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Being Mexican : Identity, Location, and Rosa Nissán(III)

“Domestic Identity – Limits and Rebellion in Novia que te vea and Hisho que te nazca” and “Hisho que te nazca – in search of desired identity”
Nathanial Eli Gardner


Being Mexican is the first book-length attempt to understand the narrative of the Mexican writer Rosa Nissán. Its focus are her first two novels, Novia que te vea and Hisho que te nazca, which are coming-of-age narratives in which the protagonist, Oshinica, attempts to understand her family and community as she grows up during the prosperious years of the Mexican Miracle and the changing society found in Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s. After setting down the groundwork for this study in the first installment, these next two -included in this edition of Amerika- focus on different aspects of male and female identity. While Oshinica forges her identity she does so in several spaces, both public and private. These next two sections analize the public: education and work as well as the private spaces: the home and the sacred, with the purpose of identifying the forces that work to create an identity for the protagonist. The analysis reveals the tensions created as the protagonist tries to resolve the conflict between self and famiily, between the mainstream and the marginal, and between the traditional and the modern; asking important questions regarding how identity is formed and how the spaces one inhabits exercise control over their identity.

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Oshinica’s married home

  • 1 (37)
  • 2 (37)
  • 3 (Hisho 13)

1Stephen Hart’s White Ink : Essays on Twentieth-Century Feminine Fiction in Spain and Latin America describes a situation somewhat similar to Oshinica’s escape from her parent’s home which can be linked to Roman Mythology. A man named Perseus saves the woman Andromeda from a monster who is about to devour her. Perseus releases Andromeda from her chains and then marries her.1 After recounting the story, Hart quotes Adrienne Ausländer Munich who notes : “Perseus saves Andromeda, then keeps her for sexual and dynastic purpose ; obligated to her rescuer, she can neither rescue herself nor refuse his offer of marriage”.2 Of course what has happened is that Andromeda has simply gone from one form of captivity to another. The parallel in Nissán’s novel is easy to identify. Oshinica, searching for an escape from the constant pressures of home and society, marries Lalo because he promises her the best compromise between two desires : the desire to please Oshinica’s family and community and the desire to study and occupy more than just the domestic space. Still, Oshinica’s uncertainty about marrying Lalo is evident at the beginning of the second novel when she postpones the wedding night activities : “Si aquel himen se rompía, yo sería de él. El temor de haberme equivocado no me abandonaba".3 Even after the consummation Oshinica does not want to become pregnant because if she does not have children, she can still obtain a divorce. However, a religious conflict keeps her from doing what she wants :

  • 4 (Hisho 21)

Hoy me bajó la regla. Me siento feliz, tengo miedo de encargar, mientras no tenga hijos, si hay problemas, puedo divorciarme. Otro mes que me salvo, con éste son tres. [...] Me da miedo cuidarme y que Dios me castigue no teniendo hijo. Eso sí sería una desgracia, ningún hombre quiere a una mujer que no le dé familia ; si pasan diez años sin hijos, la religión apoya al esposo para que deje a su mujer.4

2Oshinica finds herself in a religious predicament, and ultimately she chooses to side with religion and soon becomes pregnant. Her chances of leaving her husband without a scandal disappear and she finds herself secured into a new home and life.

  • 5 (Hisho 69)
  • 6 (Hisho 70)

3At the beginning of her marriage Oshinica does not like being a housewife as Lalo works long hours and visits his mother so often that Oshinica finds she is often alone. His promise to allow Oshinica to study is soon forgotten, but with the birth of her first child Oshinica quickly becomes absorbed in the world of motherhood. With the birth of Oshinica’s first child, her mother’s presence becomes a factor once again in her life, but to a lesser degree than before. Mamá becomes one of the tutors who help her to learn her new role in the domestic space. In addition to Mamá, other female influences impact on the character Oshinica. These are the women who are her neighbors in Oshinica’s building. The share the same religion and are relatively close in age. They trust each other and spend much time together. At first they become the female role model the protagonist procured when she was younger as she adopts a new lifestyle. Oshinica rapidly transforms from the teenager who wanted to enlarge her world by studying, into a housewife who spends days at a time without even leaving her building : “Hoy bajé a la calle, me di cuenta que hacía mucho que no veía la puerta del edificio. Hice memoria..., hace una semana que no salgo. Qué raro, no he estado encerrada. ¡Ya sé ! He salido de mi departamento, de pula en pula, de vecina en vecina, pero todo adentro del edificio”.5 At first, Oshinica seems content with her new life even if it was not extremely different from her mother’s – the same one she had so strongly rejected previously. It becomes evident that Oshinica has made a transformation into this new phase of her life and domestic identity when she laments having studied : “Tantos años aprendiendo a escribir, a leer y ahora sólo lo hago cuando le apunto a la muchacha lo que le presto y cuando juego. ¡Qué desperdicio de tantos años”.6 She seems content with her new role even though she is not fulfilling her former plans. As there is little novelty and much routine with this stage of the character the narrative advances rapidly into the future as Nissán’s novel omits dedicating much development to this phase of her character. Even so, one way her life does change during this period is through the economic prosperity of her husband. Once rejected as a suitor unacceptable for their daughter, his financial prosperity has proportioned him a new respect from others in Oshinica’s family.

