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Amá, Your Story Is Mine

Walking Out of the Shadows of Abuse

By Ercenia "Alice" Cedeño

Publication Year: 2007

The daughter of migrant workers recalls her mother’s escape from domestic violence and poverty, in a haunting memoir that gives new voice to Latina lives.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I sit next to my dying mother and I see her old, tired, soft face free of suffering and pain. I have so many thoughts and none of them makes sense. I am confused. I see my mother enjoying peace for the first time and I am not able to share that...


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pp. xi-xvi


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pp. 2-16

As a young couple, Amá and my father, Apá, traveled through the United States in search of a new life. Nothing came easily for Amá. Even the weather was tough. She overcame blizzards, bitter winter cold, scorching sun, and typhoons. She faced...

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Escape to a New Life

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pp. 17-23

No one ever left Rancho Salado. It seemed as impossible as touching the sky. In Amá’s time people didn’t have money to just leave when they wished. Yet, Amá could dream. Dream about a life somewhere else, somewhere else far away from her inlaws...

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La Migra

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pp. 23-33

Apá felt like a king, full of ideas and power. Unfortunately, his subjects were just like himself, no power and no papers. Now they, too, were a part of the legions jumping on the backs of fl atbed trucks. The Mexican contractor, forgetting his own

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Joe Recalls

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pp. 33-36

Joe and I sit in the Los Angeles hospital, sharing the last hours of our mother’s life. A respirator keeps her body with us, though we know her spirit has slipped away. Suddenly all the suppressed emotions of a lifetime surge from her son, and he...

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pp. 36-42

As we began to adjust and learn to enjoy life without fear, our father decided to repent and fulfill his duties as a husband and father. He contacted Amá from Mexicali, a city just across the border in Mexico, by way of the neighbors’ telephone, or sent

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pp. 42-43

Once, before fiesta time, when Apá was listening to all of our hopes, he told us he had a big surprise and would reveal it on the coming Friday. Crazy and anxious from such big news, we told him we could not wait. I thought the anticipation of...

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Joe and the Pool Hall

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pp. 43-51

Not long after the completion of the house in Mexicali, Joe was on his way home one evening when he stopped at Barrio’s Pool Hall. It was in a big, old, windowless plywood building, its only light provided by single-bulb lamps dangling from

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The Cellar

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pp. 52-61

I am bewildered. I have lost the memory of why we moved out of the faded brown room in Calexico. Why can I not remember? I must know! I ask my sisters but they don’t know. I call Joe at home and ask, “Joe, tell me why we left the one-room...

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pp. 62-63

One extremely hot afternoon I saw my amá walking very slowly. She always looked tired, but this time her face looked sickly and she seemed to walk with great pain. Her mouth was dry. We could see the whiteness around her lips; her skin tinged a...

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pp. 65-68

The day Apá rejected his wife and children for his country, he became dead to Mary. Amá was too sick to take care of us, and Apá had been given the chance to come back and provide for us, but he refused. From that day on, his name was never...

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Wailing Cry

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pp. 69-72

It was actually better for us that Apá didn’t want to leave his country. Maybe he actually considered us for once, knowing that he couldn’t live up to the commitment. In any case, we no longer had to be afraid of Apá coming over and hurting Amá...

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pp. 72-76

Domingo, Sunday, was a family time, a festive day for everyone. We would gather at Abuelita’s house because she was the most important woman in the family. On Sunday, Abuelita was a queen; she could do no wrong. Her only function was to give...

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pp. 76-84

What kept the women from openly expressing the feelings that rattled their hearts? We were only allowed to talk about good things or everyday events. I remember one middle-aged woman who walked about holding her two children’s hands, with...


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pp. 86-88

It was supposed to be the greatest summer ever, because we would spend it away from home. Amá sent us to stay with my favorite aunt, Tía Flora, in Tijuana. We all loved her. She retained the youthful smile of a little girl in a round and pudgy face...

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pp. 88-93

My abuelita, Doña Demetria, was a character. She dressed herself like an old guerrilla de la revolución de Pancho Villa. She looked like someone out of the past in her long, colorful gathered skirts, with her rebozo crossed in front and back as if she...

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Ragtag Band

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pp. 93-94

My abuelita many times> awakened to the strings of the mariachis by her window and to the scents of flowers brought to her by her adoring sons. But I never saw my amá or tías have a Día de las Madres (Mother’s Day) like she did. I always wondered why...

