Saturday, July 26, 2008

44. The Hummingbird's Daughter

by Luis Alberto Urrea

This is a fictionalized biography of a real person, the author's great aunt, Teresa Urrea (1873-1906), otherwise known as the Saint of Cabora, Mexico. It follows the period from her illegitimate birth to Cayetana Chavez, a Tehueco Indian otherwise known as "The Hummingbird," who was impregnated by her employer, wealthy rancher Tomas Urrea. Teresa is eventually recognized by Tomas and becomes part of his family. After a near-death experience, she develops healing powers and a following that threatens the dictator of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz. The book ends when she and her father are deported to the United States in 1892.

Naturally I wanted to know what happened after that, and I found additional information, both in books and online, including Luis Urrea's website. Other sources were The Handbook of Texas Online, an article in the 1892 New York Times, and the following sources:, and

The whole story was fascinating, but I actually thought Tomas Urrea was more interesting than his daughter - he was such a dashing reprobate!

Some reviewers have criticized this book for its use of untranslated Spanish. I didn't have a problem with this, perhaps because after eight years of Spanish from grades 5-12, I understood most of it (a lot was cuss words), or I could figure out the meaning from the context. This code-switching is actually quite common among Latino writers.

This book seems to be similar to some of those by Isabel Allende, especially The House of the Spirits, and Rudolfo Anaya, especially Bless Me, Ultima. There is even a tribute to Urrea's friend Anaya (and another famous person*) on page 307 of the edition I read of the book, in a scene where young men and women stroll in the plaza:

A young rustler visiting from Chihuahua (actually, he was hiding from the Rurales) named Doroteo Arango* said, "I would trade nine horses, ten cows, and a bag of gold for one kiss of your lips!"...

Teresita called all these boys "Pancho," for she didn't know who some of them were, and "Pancho" seemed funny...

"Gracias, Pancho!" she called back to Doroteo Arango.

He tipped his hat.

Rudolfo Anaya the First, on a horse-buying trip from the far Llano Estacado, said, "The kachinas have blessed you, Teresa."

She turned and walked backward and watched him circulate into the gloom.

"Gracias, Pancho."

Fina [Felix, Teresita's friend] laughed.

"What a cute boy," Teresita said.

"They're all cute boys!" Fina Felix enthused.

"Well, that is one Pancho I would like to see again!"

Teresita watched for Anaya as she came around the circle, but he seemed to have vanished.

[*Doroteo Arango, aka Pancho Villa, who was later the political/military leader of the Northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Anaya was born in Pastura, New Mexico, a small village located on the western edge of the Llano Estacado (the Staked Plains), located in eastern New Mexico and West Texas.]

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