MEET LETIZIA

This article by PISSWIFE’s Anael is a prologue to her article on abortion rights in Bolivia, which will appear in the next print issue of PISSWIFE. Stay tuned!

Letizia’s mother Ely worked as a domestic helper to my grandmother in La Paz, Bolivia. I met her on one of my visits there in the summer of 2014, when I was 16 and she was 17, nearly 18.

When I learned of her situation, I immediately wanted to meet her and see if there was any way I could help her. I was for the most part brought up in Germany, so it was still somewhat of a culture shock.

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Image by Robin Boekhout

One evening, she came over and told me her story, (clumsily, I thought I had recorded everything but had not been pressing the right button on the camcorder so nothing ended up being documented). She spoke to me using the polite term for you in Spanish (usted) and called me señorita, despite me being younger than her. This isn’t abnormal, though. I noticed that in Bolivia, most people of color tend to refer to middle to upper class (mostly white) people with polite pronouns, no one seems to think this odd there. In my naivety, being young and unaware of how I was perpetuating white saviorism, I thought I could and should help Letizia. I wanted to interview her and go back to Germany to raise money for her to be able to escape an abusive home. Not being able to do this and promising things I couldn’t deliver has been my deepest regret. I was an overzealous, privileged teenager who thought she could easily help everyone. My school had a community service programme where everyone had to have a project, and I decided mine was to raise money for Letizia. However, I didn’t have the leadership skills, or management skills to organize a project like that. Looking back, I feel so guilty for thinking of her story as a “project”. Nevertheless, her story is an important one.

Letizia’s story starts when she was eight years old, where she met a boy a few years older. They became good friends and later on more than that. She was fourteen when she gave birth to his daughter. They were not married, but they were encouraged by his family to tie the knot – a request not unfamiliar to young parents. The nature of their relationship became abusive when she moved in with him and his family. He struggled to find a job and often came home drunk and knocked her about. Every time, like the cliché that he seemed, he profusely apologized and promised he’d never do it again.

Perhaps the most toxic aspect of this was his family – Letizia talked specifically about his mother – and how completely they stood by everything he did. Often times, his mother would tell Letizia that this was how men are, and there was nothing she could do about it. “The more time passes”, she used to say, “the less it actually hurts”. I wonder how many scars it took for that woman to convince herself of that.

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Letizia remembers one specific time where she accompanied him to a relative’s wedding. In true Bolivian fashion, everyone was extremely intoxicated. I cannot do justice to this story because these are only fragments of what I remember. What stuck with me through the years is Letizia saying that she expressed a desire to go home and did not feel comfortable with being there in the first place. He became angry, and in his intoxicated (or so was his excuse) state started beating her again. His family joined in. They were beating her so severely that she was forced to escape the scene and go to a friend’s house. The family then spread the rumor that she escaped to go sleep with another man. I assume this rumor was spread to justify a whole family unit beating up a fourteen year old girl who refused to drink and simply wanted to go home. Why didn’t she go to the police? You might ask. Well, she did. And she was told that because it was her boyfriend (practically her husband, according to the police) that it didn’t count, that it was simply a matter of family dispute and that there was no criminal intention.

As a result of all of this abuse and emotional manipulation, she dropped out of school to take care of her daughter and to embrace her role as a housewife more and more. At the time I talked with her she was thinking of leaving him, because even her daughter was starting to be afraid of him (she was present every time Letizia was beaten and would start crying everytime he would so much as go near them). Again, I thought I could help her, and calculated the exact amount of funding I would need to help her settle somewhere else. She dreamed of being a hairdresser, so I looked up academies for cosmetics and hair training. I did everything except raise the sufficient funds. I failed her and I was never able to talk to her again. Ashamed, I admit that I promised her many things, and believed I could deliver. Her mother, Ely, stopped working for my grandmother some time ago now, so I stopped hearing news about Letizia.

Someday, I want to find Letizia and tell her how sorry I am that I let her down. I hope that telling her story the way she told it to me, is the first step towards helping her and others like her. Sharing stories makes us feel less alone.

Her daughter is a blessing in her life, she told me. Even when her daughter makes her more dependent of her boyfriend. Her case is not unique. So many (oftentimes underage) women are coerced into staying with and even marrying abusive men simply because they are pregnant by them. If they knew they had the choice, the power, to not be young mothers and therefore not commit themselves to a lifetime of abuse, would be enough to curb this problem significantly. Letizia is somewhat of a success story, in the sense that she never thought that aborting her baby was the right choice for her, and she is optimistic and driven to make a good life for herself and her daughter, but sadly this is not the case for many people in Bolivia. There is still a long struggle to go before people can have the right to their own bodies and their own futures. The fight for safe and legal abortions is the fight for an autonomous life, and the opportunity to flee from abuse.

Text: Anael Jordan
Image: Sarah de Koning

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