First and Last Confession: What This Xicana Learned Marrying a Mexican

credit: Photo provided by Michelle Cruz Gonzales

As a baby, I was baptized in the Catholic Church, but I hardly stepped foot in another Catholic Church, or any church, through my childhood, teen years, or into early adulthood. I joined a punk band instead, played drums, wrote lyrics about sexism, and toured the world with three other women. I never wanted to get married, but then I did. I married a man from Mexico, and we decided to make it official in his pueblo where his family could attend the wedding and finally see him after ten long years, but first, I’d have to do something else I thought I’d never do.

On the morning of the wedding ceremony, my brother in law told me that I had to go to confession.

CREDIT: Photo provided by Michelle Cruz Gonzales

I imagined a wooden closet the size of a phone booth with a screen over the window, like the one I had stumbled into by accident while looking for a pay phone, but I was directed to the priest’s office instead. He was sitting behind his desk and gestured for me to sit down in the empty chair. I wanted to reach up and touch my wedding pienado, the large looping Selena-bun on the top of my head, held in place with half a can of hairspray and about one hundred bobby pins, but I knew better.

“Shit, shit, shit,” was all I could think.

What if I didn’t understand him? What if he spoke that kind of rapid-fire Spanish that my college Spanish couldn’t keep up with? I had told my husband, the man that I had already been married to, by the state, for two years that I also wanted a traditional Mexican wedding.

Naively, I hadn’t quite realized that all this church stuff is what he thought I meant when what I really I meant was Mexico, his family, some birria, and Mariachis.

 

CREDIT: Photo provided by Michelle Cruz Gonzales

“How long has it been since your last confession,” the priest asked in Spanish, a phrase that I half understood and half expected.

“Um, nunca, nunca, he confesado,” I stammered not wanting to lie straight away.

“Nunca?”

Swallowing hard, I shook my head.

I was baptized as a baby, but that was it. Once my mother left my father, she left, Los Angeles, and in some ways, Mexican culture, and definitely religion, behind. I was only allowed (deemed eligible, by men, of course) to marry my husband in the Catholic Church because I had done six months of adult catechism in a supposed progressive Catholic church in the Bay Area. Six months of Tuesday nights talking about Jesus. I wouldn’t have minded six months of talking about La Virgen de Guadalupe, or even actually learning the rosary, or when to stand and sit in Mass, but six months of talking about Catholics, and the Bible, and Jesus just made it clear why I steered clear of religion in the first place: the holy trinity of male deities, too much patriarchy, and way too much misogyny. Still I’m Mexican, a Xicana, and I was marrying a Mexican national, I figured it wouldn’t kill me to learn more about the church, the rituals, and more about the interconnectedness between Mexican culture and its predominate religion.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law, Mario, who planned the wedding, had filled the priest in on my unique situation and I had been sent to Mexico with a letter from the local diocese that assured the Mexican priest I was eligible for the sacrament of marriage once he performed my first communion and confirmation. Fast forward sacraments, each would follow the other in quick succession, the first communion; hold this candle, sip this wine, and the confirmation; please, padre, I prayed silently, please don’t drip oil on my white dress, all performed before my immediate family just before the start of the wedding ceremony itself. It was a lot of waiting before I got my mariachis, but none of it would happen until I had my first and last confession.

The priest’s office was heavy and dark. The priest furrowed his brow, unsure of what to do or say, for I’m certain he’d never been in this situation before. I sat, my hands folded in my lap on my wedding gown, watching him decide what to do, nervous that he’d expect me to recite some prayer in Spanish that I had never even said in English.

“Entonces, dime has sido una hija obediente?”

CREDIT: Photo provided by Michelle Cruz Gonzales

 

Had I been an obedient daughter? To whom? My wife-beater father who I never knew? My mind raced for a suitable answer and the right words to express them within a language that I struggled to speak smoothly, and I decided I didn’t need to count my father.

“Si, Padre,” I said, though no one had used the word obedient to describe me since I was in the first grade. I wanted to crack with laughter, but I knew this wasn’t the time.

“Has sido una hermana buena con tus hermanos?”

“Si, Padre,” I said, even though I had told my blonde sister she was adopted, and beat up my brother when we fought until he grew taller than me.

“Muy bien,” he said, and he blessed me, presided over my first communion, confirmed me, and married me to my husband in his family’s church, which brought great joy and comfort to his family who hadn’t seen him in ten years because he wasn’t a citizen, couldn’t travel back and forth, having been undocumented all that time. So I knelt, and I stood, and I stood, and I knelt, and squeezed my husband’s hand, and sweated in my heavy gown, and mouthed, “watermelon, watermelon, watermelon,” while everyone else recited prayers memorized from childhood. And I stared up at the towering Jesus on the cross, unable to escape his sad eyes and the irony of it all, until we busted from the church and into the loving arms of family, a showering of rice, and the celebratory sounds of Mariachi horns all around us.


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