Joyce Lackie and Viviana Salguero are soul sisters. Lackie states, “Gender was our connecting point, and it was a powerful one.” Interviews that began as a way for Lackie to learn Spanish as much as to record Salguero’s family stories soon became female bonding sessions. Salguero, who grew up as poor as it is possible to be and never got to go to school, had great respect for Lackie’s
education and her ability to transmit the autobiography. Lackie had a great respect for Salguero’s personal expertise--her rich store of memories from her long life of suffering, the life that she could remember, she said, without crying.
Salguero’s earliest memories are of the extreme deprivations of life in agrarian Mexico during the Great Depression. Her mother was cold and hateful, often beating her daughter for no reason, and forcing her into the role of caregiver for her younger brothers from the age of three. As she describes her daily life on a ranch where her father was a foreman who cut hair on weekends, she recalls
that she had to go early to get a bucket of water: “and if you got it to drink, you got some, and if not, well, you were left without.” But people were kind to one another and shared what they had. Later as a teenager, she was courted and virtually forced into marriage by the man who would become her lifelong mate, a older widower named Jorge who, like her mother, seemed to need to beat her without the smallest provocation. But he was a decent provider and eventually got her and their twelve children to the United States.
He and Viviana and four of their children crossed the border on foot into Texas, where he supported them as a farm worker, living outdoors and making a wage of around $2 a day. Salguero speaks of the life as surprisingly “peaceable,” with strangers treating each other in a neighborly way, a way that is no longer to be found in the border regions. The family eventually scattered, and some of them, like Salguero herself, became American citizens.
Throughout her life, Salguero retained the absolute faith in God that she acquired in childhood. “Her conversation was punctuated with expressions of gratitude and
si Dios quiere, if God wills.” She also had a deep-seated belief in witchcraft and hauntings. Her understanding of the role of the US President was simple: “He leads the country, but he can’t do just what he pleases.” She became a conservative in some ways, lamenting that many Mexican men squander the wealth they gain in the United States, not by sending it back home but by disgraceful drinking and carousing. She also pointed out that many beggars in Mexico “have good houses, good cars,” because begging is, so to speak, their career. Still, she retained great sympathy for those who lose their lives attempting to enter the US, expressing “sadness and compassion” for their plight. And she voiced a certain wistful admiration for her daughter Beatriz, a single mother who managed to raise five children without relying on men and with the help of American welfare benefits.
This book is a rare glimpse into the world beyond the statistics about Latino families in America. It reveals the faces behind the issues so often discussed by agenda-driven politicians, well-meaning preachers, and some hate-filled xenophobes. Salguero never learned to read or write, but she lived a life steeped in religious faith and social wisdom. Perhaps she was too accepting of her trials, perhaps she should have resisted her husband’s cruelty, but in the end she retained her pride in having survived and raised a family in a new land, giving the gift of freedom and potential prosperity to future generations.