  • 7 (Hisho 64)

4Perhaps the biggest concern for the new Oshinica is the notion of giving birth to a son. That particular event the title of the second book ‘Hisho que te nazca’ suggests, worries the protagonist until her fourth child is a boy and then she feels content because she has ‘made her husband a complete man’. In her community male children tend to be more desirable as they preserve the last name, work outside the home, can take care of the business, and are viewed as less expensive generally. Though this is the most isolated that the narrative views Oshinica, she feels extremely happy being married : “No sabía ni qué hacer para demostrarle [a Lalo] lo feliz que soy de estar casada. No cabe duda que éste es el estado perfecto del hombre y de la mujer".7 Conforming to the role her community has made for her, makes life easier for her as she no longer fights against the current. It would appear that the private space is not as terrible as she had considered it to be and, for a season, does not search for anything else.

5While on the surface it might appear that Oshinica has become the character she had the most difficulty with in the first novel : her mother, there are differences between the two homes. One of these is that Oshinica does not believe in being a vital link in the chain of tradition and feels comfortable in allowing it to break in certain ways. She wants her children to have a different life than she did. For example, in Oshinica’s house there are more economical means and more flexibility than what she found in her own childhood. In an interview, Nissán describes that freedom :

  • 8 (Vega 1)

El matrimonio fue la posibilidad que Oshinika [sic] encontró en ese momento [de su vida] para dar un paso hacia ser más libre. Si el matrimonio de la protagonista no le permitió ser ‘libre’, al menos se encontró otra jaula un poco más amplia y más manejable.8

6While her home may contain its restraints, they seem to be less than those she found in her own home. We see how Oshinica changes her own home space by permitting her children to be as they wish. Since there is more money, there are also more educational opportunities. She allows them to take the classes she could not. Their wealth even changes their geographical location within the city. They move away from their apartment building full of friends and close to family, into a home in a residential area.

  • 9 (Hisho 82)
  • 10 (Hisho 119)

7Though this change of space might have been viewed as upward mobility, ultimately this physical shifting affects Oshinica negatively. The protagonist’s center of attention narrows and begins to fixate to a certain extent on the relationship between the couple. This focus soon begins to find defects in the family home. The narrative evidences a complete lack of conversation between the couple. This appears to have existed even early on, though it was minimized by the contact with others their urban life afforded them. In the residential setting contact is reduced, a lack of unity and isolation belonging to each individual becomes sorely apparent. They do not share a life in the sense that lovers might, they only share physical space. For that same reason they are portrayed as not understanding each other and, as a consequence, they move in distinct directions. As an example of their lack of communication and comprehension, one only need consider the vacation they take to Las Vegas. As a part of their activities they go to an erotic show and afterwards Oshinica feels the urge to be intimate with her husband, but he cannot or does not perceive her desire as she does. When she is direct with him about them, Lalo rejects her. Oshinica then chooses to distance herself from him : “Me dio vergüenza y me acosté odiándolo, dándole la espalda y lejos muy lejos de él"9. By this point in the narrative, the entire tone of their marriage had changed as has the protagonist with regard to the domestic space. They do not go out and the routine that was the source of Oshinica’s happiness a few years earlier has begun to seem tedious. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there are fewer distracters in this new space. What begins to fill this void for the greater part of the family is the television. The protagonist begins to loath its effect on the family space : Están hipnotizados [Lalo y sus hijos], les acerco el desayuno y comen sin ver, sin saborear, sin sentir... se lo tragan. ¿Les gustó ? Les fastidian mis preguntas, están ocupados frente al televisor. Me voy al lago grande con mi chiquito para que maneje su coche, regreso y continúan en la misma posición : en pijama, greñudos, los platos sucios, el cenicero lleno.10

  • 11 (Hisho 137)

8Television places an obstacle between Oshinica and her family. It’s distracting influence is lessened for a time as she is able to find refuge in her youngest son, but eventually even he joins his father and sisters in their daily ritual of TV watching. The chasm between the two groups grows wider with time. As Oshinica is displaced by media technology she begins to resent it further : “Odio la tele, quisiera matarla, darle de machetazos. La odio más que a..., no sé".11 Bored in the private space, Oshinica turns to the public space in order to find meaningful interaction. It is then that she rediscovers school.

9At first Lalo does not seem to notice or be bothered that Oshinica goes to school since he does not realize her activities. She has been able to move back and forth unnoticed as she only attends once a week. The only difference Lalo sees is that she seems to be happier :

  • 12 (Hisho 78)

Esperé ansiosamente que fuera lunes otra vez para ir al Instituto. [...] Voy a invitar a mi hermana Clarita, a Beatriz, a todas mis amigas, tal vez se inscriben también. Llegué renovada, con ganas de hacer comida, de llevar a las niñas al parque, de bañarlas, de contarles cuentos. Amo a Lalo, a mis hijas, a Estela y a Felipa que me las cuidan, a mis hermanos, al Padre, a Beethoven, a bueno, los amo a todos. -Ora tú, ¿por qué tanto amor ? -pregunta Lalo asombrado porque lo abrazo y lo beso mil veces.12

10This new interaction in the public sphere offers Oshinica a fresh perspective on her life. She begins to participate in activities she envisioned for herself as a youth : to be married and to continue to study. It is worth mentioning that all the people Oshinica wants to invite to the institute are women. Perhaps she feels like they might be in the same situation as her and desires to suggest ways of adding to their life positively, or perhaps it is simply because the institute she attends is for women only (subtly underlining the not-so-hidden limits within her domestic environment that place limits on the protagonist). Oshinica tries to share this happiness with her family, especially with her husband. She tells Lalo he should take classes or find a hobby and tries to convince them to go on trips together and do other things that might help them grow together. Unfortunately, Lalo is not interested. Instead of bringing them closer, Oshinica’s efforts pull them further apart.

