Determined to Succeed

My name is Martha. My father was a man by the name of José but he was more of a cousin. He was my “father” and my “mother” was my aunt. They raised me. I come from hard-working people. I wasn’t aware of when my own mother passed away. I was two years old and that is why I say that my aunt was my “mother” because she raised me. I was two years old when this happened.

My father, since he was left widowed, came to know a woman who became his mate. He took her home, he took me; I was two. The lady bothered me a lot; she punished me cruelly and would leave me out in the patio every day to husk corn, all day long. My own father had no clue about what my stepmother was doing until the neighbors told him. My father did not believe what she was doing to me.

Until one day when my father said he would go to work and return home early. And he did. He went to work and the next day, he came back about mid-day. He found me outside the house in the hot sun with a large basket of corn, husking, my hands all blistered.

Until my father became determined –No, I’m taking my daughter to my mother-in-law. He took me to my grandmother. So then, I was raised by my grandparents the rest of the time. When I was a little older, about ten years old, I returned to my father. By then he was in charge of a job in a field where they harvested a lot of corn.

Unbeknown to my father, I went to register for school. I went to register for school when I was ten years old, keeping it secret from my father. He would go to work and during the time he was gone I would go to school. In the afternoon I would have the meal ready.

So then my own father worked in the fields. My foster father was a cousin and my aunt was my foster mother. But my own father fought for me. He took me away from my foster parents by force, from their power. He took me and I suffered. My parents would come and I’d go back with them to my grandparents. It was always a fight. My father wanted to keep me but he gave me a bad life.

When I was a little older, when I was ten years old and my father had me, he had a work group that would help him harvest the corn and beans –all that. So, at ten years old, he would have me make tortillas and make the meals for ten, eleven men. When I should have been in school, I wasn’t. If it hadn’t have been for me, I would have been illiterate.

Unbeknown to my father, I went to register for school. I went to register for school when I was ten years old, keeping it secret from my father. He would go to work and during the time he was gone I would go to school. In the afternoon I would have the meal ready. He didn’t even know I was going to school until it came time to celebrate September 15th, when I was named to be a baton twirler for the marching band. My father got wind of it and he didn’t want me to participate. Then the school principal came and almost had a fight with my father.

“Sir, it’s quite possible we will take this child from you because you have obligated her to work,” she told him. “To care for all these men that harvest for you. It’s not possible!”

“This child,” she told him, “needs to learn to read and write.”

That is what she told him. My father then declared that he had given up and said “All right. Let her go learn how to make her boyfriend a house.”

That is what he told her. Then my father let me participate.

When I was fourteen I began to have a boyfriend. There was this boy, but I didn’t want to because my father was very exacting. I would tell the boy, “Don’t talk to me please because my father will be upset. He’ll punish me.” I would hide from the boy. He’d seek me out, but I would hide from him. I would take other streets so that he wouldn’t find me. But I had a neighbor woman who would tell him, “Listen. Take the little girl because her father punishes her a lot. Take her home with you.”

I was barely thirteen years old, hadn’t even reached fourteen.

How could she tell him to kidnap me when he wasn’t even my boyfriend? When I didn’t even talk to him! He kidnapped me when I didn’t even love him or anything. He took me to his parents’ house. When I got there his father told him, “What have you done? You brought this little girl? You haven’t let her finish being raised?” I needed to finish growing up.

He replied, “No” and told him the story. “Her father hits her a lot. Better that I brought her.”

“But she’s too young. When she reaches the age, you must marry her.”

“Yes, Father.”

And, so it happened. We were married and he told me we would have six children. That is how many we had–six. And with those six kids, time passed.

When the eldest was six, I began to experience domestic violence with him, economically. I suffered economic abuse. I suffered emotional abuse. He didn’t hit me. He never hit me, but emotional abuse, yes. And that is what happened to us. And I said, “No. I need to be with him because we’re married.

And my aunt, she would tell me –the one who was my “mother”–, she said: “Daughter, you have to remain with him.” I was thinking about leaving him, but my aunt wouldn’t take me in. She said: “No, daughter, you have to bear your cross and not abandon him.” She used something from antiquity. She didn’t let me. She didn’t accept that I leave him. So I stayed, and stayed, yes. I even had the six kids.


Storyteller Martha tells us, “I am a grandmother with twenty grandchildren. I am from Central America, from El Salvador. I studied dress-making. This story was told to us during the Lideres Campesinas:  Sembrando el Futuro workshop in Greenfield, California.

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