Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga

**Originally published on Latino Book Review

9780374219666From the beloved queer Chicana feminist writer Cherríe Moraga, Native Country of the Heart is a memoir told in parallel with the memoir of her Mexican mother, Elvira. Elvira is the foundational stone on which Moraga builds her own Chicana feminism and family, a woman whose beauty, rage, and fuerza incansable were unmatched in the eyes of Cherríe. Cherríe Moraga’s life story is one of reclamation and resistance: reclaiming her indigenous Californian and Mexican roots in a Gringo world, while resisting the shame and guilt forged by the patriarchy and religion of her family’s culture.

With Spanish words and phrases infusing her prose with a poetic precision that only the two languages combined can achieve, Moraga takes us from the 1930’s in Tijuana, Mexico to the 1960’s in San Gabriel, California, and beyond.  Alzheimer’s disease eventually takes the wheel of Elvira’s life, both incapacitating her at a functional level while simultaneously revealing her most repressed desires and authentic self. Cherríe, becoming a mother to her deteriorating parents, grapples with the feat of relinquishing control and surrendering her mother through the haze of dementia to the spirits of her ancestors.

From her childhood experience of being isolated and fearful that her identity might be the thing that tears her family part, to her mixed-blood experience of feeling always on the edge of two cultures, to the prolonged, painful loss of the matriarchs of her family, Moraga’s storytelling embodies both an immense grief and a powerful life-force.

How to explain the complexity of this? What it means to be—not just me but us. To know yourself as a member of a pueblo on the edge of a kind of extinction, and at the same time a lesbian lover and mother, where you truly do live your life in constant navigation through whatever part of your identity is being snuffed out that morning—in the classroom, at the community meeting, the gasoline station, the take-out counter—Mexican, mixed-blood, queer, female, almost-Indian. And a poverty masked by circumstance. For all my feminism, this is why I left a white women’s movement in the late 1970’s. So I wouldn’t have to explain anymore, translate anymore.

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