Here's to You, Jesusa! Essay - Critical Essays

Elena Poniatowska

Here’s to You, Jesusa!

Elena Poniatowska, born in France to a Mexican mother and Polish father, moved to Mexico as a child with her mother. She is internationally recognized as a journalist with a strong commitment to social justice. Poniatowska’s novel both recounts the real events described by her source and creates imaginary scenes and characters to reveal the cruel exploitation of the poor by the government, the army, the church, and the upper classes.

Jesusa Palancares, the protagonist, speaks directly to the reader in unsparing language of the brutal events in her life. Jesusa, an Indian born in Oaxaca, suffers a childhood of loss and deprivation. Her mother dies when Jesusa is five, and her father’s various lovers treat her cruelly. Young Jesusa becomes a violent street fighter who stands up for her rights.

At the age of fifteen she joins the army and marries an abusive officer who is eventually killed in battle. After the revolution she moves to Mexico City where she survives despite backbreaking menial work and savage mistreatment by her employers. Tough and cynical but without self-pity, Jesusa lives on the edge of starvation in a series of makeshift shelters, motivated by rage and pride in her independence. Her religion is a strange mixture of Catholicism and spiritualism. She believes she is guided by the voices of the dead but expects when she dies either to be reincarnated or condemned to Hell.

The narrative voice, primarily the blunt language of the illiterate Jesusa, is at times mixed with the author’s own perceptions. However, the novel succeeds both as narrative and as social history. Although Jesusa believes she will die in obscurity and disappear, Poniatowska has denied her this fate by presenting this searing portrayal of her life.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist 97 (February 2, 2001): 1040.

Kirkus Reviews 69 (January 1, 2001): 13.

Library Journal 126 (January, 2001): 156.

The New York Times Book Review 106 (March 18, 2001): 15.

Publishers Weekly 248 (January 22, 2001): 302.