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Linguistic rights
13 min read

Bittersweet dreams

In the beginnings of the 1990s the dramatist and actor Petrona de la Cruz Cruz founded FOMMA (Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya), an organisation for Maya women who make use of theatre as an educational and society-shaping tool. They tour the country with plays in the minority languages Tzetal and Tsotsil that focus on women’s and the indigenous people’s rights, literacy, and education. We here publish one of her monologues.

Credits Text: Petrona de la Cruz Cruz Translation from Spanish: William Gregory December 12 2019

A monologue


Three solid wood chairs: a large chair in the centre, representing the mother; a middle-sized chair representing the little brothers and sisters, and a small chair representing a baby.


A woman from Zinacantán, dressed in black.[1]

The woman enters with a bouquet of flowers and sedge grass. As she arranges the flowers, she sings a ranchera.[2]

What a lovely song! It reminds me of my village. (Thoughtful.) I remember how, at four in the morning, the music from the band would cheer up the streets. I was nine years old; my mother would light copal resin to make the house smell all over and she’d put sedge grass out to cheer up the house. (Sniffs.)

In the cantinas they’d put the sounds systems up on top of a really tall stick so the songs could be heard all over the village. There were always so many people at those fiestas. All the men and women in their multi-coloured outfits. (Excited, shows off her blouse.) The women would tie their hair with coloured ribbons, orange, red, pink, purple, lime green, blue…

I remember making up my face with red crêpe paper so I’d look all colourful, and my lips with black chicle resin. That was how I used to dress when I went to the fiesta with my cousins.

(Addressing her cousins.) Girls, let’s go; I’m ready!

Crouches down and becomes her cousin, mocking and conceited; she changes her voice and gait.

You needn’t think you’re coming with us! You look like a clown! You’d better go and join the village clowns; you’re not coming with us!

Crouches and becomes herself again.

Clown, me!

The anger shows on her face; she walks. To the audience.

I had to be careful my dad didn’t see me; he’d beat me hard and I’d be punished. He said I wasn’t old enough to go out looking like that but I felt like a grown woman. I was nine but I washed the clothes, did the ironing, made tortillas, carried firewood, looked after my mother when she was giving birth and got up every morning at three a.m. Just because I was the eldest. (As she speaks, she walks stage right. As she finishes, she laughs.)

As if she were her mother, she sits on the chair and speaks with a sweet voice.

Darling! (As if taking her by the hand and speaking almost fearfully.) I’ll let you go on one condition: when you get back from the fiesta, you start making the tortillas, so your father doesn’t get cross.

She watches her daughter leave. She stands and turns to the left, becoming the young girl returning happy from the dance.

The fiesta was such fun! Oh, the boy I ended up dancing with, he was so handsome!

She arrives home and her joy turns to laziness and annoyance because she has to make the tortillas. She is very sleepy and falls asleep making the tortilla; she wakes up when she burns her hand and sees that the tortillas are burning too. She puts out the flame as best she can and removes the hotplate. She then goes out to splash water on her face.

During the fiestas was the only time I didn’t go to with my grandma to the mountains, (facing the audience, she sweeps the floor, then moves to the left and sits on the chair to shake the brush) and to stop them telling me off I’d rush to clean the house. I used to like watching the trucks being emptied or the donkeys being unloaded and then being tied to the fences.

Facing the audience, excited, she approaches the chair, as if folding clothes.

The men from Acala and Chiapilla would come in trucks and the ones from San Lucas[3] came on donkeys; they were the ones who sold all kinds of fruits during the fiestas. They sold sugarcane, sapodilla, tsuntsapo, limes, oh, and bananas! (Remembers with excitement.) Oh, purple bananas were my favourites; I used to eat them with hot tortillas. (Mimes eating and savouring the banana; stands and sits back down). Lots of people boarded at our house and because they’d come from so far away they’d sleep and cook there for the whole three days. I remember they used to make a stew that was really spicy but so delicious and we’d be so happy because those were the only days when we ate lots of fruit and good food; the rest of the time we only ate tortillas with vegetables, and only then if we had any.