11One of the possible reasons Oshinica’s studies drive a wedge between the couple is because Lalo has a relatively low level of formal education. Oshinica’s studies seem to jeopardize his supposed superiority. Feeling threatened, he lashes out and begins to criticize her. Lalo is not the only person who criticizes Oshinica. Oshinica’s mother joins in again. She is still an opponent in Oshinica’s struggle to educate herself :

  • 13 (Hisho 90)

Mi mamá y Lalo me critican porque voy al Instituto. [...] ¡Qué escándalo ! Envidio a los esposos sin complejos a quienes les parece perfecto que sus mujeres se superen. [...] Lalo ya sabía que yo quería estudiar, no lo engañé ; lo que me animó a casarme con él fue que juró no oponerse, lo que pasó fue que me distrajo la emoción de ser la patrona, la mamá, la indispensable y también ese loco temor de hacerlo sentir menos. [...] se fueron pasando los años. Pero nunca se me olvidó.13

  • 14 (Hisho 147)
  • 15 (Hart 36)
  • 16 (Hisho 163)

12This change causes an increase in the negativity between them and reintroduces the theme of control in the novel once more. As Oshinica tries to become involved in the outside world, Lalo tries to tighten his grip on her. Oshinica, desperate, does not know what to do and one day confesses this to someone : “Me quiero divorciar, pero no sé cómo ganarme la vida. Sólo sé cuidar niños y ocuparme de la casa. Nunca he ganado un peso"14. Here we observe that when Oshinica feels suffocated by someone who wishes to exercise dominion over her, her reaction is to flee. She feels incarcerated but has no idea of a means of escape. Nissán is not the first person to underline this. L. Silva-Velázquez and Nora Erro-Orthman have pointed out that “the image of the prison, particularly in the context of an unhappy marriage, is a recurrent leitmotif of contemporary women’s writing in Latin America”15. This is exactly what has happened to Oshinica as the protagonist explains her predicament : “Me casé para ser más libre. No me imaginé que salía de una jaula para meterme a otra”16. Oshinica feels she needs to leave the domestic space in order to have more freedom, but is trapped in her home due to economic reasons. In these circumstances, the secrets so prevalent in the restrictive environment of the first novel enter her home. Her married home has converted into her former childhood home in some respects. Oshinica feels obliged to hide everything from her husband in order to keep peace in her home. Since Lalo does not approve of the majority of Oshinica’s activities, Oshinica lies to keep him from discovering the truth. On one occasion, while Oshinica is telling her doctor that she wants to become economically independent from Lalo, he suggests to her that she should become a photographer (one of her hobbies). This is how she initiates herself into the world of professional photography which offers her another foothold within the public sphere. Oshinica tries to start a business even without her husband’s approval. Her clandestine business helps her to gain her independence and becomes her biggest secret from Lalo :

  • 17 (Hisho 169)

Cuando llegué vi el coche de mi marido. ¡Chin ! ¿Y ahora qué hago ? Si me ve entrar con la cámara se va a poner negro, no quiere que retrate ajenos. Lo único que se me ocurrió fue guardar mi equipo en la casa de Chely la vecina. [...] ¿De dónde vienes ? -De casa de mi mamá mentí aterrada. Ante la avalancha de interrogatorios, no me quedó más remedio que envolverme en toda una maraña de mentiras.17

13Via lies or other forms of deceptions she attempts to gain some kind of independence. However, this is short lived as Oshinica decides to leave the family space as she divorces her husband. Here we see the protagonist rebelling against her family and other aspects of her culture. Her rejection of limits placed upon her in the private space push her to the public where she ultimately searches for a new identity.

14The most unique aspect of this rupture is how the family splits. Perhaps unexpectedly, all the children decide to live with their father when the parents separate. The narrative suggests that this could be owing to the value the immediate and extended family places on the material aspects of life persuading them to want to be with him (as he had these material possessions and possibilities). Another of the aspects we observe from this chapter is that in her fleeing of the private space of her home, Oshinica does not take refuge in the public but rather moves into another private space : that of her married home. While bending to the pressures of society Oshinica feels happy as she fulfills her responsibilities her culture has given her as a mother. However, with the change in home that economic prosperity has given her we observe that her new environment forces her to focus more on the private space of the home (whereas before she could be distracted by other people in the city and her extended family). Television fills the family’s void of human reaction. Ultimately, advice from the public space allows Oshinica to divorce and change her domestic space for another, yet the strong emphasis in the material found in her family seems to cause the protagonist to lose her children to her husband – who can give them more financial benefits. It is at this point that the character finds she is alone in an entirely new space : that of her new life as an independent adult. It is this phase of the narrative that begins its most active searching and questioning of identity and space.

