In Dolor y Alegría (Sorrow and Joy), fifteen mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca speak about the dramatic effects that urbanization and rapid social change have had on their lives. Sarah LeVine deftly combines these autobiographical vignettes with ethnographic material, survey findings, and her own observations. The result is a vivid picture of contrast and continuity.
While many earlier publications have focused on the poor of Latin America who live at the margins of urban life, Dolor y Alegría explores the experiences of ordinary working and lower-middle class women, most of them transplants from villages and small towns to a densely populated city neighborhood. In their early years, many experienced family disruption, emotional deprivation, and economic hardship; but steadily increasing educational opportunities, improved health care, and easily available contraception have significantly altered how the younger women relate to their families and the larger society.
Today’s Mexican schoolgirl, LeVine shows, is encouraged to apply herself to her studies for her own benefit, and the longer she remains in school, the greater the self-confidence she will carry with her into the world of work and later into marriage and motherhood. Hard economic times have forced many married women into the workplace where their sense of personal efficacy is enhanced; at the same time, in the domestic sphere, their earnings allow them greater negotiating power with husbands and male relatives. Changes are not confined to the younger generation. Older women are enjoying better health and living longer; but with adult children either less able or willing to accept responsibility for aged parents than they were in the past, anxiety runs high and family relations are often strained.
Dolor y Alegría takes a close look at the efforts of three generations of Mexican women to redefine themselves in both family and workplace; it shows that today’s young woman has very different expectations of herself and others from those that her grandmother or even her mother had.