Real Women Have Curves is a two-act play by Mexican-American author Josefina López, who was born in Mexico and emigrated to the United States with her family when she was a young girl. Real Women Have Curves tells the story of a group of first-generation Mexican-American women who work in a sewing factory in Los Angeles in the late 1980s.
The play unfolds over the course of a week in the September of 1987, during which the women share secrets about their lives and yearnings. It is also partially autobiographical: like López, the young protagonist is intellectually curious and yearns to go to college, but has financial needs and struggles with her family’s opposing wishes for her future.
Ana is 18 and is described as “a recent high school graduate and a young feminist.” She wants to go to college. She is waiting for financial aid and working at her sister’s garment factory in the meantime. However, she is very unhappy and resents having to do such menial labor. In her diary, she writes bitterly about the factory:
I don’t want to be here! . . . Is it selfish of me not to want to wake up every morning at 6:30 a.m., Saturdays included, to come work here for 67 dollars a week? Oh, but such is the life of a Chicana in the garment industry. Cheap labor . . . I’m doing the work that mostly illegal aliens do.
Ana’s sister, Estela, is “24, plump, [and] plain-looking.” She owns the factory, but is threatened by her status as an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record—she was once arrested for “trying to ‘abduct’ a lobster,” and is now being sued for payments on her factory’s machines. For example, Estela asks a customer to advance some of their payment so Estela can pay her workers. In response, the customer threatens her by alluding to asking for her immigration papers.
Estela is unmarried and interested in a man who washes his car every day where the women can watch through the factory window. He asks Estela on a date, but tries to take her to the drive-in so that they can be intimate in the back seat of his car. Estela wonders, “Why is this happening to me? I’m going to get deported. I will have let you and everyone down.”
Ana and Estela’s mother Carmen is a “short, large woman” who opposes Ana’s desire to attend college in New York at the other end of the country. She wants Ana to stay in Los Angeles and contribute to the family’s income. Neither of Carmen’s daughters is married and she complains that she should have grandchildren at this point and be able to stay at home to take care of them.
At one point, Carmen mistakenly believes that she herself is pregnant. Ana tells her mother, “You don’t have to keep it.” Carmen responds, "Ana, I don’t want to talk about this." Carmen explains that she grew tired of always being pregnant and having babies so she let herself become fat in the hope that her husband—Ana and Estela's father—would no longer find her attractive. “Why didn’t you just say no?” Ana asks, as she encourages her mother to be more assertive.
Rosali is described as “29, only a bit plump in comparison to the rest of the women” and “sweet and easygoing.” Because she is always dieting, she often feels unwell. She accepts a large order to help Estela, who is always worried about making payroll and covering expenses. Rosali and Pancha, as well as Ana and Carmen, work hard to make sure that the large order gets filled.
Along with its positive depiction of female bonding, the play also shows how difficult it is for the women to labor under the factory’s conditions. It is hot in the factory and the women are in close quarters. Issues with their pay sometimes make the women irritable.
At one point, Pancha complains about having to work in the heat. She tells Estela that the other women should not have to be punished because of Estela’s criminal record and lack of legal documentation. However, when Pancha is hurt, the other women rush to help and offer to take her...
(The entire section is 1,198 words.)