Hisho que te nazca – in search of desired identity

15Oshinica’s father is one of the most noteworthy characters of Novia que te vea and Hisho que te nazca. Nissán includes several examples of fathers in both texts ; but the most developed example is the protagonist’s own father. He also is the one who most defies the male stereotype promoted within the narrative. Perhaps the most significant way in which Papá is different from other men in the narrative is the understanding and support he shows Oshinica, though he is careful not to break the community’s taboos openly. The protagonist draws strength from this character. Upon leaving her family Oshinica finds that all the spaces she inhabited (home, school, workplace, and sacred spaces) have now changed. The transition she has made from a married to a divorced woman has obliged her to leave behind friends, family, and community to a certain degree. For a time we see that, in her temporary return to the parental home, she finds herself free of the conflict that had arisen between herself and her spouse ; but she is also once again faced with the conservative rules of her parents.

  • 18 (Lipsitz 171) Additionally, perhaps it was this viewpoint that was used to justify Zelda’s cosmetic (...)

16We encounter that Oshinica’s father does more than what is expected to by his religion. Lipsitz offers a brief summary of them : “A father must provide for his daughter clothing and covering and must give her a dowry so that people may be anxious to woo her and so proceed to marriage”18. Even though he is not able to give his eldest daughter a dowry, Papá gives more than what is required in other aspects. One of the most important to the protagonist is his moral support of her.

17We see this defense of the character when she wishes to study and marry. The father is also the character seen to give the protagonist the most direct and selfless advice. One of Oshinica’s conflicts is her inability to comprehend the mentality of orthodox Jews. Her father teachers her tolerance :

  • 19 (Hisho 117)

Le hago señas desesperadas a mi papá para que venga a auxiliarme, él sí me entiende, siquiera tenemos un hombre en la familia que nos quiere. Ama tal vez a su madre con exageración y a nosotras, sus hijas, un poco menos, pero suficiente. -Es que son muy ortodoxos, entiéndelos, ven conmigo -me dice disculpándolos y tomándome la mano.19

18If the mother figure in the narrative appears to exhibit intolerance toward the Oshinica, it is the father who demonstrates understanding. In many ways this character reinforces the value of religion within the text as he does not ever overtly move against his belief system but rather he teaches Oshinica tolerance and acceptance of other ways of life and distinct interpretations of their religious law. This position of tolerance is one he also asks of others regarding his daughter Oshinica. Hence, for the narrative, this character is essential as he becomes one of the key guides of the protagonist and in this sense he helps the narrative to advance in different directions at key moments.

  • 20 This contradicts in some ways the affirmation made by Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez in her 2004 articl (...)

19One example of this was Oshinica’s thoughts to defy her husband. She speaks with him about her decision while her father with in a park in Mexico City and he gives her support, even if it is only obvious to the protagonist.20

  • 21 (Hisho 121-22)

En el Instituto organizaron un paseo a Paletique y a Catemaco. Aunque sin ninguna esperanza le dije a Lalo : -Quiero ir. No respondió, sólo me miró con odio. En Chapultepec, remando con mi papá, se lo comenté y a pesar de que él opina que la mujer tiene que obedecer al marido, así como si no dijera nada, murmuró : --¡Ve ! No estaba segura de si lo que tenía en la alcancía alcanzaba para el paseo y mi pa no se atrevió a ofrecer que lo pagaba, tal vez para que no lo acusaran de cómplice. No me puede apoyar abiertamente. Tampoco yo se lo pedí, pero se le iluminó su carita cuando comprobamos que las monedas que salieron del puerquito cubrían el costo.21

20This example also underlines that the father is careful not to openly support Oshinica in her rebellions against other patriarchal figures. The narrative evidences that the moral support is sufficient for the protagonist. She embarks on the trip and we see the protagonist change, becoming more confident in her defiance of the patriarchal order in her married home.

21Another factor that underlines the importance of the father in the narrative is evidenced by an oneiric element within the novels. In a re-occurring dream Oshinica feels supported by her father. The dream stems from an event in real life during which Oshinica found a beautiful butterfly trapped in a spider’s web. In that moment, captivated by its unique beauty and situation, all she does is take a picture and then leave. Later her conscience torments her because she did not free the butterfly. There is of course an obvious parallel between Oshinica and the butterfly. The narrative suggests that she is also caught in a web and cannot free herself. The simplicity of this narrative technique underlines its message. Hisho que te nazca concludes as a narrative when Oshinica has escaped the web (visualized by the text as marriage) in which she was entangled and begins to live her life as an independent individual. When this occurs the dream changes in a way that is significant :

  • 22 (Hisho 280-81)

