My Mother Pieced Quilts

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My Mother Pieced Quilts

Teresa Palomo Acosta 1976

Author Biography

Poem Text

Poem Summary



Historical Context

Critical Overview



For Further Study

“My Mother Pieced Quilts,” first published in 1976 in the anthology Festival de Flor y Canto: An Anthology of Chicano Literature, is a meditation poem using a mother’s handmade quilt as means to access and explore the poet’s childhood memories. As in a quilt, which is made from many different scraps of material sewn together by a single hand, the poem pieces together memories in order to show the reader a complete picture of the speaker’s childhood and her mother’s strong influence. The poet uses many vivid images throughout to help contrast the good memories with the unpleasant, weaving them together into the larger framework of the poem. Through her close observation and careful description of detail, by the end of the poem Acosta is able to place her mother’s hobby of piecing quilts in a much larger context, transforming the everyday day practice of quilting into a ritual closer to song and prayer: the quilts themselves are described as “armed / ready / shouting / celebrating.”

Author Biography

Born in McGregor, Texas, on March 9, 1949, Acosta is the daughter of parents who migrated to Texas during the Great Depression of the 1930s. After earning a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Acosta attended the Columbia University School of Journalism, where she received a master’s degree in 1977. One of the leading poetic voices of multi-culturalism in America, Acosta has commented that she writes “partly to re-envision and re-tell stories about [myself], [my] family, and the Chicana/Tejana experience.” In 1993 Acosta was honored with the Voertman’s poetry Award, and in 1995 was a Poetry Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Poem Text

they were just meant as covers
in winters
as weapons
against pounding january winds

but it was just that every morning I awoke to these      5
october ripened canvases
passed my hand across their cloth faces
and began to wonder how you pieced
all these together
these strips of gentle communion cotton and             10
       flannel nightgowns
wedding organdies
dime-store velvets

how you shaped patterns square and oblong and
balanced                                                15
then cemented them
with your thread
a steel needle

how the thread darted in and out                        20
galloping along the frayed edges, tucking them in
as you did us at night
oh how you stretched and turned and rearranged
your michigan spring faded curtain pieces
my father’s santa fe workshirt                          25
the summer denims, the tweeds of fall

in the evening you sat at your canvas
—our cracked linoleum floor the drawing board
me lounging on your arm
and you staking out the plan:                           30
whether to put the lilac purple of easter against the
red plaid of winter-going-into-spring
whether to mix a yellow with a blue and white and
the corpus christi noon when my father held your
whether to shape a five-point star from the             35
somber black silk you wore to grandmother’s

you were the river current
carrying the roaring notes

forming them into pictures of a little boy reclining
a swallow flying                                        40
you were the caravan master at the reins
driving your threaded needle artillery across the
       mosaic cloth bridges
delivering yourself in separate testimonies

oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing
into our past                                           45
into the river crossing at five
into the spinach fields
into the plainview cotton rows
into tuberculosis wards
into braids and muslin dresses                          50
sewn hard and taut to withstand the thrashings of
       twenty-five years

stretched out they lay
armed / ready / shouting / celebrating

knotted with love
the quilts sing on                                      55

Poem Summary

Lines 1–4

Acosta begins the poem at the most literal level, introducing the quilts and how they were used: for warmth against winter chill. Using a metaphor, she describes the quilts as “weapons” against “pounding january winds,” perhaps the way a young child would imagine them during the coldest of winter nights.

Lines 5–7

Here the speaker of the poem explains the daily routine of waking up as a child under the colorful quilts. By describing them as “october ripened,” Acosta might be referring to those colors most associated with autumn—red, brown, and orange. The speaker begins to remember how the cloth felt under hand; the sense of touch is one of the strongest triggers for memory. Note the word “faces” to describe the individual frames of cloth, the speaker is beginning to personify, or “give life” to, the inanimate quilt.

Lines 8–12

Once the speaker of the poem remembers touching the covers, she also remembers wondering how the mother was able to make the quilt, a single fabric woven of many smaller pieces. These loose strips of fabric came from many different sources, each with its own nostalgic significance— communion dresses, wedding gowns, nightclothes and “dime store velvets.” On a literal level, the quilt is sewn together from these many separate strips. Metaphorically, the speaker of the poem begins to suggest that the memories of those events are woven into the fabric as well.

