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Interview with an Ancestor
By Rebecca D’Harlingue
August 9, 2022

Rachel interviews co-character Juliana Torres Coloma of The Lines Between Us.

Hello, I am Rachel Pearson Strand, reporting to you from St. Louis, Missouri, in 1992. By some unexplainable happenstance, I have been given the opportunity to interview my ancestor, Juliana Torres Coloma, whose diary set me upon a quest to understand my family’s past.

 RPS:  Juliana, I am so happy to be able to communicate with you across three hundred years.

JTC:  You can imagine that I, too, am astounded by this opportunity, and I can only think it is a special blessing from God that I can see into the future of my family.

RPS: Yes, I found your diary among my mother’s things after she passed away. I have so many questions for you!

JTC: I shall answer them as best I can, my dear.

RPS: What happened to you at the hands of your father’s friend, being raped by someone you knew and trusted, must have been so horrible!

JTC: Yes, but as devastating as that experience was, it was my father’s betrayal that perhaps injured me the most.

RPS: You mean his threat to kill you, to restore his honor. Although we are still not completely free of some people who believe that the victim of rape is somehow partly responsible, even the most extreme would not think that the woman should be killed.

JTC: I am glad to know that things are viewed differently in your time, and I don’t believe that, even in my time, everyone accepted that idea. But it was enshrined in some of our plays, and I should have been warned of my father’s attitude by the way that he always endorsed the harshest interpretation.

RPS: Still, one does not expect a beloved father to follow such a violent tradition.

JTC: Indeed, and I did not believe it at first. It was only at the insistence of my dear dueña, Silvia, that I finally accepted the danger.

RPS: Living in a society that restricted women so much, and you only sixteen, how did you find the courage to escape?

JTC: Do you know, it is ironic. My father always insisted that I be educated as well as any boy of my class, and better than many. It was this very education, I believe, that allowed me to see a way out, to imagine that I could have a different life. And, of course, terror is a great motivator.

RPS: I have to admit, the fact that you ended up in a convent was something of a disappointment to me.

JTC: Yes, I had always envisioned a husband and children for myself, but that life was now closed to me. You must remember, too, that many women entered the convent in my time, and I was mostly content there. Besides, when I first entered, I was still fearful that my father would somehow find me, and it was a good place to find a certain kind of anonymity.

RPS: It must have been very hard for you to send your daughter away from the convent. How could you bear to part with her?

JTC: Do parents in your time not send away their children when they have grown? It may not be in as extreme a way as I did, but my circumstances were extreme. Though I have said that I was content in the convent, I wanted more for Mercedes. 

RPS: If you hadn’t sent her out into the world, I wouldn’t be alive today, so I thank you for that, although there was much hardship along the way for so many of the women between your time and mine. 

JTC: Is not hardship the lot of all women, even of all people?

RPS: In many ways, you’re right. I do want to leave you on a more positive note, though, Juliana. Because of you, so many exist in the world who otherwise would not. So many women have found strength in how you overcame a threat to your very life.

JTC: I survived, as women have managed to do for millennia. It is what women will continue to do.

Rebecca D’Harlingue
Written by Rebecca D’Harlingue

Award-winning author Rebecca D’Harlingue writes about seventeenth-century women forging a different path. Her debut novel, The Lines Between Us, won an Independent Press Award and a CIBA Chaucer Award. Her second novel, The Map Colorist, won a Literary Titan Award and a Firebird Book Award.

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