(Turns the seat over to make the metate.) We didn’t have a blender or a grinder in our house, so when we were cooking and had to grind something we used a metate. Do you know what a metate is? (Looks at the audience.) A metate is a stone that has a handle that’s also made of stone, and we women get really strong arms from using it almost every day.

I was little and they already made me use the metate but, because I didn’t know how, I used to do it like this. (She mimes grinding. Then she looks at her mother, who approaches with a smile and watches her. She approaches to take her hands very lovingly and shows her how to grind, with a sweet voice.) ‘Darling, that’s not the way; look: you grind like this, like this. That’s the way to do it!’ (Mimes tiredness.) I’d get tired but I was learning. I learned a lot from her; that’s how I know she’s here now; she’s my angel; she’s always with me; I can feel it. When I dream of her it’s like going back to when I was a child. (Sits on the right-hand chair.) I remember her combing my hair and tying pink ribbons into it and telling me to look up at the sky so she could plait my hair better. We didn’t use cream back then, so she used to put white Vaseline all over my face.

(She steps behind the chair and mimes sniffing as she speaks.) When I dream of my mother and there are no scented candles and the house isn’t the way she likes it, she says to me(in her mother’s voice)‘There’s something missing here: there’s no scent, there’s no perfume, there’s no colour and no Light!’ (Changing her voice.) So that’s when I know she wants me to put out sedge grass, copal resin and flowers. If I don’t, maybe she’ll go to another house, and I like her visiting me; when she visits me, I take the chance to tell her my problems, my troubles.

I offload my sadness and tell her my joys.

Lights the scented candles and puts on her grandmother’s blouse.

My grandma’s in my memories, too. She was strong as an oak and had a real pair of ovaries. She was a woman of character, of great strength and command. I learned a lot from her; I remember how she used to wake up my aunts.

She becomes the grandmother; she puts on the shawl from Zinacantán.

‘¡Likanik xa ch’aj tsebetik, ali ti ve’lile mu xu xtal ta vinajel, toyol xa k’ak’al!’

‘Get up, lazybones; food doesn’t fall from the sky; it’s late already!’

(Leans back in the chair, miming being in bed, and speaks from there.) The sun wasn’t up yet and my aunts didn’t want to get up, so she pulled the blankets off them to make them get up and, because it was so cold, they were all curled up with their nighties pulled up high; their bottoms looked like those cute little mice, all naked. (Startled, she becomes one of the aunts.) Come on, Mum; don’t be angry; we’re getting up!’

(To the audience in her own voice.)They tied up their nighties as best they could and ran into the kitchen.

Wearing the shawl, she takes on the role of the grandmother, who shouts angrily.

‘¡Tseb sujaba ta yuch’el a kajve, yu’un ta xtoy xa ti k’ak’ale!’

‘Hurry up and drink your coffee, child; it’s late!’

‘¡Mu xa jaluk ta xlok’ ti k’ak’ale ta sjol vitse!’

‘The sun takes no time to rise over the horizon!’

(Startled, like a little girl, she imagines herself in front of her grandmother and mimes drinking her coffee very quickly.) I’m ready, Grandma!

(With a trembling voice.) Grandma, Grandma, wait for me! I can’t walk; my feet are really bleeding; oh, Grandma, I don’t have strength in my hands and they want to bleed too; wait for me, Grandma; it’s so cold! (Limps as she walks, on the verge of tears; they arrive in the mountains; she mimes chopping wood; because she has no feeling in her hands, she hits herself in the foot.) Oh, Grandma! I cut my foot; it’s bleeding so much; oh, look at the blood, Grandma!

Desperately covers her foot; she becomes the grandmother and speaks with a firm voice.

‘¡Anchan! Ma’uk xchi’uk syalel a sat ta xpaj ti ch’ich’ele, ¡chotlan!’

‘Be quiet! You won’t stop the blood by crying; sit down!’

The grandmother takes a handful of earth and places it on the wound to staunch the bleeding; she cuts an oak leaf, treats the wound several times and ties it to the foot.

