June 07, 2006
That was the title of a James Taylor song way back when, but it is also the focus of a very good book The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Urrea. In keeping with my statements that literature is a path to self-awareness and self-improvement, I am offering this book for the interest, pleasure and enrichment of my readers. What's in it for you? Several things.
First, if you read only the first 10 pages of the book, you would know more about the history and psychology of the Mexican people than if you were to follow all the headlines and contradictory babble coming out of all the media sources. Further, it is a true story! Yes, although it seems to belong to the literary movement in South America called magical realism, this book actually tells the story, using fictionalized guesses, of course, for the internal state of the characters — of Teresita, a female healer and activist of Northern Mexico at the end of the 19th century who defied the Mexican government and attempted to bring some succor and relief to the oppressed and downtrodden people of Mexico.
Beyond that, it reaches over the boundaries of the historical and cultural contexts of Mexico to achieve what really good literature achieves; that is, contact with universal themes, values and attitudes that have the power, if engaged creatively and with an open mind, to be transformative as well as merely informative. It is the former that brings me to recommend this work to you.
The book can accomplish this without any reader having to absolutely change his or her minds about whatever opinion they may hold on the current immigration brouhaha, though the perspective it gives will hardly leave anyone untouched either. On a purely geopolitical level, one instantly grasps how different the situation was in Mexico over the centuries as compared to the United States.
In the United States, we essentially overwhelmed the native population by displacing it with immigrants who fairly rapidly gave allegiance and were absorbed (not without grief and trauma, to be sure) in the generality of the burgeoning population of the expanding United States. Thus we had a melting pot, only one which, despite its various ingredients, could actually meld because it had no internal cultural agendas to deal with that would prevent it from happening. The indigenous peoples, at least in the west, were bypassed and isolated and posed no lasting threat to the larger political entity that was evolving around them.
Not so with Mexico. Mexico had no huge immigration of peoples. There were the conquerors, the Spaniards, some imported black slaves, and then there was the large mass of disparate indigenous peoples with their many languages and cultures. This mass was only partially Latinized by the Spanish rulers and a huge gap was created and still exists between the upper classes and the greater mass of mixed blood natives. A cultural robe of Christianity was thrown over the whole entity but this did not serve to really unify or pacify the many different strands of peoples living in that nation. The novel spells this out and I will talk more about this in my next column. Let me know what you think.
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a life coach, marital counselor, and lecturer with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. His approach can be seen at puttingmindsinmotion.com.