Sons Disciplining Mothers: Malas Mujeres and the Portrayal of Women in Mexican American Autobiography

Tasneem Mandviwala


Mexican American autobiography is a relatively new and therefore unexplored field of autobiography within the American literary scene. While celebrity autobiographies receive increasing and immediate attention in the US, autobiographies by what we might consider “average” people, especially those of Mexican heritage, have sometimes been easily dismissed in a society where an increasing number of people are Mexicans or self-declared Chicanos. The careful study of Mexican American autobiography will not only elucidate contemporary struggles that American citizens, both Mexican and otherwise, are facing, such as immigration, racial/cultural prejudice, and social injustices at large, but it will also help to bridge the sometimes hostile gap between two cultures that live in such close proximity—indeed, sometimes in the same space—to each other.

More specifically, the portrayal of females (especially mothers) in Jose Antonio Villareal’s Pocho and Ernesto Galarza’s Barrio Boy brings to the forefront the complex and often contradictory existences faced by Mexican Americans in what, to them, is an increasingly white American atmosphere. While there has been some research done on these particular two autobiographies, the literature tends to focus on the male experience only. Granted, the authors are male and that vein of research is important; however, it neglects the crucial back story of the female Mexican American experience buttressing the male one. We need to take a closer look not at how female Mexican Americans nor male Mexican Americans portray themselves, but how the latter portray the former. This is especially crucial if Pocho and Barrio Boy do stand as “great influence[s] in the staging of a canonical Chicana/o autobiographical discourse into the 1980s” (Velasco 314). To understand contemporary Chicana feminism and autobiography more thoroughly, we must closely examine what stimulates the “indignation” and “anger” they are frequently accused of embracing so zealously (Castillo 4). From this understanding, we might be able to create more thorough feminist theories applicable to the current scene of all American literature, not just that produced in a white, middle-class atmosphere.

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