A Mistress’ Daughter



When I was 12, I learned that I was a mistress’ daughter.  I had only been in the United States for a year when my grandma told me.  I’m not sure what led to the discussion but I remember my 14-year old sister was caught with cans of beers in her backpack the previous day.  She had been acting out lately–smoking cigarettes, cutting school, sneaking out of the house at night, hanging out with gangsters, and everyone was worried about her.  During the conversation, my grandma was telling me to not be like my oldest sister. Then the conversation led to her saying that my sister was the oldest and she probably knew.  “Knew what?” I asked.  Then she said, “Your mom was never married to your dad.  He has a wife in Ilocos Norte (a province in Northern Philippines).  They have an arranged marriage and they have five children, 4 girls and 1 boy. “  As she spoke her voice sounded so sweet and so calm.  I was quiet. But deep inside my heart was sinking and my 12-year old brain was in shock and was throbbing with questions.

In my head, the word “mistress” came popping up.  “My mom? No way! How can that be?” With all the yelling and the fighting between my mom and my dad in the Philippines, somehow my 12-year old brain already knew the possibility of my dad having another woman.  But a wife?  I never expected it.  After that day all I wished for was to meet his wife.  I wondered what she looked like, who she was and how she compared to my mom.  I wondered if she knew about my three sisters, my mom and me.

Through my teens I’ve managed to forget about what my grandma told me.  When we left the Philippines my dad stayed behind and I lost contact with him, which probably helped me to forget.  I never acted out like my oldest sister did but in my early 20’s I began to see the effects this childhood experience had on me. 

In my 20’s I realized that in my romantic relationships, it was difficult for me to trust men. I found myself always worried that my boyfriend was going to cheat on me.  When we were out dancing I made sure he wasn’t looking at other girls.  If he gazed to the right or to the left where another girl stood, the jealous voice in my head started to talk to me, “He’s looking at her, he wants her. Keep watching him.” 

Initially I stayed quiet, smiled at him and just kept dancing as if everything was okay.  But when the jealous voice started to get louder, the bar became my refuge.  The sight of vodka bottles and Tequila bottles standing on the shelves of the bar excited me.  So I ordered a drink then another, until I felt so good I could dance on the dance floor by myself.  I moved my arms, my hips, my legs, and my feet.  I felt the music and the drumbeat that echoed through my body.  For a while I thought the jealous voice disappeared.  But as I danced and the alcohol wore off, there was always a woman across the room who I thought was more beautiful than me.  I noticed her hair, her make-up, the clothes she wore and how she danced.  I started to compare myself to her and started thinking my boyfriend wanted her and not me.  Suddenly dancing did not feel as good anymore and the jealous voice was loud in my head again.  Then the night usually ended with me accusing him, yelling at him, pointing my finger at him for looking at her.  At times, my yelling got so loud other people would turn their heads to look at us.   But in those moments I didn’t care.  If he tried to talk to me I just walked away or pushed him away from me.

After repeating the same patterns in my relationships, I felt something must be wrong with me.  I felt almost schizophrenic with my jealousy.  Where did it come from?Why did it make me love alcohol so much? Why did it make me so angry?  At this time I just wanted to get rid of it.   I didn’t want to be a jealous anymore.  I just wanted to be happy in my relationships. 

So I started to look around for what could help me.

I started reading books and began exploring the “New Age,” “Self-Help” and “Spirituality” sections of bookstores.  I sat at cafes for hours, flipped through books and took notes. Slowly my bookshelves were filled with books, from Astrology to Shamanism to “Finding Yourself” type of books.  As I started to read, one thing stood out; most books suggested meditation.  So in my quest to learn meditation I joined a Buddhist community (sangha)  when I was 23 years old.

I was really drawn to the Buddha’s concepts of enlightenment and nirvana.  For me these two terms meant no more suffering from jealousy so I wanted to learn more about them.  Since the Buddha achieved enlightenment through meditation, I took meditation classes and weekly teachings of the Buddha offered by the sangha in San Francisco.

