Abigail Martinez
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Congratulations! Why? Because you know how to read! You’ve gotten this far, with either trouble or ease, but you’re reading what I’m writing. That’s skill—literacy skills. It’s a set of skills that we need—and use—on a daily basis; not a day goes by when we don’t read or write. You know, I didn’t always have these skills. Having been raised in a Mexican-American household, with Mexican folktales of El Cucuy and La Llorona, Spanish was my first language.

           Now, in case you didn’t know, El Cucuy is Mexico’s version of the Boogie Man, and parents use it to scare children into obedience when they behave badly. Children are warned not to go out in the dark, or else El Cucuy might take them away and they would never be seen again. La Llorona is his sister, of sorts. La Llorona, or the weeping woman, is the ghost of a woman named Maria who drowned her children and, later, committed suicide. As per the lore, Maria earned the sobriquet of ‘La Llorona’ because she cries out ‘where are my children?’ I was read these stories at bedtime. Nothing says ‘sleep tight’ like horror folktales!

           Literacy skills were hardly needed when telling folktales since the stories were spoken and not written. Thus, it was only in school that I learnt to read, write, and speak English. I never had any real difficulty with the language until I got to the third grade. And as if I wasn’t having enough trouble with the school work, El Cucuy, who had haunted me in my childhood, followed me to school. Why did he choose third grade out of all my school years? That was the year the state exams were introduced. He couldn’t resist so he took over the invigilators, the ones who enforced the exam rules. The rules of grammar and punctuation. Stick to the plot, write about the plot, and you will pass. No one could have felt the pressure I did. It was as if he had it out for me, like he was constantly in my head. And I cried.

           Without my realising it, I had become La Llorona, the weeping woman crying out, ‘I need to pass the exams!’

           What could I do, to prove that I could write effectively?

           I knew I had to overcome the guidelines. To overcome the guidelines, I had to beat El Cucuy at his own game. If I were to beat him at his own game, then I had to be able to express myself in writing without following his rules. But how? Essays. Oh, how he loved essays. How he loved torturing me by leaving them until the end of the exam. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t horrible at writing; I always did well. But this time I had to get a high score. The pressure that I placed on myself plus the pressure that the minions placed on the students—the threat of ‘you need to pass the exam or repeat the third grade’—was daunting. Repeat the third grade! Once is enough, thank you very much.

           But how do you practice writing? By sacrificing a goat to El Cucuy and hoping that he was in the mood for cabrito? I practiced by following his rules of grammar—he loved punctuation, especially the commas. And so we battled. Through the years, we continued on this warpath; years of frustration and crying a river of tears, and I continued to win. I won every match until I graduated high school. And now?

           Now, I am a student taking Rhetoric and Composition courses at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), writing about how I conquered El Cucuy—my literacy challenge growing up. But did I succeed in my conquest? Yes, I played his game, but I played it his way. I followed his rules and, in the end, I realised, I had turned into one of his minions. Sad, isn’t it? Sad to think that, as I write about my “great achievement”, I never really defeated El Cucuy.

            Upon the shocking realisation, I became La Llorona, again. I guess some things never change.

            I did not—or rather, do not—know how to write. I don’t know how to write effectively, to write with purpose. I don’t know how to write to my intended audience. I don’t know how to write without El Cucuy breathing down my neck. Word of advice, a breath mint would have been appreciated. El Cucuy wanted me to stick to the fundamentals of the introduction, ‘the body’, and the conclusion in my essays. But what good are rules if my writing has no purpose? If it doesn’t capture the audience’s attention, it doesn’t create a bond between the writer and the reader. There is no point in placing the commas and periods in their correct place if I can’t get my ideas across. Is it possible to go beyond the idea of ‘just writing’? How? I will write! I will continue to write and revise my work! If there is anything I have learnt, it is to keep writing and rewriting until I’m content with my final draft. To draw outlines and write numerous drafts.

            Just like this essay—behind this essay there are many unseen tear-stained drafts that will go unread. Did I finally learn how to write? Throughout this essay, I never lost my purpose of what I was writing about or who I was writing it for. I learnt to write effectively, therefore, I learnt to write. But I will also continue to learn and to write far beyond my university years, thriving in a never ending cycle of terror and tears. To have the ability to write and rise above the challenges that El Cucuy has imposed. And even though I might end up crying like La Llorona, again, I have the hope that someday they will become tears that will guide me through many more writings. *fingers crossed*

           So, congratulations! You have finished my literacy narrative, with trouble or ease, but you finished what I wrote. You read what I wrote… and that’s skill.

I wrote this!