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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Madloch

Susana Sotillo

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

I knew both my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother’s name was Flora. To me, she was abuelita Flora. Her husband, my grandfather, became the Dean of Peru’s National School of Engineers. He traveled widely and worked long hours. Unfortunately he died fairly young, which left abuelita Flora to fend for herself and her seven children. It must have been very rough for her. However, all her children were educated and went on to have successful careers and marriages.

Abuelita Flora wanted all the best for her children. She was thrilled when her youngest daughter, Mariana, married a highly cultured and refined French man. She adored his family and gradually became very close to them. On the other hand, my mother married a man from a poor socioeconomic background. In 1933, my father began his studies at Peru’s National School of Engineers. Having earned the highest scores among all graduates in 1937 and excelling in Math, he received a monetary award from the Peruvian-Chinese Society. Despite the fact that he was a loving father, honest and hardworking, Abuelita Flora never really respected him. She never forgave him for being “penniless” and thus “unworthy” of her daughter, who played piano and, according to abuelita, could secure a better, more cultured husband.

Unfortunately, she passed this resentment onto us, his children. I never felt ‘good enough’ for her. I remember how I tried to impress abuelita Flora by going to concerts or the opera. Upon my return, I always tried to share my experiences with her. In response she would purse her lips and say something like “What could you possibly know about music?” She certainly did not love us the way she loved her other grandchildren, who had lighter skin and a European father. For many years I tried to forget her unfair treatment of us.

Strangely enough, while my memories of abuelita Flora are not happy, my other siblings, especially my oldest sister, remember her rather fondly. When I talked to her on the phone recently, she stressed what a strong, positive, and inspiring person abuelita was. In my sister’s eyes, she was an optimist with a hopeful outlook on life. This was manifested by the good care she took of herself. Abuelita liked luxurious things and she probably thought that my mom, being her daughter, also deserved the “finer things in life.” Her disappointment probably lead her to bitterness, which she was never able to overcome.

My paternal grandmother’s name was Enma Sotillo, née Palomino. She is portrayed in this picture with my oldest sister. The photograph was taken on my sister’s wedding day.

Enma married a man who served in the Peruvian army. They lived in Lima, Peru, and when he was relocated to the Andean region, she refused to follow him there. My grandfather, being given a choice between his career and his family, chose his career and abandoned Enma and their children. Their financial situation was dire, and my father, who was the second of Enma’s three sons, started to work to support the family when he was 13 years old. When Enma grew old, she moved in with one of her children and we didn’t see her that often. However, when I was sixteen or seventeen, abuelita Enma gave me a ring with an aquamarine stone. It was probably the prettiest thing I possessed at that time and certainly the only gift I got from my grandmother. I clearly remember the overwhelming sense of despair when one day as I was leaving a concert in the park, I hit my hand against some hard surface and later discovered that the stone was missing. I was devastated because my grandmother had given me this beautiful ring to remind me that she loved me.

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