Today, I got my Tennessee driver license.  They put my grandmother’s picture on it.  Her name was Weelita.  

photo by Ashley Samaniego-Ramirez

Sylvia Hewett Schneider

Well, that’s what I thought anyway, in my innocent, English-only elementary brain.  It wasn’t until I was much older and taking conversational Spanish that I realized “weelita” was what I heard when my “primas” said “Abuelita” – my cousins affectionately saying “grandmother” in Spanish.

And looking at this – this official document that tells the world I am now a Tennessean, qualified to operate a motor vehicle and donate organs – begs the question; “When did we become the Abuelitas?”  Wasn’t it just a few minutes ago we were young girls?  Long of limb and smart of mouth, frolicking like newborn colts, sassy and free of worry, as yet unspoiled by heartache.  Each a tabula rasa waiting for life to etch our stories upon our psyches, our very souls.

We were friends with each other, and we befriended girls that were like us – laughing, dreaming, loving our abuelitas – those wrinkled old crones with the cheery laughter and dancing eyes that could flash fire faster than a chancla after a disrespectful kid.  In retrospect, I remember work-worn hands that made Christmas tamales and perfectly round tortillas every day for decades, which folded in prayer before each meal; our own hands are skilled in their own ways, but smooth, manicured, defying our standing as someone’s Abuela.  

When we think of grandmothers, we think of soft, pillowy bosoms – when enfolded therein, nothing could touch us… not the dark, not el cucuy, not our own chancla-wielding mothers*.  Cradled in Abuelita’s arms was the very definition of safety.  No one thinks that of us.  In fact, we have been fighting against becoming pillowy soft since we first discovered boys and Seventeen magazine; not always successfully, but that’s why Sara Blakely invented Spanx.  

We don’t make empanadas; we make corporate mergers.  We have laugh lines; we also have bottom lines.  And although we do have grandchildren, we don’t have that relationship with them that we enjoyed with our Abuelas.  We go to their soccer games, not their First Communions.  We give them gift cards to the Apple Store but we’ve never picked apples with them.  We love them, and they, us… but we are not their destination.

Now, we are the Abuelitas.   


*Editor’s note:  To be perfectly honest, I don’t ever remember my mother or my tias threatening anyone with a chancla – I think that’s a more contemporary cliche!  El cucuy – yes, we were afraid!