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Catana Tully. Split At The Root

Catana Tully's memoir, Split At the Root, takes her readers on an intense journey into identity, motherhood and what labels mean. At times despondent, at time joyful, the author pulls herself apart until she finds her core.


Who we are is intrinsically connected to our family, community, race, gender and religion—among the many categories that define identity. Catana Tully wonders aloud why we need to check off the boxes about who and what we are. She checks other.  She told me, “The thing is, when you have a nationality that identifies you culturally, it is a shock to have to define what you are according to other people’s perception. It feels demeaning and disrespectful. One day we’ll all be ‘Other’ but that’s a long, long time away from now.”

Yet Catana is driven to find the essential questions about her mother, family and culture. Where does she feel comfortable and at home?  It has taken many years and now, in her 70’s, she feels comfortable asking these questions.

Catana’s story is unusual, in some ways magical and in other ways heartbreaking. Not sure if she was taken away voluntarily from Rosa, her Guatemalan birth mother of color, Catana was brought to a white German Guatemalan family who raised her (although never adopted her) in an upper middle class setting with a fine education, manners, gourmet food and away from others who had dark skin. Catana writes, “People as dark as me were an uncommon sight in Guatemala City.” 

She wrote in her memoir that she had a tremendous dislike for dirt, disorder and the unkempt.  “The dirt that accompanied poverty, the vender children who came too close for my liking, their sticky unclean hands, their uncombed dusty hair with pieces of dried grass in it, the limp rages they wore, which like their bodies, had not been washed in days, all disgusted me.”

Catana never called her birth mother “mother” only “Rosa” and she called the woman who raised her Mutti (mother) and not Esther, a name Mutti assumed later in life. Mutti called her Mohrle, Little Moor or Little Darkie, which today would be considered totally inappropriate.  While her German family loved her, there was an unconscious fear in Catana about being taken away and about not fitting into the family and culture.  I asked Catana how this affected the way she raised her own son. 

“He was protected in the most conspicuous way. In retrospect, I believe I lived the fear of losing a child, as my mother Rosa did; and the fear of someone taking my child away, like Mutti must have felt. Until he was in kindergarten, my son was always at my side or with Fred [Catana’s husband]. He never had a sitter.That is why he tells me he always felt secure, protected and self-confident.”

Catana’s story reveals her fears of abandonment and acceptance and her later struggle, strength and success in her adult life. “By the time I started therapy to address the complex identity issues, both Rosa and Mutti had died. It would have been HUGE to have been able to talk to them…”

Her search to find her own identity nearly broke her apart.  How Catana Tully puts herself back together is a story worth reading.


Catana told me her favorite meal is chicken livers fried in butter with onions and parsley over jasmine rice. She adds a few apple rings braised in golden butter on the side, and an heirloom tomato salad. Today, her diet goes according to her age in its simplicity. Desert is always fresh fruit.


A luscious fruit salad with some tropical fruits in honor of Catana's Guatemalan background is what we are sharing! Perfect for the late spring as fruit is in season and great for the approaching warm weather.

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