Young people are often asked to endure hardships or overcome challenges they are not adequately equipped to handle. Unfortunately, the young person is generally still held primarily culpable for the fall out regardless of external factors. As a result, traumatized young people can easily become a part of the same cyclical actions that caused their pain and suffering. I believe this is precisely what happened to Clemencia, the protagonist, in “Never Marry a Mexican.” Clemencia comes from a severely divided family which not only plays a role in skewing her perspective of love and commitment but also means she lacks a support structure. As if the divide within Clemencia’s family and more specifically her parents was not enough of an obstacle Clemencia faces a deeper cultural and racial divide. Clemencia’s mother, father and grandfather are considered to be ethnically the same but in fact come from extremely different upbringings and have very few shared cultural ties. With multiple factors pulling her family a part at the seams Clemencia turned to her professor; someone whom should of been a pillar of guidance or at the very least a supportive figure in her time of need. Instead Clemencia becomes enthralled in a twisted affair with Drew, her professor, a married man nearly twice her age. At the tender age of nineteen Clemencia was asked to grow up and be the morally righteous figure in a sea of indecency and indifference. Is her failure to do so truly her burden? Or does it rest on the adults who placed Clamencia in this situation asking her to rise where they had fallen short.
Clemencia’s mother married her father when she was only seventeen and immediately they began a family together. Her mother was never shy about expressing her disdain for this choice as she grew older. Feeling alienated by her age and her lack of mexican heritage, having been born in America, Clemencia’s mother laments to her daughters, “never marry a mexican” a lesson she would ingrain into her children. Never is her distaste for her life more prevalent than when Clemencia’s father falls gravely ill. Clemencia recalls agonizing next to her father while he withered away. Meanwhile her mother was preoccupied with building another life for herself. “That man she met at work” Clemencia recounts “Owen Lamnbert, the foreman at the photo-finishing plant, who she was seeing even while my father is sick. Even then. That’s what I can’t forgive”(Cisneros 1992). This illustrates that while Clemencia faces the death of her father she must also confront the death of her family as she knows it and the end of her relationship with her mother. Furthermore Clemencia’s idea of love and marriage has been permenentaly warped by watching her mother turn away from her father in his time of need. This point is reinforced once more later on in Clemencia’s life when Ximena wishes to return to their childhood home. “Shit!” Clemencia seems to almost laugh, “Because she knew as well as I did there was no home to go to. Not with our mother. Not with the man she married.” Clemencia is left to fend for herself both in a literal sense and in how she processes the pain she is enduring while her mother starts a new.
Few topics raise more troubling questions than race in America and Clemencia is far from exempt from the issue. The child of a native born Mexican man and an American born Mexican woman Clemencia watches as her mother struggles to confine herself within the traditional role of a wife and housekeeper. This is shown explicitly in how Clemencia’s mother instructs her daughters to stay away from all men of hispanic heritage. “I guess she did it to spare me and Ximena the pain she went through.” recalls Clemencia “Having married a Mexican man at seventeen. Having had to put up with all the grief a Mexican family can put on a girl because she was from el otro lado, the other side, and my father had married down by marrying her” (Cisneros 1992). Here we see very obvious strain being placed on Clemencia’s mother as well as the burden of being seen as less than by her husbands family. However, another point made evident is that it isn’t only Clemencia’s mother struggling with racial and cultural identity. Clemencia’s father also struggles as he remembers a rich and relatively extravagant lifestyle in Mexico city which clashes with his current reality in America as well as Clemencia’s grandfather’s memories of the depression. With so many conflicting ideas of racial identity being forced onto Clemencia it becomes easy to understand how she could develop a tribal mentality as means of justifying her role as Drew’s mistress. “I was sleeping with your father and didn’t give a damn about that woman, your mother. If she was a brown woman like me, I might’ve had a harder time living with myself, but since she’s not, I don’t care” (Cisneros 1992). Clemencia
Clemencia’s descent into what on the surface seems to be madness is actually just learned behaviors and corruption brought on by her trusted professor, Drew. Clemencia’s inexplicable desire to control Drew’s actions and hurt his wife omnipotently is a desperate attempt by Clemencia to hold some power over a family she feels she is keeping together. Unfortunately, Clemencia is confronted by the reality of her position as the other woman and takes aim instead at Drew’s son. “I’ve been waiting patient as a spider all these years, since I was nineteen and he was just an idea hovering in his mother’s head, and I’m the one that gave him permission and made it happen, see” (Cisneros 1992). After her experience with Drew: Clemencia was left a victim, powerless and empty, she is young and heavily traumatized. Her grotesquely grandiose plan seems incredibly plausible. And in fact her act of laying with Drew while his child is born and going onto lay with his child once he is a young man speaks to the cyclical nature of abuse. “You were ashamed to be so naked. Pulled back. But I saw you for what you are, when you opened yourself for me. When you were careless and let yourself through… I was taking you in that time” (Cisneros 1992). Her malicious, controlling and selfish nature illustrates more clearly than anything before that Clemencia has taken her place within a sorely twisted cycle.
Clemencia may not have been the most morally righteous or well intending character but I contest that her failures do not sit entirely upon her shoulders. Children raised in broken families seek structure and are easily malleable to any set of ideals pushed upon them by a trusted figure. Clemencia’s early life left her in pieces which were later picked up by an older professor and rearranged solely to his liking. Statistics show that when a child’s parents divorce daughters specifically are sixty percent more likely to face broken marriages themselves (“Divorce Statistics and Facts: What Affects Divorce Rates in the U.S.?” 2019). While another recent study revealed that “…potent “sleeper effects” emerge over longer developmental time spans than previously documented” (Trickett, Noll, & Putnam 2011). These extenuating factors shine some light on Clemencia’s position as a troubled person but not a villain.
With overwhelming odds working against her Clemencia was sorely in need of guidance and wisdom but received only selfish, ill-willed, contempt for her own life. Everyone is responsible for their own decisions as an adult but I believe it to be an act of willful ignorance to turn a blind eye to the events that constructed Clemencia’s circumstances. Absent any one of the many detrimental events in her early life or the rapid and complete deterioration of her support structure Clemencia likely would not of acted as she did. The true villain of this story, in my opinion, is Drew beyond a shadow of doubt. He alone took hold of a position of power and used it malicely pushing Clemencia over the proverbial edge.
Cisneros, Sandra. WOMAN HOLLERING CREEK. 1992, Kobo.
“Divorce Statistics and Facts: What Affects Divorce Rates in the U.S.?” Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP, 2019, www.wf-lawyers.com/divorce-statistics-and-facts/.
Trickett, Penelope K., et al. “The Impact of Sexual Abuse on Female Development: Lessons from a Multigenerational, Longitudinal Research Study.” Development and Psychopathology, vol. 23, no. 2, 2011, pp. 453–476., doi:10.1017/s0954579411000174.