Here’s to You, Jesusa!

Written by Elena Poniatowska
Review by Kelly Cannon

First published in Spanish in 1969, Here’s to You, Jesusa! is the fictional autobiography of a poor Mexican woman, here translated into English.

Jesusa’s life is fraught with hardship and grievous injustice. Mistreated by her stepmother and abandoned by her father, adolescent Jesusa is forced to marry an abusive army officer. When he is later killed, a corrupt government denies her the small widow’s pension it owes her. Still very young and alone with neither income nor skills, Jesusa nearly starves.

Experience teaches her toughness. She is also as complex as the political milieu of the Mexican Revolution in which she fought: a loner who lets friends exploit her, outwardly cold yet raising an motherless child, leaving herself open to theft though she realizes she has nothing worth stealing.

Poniatowska spent several years learning about Jesusa, and it shows. However, first person narration by an inarticulate protagonist weakens the story, making it a tedious and sometimes obscure read. Translation might be somewhat to blame for this effect.

Here’s to You, Jesusa! provides rare insight into what it was like to be poor and female in early twentieth-century Mexico. Jesusa is too complex to be fictional, and her story too poignant, not to engage even the most dispassionate reader.