04 Oct Something Fierce…bittersweetly funny
Last day I wrote how Carmen Aguirre’s mother upset me with her selfish refusal to leave her girls behind, where they would be safe with their father in Vancouver, dragging them instead to South America to become indoctrinated in the revolutionary movement. Of course she didn’t want to abandon them. Of course, as a mother, she wanted to raise her daughters and I suppose I should applaud her for that…and as I read…as I predicted…she’s growing on me and her passionate quest to right the wrongs inflicted upon her people is indeed admirable, but still…
My dear daughter just left for boarding school and my sweet son just got his “N”, so as a mother watching her children spread their wings and soar, climbing higher into the sky, further away from me, I’m vulnerable. It’s a bittersweet time in my life, watching my work come to fruition. After all, isn’t that we strive for as mothers? To help our children grow wings so that they may fly on their own?
There are many funny moments in the book, including when Mami defends herself and her daughters when encircled by a gang of would-be thieves. The women are in the Copacabana bus stop and as the men approach, Mami says, “One step closer and you’re dead, sons of bitches.” The girls cling to her and she tells them, “Don’t worry my precious little girls. I’ve got everything under control. Watch and learn , kids, how to deal with motherfuckers.”
Okay, I like her now! The men scatter and the girls learn how having the confidence to stand up for themselves is often enough to send the bad guys running.
The first part of the book continues to poignantly portray Carmen’s coming of age. Becoming the kissing queen (as well as the dancing queen) there are funny and heartbreaking moments as she moves into older adolecence, while moving from hiding place to underground place, all the while becoming more deeply indoctrinated into the movement, while coming into her own.
Here I include a portion of an excellent interview and article by Janet Smith of straight.com that hints at Carmen’s (now a mother herself) reconciliation with her mother and step-father’s decision to take the family to South America.
In June 1979, when well-known Vancouver playwright and actor Carmen Aguirre was 11 years old, her world changed forever—for the second time in her young life. The first momentous event was in 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet’s coup forced her family to flee Chile for Canada. But then, six years later, her mother and stepfather decided to take and her younger sister away from their comfortable school life here, and move back to strife-ridden South America to join the underground resistance.
The ensuing seven years found Aguirre bouncing between Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina via arduous mountain passes, chicken buses, and overnight trains. She had to drop all contact with new friends every time her family moved on, living in a constant state of dread that her parents would be arrested. Eventually, at just 18, Aguirre put herself in further peril, joining the resistance against Pinochet’s right-wing regime herself.
The years of her tumultuous teens are evocatively detailed in her first book, Something Fierce (Douglas & McIntyre), a new memoir that illuminates what it’s like to come of age amid terror. What it is most certainly not is a political treatise or a book about heroism or martyrdom. What you get is a brutally honest and wryly funny story, told through the eyes of a girl young enough to yearn for cork-soled platforms and steal kisses with boys but old enough to know the people arriving at her parents’ safe house in La Paz, Bolivia, are limping and exhausted because they’ve been tortured.
“A lot of books written about revolutionaries, for lack of a better word, portray people who do this kind of work as heroic, as superhuman somehow,” says Aguirre, sitting over ceviche tortillas at Havana on the Drive, and bringing the same warm, upbeat tone to the serious subject matter that she does in the book. “And I wanted to do the opposite—to portray myself and those around me as completely imperfect human beings who decided to give their lives to a cause, and the toll that that takes psychologically, emotionally, and physically.”
Despite the joy that came from revisiting her memories of Latin America, a part of the world she loves, writing the book was an exceedingly painful process for Aguirre, who started putting pen to paper eight years ago. When publishers Douglas & MacIntyre asked for pictures from the era, she realized while looking through them how young she was to be living around such danger and upheaval.
“I thought, ”˜Wow, that’s what 11 looks like.’ I had a lot of compassion for that kid that I was. I’m sad for that kid that had to go through all that,” says Aguirre, who has extra pangs as a mother herself these days, to a four-year-old boy. “But when you look at the big picture, you say, ”˜Well, whose fault was all that? It was Pinochet, not my parents.’ My parents were victims of his.”