The Mixquiahuala Letters

by Ana Castillo

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Themes

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

The Complexities of Friendship

Spanning several years and arranged in non-chronological order, the letters that make up the novel provide a picture of the friends’ intense relationship and how it is impacted them. Teresa and Alicia are different, yet they become inseparable traveling companions in Mexico many times in their lives, sharing experiences that only they could understand. Teresa addresses how the loving intensity of their friendship often led them to quarrel and go long periods without speaking, yet when they reunited they easily fell into a familiar camaraderie as if nothing had changed. Female friendships are also addressed in the letters as being set aside once a woman settles with a man, a fact that Teresa and Alicia refuse to accept. Though years and trauma draw the unlikely friends apart somewhat, their bond transcends the bounds of typical friendship.

Social Pressures Surrounding Gender and Sexuality

Each woman is subjected to social pressure to conform to traditional gender roles. Teresa married young to please her family, while Alicia never entertained the thought. Unlike Teresa, Alicia refuses to cater to patriarchal expectations, taking many lovers and never marrying. However, Teresa suggests that this is what Alicia truly wanted: a family. Sexuality plays a large role in the women’s lives as well: both women are subjected to near constant sexual advances from men, often because of the perception that they are “liberal”—or slutty. Teresa and Alicia, however, defy this stereotype as well. This text interrogates the way sexist ideas impact a woman’s life on a daily basis, and Teresa wants to view herself as truly liberated from this impact—only to discover that she, too, suffered at the hands of men. Alicia seeks sexual attention from men in order to gain their approval.

Connecting with One's Culture

A final theme the text deals with is the importance of one’s culture. Teresa seeks her education at a Mexican school as a young woman in order to be better connected to her heritage, only to find that the majority of the students there are white trust-fund types. Teresa constantly seeks an authentic Mexican experience, an impulse that inspires her to travel cross country with Alicia. Teresa and Alicia both are enamored of traditional Mexican culture from pre-colonial times, and this yearning to deeply connect with one’s heritage drives the action of the novel. However, by the end of the text, Teresa realizes that the culture she idealizes also has its own flaws, including deeply entrenched sexism and classism.

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