Friday, August 30, 2019

The Ex-Mexican Wives Club: A Club of Eleven


The leaves on the redbud outside my window show the first signs of autumn as they make the gradual transition from pale green to translucent yellow. A summer of remodeling ends with new floors and bathroom tile, a main floor bedroom with French doors to the backyard, as well as all the unseen work of electrical, plumbing and heating upgrades.

It has been a summer of few outdoor activities such as cycling and hiking, backpacking and car camping. Even writing has been limited – only three blog posts since remodeling began in May. Still, I’m happy to share that The Ex-Mexican Wives Club is now in the very capable hands of Adam Bodendieck, layout designer, and Loretta Matson, cover designer. If all proceeds as planned, you’ll be able to add it to your holiday gift list!

This third memoir tells the story of my years as an undocumented worker in Mexico at a time when crossing the border for citizens of either nation was as easy as crossing state lines. It is a tale of people and place, culture and politics that no longer exist. Early readers have said it’s my best work yet. I’m excited to share it with you.

Here is the Author’s Note that opens The Ex-Mexican Wives Club:

Odd how only a brief period of time, just five or six years, can have a prolonged effect. How it can feel that it must have been longer, a decade or two at least.

In my mid-twenties to early thirties I was an undocumented immigrant working illegally in a cash-based economy. I was an expatriate in Mexico City from January 1979 until July 1984. For decades, vivid memories of sights, smells, and sounds of Mexico have filled my dreams and surfaced when least expected or desired during waking hours. For decades, I pushed those memories away, refused to speak the language I’d once mastered, intent on being – becoming – a normal, middle-class, American wife and mother, while having little idea what that meant. For decades, no matter how deeply I buried the arts and crafts, the paintings and books, the photographs and letters in the depths of the attic, the memories and questions remained. Who was that young woman who went off on her own determined to build a life for herself in Mexico? Why did she go and what brought her back? What is her relationship to the me I have become over the intervening decades?

The death of a dear friend, a friend with whom I’d shared my Mexico years, a friend who could no longer tell her story, led me to open that box of memory, a Pandora’s box of memory, and write the memoir you now hold in your hands. I tell the story through narrative as well as emails and Facebook messages, letters and journal entries dating back to the late 1970s. I include these original documents with no editing. All misspellings and grammatical mistakes in both English and Spanish are found in the original documents. The variations in how I recorded the date of each entry reflect my adaptation to the practice of placing day before month and the use of Roman Numerals. Where the original documents are in Spanish, I have either explained the meaning in the body of the narrative or added a translation in the End Notes. Given that my Spanish was that of a language learner, at times I translate my intentions rather than actual word usage. Dialogue is reconstructed from memory. I’ve altered or omitted names for stylistic purposes or to protect the privacy of those who might prefer such things.

The title of this memoir comes from a casual comment on a spring day in Hereford, England, during one of my rare visits. Judi was telling her friend Tracey of the conversation we’d had in London only days before with our friend Leandra, who much like Judi and me, had once lived in Mexico and been married to a Mexican man.

“We shall write a story of all our adventures,” Judi said. “The three of us together, each telling her part.”

“Yes! And you shall call it The Ex-Mexican Wives Club.” Tracey said.

The original club members Tracey referred to on that brilliant afternoon in 2010 were Judi, Leandra, and me. But as I began writing this memoir, I became increasingly aware of the importance of a number of other women who were an integral part of my life in Mexico City, and I realized they were honorary members of the “club” whether or not they’d ever married or divorced Mexican men. These women include Cathy, Katrin, Karen, and Julie – the California contingent. Evelia and Rosa Esther – the Mexican women. Bev from Pennsylvania and Sylvie from France. A club of eleven including myself.

Memory is a fickle beast, especially forty-year-old memories. I tell this story of my lost years to the best of my ability, a story placed at a time in Mexican history referred to as La D├ęcada Perdida, The Lost Decade. In the process of exploring these memories, I have had the joy of reconnecting with most of these women I once knew in Mexico City. I am grateful to each of them for their willingness to swap memories, for their encouragement, and for much-needed reality checks as I pieced together a story that took place in a world that no longer exists. A world changed by time and technology, by political and socioeconomic trends. I write a personal history of a normal life, a life of tedium and tragedy, of joy and loss, a story that is both universal and utterly unique in the manner of all personal stories.

2 comments:

Nancy McBride said...

As you know I've loved your Alki Trilogy, especially for the characters, and the book about your Mother, for its touching honesty.
With those in the back of my mind, I so look forward to delving into this one. I know your characters will be rich and tangible, and the story will connect to bits of our own lives as we readers naturally recall our own journeys along the way.

mary rowen said...

This sounds terrific, Arleen! I'm very much looking forward to it!