It’s funny…I was just thinking about this question the other day, thinking about whom I consider my heroes: my grandmother, certain teachers, Mr. Rogers, Thich Nhat Hanh. I’m a 36 year old so called adult with my heart and soul still wearing the clothes of my childhood. I am forever a child and I cannot help that; I will not leave that spirit behind.
In Memory of Guadalupe G. Martinez: October 11, 1911 – November 10, 2001
If I were to choose one hero, it would be my grandmother. I hold her memory and her presence with me always, etched like a stencil into glass. I find her spirit in the whistle of the birds and at the sight of the sparrow flying by because she spoke to her own birds. She taught her cockatiel how to whistle a part of the Mexican national anthem and how to say, “Ponchito Bonito”(—pretty Ponchito—pretty bird). Even today, when I visit my uncle, when I sing these words to Ponchito, he still remembers and says them back. I feel her in the clouds and the sky, knowing that she is up above, keeping watch over me. She is my everything, my Mexican grandmother—my abuelita. She immigrated to the United States together with my grandfather and made her home here sometime in the 30s. She was the mortar that held the family together. A devout Catholic, I would often find her saying her morning prayers, sitting before her homemade alter—her dresser top, with closed curtains, red light from the candle filling the room with a red hue, and the soft murmur of her Spanish words as she worked her way around her rosary beads. I loved the warmth and deep presence that I felt as I watched her from the corner of the door, peering in, enchanted.
Grandmother was the kindest woman I ever knew. She taught me not to hate and how to forgive and love: She taught me about being humble and human. I hold images in my mind of when she would care for me when I was ill, how she would put potato peels on my forehead and cover it with a towel to suck the heat out of me, serve me cinnamon tea, and chicken soup; how she would sit with me in her green rocking chair and hum me to sleep. How every time I would leave her house, she would make the sign of the cross over my face and tell me to go with god and to be careful. How she made the difficult decision to leave my grandfather to care for her brother and how she cared for her daughter as she battled cancer, but cancer was stronger than her. How she was kind to everyone; smiled and laughed and would try her best to say a few English words when she had to at the store. And how when I came home one day from elementary school with a question that was posed to me by a schoolmate because of a pretty dress I was wearing (second hand of course): “Grandma, are we rich?” She told me in Spanish that we are rich with love and not to forget that.
My grandmother is my savior; if not for her, I don’t think I would have survived my childhood: The constant fighting—ugly fighting; yelling and screaming and hitting between my parents more times than I care to remember—seemed like always—and then the death of my mother and departure of my father, and step-father during my years at junior high school. Today, I am mostly happy in my skin, though still timid, I tend to my fire—a fire buried deep within. I thank my grandmother for giving me so much of herself. Her soul lives in me and my soul lives in her. Grandmother, my hero, my saint.