It is an enormous privilege to practice the work of writing as a life; not a life style, but a life. I was never talented enough to get away with any easy fictions not wrought out of the viscera of my own life; never gifted enough to find that the unsaid statement between the line was rendered so beautifully by the line itself, that my reader would return to the poem to unravel my covert message. No, for most of my life, I have been worker writer, always trying to catch the reader by the literary shirttails before she rushed out the door on a errand, an ex-girlfriend’s plea, a mission, a meeting, a night at the club; always trying to get my would-be reader to stay home and away from the TV long enough to consider the prospect of a change of heart (mind). I have used my body, my sex, my love and relations to get the reader to pay attention. But most of all, I have used my mother.
“I am a white girl gone brown to the blood color of my mother,” I wrote in 1977, “speaking for her.” Thirty-five years later, I see that perhaps my writing was never really about me. Perhaps it was about “she” all along -- she without letters, she the mother of the first generation writer, the “she” that is our history and our future with every new MeXicana female worker who comes to or is born into these lands of an ill-manifested destiny. The she that could have been (and is) me.
Elvira Isabel Moraga was not the stuff of literature, not the stuff of movies. My Mother was not Julie Christie, the gracious amnesiac of the 2007 Alzheimer-themed film, Away from Her. She did not have blue piercing translucent eyes that emerged from an alabaster and radiant complexion, eyes which Dr. Zhivago froze his mustache off to track down some forty years earlier in the hinterlands of Russia.
She did not wear, as Ms. Christie had in the film, tasteful ivy-league wife sweaters nor make meaningful love upon parting from her husband. Nor could she enjoy a good work of literature or say words like “decorum” in referencing the quiet elegance with which she intended to enter her own private amnesia.
Few bemoan the memory loss of the unlettered. My mother – and her generation of Mexican American women – was to disappear quietly, unmarked by the letter of memory, the memory of letter. But when our storytellers go, taking their un-recorded memory with them, we their descendants go, too, I fear. So, this is not a book about Alzheimer’s. It is a book about memory. My mother’s failing memory convinced me of the body’s ability to remember, which long surpassed the logic of her ninety years and her ability to tell of it. It seems that when the body goes, memory resides in the molecules about us. We breath in the last exhale of our mothers’ breath. This is what they bequeath to us.
As they also bequeath their stories, if we, ourselves, are allowed to remember: this story of a one Mexican mestiza woman, born in 1914 in Southern California, just as the Mexican revolution came to a close. Hers is the story of our forgotten, the landscape of loss paved over by American dreams come true. Maybe that’s the worse of it, that Mexican dreams can come true in America at the cost of a profound senility of spirit.