, yes, Doña María Estrada died. My dear comadre, María, is resting now. Yes, she’s finally gone. But I still haven’t decided to go yet. I’m still sitting right here. Oh, my Lord!
Yes, I have had suffering in my life. But I’m still stumbling around. I don’t even work anymore. And I tell you right now that I’m not afraid of anyone or anything. No, not even those from the other world.
How does that saying go? Let’s see...“Strong as an ox!”
Every Woman Is A World is the title of the book by Gayle Walker and Kiki Suárez published by University Of Texas Press, 2006