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Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story

by Ruth Behar

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8070-7052-1
Publisher: Beacon

 Drawing on taped interviews, Behar (Anthropology/Univ. of Michigan) lets ``Esperanza''--a Mexican village peddler--tell her life story. The result: a sometimes fascinating, occasionally static and repetitive account, supplemented with Behar's political soul-searching but with scant direct observation by the author. Funded by a MacArthur Fellowship, Behar went to Mexico in 1988 to research Mexican Inquisition witchcraft confessions. Esperanza- -poor but economically independent of an abusive husband, and condemned by neighbors for her arrogance and maybe even for being a witch--claimed Behar and her husband as fictive kin. The Mexican began visiting the Americans (secretly and at night, to avoid the curiosity and envy of neighbors) to tell her story, to refute gossip, and to affirm herself. Esperanza breaks the stereotype of the passive, self-abnegating Mexican woman: She tells of coraje (rage) against abusive men, of her striving for self-sufficiency, and of spiritual fulfillment found not in the Catholic Church but through a gender-bending medium and the cult of Pancho Villa. Behar--Cuban-born of European-Jewish descent--emigrated to the US at age six; here, she's sometimes labeled Hispanic, sometimes thought not Latina enough--but in Mexico, she's a gringa: white, middle-class, allowed to live in the US. ``What does it mean,'' Behar asks repeatedly, ``that Esperanza's historia can cross the border with me...but that Esperanza herself cannot...?'' Well-intentioned in facing up to the class/race/power inequality between academics and their human subjects; but Behar's self-involved scrutiny of her own career path and privilege ultimately annoy, undercutting the primacy of Esperanza's words and life. (Photos.)