The text Mom from 1992 was written as it appears here and then kept in a drawer awaiting a chance to get on stage. Soon after, Mom became a short performance piece, in which Elia emerged dressed in black behind an ironing board. This piece, as would become evident, was only a rehearsal for the later one called Stretching My Skin Until It Rips Whole.
Perhaps there is no such thing as a work of art that lacks autobiographical touches, but Stretching My Skin Until It Rips Whole seems to be Elia’s most autobiographical piece.
Like the Rosaria, the extract Mom demonstrates an interest in the conflictive relationships between mother and daughter. It is a monologue that Elia utters while crossing out a picture of her mother with lipstick and placing next to it a picture of herself as a little girl. As she is telling the story, Elia bathes the picture of the girl in milk. The mother in this story proves to be incapable of answering her daughter’s fundamental and uncomfortable question, one that not everyone dares to ask her mother: Was I a wanted child? The mother does not dare to confess the truth but obviously, her daughter was not wanted, since the daughter cannot remember the mother’s response. Had the answer been yes, surely the mother would have just said it under the pressure of the question, so the daughter forgets the answer. Had it been a resounding no, the answer would have indelibly remained in the daughter’s memory. The mother, however, insists on perpetuating the cycle that led her to fulfill the obligation of motherhood, and transmits to her daughter how important the custom of becoming a mother is as a way of giving life meaning.
The word “mother” suffices to make the daughter feel pregnant. It is a word that gives life, a sentencing word that was placed in the daughter’s womb, inflaming it with imperatives. A soothing word that makes her sleep and dream that she is already a mother. And that mother from the dream––critical of her own mother but lacking a better model, as if wanting to repair the damage caused to her and to all women on earth––takes care of her daughter, trying out a different model. Thus, she exercises motherhood through a love declared with words, a liberating love; a love that teaches the expression of feelings in manners considered to be exaggerated, like screaming, like crying; a love that teaches her daughter things women are not taught––to be the owners of their own bodies, to touch it and share it only with whom they wish to. And with that love she invents in her dreams, she tries to save her own daughter from herself as a mother, she begs her to be strong and not to let her crush her, she begs her to get her out of the way when she intervenes.
At that point, Elia ceases bathing the girl’s picture in milk, turns the mother’s picture around and hammers on it while she begs her daughter to get her out of her (the daughter’s) way if she tries to intervene. It becomes a plea to actually get the mother out of the way so that the daughter will grant her freedom by removing her from motherhood––“get me out of your way!.” She continues to hammer on the mother’s picture.
Then the daughter attacks her, hits her face, hurts her, while the mother incites her to continue. In this way, she turns the previously practiced alternative model of healthy motherhood into a failure. Demanding that her own daughter, who was raised with love, hit her, she leads her daughter into aggression towards the mother. This is the only way for her daughter to save her from being a different mother, from breaking a necessary model, and thus returning to the only kind of motherhood she knows: the sad, obligated, and sacrificial Christian mother.
Critical of the inherited model of motherhood, but simultaneously a slave to the same, she frenetically asks her daughter to hurt her while asking her to be everything she could not be. And among the things she asks of her, is to not allow anyone to humiliate her because of her skin color.
With this request, we understand not that the daughter was born black, native or of mixed race, but simply that she was given birth to by an immigrant, that she was racialized because she was a foreigner in a country of foreigners, where color is more than the appearance of the skin.
The mother knows that immigrants in the United States, as long as they are from certain countries, will always be of a different color: the color of immigration, of otherness and menace. That is why, upon waking, she stands in front of the mirror, remembering the transplant of her mother tongue that led her not to speak any language well, and that could silence her, either out of shame or punishment, or could allow her to rise from her own ashes, towards her longed-for freedom, instead of choosing death by silence.