Once upon a time in a land not too far away… I’m kidding. I’m honored to share with you part of my story around the writing of my debut book, Where Silence Ends. This is a story close to my heart and I know many of you will also deeply connect with the narrative. You should know that I grew up in California as a first-generation Mexican in an American world — as well as being an American in a Mexican world. I’m sure many of you relate to this duality of a life experience. Your whole self in both worlds, creating a magical feeling of home in both places — at least that was mainly my experience. In no way am I dismissing the struggles of this duality, but knowing the beauties both realms provide me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Like many of our abuelitas and ancestors, my abuelitas were the medicine women of our hometown in Mexico. I grew up with the magic of plants as medicine. This led me to participate in my first ayahuasca ceremony some years ago (ayahuasca is a sacred psychedelic brew made from plants that grow in the amazon), and let me tell you, people don’t refer to ayahuasca as the television of the jungle for no reason. My internal world exploded in the most beautiful ways, pushing through images and messages that continue to guide me today. One of the most impactful messages that played on a loop during the journey was, “Write the book! Write the book! Write the book!” It was clear to me what I needed to do.
A few months after the ayahuasca ceremony, I quit my job and dedicated the next two years of my life, together with my mother, to writing her and our family’s life story — centered around generational trauma and the beauty of breaking cycles and healing. I interviewed over seventeen family members and friends in order to piece the entire story together. This brought about much-needed conversations around sexual trauma, machismo, marianismo, racism, and the beauty of speaking our truths.
I’m not gonna lie, I’m nervous every time someone dives into the book. A part of my family history — and a dark history at that — is laid out for the world to read, but in the end, as long as this story helps to inspire and drive others to speak their truth, then the fear of vulnerability is worth it to me. As Latinx individuals, somos magicos. Somos fuertes. Somos amor. And we have the power to shake this world up by telling our stories. I’m proud to say the book is available in both English and Spanish, as it’s important for me to share extensively with our Latin communities. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book.
With lots of love,
From Chapter One…
In 1920, in the beautiful little town of Purepero, Michoacán, Mexico, the revolution was coming to an end. Emiliano Zapata, the leader and hero of the peasants’ revolution, had just been assassinated. The tumultuous energy of the war was settling, as men and women begrudgingly returned to life before the uprising. Men journeyed on horseback, bringing crops back into town from the fields, kicking dust up behind them as they trotted down the dirt roads, ready to rebuild after losing their champion of change.
One summer afternoon, as the sun beamed down, the smell of fresh tortillas drifted out of the adobe homes, filling the streets with the sweetness of corn.
Against the front door of her home, a beautiful young girl of 14 years waited nervously in a white hand-stitched blouse and long dark blue skirt. Her hair was pinned up in a loose dark brown bun, her piercing green eyes accentuated by her light complexion. She was wild, fierce, and yet sweet as can be. Her love for life was contagious. Her name was Elena Esperanza Sánchez Valenzuela.
Elena had two boyfriends, Enrique and Hector, though they mainly functioned as pen pals, given the era and their age. After little contemplation, Elena made her choice: She wanted to be with Enrique, and therefore needed to end it with Hector. Leaning against the wooden door, she watched Hector approach.
“Hi Elena. You look beautiful,” greeted Hector.
“Thank you, Hector. I’m glad you’re here,” established Elena.
As he began to remark on the day’s mundanities, she shifted her face towards the sun. Soaking in the daylight, she let the warmth fill her soul, knowing the heartbreak she was about to evoke on the man before her. But a life of discovery and excitement awaited her, and she gushed with fondness for her Enrique. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a second longer to channel the sun’s power, imagining the rays giving her the strength she needed. When she finally opened her eyes, they immediately met Hector’s.
“Hector, I don’t think we should be together anymore. I want to break up,” she blurted out. For what seemed like an eternity, she waited nervously for a response, never breaking their stare.
Hector’s body revved up. His insides were flooded with heat. His heart raced. His eyes narrowed in despise, as confusion and anger flooded his body. In a flash of rage, he reacted, lunging forward and grabbing Elena by her hair. In an instant, he threw her on the ground and began dragging her down the dirt road.
With his free hand, he pulled his gun out of his holster and pressed it up against the side of her head, hauling her onward with alarming ease.
Elena screamed, curled up, and went limp. She was in shock and hoped her dead body weight would make it harder for him, but it seemed to only give him more strength, as he forcefully yanked her on, more rage and determination with every step. She gripped onto his forearms as her head and neck jerked to his violent rhythm, her scalp stinging and her knees skinning against the pebbles and rocks of the rugged road.
With every impact, cuts and gashes opened down her legs, arms, and torso, running the blood slowly out of her body. She wailed as he continued to drag her farther from home. Her breathing became heavy and strained, but despite his tight grip, she did not give up. She screamed louder, kicked harder, until finally, her alarming cries brought neighbors running out of their homes.
“Get back! Get back or I’ll shoot her in the head!” Hector pointed the gun furiously at everyone who emerged. “If she does not marry me, I will finish her off!” Hector roared his demands, his deep and impassioned voice reverberating through the streets.
Neighbors yelled frantically, enraged and afraid. Fearful that Elena would be killed, if not kidnapped, raped, and forced to marry, they pleaded with him to let her go.
Elena’s body throbbed with horror and hatred as she took in her surroundings. Everything slowed to a blurred whisper and all she could hear were her panicked breaths as he pressed the gun harder against her temple. Her eyes narrowed, looking out at the familiar faces of agony begging for his cooperation, pleading for her life. Her fate flashed before her: Death, rape, or marriage to an evil man.
She felt her body jerk as Hector jolted her to her feet, tears streamed down her face. Staring at the crowd he gathered, Hector contemplated his choices: Let her go and force her to marry later when tensions and outrage subside, take her now and rape and marry her, or kill her now in the dusty streets.
Knowing his male power was not in threat, Hector decided to let Elena go, but not without making sure she kept to his demands. “If you don’t marry me, I will kill you and your family,” he whispered maniacally in her ear, pressing her body close against his. She winced while he kissed her on the cheek, opened his grip, and set her free… for now.
She ran to the closest neighbors, collapsing into their arms, sobbing, bloody, and bruised. After collecting herself in their solace, she sprinted back down the street to her mother, where she broke down all over again.
Bride kidnappings, or “bride nappings,” were not uncommon during the first half of the 20th century in Mexico. In fact, it still happens today, and not only in Mexico. But there, and all around the world, a man would, quite literally, snatch up the woman he wished to marry and rape her. He would then propose marriage, and she would likely say yes. Certainly not out of hopeless romance. Rather, because living under a regime of machismo, women were coerced into marrying their rapist, led to believe that after being raped they were worthless to other men. Virgin brides were prized. Women had very little power, their voices were regularly silenced, their feelings rarely considered. Not nearly enough progress has been made to change these tides, but this was the height of machismo culture and women knew they had two options: submit and live, or fight and risk violent rape and/or death.
Elena was not one to submit easily, and so she fought, knowing she had a long life of fighting ahead of her.
Where Silence Ends by Angela Ruiz and Mary Ruiz is available via Amazon and wherever books are sold.