This Chapina’s Memoir Is a Rare Chance for a Central American to Tell Her Own Immigrant Story

Collage by Alan López for Remezcla

With the first words of Knitting the Fog, Claudia D. Hernández manages to establish the kind of character she always hoped to see in a book. “I always wanted to read about a Central American character that resonated with me, a character that was mischievous, honest, full of energy, and empowered,” she tells Remezcla. In her new memoir – out July 2019 – Hernández details her life before and after moving from Guatemala to the United States. When she was 7 years old, her mother left para El Norte on her own, leaving behind Claudia and her two older sisters. Three years later, she returned to take them to California. Though the book follows events that took place three decades ago, it’s a necessary read about the Central American immigrant experience today.

“I also wanted to be the one who told the story about the thousands of Central Americans who migrate North searching for a better life.”

“I also wanted to be the one who told the story about the thousands of Central Americans who migrate north searching for a better life, looking for a better opportunity for their families and children,” she adds. “I wanted to give a voice to those who don’t have a platform to share their stories of resilience. I think it’s important to have a female Central American voice that can share her story – a critical story that captures the hardships of immigrants when they arrive to the US.”

Knitting the Fog, which is told through short stories and poems, starts in Guatemala, with Claudia as a young, sometimes traviesa, girl – a girl who once ate mud to see what it tasted like, who pretended she didn’t understand adult conversations so she could listen in, and who had a history of fainting to avoid being punished.

Though life wasn’t perfect, Claudia had the love and support of her family. When her mother fled Guatemala to escape her abusive husband, Claudia’s life changed. Her mother asked her own mother and tía to take care of her daughters, which is where we learn more about the duality in Claudia’s life. Spanish and Poqomchi’. Tía Soila and Mamatoya. Mayuelas and Tactic, the two cities where she split her time during those three years. Even two versions of La Siguanaba.

“I regret adjusting and assimilating as a kid.”

In this time period, she explores the difficult, sometimes strained, mother-daughter relationships in her family. “Mothers aren’t always the ones who give birth to us,” she says. “In my mother’s case, Tía Soila raised her when my grandmother abandoned her at the age of 6. My mother suffers from abandonment issues and how she has trouble forgiving her mother. My grandmother, herself, had her own issues with her own mother, [who made] her babysit her baby brother at a young age. Me, feeling abandoned when my mother had to flee to the US from my abusive father. All these emotions bottled up making us break our mother-daughter bond. But at the end we all search for forgiveness, for closure, for love.”

Those three years were a difficult adjustment – and one where she experienced sexual abuse by a family member – but when she was reunited with her mother, life didn’t get easier, at least not immediately. First, there was their trip to the United States, which was long, tiring, and scary. Their mother even advised them not to speak in Spanish in Mexico because people would notice their Guatemalan accent. Then, it was learning to live in a whole new way in California, namely this meant finding herself at odds in a heavily Mexican community at a time when she needed to learn English.

In California, it wasn’t just struggling to learn English, Claudia was also bullied because she didn’t fit in. For example, when she asked her mother for a rolling backpack, she received a suitcase. Or there were the classmates who laughed at the way she spoke Spanish, because she used voseo. While all of these stories show her resilience, it also illustrates what happens after one starts their life anew in a different country.

“I want people who have had experiences like mine to see themselves in my story, to connect, and find some healing.”

“[I] want people to understand the struggles we immigrants go through when we travel to the US, when we arrive and settle in the US,” she adds. “The struggles we go through when finding a job, learning the language, and supporting our families… I regret adjusting and assimilating as a kid. I wish my parents would have read to me and shown me the importance and the beauty of my culture as a child. My mother has a second grade education; I don’t blame her. She was too busy working on her sewing machine trying to feed us and to put clothes on our backs. My sisters and I educated ourselves. We tried to survive the educational system on our own. No one helped us with our homework. We assimilated because we had no other way. But if I knew then what I know now, things would be different. Today, I’m a proud Chapina who wears her colorful huipiles and cortes with pride My voseo has become loud and clear when I use it amongst people who are not family members.”

At a time when Central Americans – who flee their countries because of gang violence, environmental issues, and economic reasons – are portrayed as “animals” by President Donald Trump, Hernández gives us a multi-faceted look at a young girl and her family from Guatemala.

“I want people who have had experiences like mine to see themselves in my story, to connect, and find some healing,” she says. “Also, for people who have not had an immigrant experience to be able to use these stories to humanize people who have been dehumanized by political rhetoric, and help people to see that immigrants are people with the same struggles, hopes, and dreams. But I also want them to know that there’s hope. That a mischievous, Guatemalan, little diablita, was able to achieve her dream to become a mother, a writer, a teacher, a poet, and a dreamer.”