Ana Consuelo Matiella: Las Madrinas, Life Among My Mothers
REVIEW BY KRISTIANE WEEKS-ROGERS
(TRES CHICAS BOOKS, 2016)
Mexican author Ana Conseulo Matiella’s Las Madrinas: Life Among My Mothers is a touching and inspiring personal tale of the endurance of, specifically, the women in Matiella’s life as well as the Mexican women of folklore and legend. Consuelo’s current and past projects (as a board member of Milagro Miracle theatres in Portland, Oregon, and a children’s advocate through education with published pieces such as Positively Different: Creating a Bias-Free Environment for Young Children and The Multicultural Caterpillar: Children’s Activities in Cultural Awareness) illuminate the themes of family, motherhood, and cultural pride that shine this collection of memoir.
Although Matiella’s piece may look like a chapter book, when one takes a look at the table of contents, it is easily identifiable that this collection is not just a chapter book, but a series of vignettes. Each “chapter” title is a female figure Matiella has grown up hearing about or living with, from La Madrina (Matiella’s Godmothers) to Nuestra Senora (Our Lady of Guadalupe). These women are close relatives alongside/other than Ana’s biological mother, with a “power like a giant thumb.” As a writer, the complexity of this relationship shows within the first chapter, as Matiella identifies her own struggle with learning from her mother that writing is “telling lies about the truth and telling the truth about lies.”
The vignettes, while focusing on the identities of other women, blend into Matiella’s own self-discovery of finding strength that did not seem to come from Matiella’s biological mother. Matiella creates portraits of women ranging from the sacred, to maids old and young, to whores, brides, daughters, and more, but these women are all aunts, grandmothers, friends, therapists—women who can be identified as sources of power and endurance. These women’s stories have not only shaped Matiella, but they have helped her through divorce and helped shape the views on what family and strength can truly mean through the lens of Mexican culture. The vignettes also speak to women who become mothers. As a mother herself, Matiella recognizes throughout the vignettes the importance of children and the importance of acting as a kind mother to all regardless of help.
With the awareness of such a strong female presence, Matiella addresses the reader through the fourth wall and questions, “you might ask, ‘Where are the men?’” However, if not addressed directly, the question may not ever come up to the reader—or falls to the background quickly, as the answer to this question is clearly threaded throughout the puzzle pieces. The women who shape the culture of Matiella and culture of Mexico are so colorful and uplifting in crafting the arch that the men become mere stepping stones, a trampoline for which all of these women seem to bounce up, up, and away from. The men try to dominate these women, like Matiella’s grandmother, Mamachelo, who’s husband “was so over-protective that she wasn’t allowed to go to high school.” Yet she went “about the business of educating herself” anyway. These women defy the men, they speak “with so much authority that you wouldn’t even think to question that what she was saying was true.”
Matiella’s portraits explore feminist ideals that reveal a truth through storytelling and religious parable to identify what sorrow and happiness mean without men in the foreground. Even the tales where the women seem downtrodden such as the “Traitor, and Mother of Mexico” she finds redemption. The women typically stigmatized as “old Maids” or “whores” are given new understanding through Matiella’s personal ties; she concludes: “behind the bitterness is a wounded woman” in “The Woman with Sour Milk” (the Old Maid). Matiella also identifies this through her divorce. Instead of falling into a victimization of being a single mother, she recognizes the need “to learn to live a joyful life without a man.” Matiella explores through Las Madrinas how wounded women might be the strongest women of all.