Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir

Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir

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Author: Cherríe Moraga

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2019)

Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir is, at its core, a mother-daughter story that also tells the larger story of the Mexican American diaspora. The mother, Elvira, was hired out as a child, along with her siblings, by their own father to pick cotton in California’s Imperial Valley. The daughter, Cherríe Moraga, is a brilliant, pioneering, queer Latina feminist. The story of these two women, and of their people, is woven together in an intimate memoir of critical reflection and deep personal revelation.

As a young woman, Elvira left California to work as a cigarette girl in glamorous late-1920s Tijuana, where an ambiguous relationship with a wealthy white man taught her life lessons about power, sex, and opportunity. As Moraga charts her mother’s journey—from impressionable young girl to battle-tested matriarch to, later on, an old woman suffering under the yoke of Alzheimer’s—she traces her own self-discovery of her genderqueer body and lesbian identity, as well as her passion for activism and the history of her pueblo. As her mother’s memory fails, Moraga is driven to unearth forgotten remnants of a U.S. Mexican diaspora, its indigenous origins, and an American story of cultural loss.

Poetically wrought and filled with insight into intergenerational trauma, Native Country of the Heart is a reckoning with white American history and a piercing love letter from a fearless daughter to the mother she will never lose. 

"[Native Country of the Heart] chronicles both a Mexican American coming-of-age story, as well as a coming-of-old-age story that, with warmth and a knack for intimate detail, inscribes two generations of women into the Mexican American literary canon . . . Moraga waxes poetically, philosophically and politically about the importance of memory, treating its preservation like a Holy Grail. With this book, Moraga is keeping her mother on her earth, capturing her, tethering her to the living."

–Myriam Gurba

"Exquisite . . . Native Country of the Heart makes powerful statements about what is gained and lost in the pursuit of the American dream, and how the same place that affords privilege and opportunity, also demands sacrifice and surrender. Heart-wrenching and heartwarming, Moraga’s memoir delivers new insights into the acclaimed writer’s creativity."

–Rigoberto González