La mariposa me imploró desde mi sueño. La tengo que encontrar. Sé que habrá muchas, en tiempo de lluvia el rocío brilla aperlado en su red y es fácil descubrirlas porque cuando está amaneciendo están iluminadas. Me meto entre las piedras lodosas mientras mi papá feliz corta nopales, aunque otra vez se le olvidó el cuchillo, no sé cómo no se espina. Un haz luminoso se cuela y atraviesa los árboles del bosque. Precisamente ahí, veo dibujada en todo su esplendor una bellísima tela de araña con un diámetro de casi medio metro. Una mariposa monarca está orillada del lado izquierdo de la tela. Siempre cae la ingenuidad distraída de alguna mariposa. Me acerco a ver a la carcelera. ¿La mataré ? ¿Y si me muerde ? No me iré sin ayudarla. ¿Y si la rescato y se deja atrapar en otro lado ? Será porque ella así lo quiere.
-¡Papá ! ¿Crees que si trato de salvar a la mariposa, la araña me muerda ? ¿Cómo le hago ? Con la agilidad que le es característica, mi pa se mete entre las piedras y llega hasta donde estoy ; la mariposa aleta desesperada.
-Sí la vas a poder salvar, si estuviera ya en el medio estaría más difícil, amá está en un extremo. Desha ver qué tipo de araña es, porque si es capulina, muerden, tiene la panza dibushada una especie de moñico naranja o rosho.
-¡No te le acerques papá, se puede descolgar !
[...] -¡Me da miedo ![dice Oshinica]
-Buena boba. Dame el palico para detenerte a la araña mientras tomas a tu mariposa. Si tantos batires te vienen, déshala, otro cudiado no tengo que meterme en belás. Tómala de las dos alicas. Ya está bueno, Oshinica, no mos vamos a quedar demañanada en esto. El bosque está a reventar de mariposas atrapadas. ¡Hay miles !
-No puedo dejarla papá. Sólo a ésta porque me llamó. Las mariposas no tienen fuerza para liberarse. ¡Ya !, ¡ya la tomé !
-¡Ahi sóltala ! Desha que se escape. Escolaremos. Hasta que vamos a abashar, se va a hacer tadre.
-¡Clarita ! Mírala, se fue, mírala volar. ¡Está libre ! ¡Libreee ! Ojalá se fije por donde vuela.22

  • 23 One example of this is the paternal grandfather who uses it in dialogue in the first novel.
  • 24 (Gardner 2003)
  • 25 This is a point Nathanial Gardner expands upon further in his study of Nissán’s novels in Through t (...)

22The symbolism from this long passage is obvious. This particular butterfly is Oshinica. On the one hand she incorporates important Mexican elements within the dream. She uses the migrating Monarch butterfly in order to underline the Mexican element of her character (her family has migrated to Mexico just as this species of butterfly does every year) – just as she underlines her father undertaking the very Mexican activity of cutting nopales in the dream, underlining Mexico’s influence on the father’s behavior. The dream contains other symbolic aspects to it. There are many other butterflies trapped in the forest which are meant to represent other women in similar circumstances. In this case we observe that the father’s assistance is key. He keeps the spider at bay, thus allowing Oshinica to free herself and encouraging her not to be scared as she frees the butterfly, explaining to his daughter how to proceed. The parallel and the narrative’s corresponding advice to its readers could not be clearer. Another noteworthy element of this dream is the use of Ladino by the father in the dialogue. When one analyzes both of Nissán’s first two novels it becomes obvious that people of non-Sephardic origin speak the language. Of course, Oshinica comments at one point in the second novel that if her father uses Ladino, it is due to the mother’s linguistic influence on him. However, on other occasions she creates other Jews who are not related to the Sephardic community which speak this language as well23. When enquired as to why she had done so she responded that it had been by mistake, that now she would change those errors if she could ; but that she had become so enthusiastic with the use of Ladino in her text that she ‘quería poner a todos a hablar Ladino’24. This particular use of this language in the dream sequence is important to identify as it underlines a characteristic of the author’s particular use of the language : it is often used in situations of intimacy or emotionally charged circumstances25. Hence, its presence in this passage emphasizes both the close relationship between the two characters as well as the high level of emotions between them at that moment.

  • 26 (Hyman 188)

23Nonetheless, returning to the subject of private space in the narrative, it is Oshinica’s rejection of the notion that “The woman is the guardian angel of the house ; [...] her religiosity, her virtues, are a living example for the children whom she has constantly under her eyes [...] Man exists for public life, woman for domestic life” that causes the protagonist to withdraw from her own family as they want her to fulfill what are viewed to be her duties26. The husband insists his wife takes exclusive care of the domestic. However, upon returning to education, she does not fulfill the female stereotype her husband and community desire for her. When they are unable to create a compromise that would allow the protagonist to participate within the public arena as well, Oshinica’s character takes the decision to move in a different direction than she did when presented with greater conflict as a youth : she separates from her husband. Even so, the narrative demonstrates to the reader that it is not anti-family but rather views Oshinica’s divorce as a natural consequence of what it considers an excessively restrictive environment :

  • 27 (Hisho 256)

-Dime, Oshinica, ¿no te has arrepentido de haberte divorciado ?
-No es que esté enloquecidamente feliz, pero no tuve otro remedio, en casa me estaba marchitando ; si él hubiera sido más flexible yo seguiría casada, ya ves al esposo de Anette, también le ha costado trabajo aceptar que su mujer tiene otra cosa además de sus hijos y su marido, pero ha sido más inteligente y ahí la llevan, no han tenido que desangrar a su familia como nosotros.27

24Given the portrayal of the supportive father of Oshinica, and the comments about Lalo it would be incorrect to argue that Nissán’s works wrote against the institution of the family or men in general. It is the perceived inflexibility of the systems in the homes in which she has lived that has caused her the most difficulty. It is in her attempt to create a solution for herself that the protagonist leaves the domestic space in search of a new one in the public realm that will offer her what she procures.

