Glorimar Ramos Yunqué

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SEWING HOPE –

The woman in the picture is my great-grandmother, Epifania Zoto. We call her Abuela Pita for short. Next to her, is her mother’s sewing machine. The story behind this family relic takes us back to the late 1920s.

María Monserrate Pérez

María Monserrate Pérez was my great-grandmother’s mother. She was married to Ignacio Zoto. They all lived on the lands of Don Manolo Rivera, and worked for him. Ignacio would wake up around 4:00 a.m. to work as a jornalero (day laborer) on the sugar plantations. After work, he brought home an empty sack he always carried with him. During his short breaks, on the hot summer days, he looked for food he placed in his empty sack.  This was how he assured that his family would eat, at least one meal every day.

The crash of the New York Stock Market in 1929 severely affected the price of the sugar, which affected Ignacio’s wages. The wrath of the San Felipe hurricane destroyed the sugar plantations; assuring there would be no zafra (the time in the year where the sugar cane was cut). Ignacio would wake up very early each day and search desperately for food. Many afternoons he came back empty-handed. Some days, the only thing he could find was a few galletas matahambre (hunger-killing crackers).

While Ignacio was at work, María fed her children with water and sugar. She placed them in a circle, told them stories, and sang made-up songs so they forgot for a few moments that they had not eaten anything for days. The hours in the day passed and she continued to hope that her husband would bring at least a small portion of rice. Hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. No food, no hope…

Ignacio Zoto

María was tired of all this and remembered that she had inherited a few acres from her father. But her aunt, Candita, had stolen them from her. One day she decided to stop this horrible cycle—at least, that’s what she tried to do. She walked all the way to her aunt’s house and demanded what was rightfully hers. “Me acuerdo como si fuera ayer lo que mamá le dijo a tía Candita: ‘Mis hijos pasan hambre y no tengo con que darles de comer. Dame lo que siempre fue mío,’” my great-grandmother recounted.

Candita, instead of being honest and returning what belonged to María, ignored her niece’s demands and gave her a few pennies so she could buy food for a few weeks. Necessity had blinded my great-grandmother’s eyes. She accepted the money instead of fighting for her rights. With that money, María bought rice, beans, one chicken, and the sewing machine you see in the picture.

With the sewing machine, she sewed clothing for men and sold them two for a penny. With that little income, she was able to buy more food for her family.

I wish I could say they lived happily ever after, but the truth is that they didn’t. Two years later, Ignacio had a heart attack and died. María drowned herself in alcohol. This was her daily escape from the situation she was going through. Some months later, she killed herself with venom. My great-grandmother was only sixteen-years-old when all this happened. She alone had to take care of her five brothers. I can’t believe how she made it through all this. I don’t know if it was her strength or a merciful miracle of God but the truth is that she survived that awful situation and now, at age ninety-two, she is still here to tell me how that old sewing machine saved saved her life.

 

María Monserrate Pérez’s sewing machine

 

 

Glorimar Ramos Yunqué

10 Comments

  1. Increidble story! The only thing that comes to my mind while reading it was a poem verse written by Juan Antonio Corretjer. It says something like this: “God bless those hands that worked so hard back in Puerto Rico. God bless those hands that worked so hard because from them, our mother land was born. God bless those hands from men and women who worked so hard because from them our mother land was knead. “

  2. It is very unfortante but very much true. Sewing companies here in Puerto Rico exploited their workers for ardous long hours and very little money to be made. I know this also because my grandmother worked, like yours and man other grandmothers, worked in the industry at the time and it was truly abusive but there was no other option. A very heartfelt and relatable story. Very nice.

  3. What an amazing lady your grandmother was!

  4. Amazing story!

  5. This i a wonderfull story of the reality of the the Puero Ricans that lived in those times. Their problems, the poor live that they have. I loved it. This a part of our history

  6. A really good story. I really liked because it is a true story that many of the Puerto Ricans that lived in those conditions in those times. It shows the problems, the tragedies, everything. Good story of ” el jibaro ” of Puerto Rico

  7. Stories like this are important for when we need examples of perseverance. While your great-great-grandmother ended up succumbing to depression, the fact remains that she stood up for herself and those she loved. It’s awfully sweet that your great-grandmother was so attached to that sewing machine, a symbol of her mother’s sacrifices.

  8. It was nice to know about your story, is amazing how your great grandmother survived trought all of what happened to her. In fact, my grandmother used to work with a sewing machine as well in the old days so she could pay for my mother and aunt’s college education. Is admirable how they had the courage to work hard for their families and never giving up. Very good story!!

  9. What a wonderful story, very touching and inspiring to b thankful for what U have in life… The love between Ignacio & Maria was amazing!!! :o)

    • I am so glad you enjoyed my story. Sadly, the old lady in the picture passed away one year ago. I’m really gratefull to have met her and to be able to know this and many other stories of her life. Again, thanks for reading and posting your opinion 🙂

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