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  • Writer's pictureJulie Early Sifuentes

This is Me

This is me, sitting in the middle of my beautiful grandmas. It is one of my very favorite pictures. It captures the first and only time that mi Abuelita Julia came from Perú to visit us in Roseburg, Oregon. Growing up, my Peruvian side of the family and my US side of the family did not relate or intermingle hardly at all. This is in large part because of physical distance, but also because of some deep cultural differences. There is something so powerful to me about seeing myself in between these two different worlds, about it being all in one picture.

Mi Abuelita, my mother's mom, was born in a tiny remote village in the Andes mountains in 1919. She moved to Lima as a teenager and married mi Abuelito when she was 16 and he was 32. He had five children already, and so she became a mother abruptly. She and my grandfather also had children together, six, and they raised them in the rapidly growing city of Lima. I don’t have many memories of her; she died when I was 8 years old. I have heard some stories about her that have stuck with me. They would call her “Santa Julia”, because she was always looking after other people’s needs before her own. And mi Tío said told me that she used to listen to Arabic music on the radio; she would say that “her spirit would soar listening to the music of her ancestors.” This stayed with me because when he told me this story, I was actively looking into my family history on my Peruvian side. I had just had my own experience of my spirit taking flight as I heard stories and saw pictures of my ancestors.

My grandma Betty, my father's mom, was born in Los Angeles, California in 1905. She moved in the opposite direction as mi Abuelita Julia, from the big city to the country (Oregon). She graduated high school early and traveled to Europe with her mother. Afterward, she got a college degree and began her career teaching physical education before getting married when she was 35. She had three children, raising them in Oakland, Oregon a town of 1,000. Later in life, my grandma worked as a librarian at the local high school and lived well into her 90’s. As a child, I remember most her apple pie, macaroni cheese, and her playing the piano. I became a lot closer to her when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. As I have gotten older I have appreciated the significance of a woman getting a college degree in the 1920’s and having a career before getting married and having children.

The contrast of these two women's lives and their two worlds lives in me. While I grew up physically closer to my grandma, my connection to Peru and my grandmother through my maternal line has always had my emotional gaze. I didn't realize until recently how this picture reflects this in a clear and subtle way. The way that I am physically closer to my Grandma, leaning into her side, while mi Abuelita seems to be sitting at a distance. How mi Abuelita and I are connecting through our eyes with my mother, who is taking the picture; while my Grandma is not smiling at my mother, but at someone else on the other side of the room.

It never occurred to me that a picture could be the perfect answer to the spoken and unspoken questions "where are you from?" or "what are you?" That it would be the truest answer to my own lingering questions that I have about my identity. Peruvian-American, Mixed Latina, Half Peruvian - none feel nearly as right as this picture.

There is now another picture with my beautiful grandmas that has been developing over time. I am 46 in this picture; a mother with two children and a career. In this picture, I am standing on the shoulders of my grandmas, and we are balanced and strong. They are looking at each other, and I am looking directly at the camera.

Abuelita Julia and Grandma Betty, Thank you for all that you have given - to your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren. Thank you for investing in yourselves and thank you for your sacrifices. Most of all, thank you for your unconditional love which is passed down to my parents, to me and through the generations.

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