  • 28 (131)
  • 29 (137)
  • 30 (Parati 146)

25Graziella Parati’s Gynealogies : Rewriting Public History and Private Stories writes that in many societies women are obligated to stay inside the home while men are allowed to move throughout the public sphere while at the same time, the “father’s voice is privileged in the private sphere just as it is in the public”28. Oshinica’s family mirrors this notion. Parati describes this societal construction as paternal and explains that if women want to be able to participate in the public sphere they have to break what she describes as “the patriarchal chain”29. Parati also has a theory that describes how Oshinica is able to sever the patriarchal chain and leave her role as homemaker to move into the public sphere. This theory, the theory of imperfection, consists of “the idea of imperfectness that transgresses their roles, is what allow women to leave the private sphere and enter into the public sphere”30. In other words, it is by women breaking the traditional role (or performing it imperfectly) that society assigns them that allows them to free themselves of the restraints society places on them. This would explain Oshinica rebelling against what are seen to be her assigned duties. This action creates conflict and ultimately results in the dissolution of her marriage and her ejection from the private space into the public.

  • 31 (125)
  • 32 (111)

26When Oshinica decides abandon her married home and enter the public sphere, she is also breaking the image of the woman who is an “angel of the house” Hyman described earlier in this chapter. Much of the second novel focuses on the changes to Oshinica’s life and her relationship with her family once she rejects her role in the home. The result is a situation that Hanna Scolnicov has explained with clarity : “Woman’s refusal to accept her traditional role as home-maker is the obstruction that brings the customary flow of life to a grinding halt [...]”31. Scolnicov further argues a home can be destroyed by the women’s refusal “to accept traditional roles as women and home-makers”32. This is what occurs. Since Oshinica does not attempt to return to the role her husband and children assume is hers, they soon reject her. Unlike the norm in many parts of western society, the children decide to remain with their father when the marriage breaks down. While the narrative suggests that the children do this for their own economic benefit (and this would follow a certain pattern previously established within the novel) it does leave us to consider the reasons the children do this. The protagonist portrays herself as a figure that deals justly with others but does not receive equal treatment from others, especially from her own family. On the whole, the narrative is designed to convince the reader to show empathy for Oshinica ; however, this seems to present an uncomfortable truth. Are the protagonist’s children really such economically-centered individuals or are there other implied and non-narrated factors ? Why have the children left the mother ? Are they really as egocentric as the narrator suggests ? Possible answers lie in how the narrative advances after the point of their separation.

27As a result of the loss of her family we see that the protagonist is launched into the public sphere. The end result is not pure bliss or victory as she both wins her ability to be the owner of her time but it comes at the loss of her children and husband. However, this situation has created a new Oshinica, one that (free from children and husband) is able to easily move within the public space ; and, from this moment forward, the narrative focuses most strongly on this exploration of public space and the forging of a new identity. Oshinica will learn what is like to be a single and divorced Jewish woman in the Mexican capital. The absence of her children within the storyline actually makes the journey of exploration and discovery more streamlined as there are less characters and the narrative is able to focus more strongly on the protagonist.

The entrance to the public

  • 33 (Hisho 154)

28Upon moving into the public sphere Oshinica’s life changes noticeable, the people with whom she associates and the places she visits are quite distinct. At first she lives with her parents. However, life with them is not unlike the control they exercised over her as a youth, so she soon leaves : “[...] no, si me voy a divorciar es para hacer lo que me gusta, si no, mejor casada,33. This non-compromising attitude characterizes the divorced Oshinica. She places her needs and wants first, thus showing a more self-centered nature than in the past.

29Later Oshinica is able to buy an apartment in Mexico City. This is her first real space where she determines how the domestic space will be governed. At first her children live with her, but later, they leave. They appear to search for the control provided by the father. One of the greatest differences between Oshinica’s home and her husband’s is that the children are allowed even more flexibility and liberty than in her married home. What Oshinica desired so much as a youth, her children appear to resent. This causes problems in her home :

  • 34 (Hisho 251)

[...] la relación con ellos se ha vuelto difícil, se sienten tan apoyados por el papá que no me obedecen. Los maneja a control remoto ; habla a la casa. A mí no me interesa tenerlos vigilados, que sean felices, que disfruten, tanta disciplina es un horror, pero a ellos, que su papá los vigile les hace sentir que los quiera más que yo, y esa idea nadie se las quita de la cabeza. Si quieren ser cuidados así, está bien, que se vayan con él, no me interesa vivir con tantos frenos, luego para quitármelos está canijo. En vez de ir a donde arreglen frenos, mejor a donde desarreglen, me está costando más liberarme de eso que el trabajo que les costó a mis papás estrangulamos la existencia cuando fuimos de ellos. Si se van, pienso ir muy feliz a pasearlos los domingos, cómo él lo hace ahora y me van a querer más. Tal vez... o tal vez me lleve otra sorpresa.34

