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Poetry

Marías Mazahuas

Contemporary poem about women migrants in Mexico, written in the indigenous Mazahua ("maz-a-wa") language.

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazahua.

On her back the smallest child,
others before her, yet others following.

They decided to discover new worlds
closed the windows and the door of the house
and the bean patch was left abandoned.
The more they were lost in the distance
the louder grew their pitiful cries
until even the owl went mad.
Where are you going, Mazahua mothers?
Where are you going, Mazahua girls?
Why take your little ones?
Why abandon your garden?
What do you seek in other places?
What do you dream of finding?
How do you imagine your new life?
How will other people receive you?
When will you come home again?
When will we see you again?

There is nothing over there!
You will be lost in a sea of people
they will deny you the grace of a greeting.
When one of them ventures even a disdainful look
they will call you Marías.
And you will have to sell Chiclets and oranges
to earn that holy name.

They beg alms to feed their children
they will be servants
if it goes well for them.

Then, they will grieve for their little village
they will want to embrace their fathers, grown old,
they will want to buy a grinding stone for their tortillas
they will dream of the green fields
they will imagine their underskirts, sashes, and shawls.
Although they paint their lips and lashes
they cannot conceal their birth in a Mazahua village
their glances and smiles will betray them.
Then they will remember their origins and weep.
They will go to church to pray for their return,
to again embroider their napkins
with little birds, flowers, fawns, and life.

They shall wait anxiously for the coming time
and shall prepare themselves for the labor of the harvest.
Once again they shall fill their baskets with food
they shall help their husbands to clear the fields,
shoulder to shoulder they shall practice the niboxte1.
We will hurl rockets at the sky
and they will know our mothers and sisters have returned.
We will dance the xote. We will drink pulque!
Then the arrival of the new fire will go forward.
The children will be children again, always at play.
In the plazas we will hear again the bustle
of buying and selling squash, beans, and ears of corn.
The odor of epazote2 will once again transfix the soul.
And we shall laugh! We shall laugh with joy!
We shall make a fiesta
and sing!

Where are the Mazahua mothers going?
Where are the Mazahua children going?
Why do they take their little ones?
Why do they abandon their little garden?
What do they seek in other places?
What is it they dream of finding?

Where do you go, “Marías,” where do you go?


1. A dance

2. A spice, also known as bean herb


Originally published in
La voz del corazón: poesía mazahua contemporánea, México, Consejo Estatal para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas del Estado de México, 1997.

Read About Bios Context Explore Teaching Ideas

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazahua.

On her back the smallest child,
others before her, yet others following.

They decided to discover new worlds
closed the windows and the door of the house
and the bean patch was left abandoned.
The more they were lost in the distance
the louder grew their pitiful cries
until even the owl went mad.
Where are you going, Mazahua mothers?
Where are you going, Mazahua girls?
Why take your little ones?
Why abandon your garden?
What do you seek in other places?
What do you dream of finding?
How do you imagine your new life?
How will other people receive you?
When will you come home again?
When will we see you again?

There is nothing over there!
You will be lost in a sea of people
they will deny you the grace of a greeting.
When one of them ventures even a disdainful look
they will call you Marías.
And you will have to sell Chiclets and oranges
to earn that holy name.

They beg alms to feed their children
they will be servants
if it goes well for them.

Then, they will grieve for their little village
they will want to embrace their fathers, grown old,
they will want to buy a grinding stone for their tortillas
they will dream of the green fields
they will imagine their underskirts, sashes, and shawls.
Although they paint their lips and lashes
they cannot conceal their birth in a Mazahua village
their glances and smiles will betray them.
Then they will remember their origins and weep.
They will go to church to pray for their return,
to again embroider their napkins
with little birds, flowers, fawns, and life.

They shall wait anxiously for the coming time
and shall prepare themselves for the labor of the harvest.
Once again they shall fill their baskets with food
they shall help their husbands to clear the fields,
shoulder to shoulder they shall practice the niboxte1.
We will hurl rockets at the sky
and they will know our mothers and sisters have returned.
We will dance the xote. We will drink pulque!
Then the arrival of the new fire will go forward.
The children will be children again, always at play.
In the plazas we will hear again the bustle
of buying and selling squash, beans, and ears of corn.
The odor of epazote2 will once again transfix the soul.
And we shall laugh! We shall laugh with joy!
We shall make a fiesta
and sing!

