In many novels by contemporary Hispanic women writers, the estrangement between mother and daughter seems to be a constant underlying theme. There are several examples of texts in which distancing between mother and daughter renders the role of the mother ineffective, prompting the daughter to search for an alternative maternal figure.
Within Mexican narrative, I have come upon four novels with protagonists who experience this predicament, but in which all the countervailing figures are indigenous women who are servants in the middle class white households inhabited by the young female characters. For this article, I have chosen only two of the group of these four novels to illustrate the female bonding between characters of different race and age; they are Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate and Brianda Domecq’s The Astonishing Story of the Saint of Cabora.
I first focus on each of these two novels separately, to provide a glimpse of the development as well as the nature of the relationship between each protagonist and her indigenous mentor. I then focus on the fact that, in spite of the differences between each author’s approach, there are some common traits present in both novels.
The indigenous surrogate mothers in these novels transmit to a younger generation an ancient wisdom that stands in the face of conventional Western patriarchal values that are reflected in terms considered irreconcilable opposites such as Indigenous-white, male-female, young-old, life-death. Although their mentoring encompasses a number of roles corresponding to the expectations of a mother figure, I am particularly interested in the spiritual aspect of this relationship, which helps explain the deep impact the mentors have on their surrogate daughters.
Sánchez Mora, Elena, "Torn between Two Mothers: Indigenous Women as spiritual Mentors in two Novels by Mexican Women Writers" (2005). Hispanic Studies Faculty Publications. 8.