Dispatches from a Cultural Guerrillera

De músico, poeta y loco todos tenemos un poco.

Deborah Méndez Wilson

Deborah Méndez Wilson
Denver Metro Area, Colorado, USA
August 24
Colorín Colorado Communications
I'm a fifth-generation Coloradan whose Spanish/Pueblo Indian family roots run hundreds of years deep in the U.S. Southwest. I am a Westerner, through and through, and can't imagine living anywhere else in the United States. The Colorado/New Mexico territory is my ancestral homeland. _______________________________ I am a mother of two and grandmother of one, but don't expect me to conform to anachronistic, enshrined stereotypes of what a woman is supposed to be or do in the autumn of her life. _______________________________ I am a professionally trained journalist who loves to blog, too. I earned my 10,000 hours while working as a daily journalist, and unabashedly worship at the altar of English. _______________________________ Though English is my native language and I adore it, I am fluent in Spanish because I lived in South America for a decade, and revel in the vibrant, haunting beauty of Castilian and Latin American cultures, histories and dialects. ¡Que viva el Español! _______________________________ Follow me on Twitter: @DebMendezWilson


Editor’s Pick
MAY 7, 2012 2:13PM

Post-Boy Feminism

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My son, Daniel, playing his beloved electric guitar two years ago at age 12.

My son’s little pink hand rose from the other side of the green surgical sheet that separated us, looking like a dahlia sprouting from my body that Monday after Mother’s Day in 1998.

I had lifted my head from the operating table to zoom in on my baby as he entered the world through the temporary aperture of my open torso, and watched as he thrust a tiny fist into the air, unfurled five perfect, papery petals, and waved his first hello to me from the womb. The saddle block had numbed my lower extremities, but all my senses were keen. I felt a strong tug and heard a loud pop as doctors pulled the rest of him from my body.

Just like that, after months of feeling him stretch, kick and grow inside of me, my son and I became two, and nothing would ever be the same.

Giving birth to a boy just wasn’t on my life itinerary. I had just spent nearly two decades raising a daughter, eight of them by myself. I had already steeped myself in girl language, girl attitudes and girl fights. Having a son just shy of my 40th birthday felt like crossing the equator into the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are flipped, and legend has it that water drains in the opposite direction. As I prepared to explore the unfamiliar terrain of boyhood, I wondered what natural wonders, sand traps and surprises lay ahead, and whether the rhythm of my heart would change in this strange new land.

I watched a nurse wipe down my newborn son, weigh and measure him, and take his apgar scores before she slipped a tiny knit cap over his head and handed the swaddled package to my husband like a birthday present.

My husband, a first-time dad, shuffled over in scrubs with a beaming face, and lowered our son to my side so I could see our baby for the first time. Blinking back at me tentatively were unfocused blue orbs set in a perfect little face.

“He looks like you!” I told my husband in the high-pitched siren call of new motherhood, my emotions choking in my throat.

I listened to my son’s ragged newborn sobs as they thrummed across a taut, invisible string attached to my heart and plucked tears from my eyes. Already he was playing my emotions. As my son and I stared at each other in wonder, doctors realigned my organs, and stitched a wry smile on my lower abdomen at the end of the vertical scar left by the birth of my daughter 17 years earlier in a clinic a few blocks from the edge of the warm Caribbean Sea.

Girls I knew. Oh how I knew girls. The woolly wonderland of girlhood was familiar to me from the inside out. As a teenage feminist in the 1970s, it had been easy to dismiss men as “the others.” The second wave of the women’s movement was in full force, and American girls were developing a healthy skepticism toward the male-dominated status quo.

We were consumed by the ideas of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Germaine Greer, Kate Millett and other mid-century intellectuals who picked up where Margaret Fuller, Susan B. Anthony, the suffragists, Mother Jones, Virginia Woolf and others left off.

We shook off the Madmen era that had stifled our grandmothers and mothers—finding nothing fashionable or nostalgic about it—and burst through doors that had been blown open by the civil rights movement.

As a Hispanic woman, embracing Yankee-style feminism also meant excoriating the vestiges of Spanish and Indian machismo and swagger, and centuries of Catholic paternalism and European colonialism. It meant defying the orders of fathers and little brothers, despite all that our traditional mothers had taught us about men as authority figures. It meant repudiating generations of oppression wrought by los gabachos, a loose collection of European types accused of stealing our land, raping our grandmothers, and erasing our history.