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Crossing the Threshold

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pp. 94-98

Tasha was like a coin that my mother saw heads up and I saw heads down. Amá said that Tasha was a gift from God and was grateful that she lived so close by and could keep an eye on us. Amá never saw through Tasha’s act as the caring...

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A Neighbor’s Scheme

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pp. 99-100

There was a mysterious house in our neighborhood. It belonged to a woman who lived across the alley. It looked haunted; the drapes were always drawn. All we saw through the windows was an absurdly formed shadow lumbering slowly behind the...

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pp. 101-103

Amá was right when she used to look at us and say, “How many years I wished that you girls would grow up, thinking it would make my life a lot easier. When you were small, I knew I could make you happy if I gave you a piece of candy or an old toy...

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pp. 103-112

The same summer that Apá had his visa revoked, Amá heard from our neighbor Trinie about a summer job for the entire family. Mary was twelve years old, Estella ten, I was nine, and Lisa was eight. We were already used to working hard and...

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pp. 113-123

After we threw all the boxes of pots and pans in the back of the truck, we hopped in, alive with anticipation. Our trip from Doña Teresa’s home to the camp was made more thrilling because we had nothing to compare it with. Driving through the...

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pp. 123-125

In camp, all men had the same behavior. They all resembled drunken, self-indulgent Roman soldiers at a feast, demanding to be served. The servant was his wife. If he was a man, he had her doing three things at once. She had not finished bending...

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Summer Ends

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pp. 126-128

The summer in Fresno went by too fast. The fifteenth of August was here and the working season was over. The camp looked completely different now from when we first came. The trees were stripped bare, and only the skeletons of the...


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The Clean Start

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pp. 130-133

Amá decided we needed a change of scenery and neighborhood. From Billy’s Apartments we moved to First Street, to have a clean start. Out in front of our lopsided new building stood two palm trees that reminded me of two ancient women...

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Monster Machines

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pp. 133-139

Amá didn’t know how to read, but she vividly remembered many tales her grandfather had told her. Grandfather told her that one day there would be machines that could fl y like birds in the sky. Just like Abuelito told her about the airplanes, she...

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Menstrual Wars

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pp. 139-145

With time, my sisters and I changed from niñas to mujeres with the start of our menstrual period, what Amá called “la maldición” (“the curse”). This affl iction came upon us without warning and caused a war that lasted for years. Amá had her...

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pp. 145-152

Mary’s last year of school came, with the chance to finally be liberated from all of us. All that Amá demanded of us was that we get through high school. After that, there were two things that society predetermined for a girl: she either got...

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The Curse

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pp. 152-153

By this time my father had disappeared completely from our lives. We heard through family members that he had become a recluse in the Valle de Guadalupe, along with the even more incredible story that he had become a minister and lived off...

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My Knight in Shining Armor

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pp. 154-159

One fateful Easter Sunday, I was babysitting the autistic son of the apartment manager and gazing out the window at people coming and going in their Sunday best, when I spotted a tall, muscular man with silky, long black hair, brown bell-bottoms...

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The Reunion

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pp. 159-161

One summer evening when Little José was seven months old, I ran across the border to Mexicali to buy some groceries. When I returned, Amá told me about several phone calls in which she could hear someone breathing. She’d ask, “¿Quién...

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Marriage and Children

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pp. 162165-181

Big José wanted a second child, but I hesitated. He had abandoned me once when I was pregnant, and I feared he’d do it again. We were also too poor to afford a second child, let alone send both children to college...

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The Last Frontier

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pp. 165-184

Unions were losing power in Chicago in the early Seventies, and the workers who earned fifteen dollars an hour had to take jobs for seven dollars an hour. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline was being built in Alaska. José and I followed his brother Gus to...

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Beauty School

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pp. 168-170

Times were hard, and I needed a skill to find a good job. I knew that dental assisting was not for me. I knew that child-care work wouldn’t put food on the table. The airport catering company where I worked was closing its doors. I knew there...

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Fly Free

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pp. 170-173

In Amá’s final days, I traveled to the San Diego area, where she lived. I sought a piece of her—something I could hold onto when she was gone. As I walked into Amá’s house, I saw no luxury, just the bare necessities: a used sofa, a wood table with...

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The Cycle

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pp. 173-176

My mother’s death changed a lot for me. It made me realize how short life is and how important it is to make the most of it. I had such an overfl ow of customers that I had outgrown the little beauty shop where I worked. It was time to open my...

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795334
E-ISBN-10: 0292795335
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292716568
Print-ISBN-10: 0292716567

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2007