How did I discover that the Cuentos or short stories could give a voice to the immigrant mother?
“Would you like to know what happened with Manchita and the Big Bear? Can you imagine that the Big Bear was taller than your dad and me together? Manchita was so brave and he was only ten years old! In our tribe, everyone respected and loved him; even the elders would go to him for help!” This is the way my Abuelo Bigotes, “Grandpa Mustache,” began his bedtime stories every night my mom and my dad asked him to take care of us. It took me many years to realize the power that my Abuelo Bigotes and his stories had on me. His characters were as real as we would need them to become. My Abuelo Bigotes would make them change as we were changing. When we were eight years old, we would go for bicycle rides around our neighborhood, Ramos Mejía, Buenos Aires, and suddenly, we would all have to run because Manchita was asking us to see some fantastic treasure he had discovered for us.
When I was fifteen and my Abuelo Bigotes discovered my fascination with other cultures, this independent young woman friend of his came alive, Angelica. She was a worldwide traveler, a bit older than me. She braved a world in which no Argentinian woman would do anything without their family. When I began studying to become a teacher, another new friend emerged—a sophisticated scholar in some university in which she impressed everyone with her command of other languages, creativity, and resourcefulness, overcoming her deep feelings of inadequacy. Los cuentos de mi Abuelo Bigotes—my Abuelo Bigotes’ cuentos—revealed the nature of my origins, the force behind fear transmuted into strength and courage, and the clarity that everything we do brings us to a new place of self-discovery, wonder, and love.
A few years ago, my Abuelo Bigotes’ stories became alive once more in my work as a child–parent psychotherapist with Latino American and other immigrant mothers. He took me by surprise! I needed to find a way to help these immigrant mothers tell their children about their journey in search of that place which they thought would bring them closer to the happiness that only safety can help us to create. One afternoon, as an immigrant mother rocked her young child to sleep, my first cuento emerged. As she began to tell her story, my crayons on a piece of paper gave color and form to her journey. Her older children came back from school, surrounding her with their love. Suddenly, she took my drawings and said, “Let’s sit together. I can’t wait to tell you the story of this strong mom—the most loving mom in the world!”
As I left, filled with gratitude for the visitation of my Abuelo Bigotes, I realized that the cuento cocreated with this mother helped her to find her voice and helped me once more to discover mine. I wonder if you had someone like Abuelo Bigotes in your life. I wonder if you also have been visited by someone who reminded you of those parts of yourself that you were missing and just did not know it.
You might also be interested in what happens in my book, Mommy, Tell Me, Why Did You Come Here? Check it out!