Columnist Mireya coaches 1950s Mexican immigrant women on dating, working and belonging

Soledad QuartucciSoledad Quartucci earned a PhD in US History with an emphasis in feminist studies from UCI in 2012. She enjoys researching and interviewing “dangerous” women in immigrant and rural communities. She is a social advocate and a blogger. She currently works as a Learning Skills counselor at UC Irvine. Her article is based on a chapter from her dissertation, Politics, Community and Pleasure: The Making of Mexican American Cold War Narratives in the Pages of La Opinion-1945-1960.

I have been following your advice column faithfully, and I think of you as a beloved relative. I am not pretty. I don’t smoke, drink, or dance. The men I meet prefer modern girls.
— J.H.
1-22-51. La Opinion.

Twenty-seven-year-old J.H. thought of advice columnist Mireya as a family member, someone she trusted to make sense of a world where being a single Mexican American woman living in the U.S. Southwest was no easy task.

Mireya wrote for the Mexican-American newspaper La Opinion in the 1950s, responding to concerns such as J.H.’s in her daily column, The Spiritual Mailbox. Through question-and-answer exchanges, Mireya coached readers on intergenerational conflicts resulting from immigration, and on making sense of the American modern girl.

Her readers found American modernity alluring and dangerous.

Mireya understood that her coaching was necessary, especially in a post-war, sexually liberated and fiercely anti-immigrant U.S. [1] Her audience was composed of first generation Mexican Americans living in the Los Angeles area. Many likely considered her advice as culturally dangerous and even immoral.

Yet they needed her.

She knew how to “read” America and its many confusing rules. Mireya shared in the Mexican heritage – and thus understood her Mexican audience well – especially their notions of the virtuous woman, the male custom of machismo, the domestic expectations of young women, and the practice of chaperoned dating. With bold guidance, Mireya promoted a feminist worldview, one letter at a time.

The aftermath of World War II revolutionized gender relations and understandings of sexuality, a change encouraged by the rise of adult movie houses, and the emergence of sex-oriented men’s magazines, like Playboy, which made images of naked women widely accessible.

Changes in sexual attitudes trickled into Mireya’s column as she received a letter requesting help understanding “a new type of man.” This young man acted romantic and interested at the beginning of the relationship. He frequently sent mixed signals, “dated women without committing himself.” [2] Mireya advised her reader to protect herself: “don’t let him use you to fill a void left by another.” She encouraged women to be assertive and when uncertain about a suitor’s intention, she told one reader to “leave all shyness aside and fully confront him. Make sure he defines his intent.” [3]

Sometimes women fell prey for this type of man and found themselves pregnant and abandoned. In these cases, Mireya refrained from judging the women and encouraged them to keep going and remain choosy.

The fact that you are a mother even though you are not married is not a motive to think that you will never have a right to enjoy the home life you so desire and deserve… [4]

Writing in 1952, Mireya argued that single parenting provided an opportunity for personal growth: “regardless of the circumstances, to have a child is not a disgrace nor a shame. Disgraceful is to deny your child and to try to hide his existence.” Furthermore, she added that if the man walked away it would be proof “that he didn’t love you and his intentions were not serious.”[5]

Mireya’s readers also wrote about beauty and image. Some readers confessed feeling physically inadequate, questioning whether their looks would be deemed old fashioned and unattractive in the Los Angeles dating scene. Mireya talked about beauty at length. She recognized that in Mexican families, the beautiful sister or daughter was traditionally spared from heavier domestic chores and had more options for a husband.

Mireya used discussions of beauty to coach young women in a new direction. She taught them to value themselves, pursue an education and learn to negotiate a way out of domesticity. One reader told Mireya that due to her poor appearance members of her own family exploited her with extra domestic chores, and even collecting her earnings:

Everyone in my house says that I am very ugly and they dislike me for it. My sisters go to dances and never take me, and my brothers laugh at my nose and say my eyes are too big. I suffer so much and I don’t know what to do. [6]

 The situation was complicated by the fact that her parents would not allow her to go to school and instead demanded that she work at a sewing factory and hand over her pay to the family. Mireya sympathized with the young woman by arguing that beauty “is a very relative concept.” Trying to lift the young woman’s spirits, Mireya added that those who had physically attractive attributes rarely had an interesting personality.

“Often,” argued Mireya, “an aura of attractiveness is not captured in a perfect nose or a perfect mouth. There are so many ways to be attractive.”

Instead of focusing on your looks, think education, insisted Mireya: “You do not have money or property of your own so you must secure an education.” [7]

Mireya also used her column to critique domesticity:

When a woman stays home to help her mother with domestic duties, she often lives an unhappy life, not only because of the endless amounts of chores, but also because of her parents’ natural predilection and favoring of her male siblings.

Mireya told her readers that, in the past, cultivating the female mind “was not strictly necessary,” but this was “an erroneous conception of education.” In one case, a young woman was encouraged to study, get a job and then pay a housekeeper to help do the wash and clean the house. [8] Learn from your “Anglo sisters,” advised Mireya, since they have from a young age been taught the value of independence and self-reliance.

Mireya supported Mexican American women’s independence – encouraging her readers to drop their brooms, take night school, get a job and use part of their earnings to hire help. For the young women who wanted to date, Mireya suggested negotiating with the parents by bringing along friends of good reputation, or by enlisting the help of older sisters, who could act as chaperones. [9] Mireya supported chaperonage and traditional dating styles, yet pushed for earning a college degree, a modern trait that she argued was not only desirable but had become a culturally acceptable trend, especially for the young women who were not property owners. Self-reliance, argued Mireya, was both a male and a female goal. [10]

Mireya’s column ran for twelve years, beginning on January 1, 1950 through 1962. Mireya advised young women “to live off the fruits of your own labor,” never becoming a burden on family nor awaiting the fulfillment of a fantasy type marriage where all would be provided for them. She encouraged women to remain positive, and to find reasons to love themselves, even when siblings made fun of their looks. Mireya viewed single parenting as way to instill pride in a woman’s life, to develop strength and to promote love. A child was not to be hidden from a prospective suitor, but acknowledged and loved, and if a man did not accept the woman’s status, then that would be his loss, since he would not be good enough for her.

Another notable point is that Mireya would not link religious rhetoric to her advice. This is interesting especially since various editors writing in La Opinion next to her column advocated a conservative behavior that made frequent references to Catholic virtue.

Mireya encouraged building alliances with Anglo women: “A lady of your age raised in this country is fully aware of what it means to be independent and to work. This is all very natural in her daily life.” [11]

Letters sent to Mireya revealed her audience’s longing to transcend domestic traditions in favor of a modern professional world. Through question-and-answer exchanges, Mireya’s column serves as a public bi-cultural forum that has left a valuable imprint on ethnic discourses on the negotiation of assimilation and feminism.

Mireya’s “danger” lied in the ways she outlined a progressive road for Mexican young women, praising the American dream and the promises that independence held for them.


[1] During the 1940s and 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy led a zealous anti-communist campaign, forcing Mexican workers back to Mexico. Those who stayed in the U.S. southwest, took dangerous risks, and looked to their press for guidance on countering hostility while embracing their culture.

[2] La Opinion, January 10, 1951.

[3] La Opinion, January 10, 1951

[4] La Opinion, January 18, 1950.

[5] La Opinion, April 22, 1952.

[6] La Opinion, March 24, 1950

[7] La Opinion, March 24, 1950.

[8] La Opinion, March 23, 1950.

[9] La Opinion, March 3, 1950.

[10] La Opinion, March 23, 1950.

[11] La Opinion, March 24, 1950.

[12] La Opinion, March 23, 1950.