About ten years ago I was reading a book on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and although I didn’t understand her poetry, I loved her life’s story. This woman fascinated me with her fierce intellect. I wanted to be like her.
I don’t think I will ever be the greatest Mexican poetess in history, but I can use her story as my guideline, at least a bit. I think, if I try really hard, by the time I turn 100 years old I will be able to finish reading the books she’s read. Maybe not.
But it’s not about the books. Here’s what fascinated me the most: her spirit. Who defies the Catholic Church in the time when the Holy Inquisition is at full throttle!? She was not a target. It was the Mexican Indigenous who needed to abandon their pagan ways, but even so, those days women weren’t allowed to read and write, much less hold major philosophical debates with the church’s authorities just for the freedom to keep writing. She always won. I remember a line from the book that said she was like a warship and her opponents were like tugboats throwing stones at her.
The warship and the tugboat scene stayed in my mind. How can I be a philosophical warship like her?
I still don’t know the answer. One thing I can guess about her is that she had no desire to be any kind of ship at all, she just wanted to write.
What happens when you want something so bad but the people who are dearest to you don’t allow it? Do you do it anyway? Yes? No? If you do it anyway, do you feel guilt in the process? Do you have to rebel against society just to express yourself? This should be a given right. Right? It’s not. I know this to be true by living the life of a social rebel. I never rebelled against the system or the government, I have only wanted the freedom to live my own life.
There’s this phenomenon in society that doesn’t allow people to rise up from their circumstances, because the one whose head is highest becomes the first target–and by the people they most love and care about. This was not the case in my own family, they did want me to be the greatest success possible. They just didn’t follow my logic! It was hard for them to see me jump and fall repeatedly. This phenomenon is alive and well in Mexico, though–especially in rural communities. It’s mostly sharp when women are the ones to rise out of their circumstances. Another reason why I love Sor Juana.
I think, if we really want to change the world, we must let our loved ones jump off the safety cliff. It’s only in their flying (or falling!) that the true transformation happens. We cannot become new people if we don’t walk out of our turtle shells. And it’s “new people” who are going to find the answers our world needs. Let them go!
When I first started painting I had some great supporters, yes, but overall the main thing I heard from people was “95% of artists fail”. Then I realized that the people saying this had a success standard of Picasso.
The problem we have in society is that our idea of success is, how many people recognize you and how much money you make. The state of your soul is never considered as something valid enough to consider. So basically, what people are saying is “if you sell your soul for money and recognition, we will all applaud you”. Being that we are social beings and we love and need our families and social circles, we willingly concede.
Some people are lucky enough to have the support of their loved ones from the start, but that’s very uncommon. Most of us have to walk through the fires of being true to ourselves no matter what. Just like Sor Juana did. If our families love us enough, they come around. When they do, they end up being the most die-hard supporters and admirers around!
Nowadays they’re like, ‘gabriela, you have done so much crazy shit with no safety net, and look at you chugging away, still painting, still showing your art, still walking it’.
I’m still light years behind Sor Juana, and my own hat is always off to her. My hat is also off to my own siblings and other family members, who, without making noise, are gradually conquering their own territory.