In Rosario Castellanos's short story "Modesta Gómez," we see how a girl named Modesta with bright dreams for the future has them destroyed first by a wealthy family and then by her working-class husband. Destitute and desperate, she becomes an "ambusher" (atajadora), someone who preys on a lower class – the "Indians". These women attack the darker-skinned indigenous people on their way to market, beat them until they give up their goods, and then, as if to justify themselves, hand over a few coins as "payment."

Racial dynamics certainly are a key theme in the story, but normally when I think of racism, I think of unfairly discriminating against someone because of their skin color, or taking advantage of someone's low social standing for one's own gain. Modesta Gómez's actions can certainly be characterized that way, but she goes even further – as she is assaulting an young indigenous woman in order to take her wool blanket, she yells:

You damn Indian! Now you're going to pay me for everything!

¡India desgraciada, me lo tenés que pagar todo junto!

I don't understand why Modesta is demanding payment – recompense? – from the girl. Nowhere in the story do indigenous people persecute her in any way. Yet it seems as if she is here blaming them for the crimes perpetuated against her by the wealthy and middle class.

Given that this line marks the climax of the story, I'm sure it's essential to the author's point. Why does Rosario Castellanos have her protagonist demanding payment from the "Indian" girl?


English quotation from The Mexico Reader (2002), 552. Spanish from Ciudad Real.

up vote 12 down vote accepted
+50

Brenci Patiño makes the point that the two women, Modesta and the indigenous woman, are "pitted against each other" by the social structure around them. They "share similar experiences of oppression," but must fight each other for survival.

Modesta, as a servant to a wealthy family, was abused and made to live in fear. So the specific incident, in which Modesta demands payment from the indigenous woman, Patiño attributes to the replicative power of societal norms:

In the case of Modesta, her reaction towards her indigenous counterpart shows how societal norms have made her replicate the structure of power that she learned from her former patrona [master].

Monique Sarfati-Arnaud similarly argues that the story, and this particular aspect, communicates the irresistibility of the power structure of society:

The mentality of the dominant class permeates the entire social scale in such a way that, ironically and sadly, even those who are exploited like Modesta for being at the bottom of the scale end up being exploiters of others (in a very limited and absurd way, clearly, but not therefore less ferocious and categorical), exploiters of those few who are even lower [on the social scale].

la mentalidad de la clase dominante permea toda la escala social de forma que, irónica y tristemente, incluso aquellos que son explotados como Modesta por pertenecer a la base de la escala terminan por ser explotadores de otros (de una forma muy limitada e irrisoria, claro está, pero no por ello menos feroz y terminante), explotadores de aquellos pocos que están aún más abajo.


  • 1
    Great answer (one of the best on this site so far). I would just add that the following quote by historian Cornel West is very applicable to this answer: “Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be 'white'--they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity.” – user111 Jan 31 '17 at 0:38

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