I learned that the first goal of Buddhist meditation is to quiet the mind.  In quieting the mind, awareness is increased and insight about emotional conflicts and unwanted emotions is gained.  The sangha class always started with 25 minutes of meditation.  On the chair I sat, with my eyes closed, my back straight, my hands palms up on my lap and my legs crossed on the chair, a position referred to as the lotus position.  I took deep breaths–inhaled through my nose and exhaled out through my mouth, until my body felt relaxed. As I focused on my breath, I tried to silence the thoughts that ran through my brain. Quieting the mind was extremely difficult in the beginning.  Three minutes felt like forever and sometimes I wanted to run and find a way to sneak out of the temple door.

I began practicing meditation in my bedroom everyday for 25 minutes.  After two months, I fidgeted less and was able to sit still for a longer time. I continued to attend the weekly sangha and several Buddhist workshopsfor six to eight months but Buddhism did not get rid of the jealous voice inside my head.  I still acted out at parties and still ended the night with me stumbling home drunk and yelling at my boyfriend.   Although I didn’t achieve enlightenment and nirvana like the Buddha, I was excited I learned meditation and enjoyed the calm and peace I felt after doing it.  

I continued to explore other philosophies to reach my “enlightenment.”  As I read the book The Four Agreements[1] by Don Miguel Ruiz, I was introduced to Toltec Philosophy.  The modern Toltec today is referred to as the “spiritual warrior.”  The spiritual warrior seeks freedom from fear and surrenders to love.  The spiritual warrior also sees life as an art, with himself or herself as the artist (of the spirit).  According to the Toltecs, the spiritual warrior knows that his thoughts, speech and actions are his tools of art and that he refines them by being impeccable with his words, thoughts and choices. 

The Toltecs also believe that the perception of reality is like a dream because our perceptions are influenced by what others have taught us or told us in childhood , a process they termed domestication.  The goal of the spiritual warrior is first to become aware of the dream. Then the warrior challenges the old dream then creates a new life based on love and acceptance. These are the three Masteries of the Toltecs—Awareness, Transformation and Love, often referred to as the silent knowledge.

As I read Toltec philosophy and meditated regularly, an internal alarm clock within me buzzed loudly and told me to wake up. Like a spiritual warrior, I wanted to become aware of the dream, of the reality I have created.   Like a spiritual warrior I wanted to change these beliefs that have shaped my old reality and create a new one that was based on love and trust.  I wanted to learn more about becoming a spiritual warrior so that I can get rid of this jealousy.  So In 2006, I traveled to Teotihuacan to attend a spiritual workshop hosted by Don Miguel Ruiz,[2] a Toltec Master. The theme of this retreat was “Beyond Fear, A Toltec Guide to Freedom and Joy.”  I was excited to learn from a Toltec Master and was very curious about Teotihuacan for I have read that this was a very sacred place for the Toltecs.

The most powerful day of the retreat for me was on the second day, during a ritual in the western area of the pyramids called The Place of the Women.  The Place of the Women is a complex where Toltec priestesses have lived so it is  believed to contain strong feminine energy.  The complex was a huge rectangular area divided into sections by walls made up of stone.  On the main walls were murals of jaguars in faded red and blue paint.   Because of the number of tourists in Teotihuacan that day, the ritual was performed right outside the complex.

The ritual involved imaginary bathing, which was supposed to symbolize cleansing and rebirth.  As I waited for my turn, I told myself that I was going to make the most out of this retreat and was willing to surrender to the experience of the ritual.  When my turn came, I was asked to stand between two women, and the master female teacher (Dona) stood in front of me.  She pretended she bathed me by placing both of her hands 3-5 inches above my head.  She asked me to close my eyes, to bend forward, and to lower my head down to my knees.  She then asked me to run my fingers through my hair as if I was washing it.  I did this for maybe 10 seconds.  As she asked me to stand up, I suddenly began to feel a real strong current of electricity running through my entire body.  The current was so strong my whole body was buzzing like a bumblebee.  As I buzzed, my knees felt so soft I couldn’t stand.  The two women who stood by me held me up by my arms and my waist until I was able to stand.  It was weird because the whole time my eyes were closed but I was so conscious of the sensations.  And when I opened my eyes, I felt something so beautiful I couldn’t explain, not even up to this day.  I just knew that this beautiful feeling made me want to hug everybody after the ritual.  I still don’t understand what happened during the ritual but I did learn about the power of intent and the power of surrendering.  I intended to get the most out of the ritual and I did.  I surrendered to the ritual and I experienced something  that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

On the day I left Teotihuacan, I bought myself a silver ring with a circular turquoise stone from an old lady selling jewelry on the pyramid grounds. I called this ring my wedding ring and for me it symbolized self-love and rebirth.  I wasn’t sure if I got rid of the jealous voice during the retreat but I sure felt good about myself when I left.  I felt refreshed and renewed.  I felt like a different person.