Where are the Mazahua mothers going?
Where are the Mazahua children going?
Why do they take their little ones?
Why do they abandon their little garden?
What do they seek in other places?
What is it they dream of finding?

Where do you go, “Marías,” where do you go?


1. A dance

2. A spice, also known as bean herb


Originally published in
La voz del corazón: poesía mazahua contemporánea, México, Consejo Estatal para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas del Estado de México, 1997.

The indigenous Mazahua (maz-a-wa) people have traditionally lived in Central Mexico. In recent years, however, they have been migrating to cities, often for economic reasons. The poem below, about that migration, was originally written in the Mazahua language.

Definitions

Marías: People in Mexico City sometimes call Mazahua women “Marías,” perhaps because there was once a cartoonish, stereotypical TV character known as “La India María” (María the Indian.)

Niboxte: A dance.

Pulque: (pul-kay) A traditional alcoholic drink made from agave, using a recipe that is thousands of years old.

Epazote: (eh-puh-zoh-tei) A spice also known as bean herb.

Chiclets and oranges: Some Mazahua women in Mexico City sell food from stalls.

Fausto Guadarrama López

Fausto Guadarrama López lives in the state of Mexico, home to the Mazahuas. He has written about his people and has become a spokesman for bilingual (indigenous/Spanish) education in Mexico.

Earl Shorris (translator)

Earl Shorris was a prominent social critic and author. His works include Ofay; The Boots of the Virgin; A Novel of Pancho Villa; The Death of the Great Spirit; The Oppressed Middle: Scenes From Corporate Life; Latinos: A Biography of the People; and New American Blues: A Journey Through Poverty to Democracy among others. He was the coeditor of In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature, Pre-Columbian to the Present; The Life and Times of Mexico; and While Someone Else Is Eating: Poets and Novelists on Reaganism. He was a contributing editor to Harper’s, and his essays and articles appeared in the Nation, the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, American Educator, the Antioch Review, and many more publications. He founded and chaired the advisory board of The Clemente Course in the Humanities; and cofounded—with Howard Meredith and members of the Kiowa, Cherokee, Chickashaw, Maya, Nahua, Lakota, CYup’ik, and other tribes and nations—the Pan-American Indian Humanities Center at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. He died in May of 2012.

​Sylvia Sasson Shorris (translator)

Sylvia Sasson Shorris is the author of Talking Pictures: With the People Who Made Them and co-editor of While Someone Else Is Eating: Poets and Novelists on Reaganism and In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature Pre-Columbian to the Present. She has published articles in The Nation, Chicago Tribune, Fork Roads, and Review (a publication of the Center for Inter-American Relations), and has been a translator in Mexico for Luis Montes Film Distribution, and in New York for 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

Hear the Language

What does the Mazahua language sound like? Watch a video of
spoken Mazahua (the translation is under the video.)

Map showing the speaking of Mazahua and other languages in the Oto-Manguean group in Mexico. The Mazahua language is #4, dark blue, near the center of the map. By Davius. Public domain.

Read about the Mazahua language and how Mazahuas preserve it while living in Mexico City in the book chapter “Local conversational practices among Mazahuas,” from Mexican Indigenous Languages at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century.

Mazahua Culture

Learn more about Mazahua culture from the Encyclopedia of World Cultures. (The article is from 1995, so some of the information in it {e.g.,population numbers} is no longer accurate.)

Watch dancers performing the
Mazahua xote
in the videos below.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

(Watch video on YouTube.)

Mazahua people celebrate the Day of the Dead; learn about the holiday in this UNESCO video.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

Mazahua Women

To see examples of traditional clothing (including the “underskirts, sashes, and shawls” the poem mentions), view these photos of clothing from various Mazahua villages, and a gallery of the Mazahua textiles. You can also learn about Mazahua textiles in the Mazahua issue of Living Textiles of Mexico.

Look at photographs of Mazahua women in an online archive and by following these links: a woman working outside her stall, a famous fabric embroiderer, and women attending a ceremony, and a Mazahua lawyer and activist (third down the page.)  

A Mazahua woman, member of the “Tzinze” group of embroiders, San Antonio de las Huertas, State of Mexico, Mexico. By Lon & Queta. License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Then, look at a photograph of “La India María,” the television character mentioned in the poem.

