El Periquillo Sarniento[1]

Translation by William Little©


I was born in Mexico City, capital of North America, in New Spain. No amount of praise from my lips is sufficient to describe my dear homeland. But, seriously, none of my praise would be suspect. The people who live there and foreigners who have seen it can make their panegyric more believably; so, leaving the description of Mexico City for impartial witnesses, I state that I was born in this rich and well-populated city sometime between 1771 and 1773. My parents were not affluent, but neither were they sunk in misery. At the same time they had no Jewish blood, which they showed and advertised by their virtue. Oh, if children could always and constantly follow their parents' good examples!

After I was born, after I was washed and given the usual attentions of that moment, my aunts, my grandmothers and other old women who held to the old ways wanted to tie my hands and to bind or package me up like a firecracker, claiming that if they were left free, I would be inclined to scare myself or to become very light-fingered.

God help me! How much my father had to fight against the fretting of those blessed elderly women! How much saliva he failed to hold back making them see that tying and binding babies' hands was an absurdly pernicious chimera! And how much effort it cost him persuading those innocent old women that no jet, bone, stone or other amulets of this or any other kind had any value whatsoever against drafts, rabies, the evil eye, or similar highfalutin nonsense!

The poor old people had less knowledge about the world than what I'd acquired, for I have very deep experience with the fact that most godfathers don't know the duties they take on with respect to their godchildren, and hence they think they're generous by giving them two bits when they see them. And if their parents die, they remember them as if they had never seen them. It's quite true that there are some godparents who fulfill their duties completely, and they even take the lead over the godchildren's own parents by protecting and raising them. Glory be forever for such godparents!

Actually, mine, who were rich, were involved with me as much as if they had never seen me: motive enough for me never to thing about them again.

They baptized me at last, and they named me Pedro and, as is customary, they added my father's family name, Sarmiento.

My mother was beautiful, and my father loved her madly. With this and following the persuasiveness of my cautious aunts, it was agreed nemine discrepante, to find a wet-nurse for me; that is, as we say here, a mammy.

Ah, children! If you marry someday and you have offspring, do not entrust them to the mercenary care of that class of people.


[1] The complete original title of this Mexican novel is Vida y hechos de periquillo sarniento escrita por él y para sus hijos (Life and Deeds of [the] Mangy Little Parrot Written by Him and for His Children; México, 1816). This passage comes from the beginning of the section in Chapter 1 that begins the protagonist's story of his life. Notice the play on words concerning his name. His family name, Sarmiento, is a normal last name, but, because of his poverty and picaresque adventures, he is known as sarniento; that is, mangy.