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After Tanya and I had finished our Zoom interview with Marco Lôme, we were excited to dive into our second interview of the day almost immediately. A chance comment at the home of Diana Ibarra, philosopher of gender, had encouraged us to rent online one of the films produced by Maestra Olivia Núñez Orellana, at that time director of the Mexico City section of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and the Family. We had watched, cried, discussed that night and all the next morning, after our immersion in the beautiful cinematographic journey of Ilusiones, S.A. And now we would be able to speak with the woman who had produced this award-winning film for the 2015 Chicago Latino Film Festival!
Olivia joked with us as she took off her new glasses – “I don’t have to look intelligent…and these are hurting my vanity!” – and got comfortable for our conversation. Perfectly dressed and manicured, yet warm and open, she began to share with us what it means to be a woman in the Mexican culture.
“The Mexican woman,” she told us, “[is] defined by her history…of being conquered.” This history of the conquista, she continued, means that every Mexican woman finds herself fighting two battles simultaneously: “One is very visible, which is cultural, and one is very invisible, which is that of personal identity.” This visible battle is the struggle for liberty, the struggle for equality, whether that manifests itself in having to ask a man’s permission to go to the doctor, or the university and work hours, which are set so as to encourage men and discourage women. In this context, “the Mexican woman is challenged to understand which are truly battles and what are battles that are undertaken out of inertia…”
For, whereas before it was considered somehow wrong for Mexican women to study or work outside of the home, now it is considered somehow wrong for them to dedicate themselves to the home: the woman finds herself having to conform to and fight for one of two alternatives. The difficulty is that women are so exhausted in fighting these exterior battles, that they have no energy left to fight the invisible battle: to know themselves, to discover their true identity.
As Olivia explained, for the Mexican woman, “I am so exhausted by these external battles that I am not really a woman….[a]ccomplishing external conquests, fulfilling the expectations that history, that the lack of liberty has imposed upon me. Thus, I enjoy my femininity very little, I don’t truly touch it…The woman has a challenge and that is to be a woman. Period.”
This challenge is undertaken by “ceasing to fight this external battle, both by women in this exaggerated liberty, as well as by men, with this false alternative of either being macho [the man who dominates] or mandilón [the man who is dominated].” It is by “turning our eyes to look inside and to recognize our own wealth and when we discover it, then we will discover that something is missing from this wealth, which is the other [man or woman], who is equally valuable and then this can become a relationship of equals which is given to one another...”
Olivia spoke then of her own journey as a woman, in terms of her work in Communications and film and her marriage: “[I]n my experience of 30 years of marriage, my husband was always more than generous in recognizing my desire to study, in supporting it, staying in rhythm with me, with the projects, dreams, and in allowing that I would decide this harmony between these dreams, doing what was possible and doing it from home.” As she recounted later at lunch, when a journalist asked him what it was like to be the husband of Olivia Nuñez, she waited too with curiosity for the response. Her husband then answered, “In her realization, I find my own.”
If this is the true battle of the Mexican woman, to encounter herself, together with support from others to realize herself, where can she look for some model or some idea of how to undertake this conquest?
This is where Olivia’s own realization meets that of the culture. “In reality, the television culture and the heroes that we present are always men without women at their side or capable of doing without them. Violent men” or “the Mexico of drug trafficking.” Instead, in the three prize-winning films that Olivia has helped to write and produce, El estudiante [The Student] in 2009, Ella y el candidato [She and the Candidate] in 2011, and Ilusiones, SA [Illusions] in 2015, Olivia and her production company have sought to represent, “the man-woman relationship; love, donation, discovery of the other; and a beautiful Mexico,” “with the values of the Mexicans.”
Ilusiones, the film that captured the hearts of Tanya and myself, is based upon a story by Alejandro Casona and focuses on a company of actors whose job is to make dreams come true. An older gentleman has engaged the company to play his long-lost grandson and the grandson’s wife, in order to fulfill his own wife’s dream of meeting her grandson once more. Set in the beautiful Mexican countryside, full of the creativity and surprise of discovering what the “form” of love looks like, it is in the acting of love that the supposed grandson and his wife, as well as the older, more mature couple, discover that, as Olivia described, “falling in love…always has the magic of donation, of giving to one another.”
Reflecting on Olivia’s experience as a Mexican woman, how might it help other women to live out their femininity?
Women, what are the cultural battles that we fight? Where do they present false alternatives? When and how can we undertake the true battle of finding our own femininity? And who are the people – the men in our lives and the tellers of great stories through film – who can help us to more fully understand our feminine wealth that exists within – and discover the magic of donation?
Thank you for accompanying me on this gender journey! May the wisdom of the Mexican women be a gift to you!