Chicana writer Cherríe Moraga is the author of the literary memoir, “Native Country of the Heart.” It explores not just Moraga’s life, but that of her mother, Elvira. Elvira was born in 1914. Her father hired 11-year-old Elvira and her siblings as cotton pickers in California. As a young teen, she worked at a Tijuana casino that was frequented by Hollywood stars and mob bosses.
Moraga says her mother compares to the Mexican figure of La Malinche, who symbolizes the centuries-old struggles Mexican American women have endured for centuries to survive.
Moraga said Malinche, also known as Malintzín Tenepal, “was actually the translator and the courtisan, she was an Indian slave, that was sold into slavery to basically work with Hernán Cortéz, who invaded Mexico and conquered Mexico in that historical moment in the 16th century.”
Depending on who you ask, Malinche is either a traitor to Mexico or a hero. Moraga said Chicana feminists have revisited the legend of Malinche. “She was not free,” Moraga said. “She was an indigenous woman who was basically sold into slavery to the Españoles and she also had to survive. So it kind of is a theme that kind of goes through the book about Mexican Americans and our relationship to Gringolandia, how those kinds of questions come up, particularly as women — the decisions we had to make to survive.”
Moraga wrote in her memoir, “I come from a long line of vendidas” — one who is sold.
Elvira Moraga died of Alzheimer’s. In this excerpt from the memoir “Native Country of the Heart,” Cherríe Moraga, her partner Celia, and their children drove to Winnemem Wintu land to sit before a fire to pray for healing and protection.
Cherríe Moraga is a writer and activist who is a professor in the Department of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is co-director with her partner Celia Herrera Rodriguez of the Las Maestras Center for Xicana Indigenous Thought and Art Practice.