I had a very happy childhood. I was the youngest sister of seven siblings and that meant that I was spoiled a lot. When it was time to clean the house, my sisters would throw me out to play. While my mother was selling in the markets, my four sisters cleaned the house; they did the dishes, made food, etc. So since I was the youngest, I grew up better than any of them. I grew up on the same street where I was born. Always playing, always surrounded by lots of friends. My mother had to go down to the street with a little plate of food for me to eat. My childhood was very nice, my schooling was very good. Normally parents tell their children to go to school. In my house, I told my mother to take me to school because I liked it.
It is true that in my house, my brothers didn’t do any housework, they didn’t know how to iron or anything…What they did was to sell in the markets and help my father. The time was different then and things were done that way. Work was twice as much as today. My mother didn’t even have a washing machine or a refrigerator. When my brothers became independent, they couldn’t live in houses because we were under Franco’s dictatorship and they didn’t allow Roma to live in houses. During this period, most Roma lived in self-built shacks. My mother had no electricity or drinking water, they had to wash their clothes by hand, they had to hang the sheets on the bushes and in the sun because it was like bleach. Food was made in pots and they lived like this for many years, from 10 to 15 years.
When I was 17 years old, I got pregnant and I knew that whatever happened in my life I was going to have my child in my arms. When you are only looking after your child, you forget to put makeup on your eyes because you don’t have the time. When they are small, you have to breastfeed every 2 or 3 hours, 20 minutes to give one breast, then the other. At each feeding one has to be aware and change the diaper. It is a lot of dedication. So, being physically exhausted, you don’t have time for anything. Life changes a lot when you become a mother for the first time. Of course, you have to experience it yourself, to go through it and that’s when you understand it. Even though I tried to follow my path as best I could, the baby I had was there. I was still young but I already had the responsibility to take care of my daughter.
With my husband it didn’t go very well. Although this is my story, I think it’s similar for many of the women around me. So it didn’t work out very well for me and that’s why I separated at the age of 52. Although I tried to make my relationship work, it was not going well and it ended. I know that not everyone does so badly. In life it’s a matter of luck which man you get. I put a lot of effort into getting along, so that we would both think alike and look at the same direction, but it didn’t work out. I’ve been pulling the burden all my life alone, and in addition I had to pull him along. It was heavy to carry him, it felt like I had a “backpack full of rocks” on my back.
I was trying to make my marriage work because at that time women thought we had to be with the same man forever and I was trying to have a happy family with the father of my children. Besides, in everyone’s eyes, I had a “stamp” on my forehead that said “married”. However, my man didn’t bring anything to the table and I was afraid what people would say if I left him. Throughout all these years, I could only share my feelings with 3 close and great friends, who were very important to me. More than my friends, they are my sisters. There were things in my marriage that I was ashamed to tell, however, with them I felt free to share. They gave me advice that was very useful for me at the time. I remember how my friends used to tell me “the problems that your mother, father, brothers and sisters caused you, were family problems that you have to accept and face. But when it’s with a person you have met on the street that is causing you troubles, it’s a personal choice“. I was still with him, but they continued to support me, they also kept telling me that they would never abandon me. I feel very proud of these friends, now and always, and of my children. They are what I am most proud of.
If I had realized it sooner, if times were what they are now, I would have left him sooner, and I would have been able to start my life again with someone else. Although today’s times make some things easier for women, I also feel that today women work twice or three times harder than before. Before, women were only dedicated to the household, but now we have to go out to work and when we come home, we continue with the housework.
This struggle to try to make it all work out has worsened with COVID-19. The mental struggle we have is even stronger. It becomes more difficult to earn money, to make ends meet, to pay the bills…. And in spite of everything, I have to try to keep my mind alert and keep looking for opportunities and not get hopeless and tired. Life today is more complicated than it already was and therefore, my advice to my daughter and to all those who read my story here, is to study. It is good to have a good job, because life takes many turns and work allows you to be determined, not to depend on anyone and to get ahead.
About love, I would tell her to fall in love with a good person. I’ll tell her that not everything is physical, because the physical spoils and goes away. Fall in love with a person who makes you feel like you are the best in the world. That’s what’s important. Fall in love with a person who gives you joy, security, dreams. It is important to feel comfortable with a person next to you and as a song says, that although he can’t give you paradise, “I can give you a beer on the beach” (“te pueda dar una cervecita en la playa”, from the song “Vida de Rico” by Camilo)
Author: Patricia Jiménez Silva
Co-Journalist: Ana Gutiérrez Martínez
This story was originally published in Better Late Than Never: Patricia’s Story | Other Front Line