Lines 13–15

Lines 13–15 focus on the difficult process the mother took trying to take many mismatched and oddly shaped pieces and arrange them in a coherent pattern, much like a puzzle. Note the way the poem’s speaker describes how the mother “positioned / balanced” each piece, and Acosta herself uses one-word lines like individual pieces constructing a longer sentence, each line “balanced” atop the other.

Lines 16–19

Once the pieces were arranged, the mother wove them together with needle and thread, a thimble over her finger to avoid sticking herself. The verb-choice “cemented” perhaps adds a sense of permanence to the image that another, weaker, verb would not have.

Lines 20–22

Here the speaker focuses the details even further until the reader can see the individual thread being woven, the needle’s action reminding the speaker of a horse “galloping.” By remembering how the loose edges of fabric were tucked in by the mother’s careful needle, the speaker also remembers how the mother would tuck in the kids before bed.

Lines 23–26

Lines 23–26 return to specific descriptions of the individual fabric pieces, the mother working hard to make them fit together. Every scrap seems to tell its own story, from curtains in a house in Michigan, to a “santa fe work shirt.” Each piece even reminds the speaker of the season he or she wore them. By relating these associations, the speaker might be commenting on how memory itself is pieced together, ragged scraps arranged together.

Lines 27–30

Here the mother is compared to a painter at a canvas, using the square patterns of the kitchen floor as a model. For the first time the reader sees the speaker as a child “lounging” on the mother’s arm, watching the slow weaving. The young child is perhaps too young to sew, but the mother is still instructing him or her, “staking out the plan.” This scene’s example perhaps emphasizes the importance of mother-daughter bonding from the poet’s own childhood.

Lines 31–32

With so many scraps of fabric to choose from, the mother had to decide not only what colors might fit well together, but the seasons and events with which each piece is associated as well. The Easter purple might clash with the red plaid, but the holiday fits well with the “winter-going-into-spring” season, for example.

Lines 33–34

In each square of fabric, it seems, the mother would even paint tiny scenes, the quilt a combination of many colors and shapes. “Corpus Christi” is Latin for “body of Christ”; the Roman Catholic holy day of Corpus Christi occurs in late May or early June, several weeks after Easter. The mother has to decide whether to include a patch in honor of some occasion associated with that time of year—perhaps her wedding day. (The stress being placed on a simple event—“my father held your hand”—suggests that it has some greater significance; the gesture, the time of year, and the religious associations all subtly imply a marriage ceremony.)

Lines 35–36

In contrast to the fairly pleasant memories introduced thus far, in these lines the mother has to decide whether to include a scrap of a funeral dress in the quilt as well, shaping it into a black star. By mentioning the good memories as well as the painful, perhaps the speaker is reminding the reader that all memory and experience is a combined weaving of lights and darks, good times and bad.

Lines 37–40

Here the speaker moves from close description of the quilting process to more figurative language, helping lift the mother from her everyday hobby to something greater. The speaker calls the mother “the river current,” comparing her to a great force of nature able to shape mountains and valleys with its roaring water. Note, too, how the previous scenes that the mother sewed, though fairly simple in construction, are now quite intricate and difficult to craft: a boy reclining, a flying swallow. This implies the mother was very good at what she did, spending many hours perfecting her art.

Lines 41–45

Continuing to invent analogies for the mother, in these lines the speaker describes her as the master of an army of needles, charging across the cloth battlefield with her hands at the reins. Images like this perhaps help give power to a woman who really just made quilts in her kitchen, perhaps looked upon by many as just a simple hobby. To the child who grew up to be the speaker of the poem, though, this was a wonderful and important task, equal to that of masters and generals. A “mosaic,” as mentioned in line 44, is a design composed of many smaller pieces, much like a quilt.

Lines 46–50

Here the speaker’s tone seems to turn, the emotion almost overflowing. The speaker tells the mother how those quilts evoke so many painful and joyous occasions. The speaker lists many specific memories. The “list” form that the poem takes here is close to that of litany or prayer, a repeated word “into” contrasted by varying details—“spinach fields,” “cotton rows,” “tuberculosis wards,” etc. Notice, again, the wide variety of memories, each a mere fragment or scrap of a larger whole experience, each ranging in emotional impact.

