Oprah Winfrey once told her viewers that “solitude is the soul’s holiday.” People in Los Angeles eat that shit up. It’s no secret that we’re a city of green juice yogis with an affinity for meditation and vegan food (myself included.) Throughout my 22 years in this city, I've read many articles supporting these ideas and regurgitating them in a variety of ways. I've read about the importance of contemplative moments and taking time for yourself. According to these articles, it is not only recommended but necessary to make sure to breathe deeply and "notice the little things."
In Mexican culture, solitary relaxation and taking the time to be with your own mind and soul might as well be the equivalent of just sitting there waiting for your hair to turn grey. The family controls everything that happens, and everything happens as a family. Decisions are made as a family. Meals are eaten as a family. Activities are participated in as a family. Therefore, time to yourself is an elusive rarity.
With that in mind, having my own room was a privilege. My mother shared her bedroom with her two sisters during her entire childhood in Guadalajara, Jalisco. I shared a room with my sister until about age eight, and then I was gifted the amazing opportunity of moving five feet across the hallway into what had previously been the play room. As an introvert, it was like I had been gifted ultimate happiness.
I had not been gifted ultimate freedom, though. In our house, there was an open-door policy. If I closed my door, it must have meant that I was doing something unexplainably dirty or wrong. Especially if I had a computer in there -- forget it. Even when my mom was cooking loudly or the Spanish radio station was blaring, a closed door with an open computer equaled only one answer: that I was googling some variation of porn or anti-religious propaganda.
My room was a place mostly meant for sleeping. Watching TV shows would never happen simply because I was never allowed to have a TV in there. Hearing my friends talk about how they ate their dinner in their room was a foreign concept to me. If I would have taken my plate of food, stood up with it, and boldly announced: “I’ll take this in my bedroom, thanks,” my parents would have been nothing short of offended. Meal-time was communal. But then again, so were most other times. If a laptop meant that work could be done most anywhere and everywhere, that place would ideally be the kitchen or the living room. Why would I sit on my nicely made bed to do my readings for school when I could sit in the den with everyone else that lived in my home ?
On one hand, I understood it -- it was probably hurtful to my mother to see my sister and I come home from a long day of school and instantly retreat to our rooms, only emerging if we needed some sort of sustenance. Our house was a home, and by taking the time to sit between four walls alone, we were causing isolation among that home. We were breaking up the family and the togetherness that had been so deeply instituted throughout our childhood years.
This caused particular problems during the many adolescent fights I had with my parents. After several rounds of yelling at each other, all I wanted to do was slam my door in defiance, proving to them that I did, in fact, have the final word. But oh no -- slamming my door did not prove anything at all; it was seen as deeply disrespectful. It was merely an invitation for my parents to open it back up and add an extra layer to whatever punishment I was already going to receive.
All in all, between my hectic school and extracurricular schedule, taking time to be by myself wasn’t something that I even had access to most of the time. And when I had a break from school during the winter or summer, I was almost always in Mexico. We would stay at my abuela’s house. Her house, on Avenida Guadalupe, is three stories with a stone staircase and a specific smell that is a mix of freshly cooked beans, flowers, and cleaning supplies. Abuela’s room is on the second story, but visitors always stay on the third. I also have ten first cousins, who constantly seem to be going in and out, if not sleeping there half the time. Combined with the various women that help upkeep the house, there is never a dull (or solitary) moment. And with the somewhat unsafe conditions in Mexico, taking a leisurely walk around town, alone, as a woman, was never really an option. Growing up, I began to believe that it was impossible to not be in a room with someone else.
When I finally got my first car I was ecstatic. Both because I, a sixteen and a half year old girl, had been gifted a vehicle, and also because it was a new place that was entirely my own. If you've spent more than five minutes in Los Angeles, there is a probable chance you've heard someone complain about traffic. It seems to be most people’s favorite topic of conversation. However, my car meant not only freedom, but a sanctuary. It was the place where I could truly be alone with no one else. I could play my music and just drive (or at least sit on the freeway with my foot on the brake pedal.)
Again, my freedom was limited by things like a strict curfew and a GPS on my phone that my parents could track. Long and romantic drives up the coast were not anywhere in my near future. But I started taking the back roads home from school, which offered a slightly longer and more scenic drive home. I felt a sense of peace, weaving through the hilly streets, shaded by rows of dark green trees. Sometimes, I would even find ways to “accidentally” disable the GPS. I would play dumb, saying I had no idea how it turned itself off and agreeing with my mother that technology was confusing and unreliable! I'm sure no one believed that the GPS had miraculously disabled itself, but most of the time, they let it slide. I think they understood, and I was grateful for it.