The day I’d been waiting for finally arrived. Victoria, the chatty lady with whom I’d had friendly interactions with warmly invited me to her house. The observer in me had read more into her personality; she was like a big sister I never had. With her well-chosen English words flavoured with South American and a Spanish accent, Victoria was pleasant to talk to. She served me some tea; not once did she frown upon my love for sugar in well-brewed tea. Indeed, we chatted about this and that, including some of the stories that I’d written and highlights of my journey so far.
Victoria listened with interest although she had a host of questions too. This smiley and friendly lady turned out to be very analytical and direct, in a good way. She’s an accountant by profession and on her way to rebuilding her career, which had stalled thanks to the pressures of raising a young family.
Upon hearing about one story that I’d recently penned, she lit up and said that she had a tale capable of teaching us all a thing or two about love, kindness and acceptance of others.
She took me back to a village in Chile where her beloved grandad fell in love with a girl back in the 1920s. Simple? Not quite. Much to the horror of his family, Carlos, her grandad, was Catholic and the girl who’d stolen his heart was Protestant. Let's call her Antonella. At the time, the Catholic religion was highly respectable, especially in the countryside, and Protestants were treated as second-class citizens. Grandad’s mum did everything in her power to stop the two from pursuing a relationship. One day, Antonella’s mum went away and asked the smitten girl to look after her siblings. In the still of the night, Carlos did what some of us have seen in the movies. On horseback, he galloped towards the love of his life and whisked her away towards the unknown. The only thing sure was their love for one another, and their only crime was falling in love with someone from a different religion.
A search party was sent out for them, and after a while, the lovebirds were smoked out of hiding. Luckily, the police decided not to press charges against the two, and at that point, Antonella moved in with her boyfriend's family. Together, they were happy, but life was tough especially for the girl (now wife) as she endured the harsh treatment of her mother-in-law and husband’s family. She was unwanted. However, Carlos and Antonella were blessed with 11 children and all of them were named after film and radio stars. The rebel in Antonella decided to go against the usual practise of giving her children Catholic names such as Maria and Rosa. She gave all her children posh names that she’d heard on the radio. Naturally, the children were cursed by everyone within the extended family. It was a hostile environment, but the children grew up with fond memories from the countryside such as picking nectarines and melons and just enjoying the good life synonymous with the Chilean countryside.
Meanwhile, the winds of change were blowing on the political front as the government sought to compensate farm labourers with pieces of land that they’d spent many years working on and paying rent for. In other words, they were giving the poor sections of property taken from wealthy landowners. Carlos suddenly found himself without land; his landlord had worked out that giving him and his many children land would mean granting large tracts, so he decided to evict them from the farm instead. With nowhere to go and many mouths to feed, the only place they could go to was further away from his parents and Carlos secured a plot for his family. That, in a way, became a blessing in disguise because it also gave them the freedom to go to a Protestant church. It didn’t go unnoticed; Carlos' mother would shout from a distance each time they went past their old Catholic church. Grandma was a feared woman, no-one would oppose her, not even her husband but Antonella somehow managed to forge ahead with her beliefs.
Unfortunately, Antonella would later pass on at the age of 35, leaving young children behind. Victoria’s mum was the eldest and only 14 at the time. She took on a mothering role from a very young age, the youngest was 2. That never stopped uncles and other relatives from verbally abusing the children, proclaiming that they’d never amount to anything.
Fast-forward many years later, all of the children turned out well. All of them have had excellent jobs and lead very comfortable lives, including Victoria’s mum. Somehow, of all the people who used to curse them as children, none of them went on to lead decent lives. They resorted to drugs and crime. “The cursing became cursed,” Victoria said. What they used to call Carlos' children is what happened to their own, including themselves.
Carlos later married a new wife who went on to ill-treat the children to the point of starvation. The incredible thing is when she also died, the only people who attended her funeral were Victoria’s uncles (her step-sons) who made sure that everything was taken care of. They chose to forgive and didn’t keep grudges against their step-mother although she’d treated them unkindly.
“Sometimes, when people suffer, they think they have excuses to do bad. They say it’s because they’ve been through too much, that it's who they are and can’t help themselves. But there’s always another way, a better way. Work hard, do your best to pull yourself out of poverty. All my uncles went on to have lovely homes and lifestyles by any standards even though they had a tough upbringing. They chose to be good people. My grandad died in his 90s, and he was a very respectable man. He loved his children and worked till he was 80! To this day, I have nothing but fond memories of going to his farm with my sister. He always told me that I’d grow up to be very beautiful although I was rather dark and not fair-skinned.”
Indeed, Victoria has a kind of beauty that comes from within and radiates outside for everyone to bask in!
I asked Victoria how she felt about her great-grandmother not accepting her grandmother as a daughter-in-law. Her answer surprised me. "When it comes to matters concerning the heart, sometimes it's best to listen to your parents. I know that my great-grandmother didn't like my grandmother who would give birth to my mother. When my mother told me that she didn't like two of my old boyfriends, I listened and stopped seeing them. However, my new boyfriend's mother didn't like me! Before we got married, we both visited her and she blatantly told me that she thought he'd bring a White girl from England, but since he'd chosen me, there was nothing else she could do!"
We also found ourselves talking about what it means to be a feminist. Victoria shared her own views. "I don't understand why women would want to be strong like men, we were never created to be the same. Being a feminist means being strong yet feminine at the same time. It means being lovely, kind and being there for others. I treat my husband with respect, even when he's in a bad mood. It doesn't make me a weak. I know that I'm strong." Victoria is house-proud and adores her husband. Having touched on different scenarios, she went on to say that usually, mother-in-law and daughter relationships are strained even in her own experience, but when that happens, the best thing to do is respect and honour regardless. "You will never regret doing the right thing," Victoria concluded.
*Names changed to protect the privacy of individuals
Although we hail from different cultures and backgrounds, we shape each other's journeys through learning and interaction.