Line 51

After listing six or more disjointed memory fragments, here the speaker “ties them together” with this single line, the way the mother would sew together individual fabric scraps into a quilt with such careful threading it could withstand the “thrashings of twenty-five years.” This is the first time that the speaker gives the reader a sense of how much time has passed between those childhood memories and the present. By taking so much time to describe the process of quilt-making throughout the poem, perhaps the speaker is emphasizing how even the weakest shred of clothes, if woven carefully by skilled hands, can help create a complete and lasting whole quilt.

Lines 52–53

Here the perspective changes, the speaker seeming to “pan the camera back” until the reader can see several quilts laid out. Listing several adjectives in order to describe them, the speaker uses words normally reserved to describe people—in this way, the quilts are charged with life, making them “ready” for whatever bad might happen, making them celebrate the good. As each smaller patch of the quilt might tell its own story, the entire cover seems to be “shouting” with so many voices talking

Media Adaptations

  • A website that gives a basic overview of Chicana feminism is located at (January 2001).
  • National Public Radio’s web site provides a transcript from its show “All Things Considered,” dated June 12, 1994, on which host Jackie Lyden discusses the topic “A Resurgence of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s” with reporter Mandalit DelBarco. See (January 2001).
  • A transcript of host Liane Hansen’s interview with Ana Castillo can be found at the National Public Radio’s website under “Weekend Edition-Sunday,” September 25, 1994 ( Castillo discusses her essays defining “Chicanisma,” a word Castillo invented to refer to the social implications of being of Mexican heritage and being American.

at once. Note the odd slashes between words, the punctuation itself perhaps reminding the reader of cross-stitching.

Lines 54–55

In these last lines, the reader learns what’s holding all these scattered memories and fabric scraps together: love. Much like the speaker of the poem describing the mother’s careful craft throughout in order to lift her from the mundane “hobbyist” to the powerful and wide-ranging force of a river current or army general, by the end of the poem, the quilts themselves “sing on” in their chorus of voices and experiences.



Teresa Palomo Acosta’s poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts” stitches together pieces of memory, history, and tradition to create a poem, much as her

Topics for Further Study

  • Think of a common household chore that can be seen in a metaphorical sense, and write a poem about it. Be sure to include many of the small, seemingly insignificant details that are involved, and try to indicate what they might symbolize.
  • Compare this poem with Edward Taylor’s “Huswifery,” written more than 250 years earlier. What does each poem compare sewing to? How are their subjects the same? What is different about them? Explain.
  • What does the river symbolize in this poem? Why do you think this is significant to the speaker?

mother once stitched together pieces of old dresses, work clothes, and nightgowns to create a quilt.

In the poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” the speaker reflects on images of her mother, as she runs her hand and her eyes over the individual pieces of material that her mother used to create the quilt. The speaker’s first thought is to wonder how her mother made all those random pieces fit together so neatly, how she created such an attractive pattern out of such tiny pieces of worn out cloth. Memories of those individual pieces of cloth—one piece from a white Communion dress, another piece from a black dress worn at a funeral—race through the speaker’s mind along with images of her mother sitting on the floor sewing. In the creation of the quilt, the speaker’s mother has become an intricate part of the quilt.

The images of the speaker’s mother are not limited to her using a needle and thread. Here, sewing is used as a metaphor: the speaker remembers how her mother used to tuck her into bed, just as her mother tucked the edges of the material under when sewing the pieces of the quilt together. The speaker also uses her mother’s sewing skills to reflect on how adept her mother was at keeping the family together, as if her mother had sewn the family, with all its random needs and wants, into a recognizable as well as utilitarian pattern.

The speaker also reflects on her mother as an artist with her quilt as a canvas, comparing her skill with materials, colors, and patterns to an artist’s with paint. The speaker also sees the mother as a “river current” and a “caravan master.” Both these images suggest a strong woman who led the family through very tough times, who was not afraid of challenges. The patterns in the quilt conjure up images for the speaker—the mother’s hand is seen in the strong stitches and her needle is the “artillery,” or sword.

By the end of the poem, the speaker is laughing at the pleasant memories that the quilt has inspired but also “sobbing” when the quilt reminds her of the sadness in both their lives. It is not clear in the poem whether or not the mother is still alive, but it is evident that the quilt will forever remind the speaker of the relationship she shared with her mother. The quilt, like the poem itself, is “knotted with love”—a love that inspired the mother to make the quilt for her daughter and with the deep love the daughter feels for her mother.

