In an effort to change stereotyped narratives of Mexican Americans, Cherríe Moraga, iconic queer Chicana poet, playwright and activist, visited Scripps College Oct. 10 to discuss her new book “Native Country of the Heart.”
The memoir, 10 years in the making, deals with Moraga’s upbringing and her mother’s own coming-of-age story. Moraga, though, refused to define her book as a standard biography, instead focusing attention to interpersonal themes of the book.
“[The book] is two bookend experiences,” she told the Balch Auditorium audience. “It is neither an autobiography nor a biography. It’s not my autobiography. This is not my mother’s biography. It is a portrait of a relationship.”
“Native Country of the Heart” is indeed a mother-daughter story. The book charts Moraga’s own coming-of-age in parallel to her mother’s upbringing and eventual decline to Alzheimer’s. It invokes century-old family histories alongside Moraga’s contemporary memoir — her adoption of activism, her queer revelations.
“The book is about my relationship with my mother and [understanding of her] until I left home,” she said. “The key moments of [my time with her], as well as a major thread of that, which is all my steps of coming to consciousness with being a woman, a queer person, who specifically is a butch lesbian, but also my relationship to my mexicanismo.”
Her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s, Moraga recounted, recontextualized her urgency to dig into personal, potentially erased history.
“This was the book I had to finish,” she said. “Looking at my mother’s Alzheimer’s was a very private loss of management for both me and her. [Her amnesia] became emblematic to me of a larger sense of amnesia: cultural amnesia and this country’s forces that help us forget our origins — our Chicana origins, our indigenous origins.”
Moraga explained that her book, with its multifaceted representations of Mexican Americans, negates stereotypes that have marginalized Mexican American communities in the United States.
“In the U.S., [Mexican Americans] are still so invisible, and we haven’t gotten to tap into our own stories,” Moraga said. “We’re allowed three stories: the immigrant experience, the gang experience and the sitcom version of familia. Real representation is always powerful and always needed,” Moraga said.
The event was well-attended by members of both the Claremont and 5C communities. Many students attended the event having already become familiar with Moraga’s previous works.
Noah Liedtke PO ’23 resonated with Moraga’s complex and honest portrayal of multi-ethnic households.
“I relate to Moraga’s [experience being bi-ethnic], which is nice,” Liedtke said. “I don’t think people are speaking and writing very often on the subject, so it is nice to be able to see an author who has the same relation to their ethnicities.”
Moraga’s story has inspired Claremont students to get in touch with their own family histories.
“I really liked the way in which [Moraga] was connected with her mother, and how she shared all memories [through archival information] like family photos throughout the event,” Liedtke said. “Being proud of our own personal families and just carrying that pride and history with you — I really like that.”