Finding Cholita

Finding Cholita

Billie Jean Isbell
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcp6x
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  • Book Info
    Finding Cholita
    Book Description:

    Finding Cholita is a fictionalized ethnography of the Ayacucho region of Peru covering a thirty-year period beginning in the 1970s. It is a story of human tragedy resulting from the region's long history of discrimination, class oppression, and the rise and fall of the communist organization Shining Path._x000B__x000B_American anthropologist Dr. Alice Woodsley works in remote, Quechua-speaking Ayacucho villages in Peru. Vibrant and given to intensive questioning, she attempts to locate her goddaughter, Cholita, who is known to have joined Shining Path and to have murdered her biological father, who fathered her through rape. Woodsley learns through the people she meets and newspaper accounts about the emergence of Shining Path, its increasingly violent and cultlike tactics, and the equally violent response of government counterinsurgency forces._x000B__x000B_Woodsley devotes herself to documenting the stories of the countless Andean peasant women who were raped by soldiers. Her involvement goes beyond witnessing, as she therapeutically ministers to the women to relieve the pain of their sexual horror. Transcending the boundaries of fiction, memoir, and ethnography, Finding Cholita is an exceptional story of survival and redemption in the Andes.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09155-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PROLOGUE: WHY TURN TO FICTION?
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    Over the forty years that I have been conducting research in Peru, there have been events that have haunted me that I have not been able to forget nor write about in the venues offered in anthropology. In order to gain closure and provide a form of therapy for myself, I have turned to fiction. During the twenty years that I focused on violence, I absorbed the horrific stories told to me and found myself developing disabling infirmities. For example, as I was struggling with whether to publish the testimonies of victims, I was rendered speechless by reoccurring lesions on...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 UNDER THE BANQUET TABLE
    (pp. 1-12)

    Cra—a—ck! I heard the bone splintering . . . she was sucking out the marrow. Romulo Rosetti Martinez reached down and handed Cholita another bone. She hungrily grabbed it and continued sucking. The sounds crawled like fingers up and down my spine. I said, “Compadre Romulo, nutrition plays a large part in growth. Cholita would be taller if she had a better diet.” Immediately I regretted my Ms. Gringa-with-a-PhD Know-It-All tone. I hadn’t touched my plate even though the smell of roast chicken was making me hallucinate.

    Romulo looked pleased as he drew himself upright in his chair,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 THE SEARCH BEGINS
    (pp. 13-28)

    I stepped off the plane into the waves of heat rising up from the runway. I knew I looked like a grandmother taking a Christmas holiday. My short, gray hair was in disarray and I was dressed for northern climes, not the tropical heat here. I didn’t have a free hand to smooth my hair or arrange my clothing; I was struggling with my shoulder bag, camera case and computer. The only clue to my identity was the plastic label on my shoulder bag that read Dr. Alice Woodsley. In the United States, I used the title only in my...

  7. CHAPTER 3 MEMORIES OF LIMA
    (pp. 29-37)

    I gathered my bags, went directly to the taxi counter, and gave the address of Carlos, my long-time friend and former lover. As I settled into the back of the taxi, I was so engrossed in thinking about the people I planned to see in Lima that I hardly spoke to the driver. Usually, I engaged taxi drivers in avid conversation because they were willing to share their observations on current politics. The first image to come to my mind was not Carlos, but Francisco. Not Francisco in his sixties, but the young, impulsive Harvard student I had known decades...

  8. CHAPTER 4 LARCO HERRERA
    (pp. 38-46)

    As the cab crawled through the congested traffic of La Molina, I took inventory. I got out a notebook and pen and formulated questions I wanted to ask. I had decided not to bring my digital tape recorder because I didn’t have permission to record Felix’s sister’s story. A deep melancholia overcame me:Why do I feel so compelled to collect these stories? No one wants to hear them. They’ve made me a professional pariah. I must be emitting an invisible signal that says, “Tell her! Tell her—she wants to hear your story!” So many strangers approach me to...

  9. CHAPTER 5 THE AUTOPSY
    (pp. 47-63)

    “You can’t do this, compadre! For God’s sake, she’s the mother of your child! What’s wrong with you? Are you mad?” My words are hardly audible as they whistle past my clenched teeth. Just then a large gust of wind make the eucalyptus trees surrounding the cemetery rustle and their pungent perfume wash over me.

    “No, comadre, I’m not mad. It’s the law. The law requires an autopsy in the case of suicide.” His words are slurred but there is no trace of emotion on his face or in his voice.

    The law my ass. Jesus, how I detest this...

  10. CHAPTER 6 AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE STATE
    (pp. 64-72)

    The truck bumps along the dirt road from Pumapumku to Cangallo. José, the driver, lights a cigarette and opens his window to let the smoke out, allowing the dust from the road to pour into the cab, clinging to our clothes and our hair and clogging our nostrils. This dust smells as though generations of ancestors have been recycled to become these specks of dust.Maybe the generations of ancestors who have returned to the earth give the dust this special odor. The people here in the Andes have the same odor, not a body odor like ours but an...