Simplicity and Complexity

Just as a quilt is made out of simple materials—thread and remnants of old clothing, curtains, and other household materials—so is Acosta’s poem made out of simple things. From the simplicity of her words, to the simplicity of the form and the images, the poem reads, at first glance, like a simple remembrance of a simple act: a mother sewing a quilt. It is only upon closer inspection and reflection that the complexity of Acosta’s poem comes to light.

The poem begins with the speaker looking at a quilt that her mother gave to her. “They were just meant as covers” begins the poem. Quilts are something utilitarian, something that keeps a family warm in cold weather. The speaker may have used the quilt for a long period of time, thinking of it only as blanket, but eventually the speaker looks at the quilt in a different way. Finally the speaker begins to appreciate something in the quilt; a quality that has been hidden from her for a long time. The poem seems to be a tribute to that something that the speaker finally sees. It is this new awareness of the simple quilt that makes this simple poem take on complexity.

The quilt for the speaker becomes not only a work of art but also a kind of family album. Pictures of each house that the family lived in, each city where the family worked, each illness and death that the family suffered, all of these complex family photographs are stored in the simple pieces of cloth. Just as the mother took the simple materials of thread and old, faded cloth and worked them into complex patterns, into fantastic images of “a swallow flying,” a “little boy reclining,” “corpus christi noon,” so does Acosta take simple words and create a complex range of emotions as the poem collects power, going from a simple realization of a quilt to the full understanding of her love for her mother.


The most obvious transformation in this poem is that which takes place at the mother’s hands as she transforms the pieces of collected material into a quilt. But there are other transformations going on in the poem. First there is the transformation that is occurring in the speaker as she realizes the “canvas” of her mother’s work. This is the transformation of a daughter who suddenly sees her mother as more than a mother. She sees her mother as a woman, a woman who had to struggle. She also sees her mother as an artist.

There is also the transformation of nature in Acosta’s poem, as she mentions “october ripened canvas,” “january winds,” “summer denims,” and the “tweeds of fall.” The seasonal transformations reflect back to the transformations that occurred in the family as the family moved from one city to another, from one job to another, as the family grew and aged.

Transforming sorrow into something pretty is also another transformation as the speaker comments on how the mother took the “somber black silk you wore to grandmother’s funeral” and turned it into a beautiful “five-point star.” There is also the curious line, “delivering yourself in separate testimonies,” insinuating that the speaker’s mother transformed herself, possibly by demonstrating different strengths, different talents that may have been hidden or overlooked until the occasion called for them. And then there is the final transformation as the speaker’s emotion changes from tears to laughter as she recalls the transitions that the family experienced as they passed from one stage to another in their lives.


“My Mother Pieced Quilts” is written in free verse, its line lengths ranging widely from one to fifteen words, depending on the mood or subject matter expressed. Unlike that of formal verse, which has a set number of beats per line or an interlocking rhyme scheme, this poem’s shape varies according to its changing content and emotion. In places where Acosta is describing a very specific detail, or expressing how carefully her mother stitched, she uses short lines—sometimes one word each— in order to help slow down the action and reflect the mood of the scene.

The poem also lacks any formal punctuation. The reader doesn’t have to pause for any periods or commas, which helps emphasize and remind the reader of the mother’s continuous and uninterrupted stitching.

Historical Context

When Teresa Palomo Acosta first started writing poetry at the age of sixteen, she had read only European and early American poets like Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickinson. Several years passed before she read contemporary African-American and Chicano poets. This was not due to a lack of interest, but rather that in the 1960s it was difficult to find poetry written by African Americans and Mexican Americans. It was even more difficult to find poetry written by women of color.

The Chicano Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s changed all that. And it was during this gentle explosion of Chicana literature that Acosta’s poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts” was published. So much of the Chicana poetry that Acosta read was written by her peers—Mexican-American women who were published about the same time that Acosta was published.

