Earlier this week, I held a second memoir-writing workshop here in sunny, slow Alamos, Sonora, Mexico, a colonial puebla full of arches, gringos, and contrasting life stories.
I was excited that a dozen Mexican women wanted to attend because my current project, Women of Alamos, is taking shape. We are collecting stories for a book to be published late this year.
It all started when five Norte Americanas had lunch together at Teresita’s and concluded, “There are so many fabulous women in Alamos! We ought to collect their stories and publish them. We can use the money from the sales to benefit the children of Alamos in some way.” And so we are. Gringas are writing their stories of how they found and arrived in Alamos, what they do here, what Alamos does for them and their feelings about this village of 10,000.
The challenge now is to encourage the Mexican women to write. Elena came on Monday; she is enthusiastic and has been inviting locals to write their stories. She is bilingual, bright, well-educated and eager for this project to succeed. Another two women came because they know and trust me. I asked them why others, who said they would come, didn’t.
“They are afraid. No one outside their families has ever asked them to tell about themselves. They are not used to being heard – as you are. And, anyway, why would anyone want to help us to write for free? They think they will be tricked into paying.”
I was stunned. Those thoughts had never occurred to me.
Rosa told me, “They are busy. The women work, have their tiendas, take care of their husbands, children, mothers and fathers. They don’t have time to write a story, even if they knew what you wanted.”
I could understand this. I’ve seen Mexican women in early mornings at the Mercado buying foods to prepare later that day. They walk and carry their pastel bags of avocados, tomatoes, onions, tortillas, queso, pollo and yogurt. Heavy bags, one in each hand. One woman shuffles past my casa every morning with a bundle on her head. The children are immaculate. Their white school shirts pressed, trousers and pleated skirts creased precisely. Their wide grins and bright eyes, their “Buenos dias, senora,” polite and respectful. Their mothers get credit for their happy, healthy outlooks.
So, we enthusiastic expats have crashed up against a cultural difference that we need to honor. This morning Elena and I will have breakfast at Teresita’s and brainstorm. Somehow, maybe slowly, we will accomplish what five gringas dreamed of over lunch last year.