Writing from the “Telling Lives” Workshop by Miriam Lamarka Miranda and Lizbeth Eunice Altamirano Torreblanco

In class this term, we explored a variety of ways to write based on interviews. Here, Miriam profiles a co-worker at the Clavijero Cultural Center in Morelia, the practicum site where she worked as part of her degree program. Lizbeth returns to the theme of family through an interview with her mother about her grandmother’s life.

Miriam Lamarka Miranda – Profile by Grecia Gonzalez Miranela

The first thing you notice when you meet Miriam is her shyness and the happiness in her eyes. She is 23 years old and a communications major at UNLA. The activity she loves the most is photography. She thinks every picture she captures is a special one because it represents a unique and unforgettable moment.

Art for her is an amazing way to express her feelings and the reality that surrounds us. When you ask her about her favorite artist, the first that comes to mind is Vincent Van Gogh. Her favorite piece by him is “The Starry Night.” She also loves listening to live music, watching musicians play and perform, drinking iced tea, eating really good food and pizza, reading novels, designing accessories and clothes with her sister in their little business project, and spending time with her family and her boyfriend.

She loves writing because it’s a really good way to remember daily life and experience. She hopes she will improve her English, her style, and that she will write something meaningful in the “Telling Lives” class.

“Amparo”

The Clavijero library is a big, dark place. Shelves house the books, all donated by two respectful history researchers, Elsa Vargaslugo and her husband Carlos Bosch, both from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in México City. I work at the Clavijero with Amparo, whose name means “protection” or “refuge.”

Photo of the Clavijero by Miriam

Every morning when I arrive at the library, Amparo receives me with a smile and asks how I’m doing. She’s really an easygoing person. I met her through my professional internship at school. I decided to work at a museum because culture and art are what I enjoy most. I wanted to have a more educated point of view about these matters to help decide where I want to work when I leave university.

Everyday I find interesting books and new things to learn about and look at. In this context everything seems beautiful. Of course, all my life I have enjoyed being surrounded by books.

On the rainy, cold day of our interview, Amparo is wearing a black coat and working at the computer. She has big shiny eyes and brown skin with short, black hair. She laughs when I ask where she is from. “I’m from El Rancho Grande,” she says – a term Mexicans use to refer to a nonexistent fantasy world.

“I’m not even 30 years old and I have to take a lot of medicine,” she adds. Amparo has a problem with her heart, hypertension, so she has to take care of herself.

She described her real hometown, Tlalpujahua as a very beautiful place well known for its Christmas ornaments and the mines. Growing up, she used to play a lot outside, enjoying rural life. Her dad was a bus driver and her mom did the chores in their home.

“When I was little I was influenced a lot by my grandmother. She always told me that I had to keep away my tears if my husband one day treated me bad. But I asked her why I had to suffer? My grandmother is a very conservative person. So I have this clash of ideas. In little towns like Tlalpujahua ‘machista’ thinking prevails.”

Perhaps this is the reason that Amparo studies gender inequality. The way she was raised is so different from her way of thinking and that of her generation.

She studied history at Michoacana University. She would like to devote herself to her research. “I’m trying to finish my thesis,” she told me. It’s about the cloistered nuns in a convent in Morelia called “Carmelitas descalzas,” about their way of life and their thinking. She told me that when she visited the convent she couldn’t see the nuns because a big wall separated them. The thesis explores the nuns’ lives during the mid-nineteenth century when President Benito Juárez closed religious institutions as part of his reform laws.

“I have a group of workers at the university (Michoacana) and I’m very happy about that. Finally, we have our own department of gender and women studies. I’m really into that. We want to create our own publications with interesting articles. But now I’m more concentrated on finishing my thesis.”

Amparo has more enthusiasm than many workers I know, even though the bureaucracy she works with is slow. She attends to her work with a good attitude.

One day, she gave me a tour of the library and told me some creepy stories. “This place has a lot of history and energy.” The library used to be a place where priests lived. “One day a Bible fell off its shelf for no reason. Nobody knew why, but a lot of strange things happen here. Books disappear or change places. Maybe it could be the chaneques,” she says, “So we put candies here.” Chaneques are fantasy characters, magic little people that steal or hide things in Mexican culture.