The Chicano Movement spread across the United States during the same period that there was much civil unrest involving a variety of issues. At the same time, students were rebelling against the war in Vietnam, women were marching for equal rights, and the civil rights movement was underway. There were labor strikes and food boycotts against unfair practices with regard to migrant workers, and Mexican-American students were boycotting schools, protesting against a lack of cultural studies programs available to them. During this era, the United States saw the creation of the Black Panthers, a militant organization that fought for civil rights for African Americans, and the Brown Berets, an organization that fought for better living conditions and educational opportunities for Mexican Americans. All this unrest in the country emphasized a need for change. And that change was felt in many different areas, not the least of which was seen in colleges throughout the nation and in the publishing industry.

Compare & Contrast

  • Early 1960s: Cesar Chavez becomes the head of the United Farmworkers Organizing Committee, which later becomes the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO. In the years that follow, Chavez organizes several history-making strikes and national boycotts of agricultural products to bring attention to the poor living and health conditions of migrant workers.

    1970s: Because of Chavez’s efforts, the California legislature passes the California Labor Relations Act, which helps improve wage, health, and housing conditions for farm workers.
    Today: Cesar Chavez died in 1993, and many skeptics declared the union dead with him. In 1994, however, son-in-law Arturo S. Rodriguez took over the union. Cesar’s family and the officers of the UFW created the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation to inspire current and future generations, and the union continues their work today.
  • Early 1960s: The Chicana feminist movement begins. It is during this time that the term Chicana is adopted by a generation of activists to signify their uniquely Mexican-American identity.

    1970s: The Chicana voice is being heard. It is during this decade that many writings by Mexican-American women are being published. This includes Teresa Palomo Acosta’s poem, “My Mother Pieced Quilts.”
    Today: Chicana culture, arts, and social movements continue to strengthen, in part from the presence of feminist studies in academia and in part from the growth of the internet. More effort is being made to recognize and include Chicana writers and artists in anthologies and publications (for example, Pat Mora and Ana Castillo), and women are creating their own presence on the internet to produce, display, and discuss their art and ideas.

Courses on both the community college and the university levels were created to accommodate the growing awareness and interest in a wider variety of subjects. Thus a student could study fiction written by an African-American author (which prior to these movements was practically nonexistent), essays written by women, and poetry written by Mexican Americans.

This was also the time that the word Chicano, and later the word Chicana (the feminine version), were elevated from their pejorative usage (which implied a fixed, hierarchal status in America with immigrants [such as Mexican Americans] being placed on a lower rung) to an embraced status that implied something unique, something very special about being born a Mexican American. By embracing their culture, young Mexican Americans became more interested in studying their past, retaining their language and customs, and reflecting on how and why they differed from their white European-American and black African-American friends and neighbors. They became aware of how hard their parents and grandparents had tried to assimilate into the American culture, and they rebelled. Some of this rebellion showed up in the form of their support of strikes and boycotts, like those led by Cesar Chavez against poor health and working conditions in agricultural fields. Some of this rebellion also showed up in the Chicano, a literature that was suddenly finding acceptance in the publishing industry. It was in this era that Acosta was first published.

Her writing, Acosta has said, comes from her point of view as a Chicana and as a woman. The ideas expressed in her writing are derived from her feelings about everyday life. Another important theme in Acosta’s writing is her family, especially the females in her family. Her writing is also noted for its celebration of working-class culture. All these elements find their way into her poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts.”

Another important element that bears mention is the tradition behind the art of quilting, since it is upon this element that the structure of the poem is created. The history of quilting is one that speaks louder than the voices of women throughout the ages. For some women, it was the only way that their voices and thoughts were carried from one generation to another. As Angeline Godwin Dvorak states in her essay “Piecing It,” it is

as though pulling the tension of the needle through the fabric, the tension in the history that is pieced into the quilter’s art form is the universal oppressions of women that have forwarded a patriarchal history, and left diminished or neglected the voice, role, and impact of women in world societies.

Then specifically in reference to Acosta’s poem, Dvorak adds, “The mother quilter, as artist and historian, ultimately gives a voice to the quilts, they then become the storytellers . . . the mother translates and preserves her history as a woman as well as the history of their culture.”

