A queer Latina feminist focuses on her ferocious, survivor mother from Tijuana.
In her moving portrait, Moraga (English/Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000-2010, 2011, etc.), the founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, examines her close but tortured relationship with her now-deceased mother. Elvira Isabel Moraga, who came of age in Tijuana’s golden era in the 1920s, “was not the stuff of literature.” The daughter of an “illusive trickster who shuttle[d] between worlds” and “rode the counterfeit borders of the Southwest with a vaquero flare of Mexican independence and macho bravado,” Elvira and her numerous siblings, born on the American side of the border, were hired out by their father for menial labor, essentially limiting her education (“her inability to read and write well remained an open wound”). As a teenager, Elvira secured work until the mid-1930s as a hat-check–and-cigarette girl at a high-stakes gambling room in Tijuana, eluding the advances of the casino's predatory owner. Ultimately, she met and married a man named Joseph, a “functionary” who operated the South Pasadena Santa Fe Railroad station. Together, they and their children moved east of Los Angeles, embracing the suburban dream that characterized much of post–World War II America. Born in 1952, author Moraga offers mesmerizing details of growing up there and in San Gabriel, a mixed-race community, near her grandmother, who served as the locus of myriad visits by relatives. Coming to terms with her sexuality during a progressive social era almost derailed the author’s relationship with her strict, volatile mother, but in the end, her mother assured her, “how could you think that there is anything in this life you could do that you wouldn’t be my daughter?” The author’s determination to learn Spanish and visit Mexico helped the two bond in her mother’s later years, which were marked by Alzheimer’s.
A sympathetic portrait of Mexican-American feminism (both in mother and daughter) delivered in a poignant, beautifully written way.