Myths and fairy tales are replete with enchantment; tales of magic, witchcraft and sorcery abound. Spells are cast and masks or disguises adorned. Beauty loved her beloved Beast, and Baucis and Philemon opened their home to Jupiter and Mercury disguised as mortals. But what are these disguises but masks, some donned purposefully, others worn in punishment. My mother was a tiger; she donned her mask daily fighting with purpose. She fought to keep us safe, fought to keep us fed, and she fought to get her children all we deserved and more. She donned her mask to attend to her duties as a mother and wife, but sometimes she fought with those she loved. The mask protected the sensitive intelligent woman underneath. We must all don masks to survive. Writing about the Mesoamerican mask traditions, Octavio Paz states “while we are alive we cannot escape from masks or names. We are inseparable from our fictions – our features. We are condemned to invent a mask for ourselves and afterward to discover that the mask is our true face.”* With that insight, I understand why, unfortunately, after a while my mother forgot to remove her mask.
*from Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, quoted in Peter T. Markman and Roberta H. Markman, Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), xxi; Octavio Paz, Posdata (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1970), II.