The history that is represented in a quilt is not the history of presidents or queens. It is the history of every day occurrences, every day people. It is a history that would normally be overlooked. But a quilt is more than just a preservation of history and culture. It is also an art, an art that is created out of waste. Sometimes the making of a quilt was the only way that a woman could express her creativity. Quilting, in some ways, is like writing a poem or painting a picture. Quilting says Christina Walk-ley in her “Quilting the Rocky Road was also a way of “turning a bare shanty into a home, satisfying the women’s hunger for beauty and civilization.” In quilting women “found emotional consolation for a harsh and demanding daily life.” Quilting, says Walkley, was “turning the seemingly negligible, with skill, patience, and above all with vision, into something of lasting beauty and worth.”

It is with this collection of elements, like the small bits of material with which her mother made a quilt, that Acosta wrote her poem.

Critical Overview

Critics have observed a strong sense of family and Chicano culture in Acosta’s poetry. Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, in her essay “Cultural Influences: Chicana,” writes, “Strong ties among females is a recurrent theme in Chicana poetry. . . . ‘My Mother Pieced Quilts’ is a moving testimonial to the mother’s weaving covers from their life’s experience, the bonding point of diversity, as well as a celebration of working-class women’s culture.” Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero agree, writing for their anthology Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, which they co-edited. In the chapter “Self and Others,” they comment on the roles of women in Chicano society and the importance of the mother figure in Acosta’s poetry. “Mothers,” they write, “are admired for patient ways, for survival skills, for homesteading virtues, and for crafts. They are seen as makers, doers, as women who did not have the opportunity to speak up, or even less to write, but who leave an indelible print on their children’s lives.”


Joyce Hart

Hart, a former college professor, is currently a freelance writer and copyeditor. In this essay, she looks at the similarities between Teresa Palomo Acosta and the images that she portrays of her mother as she creates her poem.

The poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts” was published in 1976 at the beginning of a renaissance of Mexican-American (also referred to as Chicana [for female authors]) literary creativity. This renaissance did not reflect the female authors’ sudden burst of creativity, for there always were women writing, but rather it reflects the sudden willingness on the part of the publishing industry to put Chicana literary expressions into print. The public appetite for multicultural material as well as the demand for writing by women provided the stimulus, and Teresa Palomo Acosta was one of the women who was ready and willing to provide the material.

This time period (as well as the previous decade) was also a time of reflection. At times it seemed that every established construct that had preceded these two decades was then in question. Young men, in general, were questioning why they should go to war. Young Mexican-American men, in particular, were questioning why such disproportionate numbers of their peers were being sent to Vietnam. Women, in general, were questioning why they should accept the same societal restrictions on their lives that their mothers had tolerated. Mexican-American women were questioning their mothers’ complete subjugation to enculturation into the white European-American society that demanded they sacrifice their language and ancestral traditions. These were times of turmoil and public outcry, but they were also times of self-reflection. Out in the streets, voices shouted. But inside the houses, people were quietly reflecting on a more personal search for new answers to such questions

“In her poem ‘My Mother Pieced Quilts,’ she looks back with fresh vision at her mother. But in the act of looking back as well as in the act of writing the poem, Acosta also reflects on her definitions of self.”

as: Who am I? Where did I come from? and Where am I going? It was out of these questions, these personal redefinitions of a newly emerging self that much of the Chicana poetry arose.

It was during these times, in the midst of these questions and self-reflection that Acosta wrote “My Mother Pieced Quilts.” She wrote without having role models with whom she could identify in the literary field. Men created almost all of the Mexican-American literary works at that time. Very few women had been published before Acosta’s poem saw print. But this “does not belie the fact that Chicanas were writing during this early period,” say Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero in their introduction to their anthology of Chicana literature Infinite Divisions. “They were writing, but, having been silenced for long periods of time, the authors found breaking that silence into a public act difficult.” In other words, Mexican-American women had become accustomed to their silence. Breaking it was almost like breaking a law, transgressing a taboo.

But once that silence had been broken, first in the second half of the 1970s and then even more proficiently in the 1980s, Chicana literature began to flourish. And “as the numbers of published texts increased,” state Rebolledo and Rivero, “critics began to analyze their contents.”

That analysis demonstrated that the major themes of these Chicana writers were: “Who am I? How did I become the person that I am? What are my historical and cultural antecedents, my racial characteristics, and how do these factors define my place in society?” One other significant theme that ran through much of the Chicana literature during that time was the concern of these female poets and authors in defining the influence that their mothers had on them. Acosta’s poetry was one of the forerunners of many of these themes. In her poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” she looks back with fresh vision at her mother. But in the act of looking back as well as in the act of writing the poem, Acosta also reflects on her definitions of self.

