Telling Border Life Stories: Four Mexican American Women Writers

Telling Border Life Stories: Four Mexican American Women Writers

Telling Border Life Stories: Four Mexican American Women Writers

Telling Border Life Stories: Four Mexican American Women Writers


Voices from the borderlands push against boundaries in more ways than one, as Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara ably demonstrates in this investigation into the twentieth-century autobiographical writing of four women of Mexican origin who lived in the American Southwest.

Until recently, little attention has been paid to the writing of the women included in this study. As Kabalen de Bichara notes, it is precisely such historical exclusion of texts written by Mexican American women that gives particular significance to the reexamination of the five autobiographical works that provide the focus for this in-depth study.

"Early Life and Education" and Dew on the Thorn by Jovita González (1904-83), deal with life experiences in Texas and were likely written between 1926 and the 1940s; both texts were published in 1997. Romance of a Little Village Girl, first published in 1955, focuses on life in New Mexico, and was written by Cleofas Jaramillo (1878-1956) when the author was in her seventies. A Beautiful, Cruel Country, by Eva Antonio Wilbur-Cruce (1904-98), introduces the reader to history and a way of life that developed in the cultural space of Arizona. Created over a ten-year period, this text was published in 1987, just eleven years before the author's death. Hoyt Street, by Mary Helen Ponce (b. 1938), began as a research paper during the period of the autobiographer's undergraduate studies (1974-80), and was published in its present form in 1993.


Contemporary Mexican American autobiography began to be recognized as a “distinct genre” with the publication in 1988 of a special issue of the Americas Review. This publication focused on “U.S. Hispanic Autobiography,” and the works of writers such as Oscar Zeta Acosta (The Brown Buffalo), Ernesto Galarza (Barrio Boy), Richard Rodríguez (Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez), Gary Soto (Living Up the Street) and Anthony Quinn (The Original Sin) were deemed as important contributors to the development of the genre. Of particular interest in this collection of essays is Genaro Padilla’s study entitled “‘Yo sola aprendí’: Contra-Patriarchal Containment in Women’s NineteenthCentury California Personal Narratives,” which includes references to nineteenth-century women such as Apolinaria Lorenzana, María de las Angustias de la Guerra, Eulalia Pérez, María Inocente Pico de Avila, Rosalía Vallejo de Leese whose autobiographical utterances involve self-identification and “gender related issues” that deal with the woman’s realm of experience. The narratives provided by these women form part of the Bancroft Collection of the University of California.

In a more recent discussion of contemporary trends in the development of Mexican American autobiography, Charles Tatum has presented a list of twenty-six works that he says have contributed to Chicana/o canon building. In his lecture “Voces únicas: Trends in Contemporary Chicana/o Autobiography,” delivered in 2006 at the International Conference on Chicano Literature, he mentions the works of Acosta, Galarza, Rodríguez, and Soto. Of this list of works, which is not an exhaustive one, Tatum points to autobiographies written by the following women: Gloria Anzaldúa, Norma Cantú, Gloria López-Stafford, Pat Mora, Cherríe Moraga, Sheila Ortiz Taylor, Sandra Ortiz Taylor, and Mary Helen Ponce. In addition to this list he also includes This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, an anthology that includes life writing by women of color.

It is important to note that a number of scholars have undertaken the study of autobiographies, work that entails the life narrations and writing of Mexican Americans who express their experiences during the . . .

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