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Poetry

Purépecha Mother

Contemporary poem from an indigenous Purépecha author, celebrating the heroism of a seemingly ordinary woman.

Note: This poem was originally written in Purépecha, now often written P’urhépecha. It is not known to be related to any other language. The Purépechas were both excellent strategists and fierce warriors in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, having dealt the powerful Aztec armies one of its few major defeats. Lázaro Cárdenas, a revolutionary general and Mexican president (1934-40), was from Michoacán and most likely had Purépecha ancestors. His presidency was marked by a mix of Socialist and New Deal politics, a great distribution of land to peasants and indigenous people. His son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, is a perennial candidate for the presidency from the left of center party, and his grandson has been elected Governor of Michoacán.

She is not a queen.
Hungry, early in the morning she goes for firewood.

At night she serves supper; the next day
dawns with merchandise: crockery, chapatas, guayabas, bread . . . , she goes to sell them in the morning.
They do not dedicate poems to her.

She claims no privileges; she goes among the furrows
to plant, harvest . . . carefully finishes her handicrafts.
In the family a man may fail, but she . . . never!

Until dawn, alone and in silence, she wanders
the streets searching for her children.
Her eyes proclaim impotence because
she cannot haggle in her own language
to get fair prices for her merchandise.

Mother, for all eternity!
Without distinguishing,
she holds her children in her heart
even though they have abandoned her.

She does not use makeup, nor perfume: yes,
she shows the marks of work.
She is not in a sanctuary.
No one lights incense on her journey.

Her body gets plenty of the sun’s rays;
her feet feel the snow;
her face is impregnated
with sweat and dust.

She does not say anything,
her world is what it is.
Her values must collide with modernity.
She must seek her gods among the ashes.

She does not use her beauty to compete.
With her reboso, overblouse, sash, language, smile,
she engenders, amuses and elevates,
and is the last refuge of the Purépecha culture.

She, she is the Purépecha mother.


Originally published in
Nuni, Espacio para la expresión de las lenguas y culturas indígenas de México, año v, número 13, abril de 2002, p.22-23.

Read About Bios Context Explore Teaching Ideas

Note: This poem was originally written in Purépecha, now often written P’urhépecha. It is not known to be related to any other language. The Purépechas were both excellent strategists and fierce warriors in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, having dealt the powerful Aztec armies one of its few major defeats. Lázaro Cárdenas, a revolutionary general and Mexican president (1934-40), was from Michoacán and most likely had Purépecha ancestors. His presidency was marked by a mix of Socialist and New Deal politics, a great distribution of land to peasants and indigenous people. His son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, is a perennial candidate for the presidency from the left of center party, and his grandson has been elected Governor of Michoacán.

She is not a queen.
Hungry, early in the morning she goes for firewood.

At night she serves supper; the next day
dawns with merchandise: crockery, chapatas, guayabas, bread . . . , she goes to sell them in the morning.
They do not dedicate poems to her.

She claims no privileges; she goes among the furrows
to plant, harvest . . . carefully finishes her handicrafts.
In the family a man may fail, but she . . . never!

Until dawn, alone and in silence, she wanders
the streets searching for her children.
Her eyes proclaim impotence because
she cannot haggle in her own language
to get fair prices for her merchandise.

Mother, for all eternity!
Without distinguishing,
she holds her children in her heart
even though they have abandoned her.

She does not use makeup, nor perfume: yes,
she shows the marks of work.
She is not in a sanctuary.
No one lights incense on her journey.

Her body gets plenty of the sun’s rays;
her feet feel the snow;
her face is impregnated
with sweat and dust.

She does not say anything,
her world is what it is.
Her values must collide with modernity.
She must seek her gods among the ashes.

She does not use her beauty to compete.
With her reboso, overblouse, sash, language, smile,
she engenders, amuses and elevates,
and is the last refuge of the Purépecha culture.

She, she is the Purépecha mother.


Originally published in
Nuni, Espacio para la expresión de las lenguas y culturas indígenas de México, año v, número 13, abril de 2002, p.22-23.

Definitions

Reboso: A long woven scarf, sometimes also called a rebozo.

Guayabas: Guavas, a kind of fruit.

Purépecha: One of the indigenous groups within Mexico, pronounced: Poo-REH-peh-cha.

 

Gilberto Jerónimo Mateo

Gilberto Jerónimo Mateo is a Purépecha poet living 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 LiteraturePre-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 TimesAmerican 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.

The History of the Purépecha

Find Michoacán, ancestral home of the Purépecha people, on National Geographic‘s interactive map of Mexico. For more information about Mexico’s indigenous cultures, read Mexico: History and Heritage from Smithsonian Magazine.