30The narrative demonstrates that as the new Oshinica strives to create the utopia she desired for herself, her wants are not necessarily those of her own children. They desire a traditional mother with rules as she attempts to deregulate everything. Ultimately, the reader will find that this deregulated space is one that she will inhabit alone. The children find security in the system her mother rejects. The text suggests that Oshinica’s desires are more personal than universal. The children’s contradiction of their mother makes this character appear more unique, although not necessarily correct. Eventually the children side with their father in his new apartment with all of the modern conveniences it contains. This unusual result indicates that Oshinica’s perspective is uncomfortable to her children. Lalo has more economic means, commodities, and stability that appear to lure the children away. While the narrative seems to portray the characters as individuals who are strongly influenced by financial stability and robustness, in the end, the children become dissatisfied with the material benefits of their father even if they do not leave him :

  • 35 (Hisho 279)

Daniela trabaja de ama de casa como loca porque sus hermanas todavía no regresan. A ellas sí no las convenció la idea de irse con su papá. Sabían que tendrían que tomar las riendas de las casa y prolongaron su estancia en el kibutz. No se rehusaron abiertamente, tontas no son. Ya están casi acomodadas en su depa. Su papá les da órdenes, y entre que se va al negocio y la galana, los tiene muy entretenidos.35

31As the protagonist now observes as an outsider the new domestic space her husband has created, she draws conclusions about it. The cycle appears to continue with different characters that play the same roles. The daughters are made to assume the one the mother rejected. They too show a little resistance but not to the same degree Oshinica did, perhaps this is because of parental authority, or perhaps it is because they know they too will leave home with time as they mature.

32However, Oshinca’s private space that has been created according to her own desires fails to attract others. This is a dismal situation for Oshinica. At this point, she feels like her life has lost part of its purpose. Her actions, up to this point, have fulfilled her selfish wants, but have not brought her the results she expected. Even so, she decides to continue forward alone. She does this even against the advice of others :

  • 36 (Hisho 248)

-Y tú, Oshinica, ¿no piensas rehacer tu vida ? -pregunta Lucilla.
-La estoy rehaciendo, precisamente para eso me divorcié.
-Me refiero a que si no piensas casarte -dice impaciente.
-No sé si encuentre a un hombre que me deje puertas y ventanas abiertas para salir cuando sienta que me ahogo... La verdad, nadie me lo ha pedido, pero por ahora no me muero de ganas.
-Pues más vale que te apures, más grande te costará trabajo, no te pases de cuarenta y cinco años. No es buena la soledad, y más cuando te haces viesha.36

33The suggestion above by the narrative is that private space is only worthy if it is shared with another. However Oshinica is hesitant to subscribe to this notion completely. She has her own plan that many others do not seem to understand or accept. The new character seems less concerned by being accepted by her family, friends, or community. She begins to open up to wider thoughts and ideas that are found outside her previous circles. She begins to subscribe to the notion that she will always come first. However, this will result in her character being further subalternized.

  • 37 (Hisho 201)

34One of the other reasons Oshinica rejects remarriage is because she realizes her mother has programmed her to be subservient to men : “¿Obedecer a los hombres es ya mi segunda naturaleza ? Por eso y por otras razones, no me alborota la idea de casarme”37. As she reflects on herself as an adult she begins to blame much of her behavior in both the private and public on her conditioning that her mother gave to her. Oshinica argues that others have programmed her to please men and obey their desires to the point that she and her desires become secondary. For this reason the character opts to create and inhabit a new private space that will be used by her alone and this move appears to further isolate the character from her community and to interact with mainstream Mexico in the public space.

  • 38 (Hisho 185)
  • 39 (Hisho 186)

35We observe that, sentimentally speaking, Oshinica eschews relationships and this causes her to establish brief relationships with distinct men. While this does prevent celibacy, it only proves to marginalize the character further. She transgresses her religious norm that had exerted a strong controlling force on her. The experience appears to offer her a source of momentary physical pleasure, but at the same time seems to harvest no lasting benefit. The protagonist plays a part in an encounter, and she is then abandoned. Her most significant lover is a younger man named Victor. Oshinica describes this relationship : “[...] ‘un nuevo amor... un nuevo oleaje.’ ¡Un nuevo oleaje en mi vida ! ¡Qué maravilla !"38. At first this new type of relationship appears exciting, but they all soon leave her bereft of companionship. Love lasts ‘lo que dure’39. While the character says she does not worry about taboos and rejects being subject to them, the newer sentimental marginalization the character lives becomes openly apparent.

36As the character continues to explore the public space, Oshinica begins further delving into that area of it which is not related to her religion. Though the protagonist never breaks away from her Jewish community completely, nor does she appear to wish to be fully detached from her roots.

37The greatest source of her new contacts on the public is her writers’ workshop. Oshinica meets people from other countries and backgrounds and realizes that she has missed a lot of what Mexico City and her country offer :

  • 40 (Hisho 228)

¿ Cómo es que nunca conocí este mundo tan cercano al D.F. ? Parezco extranjera en mi país. Por estar con los ojos tan clavados en un solo árbol, no vi el bosque. ¿ Viví acaso viendo con lupa y por eso no vi el mundo ? Qué rico es dejar la lentilla de acercamiento y abrir el panorama, ver el Tepozteco que nos envuelve. Esta tierra, este país, es mucho más grande que el punto en el que tenía fija la mirada, atrincherada en mi puestecito. En el taller abrí la puerta de un espacio que tiene otra puerta y más adelante otra y otra, y cada una me lleva a un mundo más y más vasto.40

  • 41 The fact that she uses a photographic metaphor in order to explain her expanding vision of the worl (...)

