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Rise Up: The Hummingbird’s Daughter Glistens with Grace and Grit

Urrea, Luis Alberto. (2005). The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Little, Brown & Company.


Numerous authors have written about Teresita Urrea, the real-life mystical healer who rose to spiritual and political prominence in pre-revolutionary Mexico. But none has matched Luis Alberto Urrea’s literary mastery in delivering a work of fictional prose drenched with class conflict, racial complexities and historical drama. The author, a grandnephew of the famed “Saint of Cabora” -- as Teresita’s followers coronated her -- meticulously researched family history and penned an epic tale of late 19th-century life under Porfirio Díaz. Mixing lush period detail with heady ideas of current resonance, The Hummingbird’s Daughter pays homage to the power of women and indigeneity, a sensibility that spilled into the consciousness of Mexico’s diverse citizenry and planted the seeds for the Mexican Revolution.

Born in 1873 in Sinaloa to Cayetana Chávez, an Indian teen locally known as the “Hummingbird,” and to Don Tomás Urrea, a wealthy landowner, Teresita catapults to fame by the time she reaches early adulthood. Huila, the Yaqui healer who brings her into the world, knows Teresita is no ordinary infant from the red triangle that marks her forehead. She trains her protégé in the healing arts of herbalism and prophetic dreaming. Soon Don Tomás discovers that Teresita is his daughter and takes her into his home, where she learns the “white ways.” The relationship between father and daughter is a transcendent, reciprocal relationship of respect and one through which the patriarch becomes transformed into an unlikely hero and ally to the Indians.

At 16, Teresita becomes the archetype for Joseph Campbell’s contextualization of the hero’s journey: She is raped, then dies and is resurrected during her funeral service – much to the surprise of all. Her rebirth comes with new mystical abilities, and she becomes a curandera who is widely sought for her expansive compassion, spiritual healings and sage advice. Don Tomás, wary of the current leadership, supports an alternative leader, subjecting himself and those around him to an uncertain fate. As Terisita matures as an insurgent, she proclaims that “everything the government does is morally wrong.” She is so beloved by the people that Díaz and his men cannot kill her; instead they exile the family to the United States.

A short review cannot do this book justice. From a colorful cast of characters who illuminate the Mexican landscape with their dreams and sorrows to the author’s family portraiture framed against sweeping historic events, this poetic masterpiece captures the turbulence and promise of Mexico’s past with a fervor only a literary genius can pull off.Long after the last page is read, readers will pine for a Teresita to save us from real-life contemporary ruin. We need a feminist icon to lead us out of the liminal space we seem to reside in and into a future with possibility.

Book review by: Charmaine Crockett, NHCC Book Club Member

Available in the NHCC Library:

PS3571 .R74H86 2005

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