Introduction: The Long Journey to Freedom
One of the most striking events in the world history, the Chicano Movement heralded the beginning of the new epoch – the era of the equal rights for both the Native Americans and the Latin Americans. However, like any other journey, this one was rather complicated and filled with all possible obstacles.
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Although the struggle for rights was one of the noblest aims that could cause the fight, there was a considerable element of controversy that posed danger to the solidarity of the members.
A perfect specimen of how the wind of changes broke those whose spirit was weak enough, Mama Chona is a real study on hypocrisy and faithfulness, the family devotion and slyness, cunning and at the same time wise as she was. Could she be depicted as deplorable? Hardly anyone could agree to such characteristics; yet there was that certain something about her that did not let her stay noble.
As the world around is ruined, and the people you used to know become complete strangers, there is only one way out, which is ignoring the faults and the weaknesses of the family. The resort of all those in despair, this is a sweet consolation indeed.
Mamma Chona and Her Religion: Searching for the Answers
It is quite peculiar that in her life, the religious issues and the family life were so closely intertwined. It could be assumed that the beliefs of the family members were a model of their relationships. What is supposed to be the secret between the Lord and a mere mortal, the daily prayers turned into the means to escape from the cruel reality.
Perhaps, it was the inner strength that the religion, that is, the belief and the daily prayers, gave to Mamma Chona – if anything could be considered as strength in her case. Was that the miracle of the belief that the Bible tells people so much about?
Or, perhaps, the secret chord that rendered the very soul of Mamma Chona and helped her to stay strong and determined despite all that happened around her, the world ruining, and the people fading away like the morning dew? Hardly anyone knows. Tracking the life of the woman, one could lift the veil of mystery about the family, the religion and the Chicano movement intertwined.
The Sin of Cheating
Is there a grater sin than keeping silence when there is something wrong happening? Although Miguel Grande cannot be considered as a positive character anyway, the way Mama Chona behaves might seem even more repulsive.
Concealing the mischief and cheating of her son, she becomes his ally and at the same time his traitor – for she does not help him to find the way to the decent life. Bringing him up and raisin him as a family tyrant Mama Chona is not able to mend the broken relationships between her son and her daughter-in-law; she is not able to do practically anything.
“He did not like to speak directly to the Mexican women Juanita and his sisters took on to help him with the household chores” (Islas 3), which means that the man possessed rather cowardly traits of character; yet he demonstrated his dominance over the wife – isn’t that the sign of weakness?
Her son, a cheater – could there be a greater insult to a mother. However, it is quite peculiar that Mama Chona tries to close her eyes on the facts and pretend that the family is as strong and glued together as ever. Like a house on a rotten foundation, the family is falling apart, yet Mama Chona is trying to put the pieces together, pretending that everything is going to be fine.
Standing at the Beginning
Leading Mama Chona through the miseries of her life straight to the quiet religious haven, her beliefs make her survive the shocking truth about her family, namely, her children. Supported by the beliefs and ideas of hers, Mama Chona proves almost invulnerable to the tragedies that she suffers.
However, it seems that the religion of Mamma Chona is not the mysterious Rain God. Looking closer at her life and at the world that revolved around her, one can see distinctly that this was the family that was the essence of the woman’s life. The very first lines of the novel expose Mama Chona’s secret to the reader:
A photograph of Mama Chona and her grandson Miguel Angel – Miguel Chico or Mickie to his family – hovers above his head on the study wall beside the glass doors that open out into the garden (Islas 3)
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The controversy of the Chicano movement and the political ideas that underlay it are shown through depicting the family life of Mama Chona, which is quite peculiar. This is one of few attempts to intertwine the family and the politics – and, it must be admitted, one of the most successful ones. Exposing the weaknesses of Mama Chona to the public and yet emphasizing certain strong points that she possessed, Islas made quite a portrait of the Chicano movement.
Just as lame and uncertain as the ideas of Mama Chona were, it was basically grounded on a single pillar – the power of tradition; like many other political manifestations, it was full of controversy. However, there is that certain something that makes Mama Chona – and the Latin American movement – somewhat stronger – that is the incredible, truly Latin, pride.
Religion as a Way Out
Has anyone ever mixed the politics and the religion? That should be something truly incredible. What strikes most about the story is that the political turmoil and the mixture of ideas is the exact reprint of the religious situation in Mama Chona’s family. Surprisingly, there is very little that keeps the family members together in terms of the spirituality.
Although one of the key ideas of religion is to bring people together, the members of the little society of Mama Chona are detached from each other – or, it would be better to say, scattered asides with their religious beliefs.
It is quite remarkable that the idea of belief is what the entire novel is pierced through with. Even without mentioning the religious issues directly, Islas points at the complicated religious situation in the family of Mama Chona. There is always a word or phrase connected with belief or trust in the book – or, rather, with the loss of the one: “The loss of his promotion was to be a shock for Miguel Grande, and he is said to have lost faith in what he believed in all his life about the country” (Calderon 124)
Conclusion: Taking a Retrospective on the Events
It seems that the religious atmosphere in the family reprinted the events that occurred in the society. With all things changing their usual places, people were trying hard to keep their lives running the way they sued to, yet they failed, which led to disappointments. Perhaps, if their belief were strong enough, they could have succeeded, yet, like Mama Chona and her family, they failed to find the Rain God that could keep them together. Painful and hard to bear, this is the price of the change.
Calderon, Hector and Jose David Salvador. Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology. New York, NY: Duke University Press, 1991. Print.
Islas, Arturo. Rain God. New York City, NY: Harper Perennial, 1991. Print.