‘¡Mu xa xa’ok’! mu me xa bal ti yu’un iyayij ti sjol avakane muk’ xa bu cha kuch ech’elel ti asi’e, ¡sujaba ta stsobel ti asi’e!’

‘And stop squealing! And you needn’t think you don’t have to carry the firewood just because you’ve hurt your foot. Quick, go and collect the wood!

(Mimes collecting firewood and carrying it.)But I feel like I can’t walk, Grandma.

Energetic, as if she were the grandmother.

‘Sa’o junuk anab te’, k’un k’un xa bat k’u cha’al xa k’ot k’alal na, tey ta spoxtabot ti ame’e’

‘Find yourself a stick and go slowly ’til you get home; your mother will take care of it there.’

(Arrives home and speaks in her mother’s voice, startled at the sight of her daughter.) ‘Darling, what happened to you! God in Heaven!’

(In her grandmother’s voice.) ‘Te xa poxtabe, ¡Li ok’obe! lek xa.’ ‘Nothing serious; you can take care of it! She’ll be better in the morning.’

(Places the shawl on the chair and, in the mother’s voice, speaks to it as if it were the daughter.)‘There-there, don’t cry, darling! I’ll fix your foot with this plant – it’s called ‘marvel’ – and then we’ll put menthol on it to stop it getting infected and then you can go to school, even though it’s late, like always.’

(To the audience in her own voice.) I was hardly ever early, because my grandma went further and further away for firewood every day. I was naïve enough to think that the teacher, when he saw me with my injured foot, wouldn’t punish me like he always did, making me kneel down on bottle-tops with my hands on the wall. (Becomes the teacher and, in profile, places her hands on an imaginary table and mimes pinching her hand.) ‘Leave your hand there; you deserve it, because you don’t understand that you mustn’t arrive late.’ (In a child’s voice, sobbing.) ‘Please, Sir, don’t pinch me so hard; it hurts; it hurts!’

(To the audience.) And that wasn’t the only punishment; I wasn’t allowed playtime either. But I wasn’t the only girl that got punished. The other girls who were with me carried salt tortillas and hard-boiled eggs with their books. The eggs were hueroeggs – with a chick inside that hadn’t grown and had turned to liquid – and even though they’d been hard-boiled, still they stank. (Becomes the teacher and sniffs from side to side before speaking.) ‘Disgusting pigs, they’ve soiled themselves, they’re like swine! Xun, open the door; it’s like a dead-end canyon in here.’

(To the audience, in her own voice.) Classes always ended with abuse and insults. If it wasn’t the rainy season, I’d go up to the mountains for more firewood, but not with my grandma; with my older brother. If it was pear season we’d pick some to stop us being hungry on the way back. My brother was clever and sneaky. (Looking up, as if picking a pear; she becomes the brother.) ‘Hey, I saw your arse!’ (Quickly covers her legs with her skirt, annoyed.) I’m not picking a pear for you; you go up if you want; I’m coming down; get out of the way.

(Standing at the foot of the tree.) So many memories at that pear tree; my five brothers and sisters and me all balanced on its branches on our belly buttons. I think my belly button was the one that climbed highest because I’m not afraid of heights. That pear tree gave us pears and we hung our swings from it. The pear tree was witness to how my brother taught me to play marbles and kill little birds with his catapult, and also to how he abused me. Once I was old enough to understand, I realised it wasn’t a game; he was raping me. That’s why one day I left home and went to the hostel; they got up early there too but I didn’t have to look after my brothers and sisters any more, I didn’t wash clothes, I didn’t iron, I didn’t make tortillas and, most of all, my brother didn’t abuse me.

[1] Also known as San Lorenzo Zinacantán, a municipality in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The vast majority (some 99%) of the population of Zincantán are Tsotsil and speak Tsotsil as their first language.

[2] A genre of music pre-dating the Mexican Revolution and heard and performed widely throughout Mexico.

[3] Acala, Chiapilla and San Lucas are all between 10 and 20 miles from Zinacantán.

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