Listen to a Pirekua, a traditional Purépecha song.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

View highlights from the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibit on the Purépecha (or Tarascan) empire.

Fierce warriors, “Masters of Fish,” not-so-great architects: Find out more about ancient Purépechans (also called Tarascans) in this short article. Or, for a more in-depth perspective, read Meet the Tarascans: Fierce Foes of the Aztecs, an interview with a professor specializing in Tarascan history.

Traditional Purépecha Clothing

Look at a detail from a Tarascan (or Purépecha) blouse, featured in an exhibit of Mexican textiles curated by anthropologist Jill Vexler.

Detail of Huanenga Blous
Embroidery in an angular, geometric pattern, using the colors black, white, red, and blue.

View photographs of purépecha women in a rebozos.

Rebozos. By Guanajuato-México. (CC 2.0 license.)

Read a blog post about rebozoshow to wear them (lots of ways!) and their role in fashion history.

 

Purépecha Culture Today

Read an article about Purépecha immigrants to California with a glossary of Spanish, English and Purépecha in the sidebar. Or, listen to “A Hidden Community,” a public radio story and transcript about Purépecha women who are living outside Seattle.

Find out more about the Purépecha language and take a short audio language lesson.

For more music from the Purépecha, listen to Song #14 in the slideshow, Memorable Spanish Songs for Mother’s Day—it’s from a modern band from Michoacán, called Los Bukis, or “little kids” in Purépecha.

More from Translators Earl Shorris and ​Sylvia Sasson Shorris

Learn more about Earl Shorris in his NY Times obituary and in this interview about his education project: “Social Transformation Through the Humanities.” Then, read more work translated by Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris, who collaborated on a number of translations published in Words without Borders.

 

More about Indigenous People

Find out about how indigenous traditions are becoming fashionable in the NPR story “A Modern Twist on Mexican Fashion Hits the Runway.”

To learn 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 of this pdf.)

Read an anthology of contemporary indigenous Mexican literature.

Motherhood in the Media

Watch Proctor and Gamble’s 2012 Mother’s Day ad, which features idealized and idolized mothers from countries around the world.

(Watch this and see more commercial moms on YouTube.)

Then, read a critical perspective on the P&G motherhood ads from New Republic: “Honor Your Mother: Don’t Watch that Patronizing Viral Ad.”

Other Cultural Clashes

Look at some examples of cultural conflict in works like Gish Jen’s novel, Typical American; Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted; and the anthology Growing Up Ethnic in America.

(Not so) Out of the Ordinary*

Read other examples of poems that celebrate people who seem, on first glance, too ordinary to be the subjects of poems:

*For Teaching Idea 2

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

Note: This poem was originally written in Purépecha, now often written P’urhépecha. It is not known to be related to any other language. The Purépechas were both excellent strategists and fierce warriors in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, having dealt the powerful Aztec armies one of its few major defeats. Lázaro Cárdenas, a revolutionary general and Mexican president (1934-40), was from Michoacán and most likely had Purépecha ancestors. His presidency was marked by a mix of Socialist and New Deal politics, a great distribution of land to peasants and indigenous people. His son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, is a perennial candidate for the presidency from the left of center party, and his grandson has been elected Governor of Michoacán.

She is not a queen.
Hungry, early in the morning she goes for firewood.

At night she serves supper; the next day
dawns with merchandise: crockery, chapatas, guayabas, bread . . . , she goes to sell them in the morning.
They do not dedicate poems to her.

She claims no privileges; she goes among the furrows
to plant, harvest . . . carefully finishes her handicrafts.
In the family a man may fail, but she . . . never!

Until dawn, alone and in silence, she wanders
the streets searching for her children.
Her eyes proclaim impotence because
she cannot haggle in her own language
to get fair prices for her merchandise.

Mother, for all eternity!
Without distinguishing,
she holds her children in her heart
even though they have abandoned her.

She does not use makeup, nor perfume: yes,
she shows the marks of work.
She is not in a sanctuary.
No one lights incense on her journey.

Her body gets plenty of the sun’s rays;
her feet feel the snow;
her face is impregnated
with sweat and dust.

She does not say anything,
her world is what it is.
Her values must collide with modernity.
She must seek her gods among the ashes.

She does not use her beauty to compete.
With her reboso, overblouse, sash, language, smile,
she engenders, amuses and elevates,
and is the last refuge of the Purépecha culture.

She, she is the Purépecha mother.


Originally published in
Nuni, Espacio para la expresión de las lenguas y culturas indígenas de México, año v, número 13, abril de 2002, p.22-23.

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