On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts

This piece is probably the one I can relate to the most. As a student, I think my writing was affected by this. Then I was constantly trying to write for the teachers mind and not my own. I also struggled and stressed over making things super perfect for these reason. If I had control over my writing I probably would have a solid voice and would have grown a lot more.

Honestly, teachers are absolutely bias, which is not always purposeful. I like to think I try really hard to be objective just for the sake of letting my students think, feel and grow. This makes me think about all the students I have the claim they ” don`t know what to write”. Maybe its not that they don`t know how to write but simply don`t know how to think for themselves enough to get started.

The question is… is this something we can even change and if so how? Is it rooted too deep?

November 11, 2011

A picture from one of the last times I saw Abuelita (from left to right: Tití, Abuelita, and my mom)

I wish I’d learned to speak Spanish when I was younger, and I still wish I had the time to set aside to learn it now. I have a promise to keep to myself– a promise I made almost eleven years ago now after Abuelita passed away– that I’d learn to speak Spanish one day so I’d never have to deal with the language barrier with any of my family again. I guess the barrier isn’t a huge deal considering my mom’s side of the family that I’ve met and that lives in the states are bilingual, but I’ve had this idea for a ministry to serve the people of Puerto Rico one day too (hopefully before gentrification runs the native population from their land) and my mom has warned me before that if I ever go to the island, speaking the language is an important safety an communication skill.

So I guess that’s why I was automatically drawn to Retratos Vivos de Mamá, it’s related to the similar culture of Colombia, and in a language I can half-understand at least. And when I read the statement from the author, Carolina López Jiménez, the last line really hit home and left me in a moment of prayer– of recognizing there is something about that season in my life that the Lord’s been trying to tell me but not quite knowing what it is yet. All I know is that 11 years is coming up fast.

Retratos Vivos de Mamá is a web literature project inspired by mourning: mourning caused by the death of a mother and the possibility of overcoming it through creation.

And on top of that, it’s a refreshing experience to have something to sit and read together with my mom since Spanish is her native tongue. Sure, I used to ask for her help on a word or two in high school when I had to take Spanish up to honors Spanish III, but this just felt like it meant more to both of us because as much as I know we’ve both lived past losing Abuelita, I sometimes wonder exactly how much either of us have truly dealt with the grief or how much it lingers and how much we have yet to learn by looking back at her life and example.

Death is not the end.

The finite nature of this life is all that I really knew as a kid, and by the time Abuelita had passed, my family no longer went to church on a regular basis and all I knew were some Bible stories (and not even the real lessons behind them, to be honest). I think that this was also something that my mom struggled to articulate, or even to believe at the time her mom passed.

Though I already had a rough translation of the title in my head– Pictures of Life of my Mom– I asked my mom to translate the title quickly a few hours before we really got to sitting down and reading this piece. Her translation, though similar, had such a greater depth to it that I could even see in every true Christian I know: a depth of knowledge and assurance between the life they had versus the life they have in Jesus. My mom said something like this:

You have to be careful with how you translate it, too. Otherwise you get the right translation but the wrong idea. This means more like Living Pictures of my Mom.

my mom

And in a way that’s exactly what the cross is– though pictures are still moments of the past and though the cross is a symbol of the most humiliating and excruciating death someone could have taken on, they both bring life to what was once dead in their own ways.

The tab titles :

  • Intro : I think the translation here is pretty self-explanatory
  • Cuarto Oscuro : dark room (probably like those red rooms for developing pictures, given the context)
    • Diario de Puelo
    • Papel Quemado
    • Carrete de Recuerdos
  • Soplo : puff (of air)
  • Revelado : revealed
    • Ensayo : trial
    • Hiedra : ivy
    • Voces : voices
    • Planto : I plant
  • El Proyecto : also a kind of self-explanatory translation, but this is “the project”
  • Conversemos : let’s talk
  • Apoyanos : support us

The Pencil Icon

Below the menu button in the top right of the home screen was a pencil-shaped button. All it said when I clicked on it was this:

A todas las mujeres que han sabido no callar.
Y al silencio de mi madre, para que nunca más se ahogue.

With my own experiences of my mom speaking the little Spanish she does to me (which is mostly just basic commands), I could roughly translate that to this:

To all the women who’ve known not to shut up.
And to the silence of my mother, so she never drowns again.

