Monday, May 20, 2024

It’s Women’s Day! 5 books by Mexican women about the history of Mexico

Shaped by pre-Columbian traditions, Spanish colonization and Catholicism, Mexico is a diverse and intricate country that is impossible to comprehend just by visiting or living here. To understand Mexico, one must read their way through it.

Each book in this list is set in a different period of the country’s history, from the early years of the Spanish conquest to the Mexico of today. 

Written with a strong female voice, each book offers a glimpse into the challenging context in which women and other vulnerable groups have lived. With richly researched plots and vivid descriptions of the past, these five books are sure to give you a new appreciation for Mexico’s woman authors.  

The books are presented in chronological order (according to their settings) and include both historical fiction and journalistic accounts of events in Mexico’s history. 

1. Malinche (2006) by Laura Esquivel

This book tells the fascinating story of one of the most controversial figures in Mexican history: la Malinche, the Indigenous woman many Mexicans decry for her role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico.  

The novel follows the life of Malinalli (later known as La Malinche), from being given away as a slave to acquiring a significant role as the interpreter and lover of the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés. 

Malinalli believed that the gods sent Cortés to liberate her people from Mexica rule. With her assistance, Cortés was able to form strategic alliances with communities under Mexica rule, which ultimately led to the fall of Tenochtitlán. 

As the love affair between Malinalli and Cortés unfolds, readers gain a deeper understanding of key historical events that contributed to the Spanish empire’s victory over the Mexica empire, and why, centuries later, La Malinche was accused of treason. 

If you’ve ever heard the word malinchista in Mexican slang, now you know it was inspired by the story of La Malinche to refer to those who prefer “foreign” over Mexican.

2. Like Water for Chocolate (1989) by Laura Esquivel

Another entry from Laura Esquivel, “Like Water for Chocolate” (Como Agua para Chocolate) alludes to being at a boiling point, as water must be to make hot chocolate.

A lyrical and charming magical realism novel, this story accurately portrays rural Mexico’s social landscape during the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s. The book was also included in our must-read Mexican classics list.

Through homemade recipes in monthly installments, the story depicts the forbidden romance between Tita and Pedro, cursed from the start by Tita’s family. As the youngest of the family, Tita must never marry to care for her widowed mother.

The magical recipes that Tita cooks take the readers into the life of a household run by women as they navigate life with a tyrannical mother capable of frightening a Revolutionary army.  

An instant international bestseller, Like Water for Chocolate has resonated with a large audience thanks to the creative way it depicts universal themes like love, treason, passion, family traditions and food.   

3. In The Shadow of the Angel (1995) by Kathryn Blair

Taking place during three transformational decades in Mexico City, “In The Shadow of the Angel” (A la Sombra del Ángel) tells the captivating true story of Antonieta Rivas Mercado, daughter of the famed architect Antonio Rivas Mercado, who built the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. 

The story is told by Kathryn Blair, the wife of Antonieta’s only son, and is based on interviews she conducted with her husband Albert and the rest of Antonieta’s surviving family.  

It begins when Antonieta, at the age of 31, takes her life in Notre Dame, Paris. What led Antonieta to commit suicide? The book then jumps back in time to Antonieta’s birth. It follows her life through Porfirio Díaz’s regime, the Mexican Revolution and the country’s first attempts to become a democratic nation.   

With a deep love for Mexico, the fine arts and a large fortune, Antonieta played a significant role in shaping the country’s cultural landscape while also fighting for women’s rights, indigenous rights and education.

4. The Murmur of Bees (2015) by Sofía Segovia

Following in the path of Latin America’s tradition of magical realism, Segovia takes us to a remote place near Monterrey, Nuevo León, amidst the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution. 

The epic story touches on love, loss, pain, hope and several societal issues, including national identity, traditional values, women’s roles, revenge and ambition.

The book begins in the early 1900s when a baby surrounded by bees is found under a bridge by Nana Reja, the Morales family’s nanny. Despite the superstition and hate that surrounds the child – due to a hollow in his face that prevents him from speaking – the family adopts the baby.

Simonopio, as he is named, grows up to develop a fantastical relationship with bees, who protect and guide the boy amidst the turbulent times of the Revolution and the fundamental changes the Morales family is destined to experience.

5. Massacre in Mexico (1971) by Elena Poniatowska

Massacre in Mexico chronicles the lives and deaths of Mexican students who protested police repression a week before the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The massacre occurred during a peaceful rally on Oct. 2 in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, during the government of President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.

The book is a journalistic collection of testimonies from students, parents, workers and others who were part of the movement or witnessed the events. The text is divided into two parts, with an annex containing a chronology.

According to Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH), the massacre in Tlatelolco was the culmination of several state crimes that could be considered crimes against humanity.

La Noche de Tlatelolco, as it is known in Spanish, has helped bring to light a disturbing episode in Mexico’s authoritarian regime, highlighting a larger wave of repression against social movements in Latin America.

Gabriela Solís is a Mexican lawyer based in Dubai turned full-time writer. She covers business, culture, lifestyle and travel for Mexico News Daily. You can follow her life in Dubai in her blog Dunas y Palmeras.

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