Translated by Katrina Hassan
During the last three years of my elementary school, my days were spent wearing donkey ears during recess time. I had to face the wall, looking towards the classrooms. I was punished every single recess time, every day, without fail. I didn’t even get to enjoy one day of play. I always wished and yearned for more than my life circumstances could permit. I always dreamed of liberty and equality at a young age. I was a tremendously wild girl that didn’t fit the norm. I was full of energy and thought of myself as part of the pack. During recess time, I asked the boys from my class to let me play soccer. They wouldn’t let me because I was a girl and that enraged me. I would then challenge them to a fight in which I would always win.
By the time the teacher arrived, my uniform, along with my hair would be a dusty mess, all over the place thanks to all the pulling and fighting. My hair, always long and wild, permitted me another way to rebel.
The teacher would drag me by the ear towards the principal’s office. There he would tell her that I was found fighting the boys. My punishment was to don donkey ears made of construction paper and face the wall. They never punished any of the boys. It always landed on me. Maybe if the boys would have beat me up we’d had a different story. The truth is that I never showed weakness on the outside, it was all kept inside. I never heard the teachers or the principal talk about girls having the right to play soccer. On the contrary, when I gave my reasons why I wanted to play with the boys, they told me that girls only played house, with dolls or girly things. All my life I have done “boy” things because I don’t believe that there is anything a woman can’t do. The price I’ve paid for this has been high, but I’ve kept resisting. I keep insisting because I am as crazy as a goat. Also the leopard cannot change its spots.
One day, towards the end of the year, the teacher took me by the ear, but this time he didn’t take me to the principles office to wear donkey ears. Instead he took me to a classroom. He found a tape recorder and played me a cassette. He said to carefully pay attention to a song. When I felt rage and pain, I was to remember it. The song was Chiquitita by Abba. He put on another song by a group called Tormenta. The song was called Goodbye Boys From My Neighbourhood. I, the one who could not talk or express her emotions, did not say a word. I stood silently and cried. I was furious about being punished for trying to play soccer with the boys. That was one of my first defeats. The wings of childhood should never be cut off for any reason.
For many years, when I listened to Chiquitita, I would cry non-stop. I never seeked the song out, but it would appear at unexpected times. I would cry my bitterness away. I was always treated like a lost cause, the last or forgotten one. I was the one you shouldn’t bet on or you’d lose your money. I became a teenager that debated by fighting the boys. It was still for the same reason as before, for equality and for my right to play soccer. I was the only girl in my neighbourhood that played back then. To be able to play I had to kick the whole team’s butt. It was like this for years until one day they understood that they couldn’t deny me my right to play. That small victory was celebrated with a beer, as is tradition in the ‘hood.
I never imagined to live to age 18. I always believed I would die before. Eighteen seem very far away. Each day was torment and I wished to die and not wake up. I never wanted to live past that age. My life was too hard to keep extending it. Today 11th of November 2021, I celebrate 18 years that I have lived in my rented town, where I became a foreigner. Like nothing, 42 years of my life have passed. This is the first year that I have celebrated my birthday. It is also the first year in which I haven’t thought of committing suicide.
Last night, as I was painting, I was listening to the radio on my phone. All of a sudden, unexpectedly, like a blow, there was that song “Chiquitita” by Abba. I cried and danced with my brushes in hand. For the first time I was not crying in pain, frustration, or fury. I cried of joy, hope and gratefulness.
To be a foreigner, in this walk of life that is migration, on this earth, I have learned to love. In one of my many emotional labyrinths and pilgrimages, as I got sidetracked, I believe that when I reached out with all my might, she responded. She was high up but had the humility to come down to my level. She is the Passing Cloud, the one that envelops me. I talk, she listens, and makes me feel valued and loved. She doesn’t judge me and isn’t ashamed of the way I am. Thanks to her, I have created and written, beyond my clumsiness and emptiness. I have accomplished my childhood dream of painting. She is with me, here, in this moment of pitter-pattering rain. I watch the rain from the window of my studio-nest. I turn the days into rain, fog, sun, maple leaf, oak leaf, wine glass, paint colours, poetry and the air I breathe.
The road hasn’t been easy. Today from my fortress, not my broken self, I have slowly healed. I can say to that little girl that always felt like a lost cause, the one that donned the donkey ears and was punished at recess time, facing the wall, the one that had doors closed in her face, that it was worth it to resist. It was worth it because now dawn has broken. I am very proud of her being so stubborn, arid, tough, of her having that mountain essence. I am proud of her wild hair, her black skin color, nose and smell, her silliness, sidetracks, not so good decisions, setbacks, and her way of loving. Absolutely all of this is what makes her today. I celebrate, protect, love and admire her, everyday a little more. I also let her know that without a doubt, there will still be difficult days ahead, in reality the majority, but with her strength she will know how to deal with them. As always, with a smile and gratefulness that knowledge attracts.
To: Carolina Vásquez Araya on this pitter-pattery rainy day.
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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado