|reconstructed monjerio at Mission La Purisimia|
The only way out of the monjerio* is marriage. The big iron lock turns at dusk, our parents on the other side in the mission village, we girls in this small fetid room. The priest carries the key in his robe, gives it back to the Madre at dawn so we can join him in prayers before receiving our work orders. I’ve hated night for as long as I can remember. When the padre came to our hut, told my mother I was seven years old now, old enough to require the monjerio, she told me, “Remember the stars. Remember you’ll see them again someday.” But I’ve forgotten – are they silver, or gold? Which direction do they move? Where is the one my mother warned me was sly and mean-spirited? She told me once that blazing stars with long tails were souls on their way to the afterlife. I wonder if the sky burns all night now? Some of the younger girls still miss their mothers, cry half the night, wet themselves. They keep the rest of us awake. I don’t feel sorry for them; I hiss the curses I learned from the soldados to frighten them, make them shut up. The fucking workday is long enough without losing sleep too. I don’t remember being that weak. True, I had my two older sisters. For years they kept me tucked between them all night; if the door opened in the darkness, if soldiers picked the lock or stole the padre’s key, or if the padre himself made one of his ‘inspections,’ Dolores pushed me behind her, Ines covered me with her blanket. Till they married those brothers and left me here to rot. Now I lie awake at night, tuck my back into this corner I’ve claimed and defend when I have to. Smelling some poor woman’s shit as she crouches over the trench in the corner, moaning that the posole this morning must’ve had rotten meat. My own bowels twist and boil, but please God let me make it till morning, and the privacy of a bush or hillside. And I think about that soldier, Demetrio, the one who came with the San Blas Infantry from someplace called Mexico. The Spanish guards laugh at him, call him ‘chulo,’ which means, I think, halfbreed. They ask him which jail the military pulled him out of, what crime did he commit, has he learned how to shoot an escopeta. They make him sound like a little boy. I know he’s not. Yesterday on the path returning from the lavanderia, I hung back, pretended my basket of wet clothes was too heavy. He slipped me a string of dark red beads, my favorite, and said he would speak to the Padre soon. Then he pressed against me, knocked my basket into the dirt, spilled all that hard work. He put his hairy mouth on mine. I couldn’t move. Clara called my name, and he pushed me away, ducked back into the trees. Tonight I can still feel his hands clutching my breasts. I wonder. I wonder what it would be like, to see the stars again.
"[In California's Franciscan missions] Girls who had passed their eighth year were housed in the monjerio in which they were confined under lock and key at night to protect their virtue. The monjerio also served as a training school in which girls and widows were confined much of the time. This separation of children from families was justified since at a tender age they had not fully developed fixed habits and beliefs and thus were more easily influenced by missionaries." http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/78spring/labor.htm