From my limited teenage view, men seemed insurmountably different and in charge of everything. They owned appendages that spawned deadly pissing matches around the globe, and entitled them to certain privileges. They were incomprehensible, and seemed prone to testosterone-fueled athleticism that inevitably ended in bar brawls, metal-induced head banging, or angry fists thrust through drywall. No matter what culture or place they came from, they inherited a sense of entitlement that seeped from their pores.

If born under the right circumstances (the right family, the right college, and the right name), men could inherit the Earth, too. Without much effort, they could opt out of conversations about equality, poverty, discrimination, equal pay for equal work, the glass ceiling, and female self determination.

I had steeped myself in girl language, girl attitudes and girl fights.

When my daughter arrived, a tiny, half Caribeña with huge eyes and a rosebud mouth, I prepared to induct her into womanhood, to teach her what she needed to know about life, love and men, but things didn’t turn out quite as expected. As she evolved from a pig-tailed charmer to an edgy teenager, my daughter fought like hell to carve out her own identity, to separate from me psychologically and strike out on her own. She was doing what I had done with my mother, and my mother had done with her mother.

A stubborn streak ran though the women in my family. It was a multigenerational curse, and there was nothing I could do except ride it out and hope for the best. Along the way, my daughter and I weathered epic, estrogen-fueled clashes from every possible angle, and over every possible issue. We fought over school, friends, food, clothing, piercings, Mary Janes (shoes and weed), booze, raves, Ecstasy, bad boys and bad men. We survived separations and reunited tearfully in airport terminals. I was her Demeter, and welcomed home her repentant Persephone after long winters in the underworld.

Hot on the genetic trail of my own daughterhood, and as part of my ongoing efforts to understand the primordial mother-daughter rift, I immersed myself in “Reviving Ophelia,” “My Mother, Myself” and other self-help books. Deeply frustrated, I commiserated with other women, including my now-smug mother, over the vexing mother-daughter dichotomy. 

My conclusion: Girls are hard work. Yes, we are, dear goddesses.

“Mothers see daughters as extensions of themselves,” a friend, a college professor, argued convincingly. “Their failures are our failures, their foibles are our foibles, their disappointments are our disappointments, and that’s why we don’t put up with any of their bullshit. We are as hard on them as we are on ourselves.” ... Or is it the other way around?

Then, my son, my little man arrived and upset the delicate balance of my girl-centered life. Without warning, life hurled a screaming curveball at me, and tucked neatly and surreptitiously in the seams of that bewildering bender was a Y chromosome, a sucker punch I never saw coming. I had brought a man into the world, and his foray into my life seized up my psycho-political engine, forcing me to overhaul my views on men in unexpected ways. At a visceral level, I began to see men as more than just “the opposite sex.” For the first time in my life, I began to see males as multidimensional human beings.

Life hurled a screaming curveball at me, and tucked neatly and surreptitiously in the seams of that bewildering bender was a Y chromosome, a sucker punch I never saw coming.

Once I became the mother of a son, it became impossible for me to dismiss the male point of view imperviously. It became impossible for me to lump all men together in an amorphous mass of masculinity. It became impossible for me to see men as the enemy (if they ever were to begin with). Having a son made me want to be a better woman (nod to Jack Nicholson).

Having a son hasn’t always been easy. Like my daughter’s girlhood, his boyhood has offered up alternately touching, surprising and exasperating experiences. Durning my son’s infancy, my daughter was going through her most rebellious teenage years. To this day I don’t know how my husband survived the riotous, tumultuous hormonal surges of a postpartum wife and her teenage daughter. Some days, I changed diapers all day, and watched my angry daughter bang her way out the door at night on her way to a rave.

Despite the challenges, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, only this time I’d have the wisdom and patience that comes with experience.

In the end, it is the memory of both of my children’s births, their futures unwritten (nod to Joe Strummer), that still remind me that we all start out the same, and that gender, skin color, birthplace, sexual orientation, and physical features are accidents of nature that don’t have to define us.

As parents, we don’t have to project our limitations, disappointments and preconceived notions onto boys and girls who arrive as blank slates with so much potential. We don’t have to brand them with long-held biases, cultural assumptions, religious bigotry, social ignorance, and political limitations.

I’m not alone in these realizations. Just watch a father playing soccer with his daughter, or a mother riding a bike with her son. Watch older parents waving a rainbow flag in a march, or young parents marveling at their newborns. Whether we have boys or girls, we silently chant the same invocation for their well-being.

