The grandmas were there, well before you were born.
When I was in Brazil, a horrible crime happened: 8 women were murdered by a man who wanted to get back at his ex and exterminate all of the women in her family along with her. Shortly after there was a march held in protest to domestic violence, which I was able to attend. While I was at the march, an attractive young woman, university age activist said to me in a condescending tone: “look how nice, even the grandmas showed up.”
I stopped and stared at her, and said: “I beg your pardon?” She continued on: “well, you know. The gray-haired ladies standing over there. It’s cute that they are here.” I tried to contain my frustration in a way that it would be constructive. I also decided not to make a point about how my hair (had she looked closer) was turning gray. All I said was: “you know honey, the ‘grandmas’ have been showing up long before you were born. In fact, it’s precisely because of them that you are able to stand here today with your political views.” And I left. I left because I was going to loose my patience, and I decided to be constructive instead, and write on my poster board. Which said: “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us”. All of us (no age restrictions).
This trip back home was the hardest one yet. The most fulfilling one without a doubt, but the hardest one yet, because I said good-bye to my grandmother, who is about to turn 80 years old, having full conscious that I may not be able to see her again. I went back to what I was made of in a way that was more powerful than I could have ever imagined. My mother, whom I have underestimated so much for such a huge part of my life, gave me the most precious Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten: a life-time of collected memories. She had quietly and unpretentiously saved essays, letters, and books from as far back as grade 3. She was the guardian of my memories, and the keeper of my time, as much as I know I am for my own daughters. The thread back to myself, and the understanding of who I am and what I am made of.
I am starting to believe that what they say, that we are born on a path, that we know who we are, that our ancestors shine through us, is true. During our family gatherings this season, stories have emerged that I did not know. For instance, two of my great-grandmothers (the two native Brazilian ones, and not the Portuguese or Italian ones) were pregnant 22 times each – one on each side, my dad’s and my mom’s grandmothers. They were unable to develop much structure, as they were barely surviving. But they were fertile women, life ran through their veins, that’s unquestioned.
I had never identified much with my maternal grandmother either, other than a sincere love for how sweet she had always been. This Christmas, she told me about her journey. Rosa, a sweet and humble young Catholic woman filled with faith, and illiterate, left Portugal all by herself, to meet her family in Brazil at the age of 18. She was terrified, as she was not sure just how she was going to find her away around train stations, harbors, and docks. She said to me: “always pray and look for the good people. They are always there to guide us.”
Her journey from Portugal to Brazil led her to trust, and rely strongly on other women for guidance, and protection. A woman saw her crying on the train, and stuck by her during the entire trip, and made sure she got safely on the ship. During her 20 plus day journey on the boat that took her from Portugal to Brazil, a mother saw her and told my grandma to always hang out with her daughter so that they could keep each other company and never go anywhere in the ship alone. This family also made sure to always walk my grandmother to her cabin every night.
She also told me how later, when in Brazil already, she didn’t have a single family member attend her wedding, because my grandpa, the man she fell in love with, was “baiano” – which by the way he wasn’t, he was in fact indigenous, but even prejudice has its hierarchy (which is another post altogether). I told her how rebellious she was! She laughed, and she said, “no, I really wasn’t. I just really loved him.” What a gift it was for me to see my grandmother Rosa one last time. To see how she too, lives in me, the immigrant who searched for guidance in other women, through trust and faith and who loved beyond the boundaries of culture.
My paternal grandmother, whose name was Aurora, sparked like the lights she was named after. She was a builder, she sewed, and made things, she cooked huge meals and brought people together. The fire in her eyes and the determination with which she led her life was also something that I only recently recognized in myself. I saw a photo of her this year (she died when I was 10 years old, and I never quite healed from that loss). But this year, when I saw her eyes in that photo, I recognized her gaze in mine.
What I never realized however, was that all of this legacy of love and family can actually materialize into the physical world in a subconscious way if we allow it to. If we stay open to build from our most intimate truth, the one we know of only through intuition and which only reveals itself with interaction and consciousness – with stories, encounters, and love. What dawned on me today, as I was journaling, is that Feminine Harbor – from our logo to the LIGHT Stories – had so much of the women who are my ancestors: the rose, and the aurora, the flower and the spark. I wish the young woman I talked to on the march could read this. I don’t know who she is and I didn’t get her name either, but here’s what I would say: “It’s always been about the grandmas, honey. About their right to have less babies, to learn anything they want to, to travel safely, to live in world with peace and without fear, to be paid for their emotional labor of keeping families together. It’s always been them. We are just the conduits.”