Sonia first learned about Darwin in junior high school. The theory of evolution made sense to Sonia and she began to question everything she’d been taught previously by the church and her devoutly Catholic mother. Four years later, Sonia is the only atheist among her parent’s 13 children—a fact that often leaves her feeling misunderstood and tired of explaining that just because she doesn’t believe in God, she doesn’t worship the devil. Sonia’s documentary delves into the religious and cultural split that divides her from her family, especially her parents: "They grew up on little farms [in Mexico] with no running water and wooden floors. My dad started herding goats and cows when he was five years old. It was hard to survive and go to school. My mom went to school through the first grade and can only write her name."
Radio Rookie Sonia Ponce is the only atheist among her parent's 13 children - a fact that often leaves her feeling misunderstood and tired of explaining that just because she doesn't believe in God, she doesn't worship the devil.
SONIA: When I meet people who don't know me, I feel like I can't be myself because they will fear me. They'll think I'm a gothic freak, a devil worshipper, and that I do black magic. But, witchcraft is about rituals, spells, incantations, and meditation.
MARGOT: (singing) we are opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous.
SONIA: This is Margot Adler. She is the coolest neo-paganist, Wiccan priestess, that I've ever met.
MARGOT: (singing) We are opening, we are opening.
SONIA: She's also a senior reporter for NPR.
MARGOT: One problem as someone involved in Wicca or paganism is that there are a number of people who think you are involved in Satanism. You got a real problem when you meet people and you got to do the whole anti-satanic rap.
SONIA: The difference between Margot and me is that I have to explain it to my own family, the people I live with. We are from Mexico , and we were all raised as Catholics: mom, dad and all 13 kids. I'm the only witchcraft-practicing atheist.
My sister Beatriz still remembers when I told my mom I didn't believe in God.
BEATRIZ: She was shocked.
SONIA: My mom had never met an atheist before and she didn't expect anything good out of it.
BEATRIZ: She was like oh my God! You believe in the devil! You cannot be an atheist, because I raised you as a Catholic. I baptized you, I gave you communion, your confirmation and you do this to me! How dare you!
GERARDO: Yes, I agree with my mother because if you don't believe in God, then maybe you believe in the devil.
SONIA: That's my older brother Gerardo.
GERARDO: It's like if you live without God, it's like if you're not living at all.
SONIA: So I'm the weirdo' in my family - all 14 of them are like geese together flying in a V. I'm the only one going my own way, and I've flown on a lot of different paths: vegetarian, agnostic, atheist, witch, wizard, anorexic, bisexual, lesbian, vegan, activist, honors student and head banger! But my parents refuse to hear about it. Maybe they would understand me better if we had the same education and culture.
My parents grew up on little farms with no running water and dirt floors. My dad started herding goats and cows when he was five years old. It was hard to survive and go to school. My mom went to school through first grade, and can only write her name.
MOM: Todos son Catolicos.
She says everyone around Catholic. My dad likes to tell me how Catholicism is perfect. He talks loudly, shaking his hand at every word.
DAD: (speaking Spanish loudly)
SONIA: Speaking to him about religion is like trying to break into a coconut with your finger. A while ago he asked me who made the world, if it wasn't God? I told him that I believe in the big bang when the sun exploded and evolution.. In the 7 th grade I had a great science teacher. I got interested in Darwin because I love monkeys.
DAD (translation): Before they used to teach kids about the catechism, but they prohibited it. Why did they teach you this ?
SONIA: I told him that it's science . And I said that I never believed in God.
DAD: Por nos da mucha pena.
SONIA: And he told me that hurts them a lot. It doesn't upset me that my parents are Catholic and put pictures of saints all over the house. I just don't want it forced on me - like when my mom pours holy water all over me. Or when my sister and I have to sit in the kitchen because our parents are praying in a bedroom we all share. I feel like a stranger.
We argue about everything, not just religious. My parents think a good Mexican, Catholic girl shouldn't have a white boyfriend who doesn't have a job. But I do .
A while ago things got so bad that I went to stay with my boyfriend, Andrew.
ANDREW: (laughing) No she doesn't want to give me a kiss.
SONIA: We slept at his brother's apartment on the couch. At first it was fun. All we would do was watch TV. and order Chinese food or pizza and stay up â€˜til 2 in the morning.
TV: This is your home, this is your party.
SONIA: But living without rules was chaotic. Within two weeks, I went from being an honors student to cutting school half the time. Pretty soon I was too sad to even think about having fun. I needed more clothes, so I asked my sister when I could go get them.
BEATRIZ: Just go early.
SONIA: Why do I have to go early?
BEATRIZ: Because you're going to bunch into Fernando and father and they don't want to see you at all.
SONIA: Why not?
BEATRIZ: They hate your guts basically.
SONIA: Why do they hate my guts?
BEATRIZ: For the fact that you left the house with a guy that it's not worth leaving.
SONIA: So how about mom?
BEATRIZ: She's just like she's my daughter, so she's like for me she's dead and to her I'm dead. So, whatever.
ANDREW: If you feel like crying over anything.
SONIA: I don't want a bad future for me. Cuz I really wanted to be my mom's only daughter to graduate and get married the right way. But now I cannot even do that because my mom disowned me. She said I was dead for her.
ANDREW: It's okay.
SONIA: For six weeks, I didn't hear from my parents. And it was kinda' of weird but I even missed going to church. I didn't miss the ashy incense smell or the old ladies singing . I missed sitting next to my mom and whispering and poking her face when she falls asleep.
SONIA: I finally did go back to my orange and blue house, my brother's Mexican CDs, and my family. When I walked in, my heart was beating hard because I was so scared they would reject me. But they didn't.
MOM: Yo hablaba a mi virgin -
SONIA: My mom told me she prayed every night for me - and that's the reason I came home. But I didn't go home because of God - I went home because I wanted to be a part of my family. My dad says I'm like the prodigal son. He's a kid in the bible who left his house. And only when he was gone did he realize everything he had at home.
DAD: The father didn't confront him. He hugged him, and kissed him and washed him and threw a party because his son had returned.
SONIA: But I didn't get a party. Instead I had to dump my boyfriend, I had to get a job, and I had to drop my after-school activities. So I did. When I asked if I could go on a trip with a youth group - my family said yes, but only if I also went on a Catholic retreat.
GERARDO: The retreat is about meeting God. I know you don't believe in God. I'm 100% sure it's going to change your beliefs.
SONIA: I think it's funny that my brother Gerardo thinks I'm going to change:
SONIA: While my mom was cleaning up she said everything has been going well.
MOM: O tu piensas que no?
SONIA: But don't get me wrong, I still believe there is no God, and that evolution made us who we are. But more and more, my parents and I are agreeing to disagree. My mom doesn't call me a devil worshiper any more, instead she calls me Brujita, little witch. And I'm thinking about getting a tattoo of my mother's nameâ€”Isidra-- with a cross and rosary beads in the background. Just to show everybody that I love her, and respect her religion and beliefs. For WNYC, I'm Rookie Reporter Sonia Ponce.