MariaNicolasa.jpg
María Nicolasa Cruz (La India María) in Tonta tonta pero no tanto (1972).

What differences do you notice between the real women and the television image?

Mazahua Cuisine

Read all about epazote, an herb often used in Mazahua cuisine, in a post from the Mexican-American cooking blog Mexico in My Kitchen.

Epazote leaves. Photo by Vegan Feast Catering. License: CC BY 2.0.
More from Translators Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris

Read more work translated by Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris. The two have worked together in many of their translations published in Words without Borders.

Learn more about Earl Shorris in the NY Times obituary and in this interview about his education project: “Social Transformation Through the Humanities.”

More about Indigenous People

Find out “10 things to know about Indigenous people,” ranging from the alarming (#5) to the inspiring (#8).  (Thanks to Yolanda Padilla of the University of Texas for this recommendation.)

Read the book Words of the True Peoples, an anthology of contemporary indigenous Mexican literature.

Celebrating Life and Death

Mazahua people celebrate the Day of the Dead; learn about the holiday in this
UNESCO video.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

Fighting for Water: "The Mazahua Front"

Find out why some Mazahua women have joined the Mazahua Frente (or Mazahua Front) in the trailer below.

Then, go deeper with more on “The Mazahua and Mexico’s Water Crisis,” a reporting project by Meg Vatterott of The Pulitzer Center.

This is now a decades-long fight; read about an earlier battle in the 2007 article “Mazahuas Choose Jail Over Going Without Water,” from the independent Center for World Indigenous Studies; and the 2005 article “Villagers Fight Mexico over Water Access” from the Chicago Tribune.

Leaving Home*

For a different tale of homesickness in Mexico, listen to “Phone Home,” from This American Life.

To learn more about the reasons indigenous people are leaving their homes, take a look at the report Indigenous Routes: A Framework for Understanding Indigenous Migration. (There’s a summary on page 7.)

*For Teaching Idea 1

More Poems Wishing for Someone's (Or Something's) Return*

*For Teaching Idea 2

To access these Teaching Ideas, please register or login to WWB-Campus.
English

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazahua.

On her back the smallest child,
others before her, yet others following.

They decided to discover new worlds
closed the windows and the door of the house
and the bean patch was left abandoned.
The more they were lost in the distance
the louder grew their pitiful cries
until even the owl went mad.
Where are you going, Mazahua mothers?
Where are you going, Mazahua girls?
Why take your little ones?
Why abandon your garden?
What do you seek in other places?
What do you dream of finding?
How do you imagine your new life?
How will other people receive you?
When will you come home again?
When will we see you again?

There is nothing over there!
You will be lost in a sea of people
they will deny you the grace of a greeting.
When one of them ventures even a disdainful look
they will call you Marías.
And you will have to sell Chiclets and oranges
to earn that holy name.

They beg alms to feed their children
they will be servants
if it goes well for them.

Then, they will grieve for their little village
they will want to embrace their fathers, grown old,
they will want to buy a grinding stone for their tortillas
they will dream of the green fields
they will imagine their underskirts, sashes, and shawls.
Although they paint their lips and lashes
they cannot conceal their birth in a Mazahua village
their glances and smiles will betray them.
Then they will remember their origins and weep.
They will go to church to pray for their return,
to again embroider their napkins
with little birds, flowers, fawns, and life.

They shall wait anxiously for the coming time
and shall prepare themselves for the labor of the harvest.
Once again they shall fill their baskets with food
they shall help their husbands to clear the fields,
shoulder to shoulder they shall practice the niboxte1.
We will hurl rockets at the sky
and they will know our mothers and sisters have returned.
We will dance the xote. We will drink pulque!
Then the arrival of the new fire will go forward.
The children will be children again, always at play.
In the plazas we will hear again the bustle
of buying and selling squash, beans, and ears of corn.
The odor of epazote2 will once again transfix the soul.
And we shall laugh! We shall laugh with joy!
We shall make a fiesta
and sing!

Where are the Mazahua mothers going?
Where are the Mazahua children going?
Why do they take their little ones?
Why do they abandon their little garden?
What do they seek in other places?
What is it they dream of finding?

Where do you go, “Marías,” where do you go?


1. A dance

2. A spice, also known as bean herb


Originally published in
La voz del corazón: poesía mazahua contemporánea, México, Consejo Estatal para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas del Estado de México, 1997.

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