Just Josefina

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


The day is finally here: Tia Dolores is moving in! Josefina's grandparents come with her for a visit, too. One of the first things Tia Dolores does is unpack her trunk. But Josefina can't stay to see the wonders her aunt is unveiling. Every time her grandmother visits, Josefina helps her settle in, because she's best at it. Josefina is proud of how she can help her grandmother, especially when her grandmother says Josefina has the same patient and caring spirit as her mother. But the task takes so long that Josefina starts feeling jealous of her sisters, who she can hear having a good time. Josefina buries her unpleasant thoughts, determined to be like her late mother. Later she's able to join in the fun, even learning a new dance that Tia Dolores picked up in Mexico City.
A few days later, Josefina's grandmother gives her a beautiful skirt, which had been her mother's. Her reasoning is that Josefina is so much like her mother, so quiet and obedient, unlike Tia Dolores. Josefina puts the skirt on, but it's so tight she can hardly move for fear of snapping off the buttons. But she wants to please her grandmother, and it's comforting to be reminded of her mother, so she leaves it on. She also finds herself not acting quite as she normally would, being less playful and exuberant, because when she acts differently her grandmother compares her to her mother. During a party with the neighbors that evening, Tia Dolores plays her piano and asks Josefina to demonstrate the dance she taught her, as Josefina learned it best of the sisters. Josefina's grandmother disapproves, but after listening to the music, Josefina can't help herself. As she whirls around, a button pops and flies off the skirt, landing right at her grandmother's feet. Her grandmother leaves the room and doesn't speak to Josefina for the rest of the night.
The next morning, Josefina places the skirt outside the door to her grandmother's room. As she's leaving, her grandmother opens the door and asks Josefina in. Josefina explains that she meant no disrespect, but she's her own person, not a copy of her mother. Josefina's grandmother agrees, and apologizes for trying to make Josefina into someone else when she's already a lovely person on her own. She gives the button and the skirt to Josefina, advising her to sew the button back on but in a different place, so the skirt will fit looser for dancing.

Looking Back

Women in 1824 New Mexico--then a part of the country of Mexico--enjoyed many freedoms compared to their American counterparts. They could own land and operate businesses even after becoming married, and when they married they followed the Spanish tradition of keeping their original last names. Their clothing was looser and lighter, too, which made sense in the hot desert and surrounding areas. They could make our their own wills separate from their husbands' wills if they wanted to, dictating where the property they brought into a marriage would go. Most of the women who worked did so in trades that were traditionally "women's work" like being healers and midwives, but they had other options too.

The title of this story bugs me. Because the J in Josefina is pronounced like an H, the alliteration of "Just Josefina" doesn't work.

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