Amparo is as mysterious as the library, and as interesting too.

Lizbeth Eunice Altamirano Torreblanco – Profile by Dinorah Ambriz Cárcamo

Liz is a young woman in her twenties. A student of communication sciences, she introduces herself as “sensible, girlish, helpful, unpunctual, happy, relaxed, unorganized and friendly.”

For several months, she was a presenter on a television show on a local channel called “Voz y Solución.” The program addressed social problems in the community, and although she wasn’t completely pleased with the program itself, she was happy because she had always wanted to be on television. Liz would like to have her own program, one like those on “E entertainment television,” she says as a joke.

Her current life is marked by her boyfriend. She smiles when talking about him. Just being with him is one of the things she loves most. For her, the relationship has opened new scenarios. “He is really mature, he is constantly telling me to put my feet on the ground, that I can’t be capricious,” she says. For Liz, he is a serious candidate for sharing her life.

Family is core in Liz’s life. She has never been away from her family and she wouldn’t want to be. Closeness and good relationships with her family members have shaped her. What she enjoys most are those family meals where everyone – cousins, aunts and parents – reunites and laughs.

A Moreliana for all of her life, she would only move to another place for job reasons. She also loves movies, music, parties, traveling to new places, sleeping and eating, especially makis, a type of sushi.

 ”My Grandmother’s Story”

It was a sunny and shiny day. My mom had just finished cooking, and she was happy but tired. I knew that this interview would be hard for her because my grandmother’s life was so difficult, but satisfying too. My mom was happy to answer these interview questions about my granny. She likes to talk about her mother’s life to us, her daughters and son.

“Talk to me about my granny’s life….” Only a few words were enough for my mom to start a long conversation. After a big sigh she began…

“Candelaria Campos Hernandez, my mother, was born on February 2nd 1919 in Colima. In 1918, Mexico was undergoing a flu epidemic. Many families escaped from the region to save themselves from that sickness. So the parents of my mother, joined by her grandmom, decided to leave Zacatula, Guerrero, a poor little place located on the coast of Guerrero, close to Michoacán. After a year, my mother would be born, and her mother would die because of her birth.

My “mom Salomé” (grandmother of my mother) raised her; she was very strict. My mother started to work at the age of five. They were very poor so she had to do it so that they could eat.

When my mother was 13 years old, she started to attract the attention of the man who would become my father. He started to visit his stepbrothers because they were neighbors of my mom. He used to talk with Salomé, and get closer to my mom. My father was much older than my mom. They got married when she was 14 and he was 33 years old. “She didn’t know anything about love, or sex, because her “mother” never talked to her about that.”

At that moment I paused. I couldn’t hide my surprise that my grandmother didn’t know about sex because she never heard anything about it. My mom explained to me that those were topics that people of that time didn’t talk about.

She continued telling me that her mother had to grow up at the age of 15 when she had her first daughter. After that she had to deal with the death of two of her babies, one at two years old and the other, a few days after he was born.

“Some years later my father died when he was only 63 years old, of a heart attack. My mother was widowed at the age of 43 with 11 children.”

 My mom’s voice began to crack and her eyes began to drop tears. I just embraced her without saying anything. My mom continued talking:

“No one could be at my father’s funeral, because everyone found out about the notice too late. My mother was with me at the hospital because I was operated on. I was only six years old and I would be there during three months of convalescence. My oldest sister and my youngest sister were accompanying me; the others were in Uruapan, Morelia, and Tiripetio studying. Only Rosalio, 17 years old, Maria, 13 years old and Fide, 10 years old were in Zacatula. They had to deal with my father’s body and everything else. Some years later my oldest sister died of heart attack too when she was only 45 years old. Then another sister died of cancer. My mother had to be so strong and deal with all this death. As you know she died almost three years ago of cancer too, at the age of 91.

She was very strong, humble, smart, and even through all the problems she had, she was so happy because she formed a large and beautiful family that was with her until the last day of her life, trying to give her back a little of all the love she had for us.”

 

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