- Gradual Losses
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
256 Pages; Cloth, $26.00
Seeing those dearest to us leaving this world is certainly never easy, but this experience becomes even harder when they already fade away and forget who they are while still among us. Native Country of the Heart takes readers onto such a journey. Instead of offering an account about how Cherríe Moraga has become such a strong figure in Chicana feminism, readers get something different. Moraga's memoir tells the story of her mother, Elvira Isabel Moraga, who "was not the stuff of literature. Few bemoan the memory loss of the unlettered. … But when our storytellers go, taking their unrecorded memory with them, we their decedents go too, I fear." In this book, Moraga conveys a powerful tale about how both mother and daughter grow to distance themselves from their cultural heritage and origins for the sake of assimilation. She keeps on reminding us that "your mind just can't sweep away memories cuz it's the heart that remembers," echoing what currently happens at the US-Mexican border. Ultimately, Moraga sets out to tell an emotional tale about women's hardships and the gradual loss of her mother while the latter loses herself due to the progression of her Alzheimer's.
Being stripped of parts of their identities and experiencing forced assimilation are timely issues numerous members of the Chicanx and Latinx communities have to face these days. Thus, it is only fitting that Moraga makes memory and the process of forgetting essential parts of ourselves essential parts of her memoir. The narrative is organized around Elvira—or Vera, as she is named/called in the US—and her final years following her diagnoses with Alzheimer's in 2003. Just like we remember things, Moraga does not use a linear timeline but instead jumps from one distinct moment to another. She uses flashbacks to fill gaps or emphasizes certain moments in her mother's life while simultaneously including key moments of her own life. By doing so, Moraga constantly reminds readers of the importance of cultural heritage and the passing on of distinct values before it is too late. However, she also never fails to highlight women's struggles against patriarchy in both Mexico and in the US, noting many instances in which women are silenced by the presence and dominance of men. At the same time, she tries to counteract that silencing in her memoir. Parallel to the narrative thread revolving around Elvira's memories blurring, Moraga depicts one in which readers are invited to follow the daughter to find her "voice" even though Moraga too is silenced by her own brother at times.
Highlighting the concept of familia and the importance of looking out for each other, Moraga describes in considerable detail what Elvira means to
her, especially her mother's love. This unwavering support, she explains, "is what would shape my lesbianism and this is what would mark my road as a Mexican and this is what would require me to remember before and beyond my mother." Elvira's upbringing, her coming of age in the 1930s in Tijuana, working as a cigarette girl in a casino, and eventually marring a white man and moving to the United States, has shaped Elvira's understanding of where she belongs. Elvira acknowledges that she has worked hard for the realization of her American dream but that she feels like she had to leave a part of herself behind in doing so. This becomes clear when mother and daughter seek out a curandero in Mexico City to cure Elvira's hands, which had been covered in a horrible rash for years. He does not only heal them but also the sorrow she feels in her heart, a feature American and western medicine could never achieve. For Moraga, Mexico too has healing potential as she finds the strength to realize her ambitions to end her feeling of being chained down by the expectations of patriarchy and Mexican womanhood.
Moraga also provides insight into the idea behind her and...