“Thank you to life which has given me so much…” ~ Violeta Parra
Chilean folk singer and artist Violeta Parra—the Bob Dylan of her country—made a choice between following her passion and motherhood. The choice she made cost her the life of her baby daughter. Was she to blame?
Violeta Parra had a mission in life: to disseminate the culture of her people, and to elevate it to a position of respect. She was one of the few people in our world who have gone beyond mortality, who make us mere mortals stand in awe of their greatness. Her voice, her writings, her artwork remain, reminding us of the past struggles of her people.
Learning about Violeta’s life has opened a Pandora’s box of motherhood for me. I have many questions. Who am I as a mother? Who am I as a woman on a career path? What is my passion in life? How does it relate to my experience of motherhood?
I am asking myself these questions as I enter a new phase of motherhood: the divorced single mother who must transition from being a stay-at-home mom/housewife to becoming her own independent income-generating person. With a college education and artistic training, I want a career and I must follow my passion. But what happens when a mother’s passion leads her on a passage away from her children?
Violeta brought the voice of the “campesinos,” the peasants of Chile, to the elite of her country and beyond to the world. She was the first person to systematically write down the traditional folk songs of her country. She logged over 3,000, making them a permanent part of Chile’s official history. Her work was a statement against a political system that disenfranchised and devalued the poor. She is regarded as a mother of the disadvantaged people of her country.
And Violeta was an actual mother to four children.
In the early 1950s, Violeta was in her mid-30s, and many years into her singing career. She was well known. She was able to afford the necessities of life. She was married to her second husband and had recently birthed her last child, Rosita Clara. Then she received an offer to travel to Europe for a youth music festival and present the music of Chile to the people of a faraway land. Her baby was nine months old when she left. Her second youngest was three. She did not plan a short trip.
One month after Violeta left, Rosita Clara died. She had contracted pneumonia. Those caring for her had been her father and her siblings: a new teenager, a preteen, and a toddler. Would things have been different had Violeta been there?
Women throughout the world make the choice to leave their children with relatives in order to travel in search of work. Oftentimes they do so because this is their best option for finding the means to support their families. But Violeta did not travel because she needed to seek work to feed her family. She left her baby with caretakers who were, possibly, not adequate. The most basic task of every mother may be as simple as protecting the life of her offspring until they can do so for themselves. Can she be blamed for the quality of the caretakers?
Violeta stayed in Europe for two years, settling in Paris for a time. In the years that followed, she would spend long stretches of time there. Could that first trip have been shorter? Could she have stayed home and waited until the next festival, which she did attend a few years later? Why did she not take Rosita Clara with her? She could have had a companion help her on the journey. In fact, years later, she did take her other children to the same festival so that they could perform together.
Was she a victim of being a woman with a career and a mother in a time and place that did not allow for these to coexist without tension? But even today many impediments remain that stifle our ability to follow our career paths as mothers.
Violeta took her own life 13 years after her daughter’s death. Was that the link to her suicide? Maybe not. At the time, her music venue on the outskirts of Santiago was failing and her young lover of many years had left her for good.
Violeta’s life story opens a door for me with only questions on the other side. I do not know what it means to be the voice of a people. I do not know what it means to suffer poverty. I do not know what it means to stand behind a political mission with my art, my passion.
I do know what it means to be a mother.
Motherhood is complex now as it was in Violeta’s time. May we remember Violeta Parra’s pain. May we follow our passions. May we not lose our children in the process.
Author: N.V. Randall
Editor: Caroline Beaton