When I returned home from Teotihuacan I felt I was ready to be this new woman in a relationship.  I felt I could be a woman who was secure and not jealous, a woman who could love and be happy.  With this new interest in becoming this “new woman,” I started to read books about how to become this woman.  This led me to reading books about Goddesses and female deities.  I learned that by doing certain meditations, I could connect with them and ask them for guidance.

In the process of finding a Goddess to connect with, my mom’s friend introduced me to The Lady of Manaoag.   She told me that The Lady of Manaoag was very powerful and that she had always answered her prayers.  The Lady of Manaoag is an ivory statue of the blessed Mother Mary[3] in the province of Manaoag, Pangasinan in the Philippines.  She is one of the most recognized images of Mother Mary and is believed to have healing powers as patroness of the sick, the helpless and the needy.  The original image was brought to the Philippines from Spain in the 17th century. People from all over Philippines travel to Pangasinan to see her and ask her for help. There are a lot of stories involving miracles of the Lady of Manaoag, including how the church sanctuary stayed intact in WWII and survived the Japanese bombing.

I never went to Pangasinan to pray to the Lady of Manaoag but my mother’s friend told me that there was a replica of her statue in a church in San Bruno, which was only 15 minutes from where I lived.  With excitement, I drove to the church and found her statue in the hallway.  On a glass pedestal she stood, enclosed in a clear-glass rectangular case. There were flowers in small pots and vases on the floor in front of her, probably brought by people who visit and pray to her regularly.  She wore a bright sparkling gold gown with blue embroidery and had a golden crown that sat on top of her head like an arch with stars on it.  On the wall to the right of the glass case was a printed copy of the prayer for the Lady of Manaoag from the province of Pangasinan.  I closed my eyes and placed my right palm on the glass.   Quietly I said her prayer then asked her to help me be the woman I am capable of being.  Weekly I talked to her in the hallway of the church.  At home, I prayed to her and asked for her guidance everyday.   Sometimes tears accompanied my prayer.  And in those moments I knew I was I was connecting with her.

Two months later, my prayer was granted because I finally met a man who helped me challenge the jealous voice.  He challenged it by showing me how much he loved me despite the anger and the mistrust I have shown him.  He challenged it by showing me how much he wanted to understand it too just like I did.  Overtime the jealous voice became quieter.  And when it was loud, I learned to communicate with it and didn’t ignore it.

In this relationship I began to see that the jealous voice came from emotions I did not explore in my childhood.  The jealousy came from the emotion I felt when I learned that my dad had another wife. It came from the anger I felt when I learned that my dad never told me he had a wife.  And because he never told me, I created a reality where no men could be trusted.  So in every relationship, I viewed my boyfriend the same way I viewed my father; I didn’t trust him and I was angry with him.

It has been a long and difficult journey trying to quiet down the jealous voice but I am so grateful for all the self-exploration it has led me to do.  It has encouraged me to explore my emotions and my spirituality and to look within myself for answers . And in the midst of self-exploration, I also learned the value and the power that relationships could have in my life. I discovered that relationships are the best mirrors in which I could see myself and reflect. 

On that day when I was 12 and I found out that my dad had a wife I’ve never met, somewhere deep inside I knew I questioned whether I was the daughter of a mistress.  Now at 33, I know I am a mistress’ daughter and I’m not ashamed of it.  I am Joanne Guerrero and I am happy with the woman I have become and I am looking forward to the woman I will be.

[1] A best selling Toltec wisdom book, which provides 4 principles to practice to create a life of Freedom and Happiness.  The Four Agreements were: 1)Be impeccable with your word 2) Don’t take anything personally 3) Don’t make assumptions  4) Always do your best

[2] Don Miguel Ruiz was a medical doctor and surgeon from Mexico who was trained by his mother and his father to be a Nagual (Master Teacher) in Toltec Tradition.  He has written many books including The Four Agreements.

[3]  In the Catholic Religion Mother Mary is the mother of Jesus.  She was a virgin who conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit and by the command of God