Mothers and fathers are living family vaults, organic external hard drives that store their children’s earliest life experiences like secret treasures.

In my mind and in my heart I store images of my children they can’t possibly see. These are among the memories I will always cherish:

Lauren, a year old, sitting in a highchair refusing to hold her spoon in her right hand, already showing her south-paw independence. Lauren, running before she could walk, hurling herself across the room with a proud, defiant look on her face that said, “Look mom, no hands!” Lauren, dressed in red ruffles, blind folded and bashing a Strawberry Shortcake piñata with glee. Lauren, whimpering in pain as she rode out the waves of labor in a Denver maternity ward.

Daniel, his hand rising from the open cavity of my body on his first day of life.  Daniel, pushing a toy lawnmower across our lawn, his chubby legs in sandals. Daniel, striking a power stance with his first guitar. Daniel, chasing my husband around the house in a Darth Vadar costume and armed with a lightsaber.

Now, I get to watch my daughter’s beautiful face light up as she remembers the birth of her own son four years ago. Having him was an act of faith in motherhood, in life and in the future. She has embarked on her own journey, and already has crossed the equator into the wondrous land of boyhood. It is my greatest hope that she has learned something from her old mom.

“Wasn’t he cute, Mom?” she asks me occasionally, remembering her son’s face at birth. “The way his little face just looked back at me.”


My daughter, Lauren, and her son, Gavin, 2008


May 8, 1994

Dear Mom,

Today I would like to tell you Happy Mother’s Day in my own way.

Over the years, since the day I was born, you have loved me and taken care of me. Since the day I was one day old on January 24th, 1980, you embraced me in your arms and welcomed me to the new world. I must be one of the luckiest kids in the whole universe.

You never gave up on me as the years went by, that must mean true love. As I aged to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 ... you still had love for me!

Since that day, you still embrace me in your arms, welcoming me into the new world. I think mothers should learn from your mothering.

Now I’m 14 going on to older numbers.

I think that’s what people need in order to be truly happy, mothering. Sometimes when I’m down, or just had a bad day at school, it makes me feel so much better when you comfort me. Then it feels like I’m starting from scratch again, and nothing bad ever happened.

I think I’m going to have secure mothering and love until my last days on earth, until I’m an old woman.

Since it’s Mother’s Day, I would like to show my thanks, love and appreciation by saying ... thank you, I love you.


Lauren, XOXO

I love you very much!!!!!!!!


My daughter, Lauren, and her cat, Tom Kitten, c. 1994.

The Return of Persephone, by English artist Frederic Leighton, c. 1891.  

My son, Daniel, as an infant, and me, c. 1998.





My son, Daniel, age 4, and me, c. 2001.


Four generations of stubborn women: From top, my grandmother, Josephine; my mother, Margaret; me as an infant; and my great-grandmother, Sophia.





© Deborah Méndez Wilson.


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What a treat this is! Thank you! r.
Oh, tears all over the place! What a beautiful post, Deborah! The tiny hand's first wave, your daughter's letter...ahh, so much love and truth wrapped up in these words.
So very well written... great kids and such beautiful babies all. For me the issues of Feminism were most poignantly summarized at the end of the 1973 Stanley Kramer film Oklahoma Crude when, the well that Lena Doyle ( Faye Dunaway) and Noble Mason (George C. Scott) had fought off dozens of thugs from Standard Oil for, came in as a gusher then dwindled to a dry hole. All the blood and loss, anger and injustice was for naught and the exhausted Lena said, "It isn't easy being a woman in a man's world!"
Mason sighed and replied, "I got news for you lady, it ain't that easy bein' a man neither."

Remembering every exasperated mother's curse, "I hope that when you grow up you have a kid just like you," I wish you a Happy Mother's Day.
just waiting it out..the EP, the cover for this fine fine article,
whose message
which needs to be said from a gal
"males are multidimensional human beings..."

darn right we are.
our nasty side comes from our sense of inferiority
to women..nurturers, bearers of our sons ...and our daughters...
soft landing pads when the male chestbeating gets too weird and

thank god i had older sisters..and a strong mama, so i could
witness, in the warmth
of their fierce love for little me,

all the "epic, estrogen-fueled clashes from every possible angle, and over every possible issue. .."

these wimminz, boys! they are multidimensional!
they aint just there to
bedevil you
Jon: Thank you!

Clay: Thank you. I'll never forget that first wave. It seems almost like a tall tale now, but it really happened!