If there’s one thing my mom and I talked about, it’s this. There was a time when I think I knew how to shut up a little too well. For her, she at least knew when she needed to speak up… but no one believed her. It’s something I’d only ever heard her address once before: when my parents knew I was upset one day (though I refused to admit it) and insisted on the truth. When I finally told them, she told me how the last thing she would have done is blame me or brush me off because she experienced it herself. She may not have been silent, but she was silenced. So I’ve been learning to not shut up as much because of it but with social anxiety… it’s not easy.

Cuarto Oscuro

In this dark room queda trazado the walk of my pain: la caída y el ascenso, the days of ruin and of mudez. Also las cicatrices, todo lo que mom resounds in me:

all memories. all wounds. all happiness.

Like I said before, I only know so much on my own and my mom and I spent so long talking about the pencil icon page that we didn’t get to much else. The above is what I like to call the “Wargo translation” (meaning the translation that wants to try to do this herself and is too stubborn to use Google translate).

In the rest of the passage that I didn’t type out here, it goes on more about the last days of the author’s mother and the pain within them. The last sentence hit me pretty hard though. It translates to this:

So I’m also reborn through writing.

And not only because of my own experiences does this hit me so hard, but also the fact that there are promises God speaks over our lives that we don’t even notice He fulfills every day. Healing? I’ve seen it in the recovered addict my brother is. Comfort? He put a pen and paper in front of me before anything I could’ve hurt myself with when I was a kid. Provision? One of my best friends grew up in a single-parent home, often on the brink of or actually facing homelessness, yet the Lord provided. Redemption? New life? Forgiveness? Confidence? Assurance? Look to the cross.

It’s just interesting to me that the author brings up this idea of being reborn even in the page titled “dark room.” I guess what it is that struck me was that light can overcome darkness, but where there’s light, all that’s in the darkness is brought to light… brought back to our attention and our sight… and from there we choose whether to continue to hide in the shadows or to be seen and, in a sense, reborn.


Going through this one a few times, I noticed that the passages were in a different order each time. I didn’t go back enough times to see if it was a pattern based on where the moving button was on the page or where you clicked, but I did notice that the same passage wouldn’t ben in exactly the same spot each time. Was there a significance to that? Maybe. Maybe not. But it did have me thinking about how there really isn’t any struggle we deal with that someone won’t relate to, even though the season and circumstances and people involved may not be the same.

The other passage on this page that really struck me was this:

Hablan de esos abortos extraños en los que la mujer
They talk about those strange abortions in which the woman of
tus treinta y siete años feliz a pasar de no tener hijos
your thirty-seven years is happy despite not having children
(y en mí quería tener a su hijo pero algún evento externo la obliga
(and in me she wanted to have her child but some external event forces her
en parte debido a ello)
in part because of it)

Some of the other passages didn’t quite seem to make sense in just the author talking to or about her mother, it seemed like she had to be experiencing some level of motherhood too. One of the next passages that came up was translated to this:

So enigmatic from a very young age, in that crashing noise one day and
refined sugar of mine for identifying with the mother, that’s how I managed to understand you when I
felt like a woman, my body, like yours, had to expiate the guilt.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this because I hadn’t quite expected to think this much about my stance on life (which I don’t consider political at all despite how highly politicized the issue has sadly become) in class. It really made me think about a piece I wrote last semester that I titled Hills Like White Elephants, Part 2. It made me think about Ernest Hemingway’s original short piece Hills Like White Elephants and how the girl clearly had to convince herself to do this “procedure” to “expiate the guilt” or the evidence of the affair between the two characters that she was carrying.

So I could be horribly off with how I put these together in terms of Retratos Vivos de mí Mamá, but it seemed like this was something that the author came to understand about some of the grief her mom carried. Whether it is this matter of life or maybe a matter of one’s innocence, this part of the piece left me thinking a lot about how these things that the world likes to sweep under the rug are still there. I didn’t know until last summer that my mom had gone through some of the same trauma I did around the same age I did… but like I said earlier, she actually did speak up and people had drowned her out. Because I was afraid of how she would see me of all people, I never told her until almost seven years after the fact. Because it’s a topic we only have two extremes on: it’s either shameful and taboo, or it’s normal.