  11. CHAPTER 7 THE PRISONS
    (pp. 73-83)

    I was jolted back to the present.

    The smell of eucalyptus that had assailed me outside of Larco Herrera after visiting María, Felix’s sister, had again returned me to the cemetery in Pumapunku. During the hour-long cab ride to Carlos’s house, I remained silent, afraid of what the cab driver might reveal. I’d heard enough for one day. I fingered the insignia in my brief case and pondered the unimaginable ways people have gotten tangled into the web of the war with Shining Path.

    The taxi driver broke into my thoughts and said, “We’re here, señora.” I opened my eyes...

  12. CHAPTER 8 THE ROSETTI NOSE
    (pp. 84-100)

    That evening after a leisurely dinner with Carlos, I hurriedly made reservations to fly to Ayacucho the next day. Carlos again tried to convince me to abandon my quest, but I now felt certain I would find Cholita. He embraced me after dinner and bid me good luck, saying, “You always have been such a determined wench. I’ll see you when you return. I won’t get up at 4 A.M. to say good-bye, so let me show how to turn off the alarm system.”

    After a fitful night dreaming of constructing my memorial wall, I rose at 3 A.M. to...

  13. CHAPTER 9 ROMULO’S LETTER
    (pp. 101-109)

    As I stood in front of the battered door to the Rosetti hacienda, echoes of that fiesta so many years ago sounded in my head. My reverie was broken when a group of musicians, a harpist and several violinists, passed by on their way to early Mass and Christmas rehearsal. I turned to knock on the great double doors, which looked as if the twenty years of warfare waged in Ayacucho had been directed at their ancient iconography. The doors had gouges and slashes that almost destroyed the original figures. The puma motifs were almost entirely obliterated and the blocks...

  14. CHAPTER 10 THE DUST OF THE ANCESTORS
    (pp. 110-114)

    That night in my dream, my wall-constructing project advanced further than it ever had before. I felt exhausted when I rose at five A.M. to pack my travel gear for the trip to Pumapunku. I rolled up my sleeping bag and thought that without this bag I would have frozen last night. This room had the same cold breeze gusting through as Gregorio’s house. If the dust tastes and smells like the ancestors, did the ancestors inhabit the interior of houses in the form of cold wind? I had slept in my aqua silk underwear and wool socks. I’d probably...

  15. CHAPTER 11 THROUGH THE PUMA DOOR
    (pp. 115-131)

    The king-cab Toyota truck was waiting for me as I ducked through the small door cut in the ancient, battered portal and handed my gear to the driver, who tossed my bags into the back and fastened the canvas tight over the cargo. He introduced himself as Jorge Quispe and presented the two psychologists traveling to Pumapunku. Florencia Garces was in her fifties, a professor of psychology at Catholic University in Lima. She was small, about five feet tall, fair-skinned, with intelligent, kind brown eyes. Her shoulder-length brown hair showed signs of having been dyed to cover the gray. As...

  16. CHAPTER 12 THE CONVOCATORIO
    (pp. 132-152)

    Tomás Vilca sent a young varayoq to ring the church bell at 9 A.M. for villagers to gather in front of the municipal building. Close to eight hundred people answered the call and congregated around the plaza. Young people perched on the wall that surrounded the padlocked church; some adults sat on the steps of the church and on the park benches in the pitiful plaza with its dead geraniums, but most adults stood around the cement plaza and in the circular street waiting for the officials to begin the meeting. The town officials arrived first and called the traditional...

  17. CHAPTER 13 THE CURE
    (pp. 153-169)

    Clotilda and Gregorio sat on low stools in the cooking hut waiting for their comadre and the two psychologists to arrive for the evening meal to discuss the cure that was planned for Tuesday. Gregorio turned to his wife and said, “Wife, do you think we can create a new pagapu for the women in the community who have been raped? Will Pachamama accept such an offering? I’m worried.”

    “Yes, husband, I believe that Our Mother will accept such an offering and perhaps the rains will come...” Her voice trailed off to a whisper, “if the women are cured of...

  18. CHAPTER 14 FINDING CHOLITA
    (pp. 170-196)

    I slept fitfully; my mind swirled with images and dreams. The wall construction advanced quickly with a large contingent of villagers helping me. The dead victims drew closer and smiled. I woke with a start with one task on my mind: I had to write the letter to Cholita to give it to the market vendor tomorrow. I sat with pen and paper and contemplated how to start.

    To Juana Quispe:

    Paradiso, Victor Fajardo, Peru

    December 23, 2005

    Dear Juana:

    This is your godmother, Alicia, writing. I’ve been searching for you for years and I finally have word of your...

  19. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 197-200)
  20. SUGGESTED READINGS AND RESOURCES
    (pp. 201-206)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-208)