Songs My Mother Sang to Me

Patricia Preciado Martin’s purpose in recording the oral histories of ten Mexican American women was to “articulate daily rhythms, expectations, and cultural practices that no longer exist,” and with SONGS MY MOTHER SANG TO ME, she accomplishes her goal. Her narrators speak primarily of their families, their work, and their church, the focuses of their lives. One life story begins, “My name is Carmen Celia Beltran. I was born in the state of Durango, Mexico, in the hacienda El Salto near the capital city, which was also called Durango. I was born during the turbulent years that preceded the revolution of Mexico of 1910. My father’s name was Vicente Beltran, and my mother’s name was Guadalupe Martinez Beltran. My father was a composer, a band and orchestra director, and professor of music. Because of my father’s political involvement, many times our family had to hide in the mountains or travel a long way on horseback. I was very young and in poor health, so when I was about two years old I was taken to a Carmelite Convent in Durango.”

Reading these women’s stories is as mesmerizing as scanning diaries, and their tales are all the more haunting because they are true. The narratives define these women’s relationship to their surroundings and to the economy. The experience of rural Mexican American women, largely forgotten by contemporary Chicano scholarship, is powerfully illuminated by their testimony.

SONGS MY MOTHER SANG TO ME succeeds both as a historical document and as a sort of hymnal rich in songs that celebrate the human spirit.