The first thing that is interesting to note in Acosta’s poem is the fact that in piecing together all the images that must have run through her mind as she wrote this poem, Acosta was, in many ways, mimicking her mother’s actions of piecing together material to make a quilt. She, like her mother, was piecing together memories, creating stories, and gathering images from her Mexican heritage. According to Rebolledo and Rivero,

The Chicana writer like the curandera or the bruja, is the keeper of the culture, keeper of the memories, the rituals, the stories. . . . She is also the one who changes the culture, the one who breeds . . . new dreams . . . making . . . a new legacy for those who have still to squeeze into legitimacy as . . . American citizens. The writer and the quilter have these characteristics in common. They both preserve the culture and the family stories through their artistic expression as created in words for one; as created in cloth for the other. In the keeping of the culture and the stories, they both inspire new dreams; and in doing so, they both, in their separate ways, help push the next generation forward.

Acosta expresses herself through poetry, making random, and sometimes worn out, phrases (like old pieces of material) fit into a pattern that will, on the whole, make sense. Like her mother, Acosta is picking through the pieces of material, looking at each image and remembering its significance. I remember this image from when I was younger. I remember this other image from when there was a death in the family. I remember another one from when we lived in another town. It is through these remembrances that both Acosta and her mother reflect on their identity, past and present. It is through these remembered incidents that they face certain challenges, and in meeting those challenges, they grow stronger. In remembering the “gentle communion cotton,” Acosta might have been reminded of her own innocence as a child. Likewise as her mother sewed that particular piece of material into the quilt, she might have remembered not only the young child who once wore the Communion dress, but also remembered her own innocence as a young mother. In other words, the quilt was just a blanket for Acosta, who used it to keep warm. “They were just meant as covers / in winter. . . .” It was not until she “began to wonder how you pieced / all these together . . .” that Acosta begins to create her poem. It is in the wondering that suddenly the quilt is broken down, in her mind, into small pieces, small memories that create images. And it is through these images that her words and phrases are formed. Thus, the mother who gathered the pieces of material to create the quilt is now inspiring the daughter who is gathering images to create the poem.

In the fourth stanza of her poem, the speaker refers to the craft of sewing a quilt. “How the thread darted in and out / galloping along the frayed edges. . . / oh how you stretched and turned and rearranged. . . .” These skills are also required of the writer: the craftsmanship of sewing words together, rewriting, editing, or in Acosta’s words, stretching, turning, and rearranging. More than likely, it is not only that Acosta remembers her mother sewing the quilt, but that she also relates to her mother as an artist, understanding the patience, the clear vision, the determination that is required in finding just the right piece of material, just as she herself must find the right word to make the image convey the exact meaning that is intended. As a writer, she relates to her mother’s “staking out the plan. . . .” She understands what is necessary in creating a new form.

“It can be argued . . . that art and literature have as their primary goal the exploration of human identity,” state Rebolledo and Rivero. And so it is with both Acosta and her mother. If one asks what might have motivated the mother to make quilts, a quick answer could be that she needed to provide warmth for her family. But if that was the only incentive, then she could have done so by stitching rags together without concern for form. But this mother creates pictures like the “swallow flying.” She thinks about how to mix colors, “whether to put the lilac purple of easter against the / red plaid of winter-going-into-spring. . . .” The mother of Acosta’s poem is no less an artist than Acosta herself, the writer of the poem. And both women, as artists, are in their own ways looking for definitions of themselves.

“Chicana identity is multiple, a reflection on circular mirrors,” write Rebolledo and Rivero. That identity includes not only what they think of themselves but also what others think of them. That definition is sometimes hard to grasp as they are living in the middle of two cultures. When women search for a model to emulate, a model that will help them identify themselves, they first look to their families, to their female kin. The woman they most often turn to is their mother. “Mothers are admired for patient ways, for survival skills, for homesteading virtues, and for crafts,” continue Rebolledo

What Do I Read Next?

