Photo of Robert & Grace Banta, 2017, by Charlie Westerfield Photography
Graciela, No One’s Child
By Grace Banta
Review of Second Edition 2015 by Carolyn Leonard
First Edition 2010
ISBN 13: 978-1-5194-3744-0
Trade paperback size, 221 pages
Publisher – Self-Published
I met the author, Grace Banta, and her husband Robert “Bob” Banta in Kentucky at the 2017 Dutch Cousins Gathering.
Bob lovingly introduced his wife, and spoke proudly of her book, saying it was an example of how he thought a family history should be written. I bought the book and read it immediately. It was well-written and I couldn’t lay it down.
This haunting memoir by Grace Banta reminds me of the runaway best-seller and Pulitzer Prize winner Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, who said: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth your while.” So says McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn of Irish immigrant parents.
Graciela, No One’s Child is an account of the author’s life, which also began in Brooklyn, her illegal abduction to Mexico as an infant, and her quite miserable childhood. The author reveals the brutal, yet poignant picture of the severe poverty and abandonment she was forced to endure in slave-like conditions, half-starved, barefoot year-round, dressed in rags and denied education. She grew up without love and no one seemed to care at all.
Her female captor, Matilde, worked as a prostitute and would make Graciela sit outside the door or chain her to a tree in the yard until the male companion left. The child was left on her own to find the basics, like food or a safe place to stay. Most of the time Matilde could not offer shelter even in a one-room shack with a dirt floor. She had an explosive temper and often beat Graciela.
The story recounts the child’s amazing struggles to free herself from Matilde’s oppressive grip.
Matilde placed Graciela in a Catholic orphanage in Veracruz at the age of five, and never even wrote or came to visit for three years. Grace remembers the orphanage as a good place where her basic needs were met and life had a sense of order.
Just when the Mother Superior found a well-to-do loving family in Mexico City who wanted to adopt Graciela, Matilde reappeared with empty promises of a better life for the child and took her away.
Although the child felt certain Matilde was not her real mother, all attempts to learn the true story failed. One day she overheard Matilde tell a friend that Graciela was born in Brooklyn and didn’t have papers to be in Mexico. Graciela found where Matilde had hidden scant evidence of Graciela’s birth.
Her dream from earliest childhood was to escape, reach America, get an education, and find her birth family — but all she had to go on was one baby picture and two orange hospital visitor cards.
Graciela’s amazing recovery and accomplishment will inspire everyone who cheers for a rags-to-riches story.
Paperback $14.99; kindle $3.99. Order it from Amazon.com here: