Last year, I took my first art class. Our assignment, using charcoal, was to draw a loved one; I chose my grandma. My grandma has taught me about passion, life, and grit. Although, anyone who called her abuela, she’d throw a chancla at. For her, ‘Grandma’ sounds too old. She insisted to be called Mami Rufi since she’s 15 at heart. This is the woman who danced on tables at my quince, danced banda with every man in the house, and has zero filter. But, she’s also the woman who taught me lo que no se enseña, no vende y pontes las pilas – meaning if you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t go far (similar to if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will) and get it together and pay attention.
Mami Rufi came to the US in 1979 with 6 children and her husband in search of a better life. (REMINDER: Just like the pilgrims embarked on the Mayflower and arrived in 1620. They were seeking a better life to practice religion freely.) Mami Rufi has worked as a house cleaner since she arrived. She has a characteristic feature; her right index finger was broken at the age of 5. Her brother dropped a huge rock on her hand and since she lived in a poor village, seeing a doctor wasn’t a choice.
Now, she cleans 1 house and goes dumpster diving for recyclable bottles. While she doesn’t have the money to give presents, she gives me beautiful treasures she finds. There is some dank jewelry people throw away – STILL in the box. (T and I are probably going dumpster diving in the near future hehe) Since her injuries with her back, it’s harder for her to clean houses now. Yet, she saves up money to travel. She’s gone to Switzerland, Italy, England, France, and more. She’s traveled to different places in Mexico and the United States. She’s a badass woman.
Matriarchy y Machismo
Like most traditional Mexican families, the women clean, cook and take care of the kids. While the men were relatively the breadwinners and must uphold a serious and machismo character. What a bunch of bs. When I was younger, I thought our family was built around patriarchy. In reality, it was matriarchy and my grandmother called the shots. There’s an endearing memory of my grandmother and mi primo, Jose.
I watched countless times mis primos trying to be macho. On the porch swing, I watched mi primo, Jose, try to defy Mami Rufi. He was tired of moving heavy cement. He looked her straight in the eye and said, “No!” She responded to his challenge by stating her position in two frightening words, “Ya veras.” All of my cousins recognize the slow, low, and deep tone means unthinkable pain and misery. He jutted out his chin and said, “You can’t even catch me, viejita.” My cousins gasped. “Corre. Aqui vengo.” Run. Here I come.
He took off running down the street. In a blur, my grandma took off her chancla and ran. With one full motion, Mami Rufi flung and nailed Jose with the chancla. He turned in surprise and saw my grandma immediately behind him, keeping up with him step for step. Just as I laughed, he laughed and fell to the ground while the “viejita” stood over him, beating him with the other chancla. That was the day I subconsciously learned the role of women in our family dynamics. Before boys can become men, it takes a woman to make him so. Then again, most times, we don’t give men the responsibility they should have. There’s the phrase “boys will be boys” but that’s a blog post for a different day.
Mami Rufi Montes
Above is the photo I drew from
Mi ma hitting me on the shoulder (probably bc she didn’t want to be in the picture) and then Mami Rufi kissing my shoulder better <3
Mami Rufi takes on Santa Cruz