Themes and Meanings
“Dear Aunt Chofi” is about the life of a particular woman, but it is also about the artist as woman and rebel and about a woman’s life in Nicaragua during a particular historical period. Doubly an artist (both painter and baker), Chofi’s art was in her cakes, which she baked and decorated with such popular images as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella for such conventional occasions as baptisms, first communions, adolescent coming out parties, and weddings. Yet Chofi was a woman who resisted societal expectations. She married against her family’s wishes, she smoked when women were not allowed to smoke, and she ignored her housekeeping responsibilities, leaving her bed unmade while she painted canvases. Drawn to the mysterious, she “fell in love/ with the first legitimate guru from India/ to pass through Managua” and invented drinks to prevent “all possible diseases.” Unlike most women, she never settled down but was “Always in transit,” living in various rented rooms. Yet she was a beautiful young woman and later a dedicated mother to her only daughter.
Daisy Zamora grew up in a Nicaragua under the dictatorship of the Somoza family. When she was only four years old, her father was one of a group of insurgents imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the tyrannical government of Anastasio Somoza García, the father of the Anastasio Somoza Debayle who was overthrown by Zamora and her fellow revolutionaries in 1979. The Somoza dictatorship’s power was maintained by the U.S.-trained and backed National Guard. As the poem informs the reader, Aunt Chofi’s resistance to the Guard forced her into exile in Mexico. In fact, many Nicaraguans lived in exile during the Somoza dictatorship.
This poem, like many of her others in Clean Slate, focuses on a woman who manages to break through the limitations that her family and society try to impose. Though the consequences of self-motivation and striving to achieve her dreams may be as serious as the “living hell” of her marriage to Guillermo, the resultant freedom portrayed here seems well worth the difficulties. Another of Zamora’s themes, motherhood, also arises in “Dear Aunt Chofi.” Sadly, despite Chofi’s dedication to her daughter, her daughter travels farther and farther away in an apparent attempt to create a physical distance to replicate the personal distance that she desires.
“Dear Aunt Chofi” is a “web of intimate sensibilities, founded in the concrete and even the mundane,” as Barbara Paschke points out in her introduction to Zamora’s Riverbed of Memory (1992). In “Dear Aunt Chofi,” Daisy Zamora chronicles her aunt’s life while witnessing to the time, place, and conditions for women evoked in the poem.