Painful memories are purged through writing and comida
For most people, the pink Mexican candy known as the peanut patty is an old-time favorite that can be found at any corner store or taco shop in San Antonio. For Dolores Sanchez (her name has been changed to protect her identity), the sight of the simple treat triggers painful memories.
As early as age 3, Sanchez says, her grandfather began molesting her, luring her to him with a piece of the pink candy. In Sin Dulce, the story Sanchez is writing for the second anthology of Encuentros de Mujeres (Gathering of Women), she describes the terrible incidents that occurred during her childhood, which all stemmed from that one seemingly innocuous treat. The writing group was formed in 2002 to offer local women a place to meet others like themselves and share their stories.
“I’ve always kept `this story` inside of me,” Salinas said, holding back tears as she talked about her work. “This is what writing does to you. Now, I am realizing the more you write, the more you understand yourself. All of this comes out.”
During the project’s first year, the women’s writing group published its first anthology, Encuentros de Mujeres: Women’s Collective Cultural Memory in San Antonio, Texas. Currently, the group is working on a second collection of essays that revolve around the topic of food. It will go to print in the summer of 2006.
Virginia Valenzuela, program coordinator at the Center for Women in Church and Society at Our Lady of the Lake University, where the twice-monthly meetings are held, said Sanchez’ story demonstrates that tales about food are not always about cooking caldo de pollo with your mother or learning how to roll tortillas.
“The stories may be about food or something to eat, but they cover a lot of different emotions,” Valenzuela said.
“A lot of the stuff we write is very painful,” says Janie Alonso, who has participated in the writing group for the past two years. “Sometimes we will start writing about food but it becomes something else.”
| “Sometimes we will start writing about food, |
but it becomes something else.”
- Janie Alonso
Alonso is submitting a short story, Pomegranates (Granadas), for the second anthology. In the piece, she describes how, after she accidentally stained her clothes with pomegranate juice one summer, her mother cut her hair very short because, she said, the young Alonso could never keep her clothes clean and was a machetona, a tomboy. “Why does something sweet have to be so bitter?” Alonso asks in her written recollection.
As an icebreaker during their meetings, Valenzuela said she occasionally asks the members to bring something from their homes to place in a “basket of memories.” Once filled with items—which have included a cajete (earthenware pot), a rolling pin, rosaries, and a picture of Pedro Infante—the basket is passed around. Each woman chooses an object and talks about how it played a role in her life.
“`The women` recognized, as they heard each other’s stories, how much they had in common,” Valenzuela said. “That’s when the stories came.”
Barbara Renaud, who leads the workshops, says she tries to inspire the participants to find something to write about that sparks true feeling.
“It’s one thing to tell a story on the porch, it’s another thing to put it down on paper,” she says. “All these women are natural storytellers. The idea is for `these women` to come together for support and help each other translate their stories in their natural voices.” •