by Marisa Gutierrez
“Mami, will you tell the story?”
“Yes, mami, tell us the story!” Cesario, Juana, and Maria gather around her feet, eager to listen, although they have heard the story many times.
“You really want to hear it again? I just told you the story two nights ago!”
“Pleeeeeaaseee?” they all say in unison.
Toypurina gently laughs as she sits down on a cot. The cramped room makes for quite a storytelling atmosphere, although it is not the best for raising three children. The fire is still glowing, lighting up their small faces in the small room. There is not much else in the room except for two cots, the fireplace, a wooden stool, and a broom. Although Toypurina sweeps every day, it is somehow still dirty. A rat darts from one side of the room to the other (a common occurrence), which scares Toypurina because many in the mission have become sick due to the rats, but she moves that thought to the back of her mind, and beams at her children, anticipating the beginning of her story.
“There was a village many nights of travel away from here. A river ran through it all, the life source. Oak trees spread their loving arms as protection from the rays of the sun. At night, everyone would meet in the center of the village and make a great fire. There was dancing and celebration whenever the moon made herself fully seen. There was a healer, well-respected by the entire village. If anyone were to fall ill they would go to him, and they would be healed. Life was peaceful, just like the river. This, children, was my home. And the healer, he was your grandfather.”
“What was our grandfather like?” asked Juana, always the inquisitive one, causing Toypurina to smile at the memory of her father.
“Your grandfather’s hair, the color of weeping clouds, fell to his shoulders. He had kind, truthful eyes. He was not only a healer, but had a solution to any problem in the village. People would not only go to him if they were sick, they would also go to him for knowledge. He taught a few young men to heal, but also taught them how to live in harmony with the earth and with every person. He put me first, however, before any of the men he helped.”
“One day, when I was still a little girl, your grandfather was teaching me about healing. He was showing me different herbs from the ground that could be used to heal a cough. All of a sudden, we heard a noise like thunder, but it was as if it were coming from the earth. It was the footsteps of many men, but they looked nothing like the men in the village. Everyone rushed in to see who these men were. They began to speak, but their language sounded nothing like the ones that I knew. They had a translator who spoke our tongue. We were told they came in peace, but found out later that they did not. After a time, they began to assemble a large building on the land, uncaring of how they were hurting our earth. When it was completed, the changes began.”
“What did they do, Mami?” Little Maria squeezed Toypurina’s leg. She wanted more than just the answer their mother always gave. She wanted to know what her mother had to go through. But, once again, Toypurina gave the same answer she always did. It was understood that there were to be no other questions about the matter.
“They hurt us. We were no longer free. Nicolas José, a man who I had grown up with, was outraged because the monks would not let us hold our celebratory dances. He came to me, and asked if I wanted to help him and a few others lead a revolt against the Spanish, to live as we once did. I had been silent for years, even though on the inside I was filled with rage. It was time. I said yes.”
“Can you win this time, mami?” Cesario asks, hoping that the answer he knows might magically change. But it never does.
“No, Cesario, we never even got to fight. A guard who spoke our language overheard us planning, so he told their leaders. They took us and interrogated us. They sent my fellow rebels into exile, and they kept me in solitude for two years, until they sent me here. I’m not allowed to go back.”
The children’s eyes begin to well up with tears, their hearts longing for a place that they will never be able to see.
“But it’s not all bad, children. We have shelter. There is beauty all around us. Here I met your father, and now we have you three, the delights of our lives. You represent a new culture, two parts in one. You have a gift that not many are given. You are special, don’t ever forget that.”
And so story time ends, just as it always does. The children, always comforted by the ending, become dreamy eyed. Their mother gathers them up onto the cot, which the three of them share. They are asleep in minutes, the embers of the fire slowly dying away. But their mother refrains from telling them the whole story.
All had been idyllic in the village. Everyone had a place and a job. Community was the most important aspect of the culture. Unfortunately, their perfect world was torn apart.
It was incremental change. The Spanish ways slowly crept into the ways of the village. The natives were lured into the missions with offers of blankets, food, and clothes. Once they were inside, though, they were forced into Christianity and slave labor. They were no longer free to practice their native customs. Disease was rampant among them, and there was abuse and rape. The ones who tried to escape were chained and beaten.
When the Spanish took Toypurina for interrogation they tortured her. She had never experienced anything so horrific.
In those days, she was married to a man in the village. He had a big laugh and a big heart. He towered over her, but he was a friendly giant. They were each other’s worlds. But when the Spanish captured her, they annulled her marriage. At once, her joy that should have been forever, was taken. They stole the love that made her heart beat. But they had the authority. There was nothing she could do. While they were deciding what to do with her they sent her into solitude. There she was for two years, alone, with only her thoughts. What had she done? Would it have been better if she hadn’t agreed to it all? Would she ever see her people again? She curled into herself and wept most days, longing for what was. It took years to heal from the heartbreak, even after she was placed in San Juan Bautista. But eventually, she did move on.
His name was Manuel Montero. He was a Spanish guard. It was true that they had fallen in love and married in only a month. The marriage started off well, but they came from different worlds. Manuel didn’t understand her culture, and Toypurina didn’t understand his; that was what had shaped them to be the people they were. When you don’t understand a person’s upbringing, who they are doesn’t make sense.
They grew farther apart with each day that passed. She didn’t feel the same joy with Manuel as she had with her husband in the village. He didn’t understand the problems she was facing. He tried to be sympathetic, but he had never experienced what she had. He couldn’t feel the pain. He tried, but eventually he began to listen less. He began to go out more with his Spanish friends. Toypurina tried not to think about the places he went. One time he came home drunk. Sheepishly, he walked through the door. The children stared at their father, disturbed by the way his tongue slipped on each word he spoke and how his feet dragged on the dusty floor. He never came home drunk again (meaning he rarely came home anymore). The children didn’t know of Toypurina’s first husband. Her heart ached for them to know a man who was strong and kind, just as he had been. Manuel was all they knew about a father’s love, though, and that scared her. She knew she could not fulfill the children’s needs by herself. They needed a father. But it didn’t matter how worried she was; she couldn’t change how distant he was becoming.
Toypurina takes down her hair. She crosses the room and lies down on the cot she shares with her husband, Manuel. But he probably won’t come home tonight. Again. So she is alone. She begins to weep silently.
She will never see her father again. She will never feel freedom again. The rush of the cool river is only a memory, growing more faint each day she lives.
Marisa Gutierrez is studying Psychology and Creative Writing at Santa Barbara City College. She studied music for six years and sang in venues including Carnegie Hall in New York City and Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. In the future, she hopes to incorporate writing, music, and animals in therapy for people who have experienced trauma.