Queen of Water (Equador)

book coverby Maria Virginia Farinango with Laura Resau

By the end of the first 3 chapters, I realized that I had read this story before. Oh, not the 1980s tale of a poor indigena in Equador, given away at age 7 to a family of mestizos to be their maid/slave…

  • Not the story of a Quichua-speaking descendant of the mighty Incas
  • Not the story of a girl with a vivisima that lights her up inside; a girl always looking for the largest potato in the soup
  • Not the story of a girl who rebelliously watches a TV she’s been told not to touch and who falls in love with an American called MacGyver

VirgniaNo, THAT is Maria Virginia Farinango’s story: a life unique in its details. Unfortunately, in reading my way around the world the abuse visited upon indigenous people seems to follow a familiar pattern. I remember:

  • Malidoma Patrice Some of Burkina Faso, raised in a French Jesuit boarding school and beaten for speaking his own language.
  • And all the American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Australian tribes-people who suffered boarding schools, religious indoctrination, and the deliberate decimation of their languages…
  • Incan EmpirePygmies in the Congo, forced to labor all day for slave-masters (from another tribe) for a worthless scrap of goat skin.
  • Poor girls from Puerto Rica to Syria, given away or sold by their families to become domestic servants. Sometimes beaten, sometimes sexually abused, and at the very least unloved and deprived of their childhoods. Returning as strangers to their families–a way of life they’ve been taught to despise, people they no longer no, a language they no longer speak.

Queen of Corn, Queen of Water, Queen of Sky

Otavalo townThis is a really honest novel based on the author’s life. I liked how she portrayed the ambiguity felt by the fictional Virginia–there were no true villains in the story, only confused and ignorant people who sometimes acted selfishly. Quite naturally, the fictional Virginia likes the Doctorita and Nino Carlitos when they’re nice to her, and doesn’t when they’re not. The worse they treat her, the more she wants to escape–but she’s also afraid and very young.

Corn queen celebrationAnd although she misses her parents, her feelings about them are mixed also. Once she thinks, at least the Doctorita doesn’t hit as hard as my Papito. When she finally visits the village after an absence of 8 years, she’s horrified by the filth, the fleas, and the complete lack of running water or books.

The narrator Virginia is strong, smart, and in the end she find the resources she needs inside herself to become both indigena and mestiza, both a dishwasher and a queen. Beautifully written, told from the heart, and finally, triumphant.

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