38The image of Oshinica staring at one tree (which represents her specific upbringing) that keeps her from seeing the forest (the mainstream and the multicultural Mexico) clearly expresses the degree to which she feels she has been sheltered41. She also mentions being at only one stand in the market – the market metaphor could be interpreted as suggesting that perhaps this one stand was her father’s stand, one of the few Jewish ones in the much larger and varied market in La Lagunilla. Like the young Oshinica who went to the huge market and only focused on her father’s stall amongst a sea of variety, with this new experience in the public space the protagonist now begins to observe the wider Mexico to be found around her. It is at this time in the literary workshop that we observe the important incorporation of another female figure who exercises a strong influence over this character : Elena Poniatowska.

39If previously Oshinica’s character had been limited to moving within the private space or the public spaces related specifically to her religious community – it was mostly the mother and a few close relatives who guided her in these spaces. Upon the protagonist’s rejection of and departure from this assigned domestic space and the responsibilities allocated to it, she rejects the traditional models in the creation of her new home space and searches for patterns to follow as she explores public life. As the women from her family circle in the narrative do not participate actively in this space, Oshinica finds herself observing other women and adopting their life patterns into hers. The one who has the strongest influence in this text is Elena Poniatowska.

  • 42 Two examples of her collaboration with her teacher are Nissán helping directly to write the book Na (...)

40The inclusion of Elena Poniatowska is one of the ways in which we can see how this narrative is a fictional autobiography. The author Rosa Nissán has been friends with Elenita (as she calls her) for decades. They have travelled together, worked together on writing projects,42 and interacted socially. As I mentioned earlier, Poniatowska was also directly instrumental in the publication of her first novel. Hence, as the biographically-based novel narrates Oshinica’s initiation into the world of writing we are able to observe the character’s appreciation of her teacher.

  • 43 The only other fictional representation of the writer at present, Serna’s supposed representation o (...)

41Unlike the character Palmira Jackson portrayed in Enrique Serna’s Miedo a los animales who is said to be based on Elena Poniatowska,43 this character is not viewed as a public figure but rather as a close friend. Oshinica admires her teacher’s work ethic, her enthusiasm, her world vision, and her love of teaching and culture. Perhaps the element for which the protagonist is most grateful to Elena Poniatowska is her teaching her how to be a writer.

42It is then as the character begins to reassign the main space in which she works to the public space, that the character finds herself attracted to the cultural side of Mexico and desires to work in photography and writing. As a figure who had direct contact with both artistic worlds, it is natural that Oshinica adopts Elena Poniatowska a role model. The protagonist begins to share the infectious love of Mexican culture that Poniatowska exhibits in her work. The character, in turn, uses this new female role model as guide to help her professionally and personally.

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1 (37)

2 (37)

3 (Hisho 13)

4 (Hisho 21)

5 (Hisho 69)

6 (Hisho 70)

7 (Hisho 64)

8 (Vega 1)

9 (Hisho 82)

10 (Hisho 119)

11 (Hisho 137)

12 (Hisho 78)

13 (Hisho 90)

14 (Hisho 147)

15 (Hart 36)

16 (Hisho 163)

17 (Hisho 169)

18 (Lipsitz 171) Additionally, perhaps it was this viewpoint that was used to justify Zelda’s cosmetic surgery.

19 (Hisho 117)

20 This contradicts in some ways the affirmation made by Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez in her 2004 article that the father allows rebellion when the protagonist is young but becomes conservative as Oshinica becomes an adult.

21 (Hisho 121-22)

22 (Hisho 280-81)

23 One example of this is the paternal grandfather who uses it in dialogue in the first novel.

24 (Gardner 2003)

25 This is a point Nathanial Gardner expands upon further in his study of Nissán’s novels in Through their eyes.

26 (Hyman 188)

27 (Hisho 256)

28 (131)

29 (137)

30 (Parati 146)

31 (125)

32 (111)

33 (Hisho 154)

34 (Hisho 251)

35 (Hisho 279)

36 (Hisho 248)

37 (Hisho 201)

38 (Hisho 185)

39 (Hisho 186)

40 (Hisho 228)

41 The fact that she uses a photographic metaphor in order to explain her expanding vision of the world is also telling of the grown influence of this medium in her life.

42 Two examples of her collaboration with her teacher are Nissán helping directly to write the book Nada, Nadie; las voces del temblor, and Nissán’s inclusion in the acknowledgements of Ponistowska’s novel Tinísima.

43 The only other fictional representation of the writer at present, Serna’s supposed representation of the writer does not always positive of the writer, creating quite a contrasting view of the two fictional representations of this real person.

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Référence électronique

Nathanial Eli Gardner, « Being Mexican : Identity, Location, and Rosa Nissán(III) »Amerika [En ligne], 10 | 2014, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2014, consulté le 07 avril 2020. URL :; DOI:

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