Clemencia explains that her mother has always told her to never marry a Mexican. Having taken this to heart, she says, “I’ll never marry. Not any man. I’ve known men too intimately. I’ve witnessed their infidelities, and I’ve helped them to it.” Although she used to want nothing more than to “belong” to a man, now she simply “borrow[s]” other women’s husbands. And given her mother’s advice, it’s even less likely that she’ll ever marry a Mexican man than it is that she’d marry a non-Mexican man. She posits that her mother instilled this value in her as a way of “spar[ing]” her and her sister Ximena “the pain she went through” after marrying a Mexican man when she was seventeen. Because her mother was born in the US, her husband’s family was suspicious of her and felt that their son was marrying “down” by marrying her.
Prejudices abound in the opening of “Never Marry a Mexican,” especially as Clemencia describes her mother’s advice and its origins, which take root in a the concept of marrying “down.” This is an inherently classist notion, as Clemencia’s paternal grandparents seem to have believed that anybody of mixed heritage—that is, somebody who isn’t fully Mexican—deserves less respect than somebody whose familial lineage remains firmly planted in one culture.
Clemencia thinks of herself as “amphibious,” a person who “doesn’t belong to any class.” When she was young, she moved away from home and lived with Ximena, whose husband recently left her. At this point, Clemencia coveted the idea of becoming an artist, hoping to be like Frida Kahlo. But she and Ximena lived in a dangerous neighborhood, where gunshots rang out all night long. This reminded Clemencia of her childhood, since the two girls grew up in an even worse neighborhood. Once their father died, their mother married a white man despite their protests, justifying her decision by pointing out that she married so young that she never got the chance to be young—“your father,” she said, “he was so much older than me.” Clemencia holds this against her mother so much that she has disowned the old woman entirely.
The anger Clemencia feels toward her mother has to do with the idea that her mother is disloyal to her father. In her eyes, not only has her mother betrayed her father’s love, but she’s also betrayed her cultural identity by marrying a white man—of course, this is in keeping with her mother’s belief that no woman should ever marry a Mexican man. And while Clemencia seems sometimes to agree with this sentiment, she still appears to want her mother to respect her father’s legacy. As such, she condemns marriage in general, turning away from it in her own life in favor of independence.
Clemencia addresses a man named Drew in her narrative, asking him if he remembers speaking Spanish to her as they make love. When Clemencia and Drew lie together, she writes, her skin is dark against his, and he calls this beautiful. He whispers Spanish into her ear while “yank[ing] [her] head back by the braid.” Despite these intense moments, though, every morning he leaves before the sun rises. Still, Clemencia admits that she likes when he speaks to her in her own language; “I [can] love myself and think myself worth loving,” she says.
When Clemencia says she can conceptualize herself as “worth loving” when Drew talks to her in Spanish during intercourse, it becomes clear that her notions of self-worth and love are entangled in a broader consideration of cultural identity. This makes sense, considering how much attention she pays to her mother’s ideas about how romance and cultural identity interact with one another. For her, then, love is a complicated mix of identity and passion.
Clemencia asks Drew if his son knows the role she played in his birth. Pushing on, she insists that she was the one who convinced Drew to have the baby—when his wife was pregnant, he was unsure whether or not it was a good idea to have a child, but Clemencia convinced him to not suggest that his wife get an abortion. When it finally came time for his son to enter the world, Drew wasn’t next to his wife in the hospital room; while she was in the throes of labor, he was having sex with Clemencia in the very same bed in which his son was conceived. “You’re nothing without me,” Clemencia tells him now. “I created you from spit and red dust. And I can snuff you between my finger and thumb if I want to.”
Clemencia’s assertion that Drew is “nothing without” her communicates the kind of power she envisions herself as having over him. She prides herself in her ability to steal Drew from his wife. The fact that she takes credit for the birth of his son indicates how influential she thinks she is when it comes to persuading him. However, the idea that she’s actually responsible for his son’s birth is a bit far-fetched, and readers get the sense that Clemencia is overcompensating for a lack of actual control or power in her relationship with this married man.
