(Note: This is a recount of a story told by a woman and written from her perspective. The story is written in Spanish and English because that was how it was told. For the most part, the Spanish phrases are translated or restated with the same meaning in English. This bilingualism is a reality de la cultura fronteriza, the “Border Milieu”, el ambiente fronterizo, the distinct culture of the U.S. / Mexican borderlands.)
I went to a Catholic school run by las monjas in Nogales, Sonora. From ages 10 to 14 I got a zero in conduct and A’s in all my classes.
The head nun of the school, La Madre Gema, would one day ask to meet my kids, but today she called my mom and said, “Your daughter has problems, she needs to go back to catechism.”
Mi mamá me regañó so the Madre Gema could hear. “¡Niña mala! ¡Ven!” So now I was going to have to go back to catechism to learn the Truth.
When we met with the nun my mom turned to me yelling “¡Niña mala!” And giving me a just-go-along look, with her eyes big and her lips puckered. “¡Niña mala!” I got the message and said, “Sí, mamá.”
We had an old VW bug, a black one, made in Germany and imported to Mexico; I loved it. On the drive home from the monja, my mom pulled over and said. “Mija, all the things I told you about love and sex are true, just go along with the nuns.”
I never could believe that stupid Adán y Eva story. ¡And that there were virgins! Mi mamá me dijo cuando tenía ocho años que, “Mijita, no hay vírgenes.” So at 10 years old I asked the nun, “Why is the woman blamed for Adam’s sin?” The monja is a girl, she’ll understand I thought. Then I said, “Did the boys make up that story because they can’t have babies?” I didn’t realize then what I realize now as a grown woman; men would control women because only they, women, have the ultimate power, the gift of life.
I got big boobs early. All the other girls were flat. At twelve I was a 32C. La Madre Gema always was yelling at me to cover up more because, “Los hombres son monstruos siempre, ¡no puedes enseñar nada!” I asked the nun, “Why did God give me these then?” holding up my breasts.
The nun slapped my hands and said “any part of your chest that shows will burn in hell.”
God didn’t give me these and not give breasts to the monjas. ¿Son mujeres o no? Are they women or not?
If he did give the monjas boobs, then they will burn in hell too. I looked, there was nothing, where are they?
Oh my god I thought, “They cut them off so they wouldn’t go to hell!”
I was going to find out. I knew the nuns lived in back where I often saw their long robes hanging. I asked Sonia if she’d help. We waited until school was out and all had left. Then we climbed the wall from the school to the La Casa Monja and there they where all nun’s robes were hanging. We found out, they did have boobs! Inside the robes were hooks and hooks and string to tie down their breasts so the devil wouldn’t know the nuns had boobs.
Sonia is tall and when a nun saw us she climbed back fast, but of course, I got caught.
One summer I went from Sonora to LA. Mi tía me compró una camiseta. The shirt she bought me had a hole in the chest part, not revealing really, but just the smallest part of my cleavage could be seen. I was 14 and I wore that shirt on the first day of school. Later that day La Madre Gema habló conmigo, lo mismo, lo mismo. She was saying the same things she always said. This time I tuned her wah wah out, not responding. I turned walking away saying to myself, “f***ing nuns.”
That school term I made the honor roll and got suspended because my boobs were too big.
My kids too went to the same school de las monjas, with the same nuns. Now, many years later, La Madre Gema, ahora muy vieja, came to visit the school. I got a call that day from the school asking me to meet with now ancient Madre Gema. When we met she said, “I always knew you’d do fine, and with your kids I was right.”
I knew there were many things La Madre Gema wouldn’t question. She hugged my kids and me saying without the words, “You were right.” I knew what I was right about, every thing she had yelled at me for, I was right, she said, and she let me know she could question.