Mamá Luisa by Carolina Meneses Zamora
These three religious images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus were given to me by my grandmother María Luisa, or Mamá Luisa, during my visits to Costa Rica from 2018 to 2020. Mamá, as everyone likes to call her even though she did not give birth to many of us. The small paper prints, blurry and worn out like my relationship with Catholicism and religion in general, are always in a hidden pocket in my wallet. And somehow, they have managed to go with me everywhere I go, like the history and struggles of all the women in my family.
Mi abu was born 86 years ago in La Gloria, a poor rural town in Costa Rica. She grew up surrounded by sugar cane and coffee plantations. From her early years, Mamá Luisa learnt the meaning of physical work and hardship, as well as the significance of family, community, and faith. Like many of her family members and neighbors, Mamá Luisa became a coffee collector when she was 10. Her stories about eating lunch wrapped in banana leaves under the coffee plants, trying to escape from the sun and humidity from the tropics, were always part of our family reunions. After finishing her lunch, Mamá Luisa would tie her basket around her waist and keep picking up those beautiful red coffee beans until the sun went down.
Apart from being one of the quickest and strongest coffee collectors, Mamá Luisa was also a single mom to her two daughters. She believed education was the only way for her children to have a different life from hers. When my mom was a teenager, they moved to the city so she could go to high school. In San Jose, mi abu worked as a housemaid until my mom was able to go to university.
Mama Luisa also was, and is, a devoted Catholic. She used to live with us while we were growing up. A candle always lit on the altar in our living room, next to some images that were very similar to the ones I carry with me. I remember looking at the altar and thinking the Virgin Mary and Jesus seemed to always be looking at you. I get the same feeling when I take the images out of my wallet. I can also feel my grandma’s wrinkled hand making a cross over my face while handing me the paper prints during my last visits to the cozy apartment her daughters built for her in the city. “Take them with you, just in case” she tells me, while she repeats a prayer she has started to forget over the years. She always starts with “Que la virgen y la santisima trinidad la acompañe”. Regardless of her sweet mumbling at the end of it, I still answer with an amen. Amen, a word that sits uncomfortably in my mouth since I stopped going to church 20 years ago, but that connects me with my grandma and my family.
I hug Mama Luisa very tightly and I can feel my heart aching while I say goodbye to her and promise I’ll be back as soon as possible. “Si Dios quiere”, she tells me. My mom and my aunt are also in the room and we all try to smile, anticipating the inevitable tears we will share once I leave again. I kiss Mamá Luisa’s forehead one more time, just in case.