Turning her attention more completely to Drew’s son, Clemencia says she’s been “waiting patient as a spider all these years.” And although she has been using “you” to refer to Drew, she suddenly uses the pronoun to address his son, saying, “[…] your father wanted to leave your mother and live with me.” She explains that she started sleeping with Drew when she was only 19, which means that she was “his student” in the same way that his son is now her student. Indeed, he now sits at her kitchen table and talks to her, and she reflects upon the fact that she could be his mother if he “weren’t so light-skinned.”
The notion of racial and cultural identity once again comes to the forefront of Clemencia’s thoughts regarding love when she notes that Drew’s son could be hers if only his skin were darker. What’s more, her seduction of his son further solidifies the idea that she approaches romantic relationships with a sense of ownership; in the same way that she draws power from sexually possessing Drew while his wife gives birth, she sleeps with his son as a way of further implicating herself into his life.
Clemencia admits that she has slept with many men while their wives are in labor. “Why do I do that, I wonder?” she asks. “It’s always given me a bit of crazy joy to be able to kill those women like that, without their knowing it.” One night, years after Drew’s son is born, Clemencia gets drunk on margaritas and calls his house. His wife picks up and is exceedingly proper, which makes Clemencia laugh. When Drew finally comes to the phone, she says, “That dumb bitch of a wife of yours.” She then notes that a Mexican woman would never react in such an obliviously polite manner to a phone call from a woman in the small hours of morning.
Yet again, Clemencia’s conception of romance and love is intertwined with the notion of ownership—the “crazy joy” of metaphorically “kill[ing]” women by sleeping with their husbands—and with various ideas regarding racial or cultural identity. Indeed, she calls Drew’s wife a “dumb bitch” so that she can cast herself as superior by saying that a Mexican woman would never be as stupid as his wife. As such, she defines her own identity by way of negation, highlighting the difference between her and this “dumb” woman.
Clemencia reveals to Drew’s son that she’s only met his mother once, when she accidentally ran into her at an art gallery. Drew saw Clemencia and walked over, saying, “Ah, Clemencia! This is Megan.” Clemencia upholds that “no introduction could’ve been meaner,” and tells Drew’s son that she went directly home and put a washcloth on her forehead. On another occasion, she tells Drew’s son, she went through his house putting gummy bears in Megan’s accessories—Megan was away, and Drew was having Clemencia over for dinner. After Drew made a comment that offended her, Clemencia snuck through the house, smushing candies into Megan’s lipstick canister, her nail polish, her diaphragm case. She then found a Russian nesting doll, opened it until finding the smallest doll at the center, and put a gummy bear in its place, pocketing the small figure. On the way home, she dropped it into a muddy stream.
Given Clemencia’s childlessness, there’s a sense of symbolism to her decision to drop a small nesting doll into a murky creek. It’s as if she has made her peace with the fact that she will never have a family, that she is a woman who only takes love from other people rather than finding it for herself. Because she has resolved to never marry, it’s unlikely she’ll ever have a child of her own, and the act of throwing a baby-like doll into the water—lost forever—speaks to this reality.
“These days,” Clemencia writes, she wakes up in the morning and makes coffee for herself, “milk for the boy.” She searches for hints of Drew in his son, but can’t see any, as if Megan conceived him “by immaculate conception.” She says she knows she has this boy in her power, but late at night she gets crazy, and something “poisons the blood,” overrunning her with fury. She can’t shake the image of Drew lying in bed with Megan, a idea that leaves her distraught. But then she looks around and tries to calm down; “Human beings pass me on the street, and I want to reach out and strum them as if they were guitars. Sometimes all humanity strikes me as lovely. I just want to reach out and stroke someone, and say There, there, it’s all right, honey.”
Clemencia is a complex character in that she embodies both a fierce sense of independence and a melancholic sense of loneliness. On the one hand, she proudly asserts her will to live independently, bragging that Drew is “nothing” without her but insinuating that she herself doesn’t rely on anybody at all. On the other hand, she finds herself deeply troubled by the idea that Drew loves somebody else more than her. Torn between these two poles, she looks beyond herself, reaching out to “all humanity” and realizing that there is a beautiful sense of interconnection that runs throughout human life, as everybody has—at one point or another—experienced both passionate independence and harrowing loneliness. With this realization, she overcomes the divisive mindset her mother has instilled in her about the difference between Mexicans and Americans, finally able to open herself up to a broader understanding of love.