Privacy and Abuela

Privacy, bodily autonomy, personal space isn’t a thing for older Hispanics.

When I was little and there was company coming over grandma would yell at us to clean our room. It didn’t matter that it was clean. No, it had to be immaculate. It had to look like two small children (my younger brother and I) weren’t occupying that space.

If it wasn’t cleaned to her standards, she’d close the door. I’d ask why and I was told, “you know how people are. They might open the door and then see the mess.”

I heard this again when mami was teaching me how to cook rice and she’d arranged the rice in a neat mound in the pot when it was done cooking. I would never do that. She’d tell me to. I’d ask why and she’d say “presentation is important because people might open the pot”

I mean who the hell would care if the rice wasn’t arranged nicely? I only cared about it being cooked properly. (When I was learning, I always added too much waer and it would end up “amogollao”)

Who were these nosy ass people judging me about my unmade bed and messy rice?
Family, of course.

I learned family had a right to everything about me. I got my first period when I was 11 and my grandmother called everybody to tell them that “el gallo ya canto”. I got calls from my godmother in NYC congratulating me on finally becoming a “Señorita”.

I lived with my mom, my grandparents and my two brothers. My tio M* lived with is until he died when I was 8. The room I shared with my mom and younger brother was the master bedroom of the house. It had its own bathroom, but no door, instead it had a beaded curtain (no kidding!).

Grandma would walk in the bathroom all the time. It didn’t matter if I was showering or on the toilet because “we both have the same stuff”.

Sometimes, when I had the room to myself, I’d close the door. Grandma would yell at me because “decent young ladies” don’t close their doors. I was 12.

Once a boy who liked me walked me most of the way home. We passed by several older people who knew my grandpa (in our town people knew who you were by your “pinta”. They could tell who your “people” were by your coloring!)
I knew they would have all sorts of stories about A’s* granddaughter walking alone with a boy. So as soon as I got home I told my grandma that a boy from my class (and I made sure to emphasize how much I did not like this boy) had walked me part of the way home. Because if I didn’t tell her, she’d hear about it next time she went into town and I’d get yelled at.

I was forced to hug and kiss relatives I didn’t want to. I’d be shamed into doing it.

I told myself I would be different with TJ. For the most part I am, but then I have company come over and even though my apartment is clean, I start freaking out because a child’s messy room will be used as proof of how “malcri’a” TJ is; how shitty I am as a mom.

I know it’s all bullshit. I know that the people who matter won’t care about that stuff. I mean, a lot of this privacy and bodily autonomy stuff is tied into a lot of social justice issues and most of my friends are social justice minded. So rationally I KNOW that my 6 year old’s messy room won’t be a big deal. In fact, a child that age should have a messy room.

But in the back of my mind, I hear my tiny but scary grandma telling me to clean up. It’s the same voice I hear whenever I try to ignore abuelitas in the street when I have my earbuds on. It’s the same voice who tells me to keep my legs together when I’m wearing a skirt. It’s the reason why even though I’m an atheist I still ask my grandma for “la bendición”.

Because old habits die hard and disrespecting abuela is a no-no.

Note: Initials were used to protect family’s privacy (take that nosy family!)

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