JMac: Darn. I haven't seen that flick, but it sounds good. I'll have to order it through Netflix. ... Those last lines are so true!!

James: You have a gift for really capturing the essence of issues and throwing them back in wonderful ways to all of us. You are a poet.
You are a strong woman. And fortunate to have so much well deserved love. Happy Mother's Day.
What a grand post, Deborah. This should be on the cover. R
Ande: Thank you for the sweet message, and for taking the time to read my post.

Thoth: Thanks for following my work! :)
Us men are human beings?

...get outa town.

This is a beautiful post -- and just in time for Mother's Day. I also had to adjust my views after giving birth to a boy. I mean I've always loved boys -- and I married one -- but I wasn't sure I had anything personal to teach him. Then I realized my experiences were relevant to his life too. I had always kept the male experience and the female experience separate in my mind, and having a son made me realize it isn't that simple. Given my father's influence on my life, I can't believe I didn't realize that sooner. I was also surprised when my daughter, during her teenage years, wasn't just the feministiest feminist on the planet given the environment I carefully created. She went her own way and eventually found her own way. I'm glad I no longer see them as extensions of myself or their behavior as evidence of my parenting. It takes the pressure off!
Spumey: :)

Bell: Thank you for understanding exactly where I was coming from. I admired certain men in my life, and loved my brothers, but it's a much different experience when you have your own son!
What a wonderful post! Raising a son was such a treat and it definitely changes your views on men, all for the better.
Steve: :)

Asia: Uh-huh. Totally agree. All for the better.
Lovely post! Eye-opening too. I had a very different experience, though. My wife and I had twins, a boy and a girl, and I always had the feeling that the two sexes complemented each other, or else cancelled each other out, which made everything a lot easier and a lot less existential than the journey you describe here. Or was it just that we were so busy with them we never had time to ponder such issues?

This was excellent~~~
Wonderful! Thank you so much!
Alan: Ha! I hadn't thought of that. I'll bet that has been quite an adventure.

Scanner: :) Feel better soon.

Jennifer: Thank you for taking the time to read my stuff!
What a super piece! Excellent photos too. You hit one yet again.

As for boys and girls, I kept thinking of that Joe Jackson song while I read your story. You know it "It's Different For Girls." It is, I suppose. But it's different for boys too.

And thanks for liking my might have been piece. I do swear by Spanx.
Wonderful story. I remember that Y sucker punch very well. It does turn your entire thought process upside down.
Nicely written Deborah. You seem to have a sharp understanding of the forging of the individual identity phase of life.
Mary: I've finally made my peace with Spanx and other shapewear. One of us needs to blog about that? I've never heard that Joe Jackson song. I have gaps in my pop culture timeline because of my 10-year stint in Venezuela in the '80s. I'm still discovering music from that era!

Rennis: It's so true.

Abra: I'm going through it again with my son! What is it about the age of 14? ... Thanks for stopping by.
Happy Mother's Day early. Your photos show how beautiful your children are, and you are one lucky woman (of course, they are lucky to have you as their mom)!
Deborah~ You went from making me laugh, to disarming me, to making me weep... and you are right about sooooo much!! I sit here, reflecting on the parallel universes we grew up in, gave birth in and are living in now...so much less wiser. These beautiful movements of the heart...so wonderful and so WELL SYNOPSIZED in this post. I am in awe... xoxox J
Thank you for this Mother's point of view.
CC: Thank you! I still can't believe how pretty my babies are. I'm just grateful my daughter and son are happy and healthy, and that my grandson is thriving. Their safety, health and happiness is all I want for them.

Brazen: You're so nice. Thanks, woman. But you inspired me with your Mother's Day post. :)

Phyllis: LOL. You have to wonder what my children would write about me, right? I can assure you my daughter's response would be equally complex. Or my mother's. That mother-daughter thing is just so textured and highly complex, isn't it? It's a wonder we all survive the drama as well as we do. ... You know that expression, "Save your drama for your mama?" Well, I always tell my kids, "Your mama doesn't want it either!"
What a touching piece! I've known some ardent female feminists in my day, and wondered how they'd react if ever they gave birth to a son. I once interviewed Alix Dobkin, the singer/songwriter who was about as "ardent" as they come, after she'd taken up with > a man. Seems that, after many years of harshly condemning the "man's world," she regained an appreciation for that little appendage that rules the world :-)

Thanks for this. What a gift.
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