  • Ana Castillo is one of the more famous contemporary Chicana poets. The main themes of her writing revolve around race and gender issues. Although known for her poetry, her book Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1992) is a collection of creative nonfiction essays. In these essays, Castillo explores the struggles of “Brown women” who live in a “racially polarized” United States. She also gives an overview of the Chicana feminist movement of the 1970s, as well as her thoughts on where the movement is heading.
  • After winning the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Foundation Writers Award, Lorna Dee Cervantes became a widely known author. Her two most famous collections of poetry are Emplumada (1981) and From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger (1991). Her writing is blunt and deals with social issues, especially the class status of women.
  • Pat Mora is a prolific writer. She has won numerous awards for her poetry, which include the collections Chants (1984) and Borders (1986). Elements of her homeland of southwest Arizona as well as the traditions of her Mexican-American background filter through her writing. A work of fiction, House of Houses (1997), tells a generational story of her family.
  • Recently, Sandra Cisneros, a writer and poet, won the distinguished MacArthur grant, awarded to people who show great genius in their work. Her poetry collections include the titles My Wicked Wicked Ways (1992) and Loose Woman (1995).
  • Gloria Velasquez is a poet and teaches Spanish at California Polytech San Luis Obispo. She has written a collection of poems entitled, I Used To Be a Superwoman (1997). She has also published several stories for children and teens that deal with issues that face children of color as they grow up in the United States.

and Rivero. “They are seen as makers, doers, as women who did not have the opportunity to speak up, or even less to write, but who leave an indelible print on their children.” How the mother in this poem identified herself can only be guessed at. But the fact that her daughter, the author of the poem, sees her as the one who “cemented them” suggests that it was the mother who kept the family together, just as she kept the patterns of her quilt together. The poem also suggests that the quilts were used as “weapons / against pounding january winds. . . .” The mother in this image is portrayed as not only the provider, but also the one who guards and protects. This mother may have learned these qualities from her mother. Just as the tradition of making quilts was handed down, so might the character traits of fortitude and stability have been. As the daughter reflects on these characteristics, she senses pride. Her pride decorates her poem and may stimulate a desire to emulate those character traits in herself. Putting these feelings about her mother into her poem will allow the generation of women that follow Acosta to read the poem, much as Acosta has “read” the quilt. And the characteristics of both the mother and the daughter will be handed down. The “indelible print” carries the tradition forward.

“It is part of the writers’ routine and compulsion,” state Rebolledo and Rivero, “[to] walk around their streets, their well-known towns or neighborhoods, searching for raw materials . . . and getting it from the ordinary, the familiar, the trivial.” This is how Rebolledo and Rivero define Chicano writers, but it could easily be transformed to define how the quilter works—looking for raw materials in the neighborhoods, collecting the ordinary and the familiar. Rebolledo and Rivero continue their descriptions by stating that the writing of Chicano women is about “putting down in graphic signs what ordinary life events signify . . . it is the art of cultural preservation by means of capturing the flow of time and people in their lives.” How close these definitions align with the craft of quilting. “You were the river current / carrying the roaring notes . . .,” writes Acosta in her poem. The music of life floats on the mother through her quilts, just as the music of life flows through Acosta’s poem. She continues by describing her mother in the next few lines as having delivered herself “in separate testimonies.” With this reference to separate stories, Acosta might be making reference to the separate quilts that the mother made. Or it might be referring to the separate panels on one quilt, separate images through which the mother inscribes a picture of herself through her work. Just as a poetess leaves the mark of herself in her writing, no matter what story she is telling, so too has the mother left her fingerprints on the quilt.

In the final stanzas of the poem, the speaker confesses her emotions. “Oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing / into our past . . .” It is the speaker’s emotions, but the history is shared between mother and daughter. It is “our past,” not my past or your past. It is a past that has been recorded first in the quilt, then seconded in the poem. If Acosta should ever give birth to a daughter, there will be a more complex reading of the past: first through the visual representation of the quilt, then through the literal representation of the poem. The history will echo in the next generation more richly because the tradition, the stories have been recorded and handed down. The quilter and the poet are mirror images, one enhancing the other, and one reflecting the other. And the reflections are multiple: mother seeing herself in her quilt; daughter seeing mother in the quilt; daughter seeing herself in the poem about the quilt; and in the end, both the poem and the quilt, the mother and the daughter, are “knotted with love / the quilts sing on.”

Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.

Doreen Piano

Piano is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Bowling Green State University. In the following essay, she explores how the making of quilts are metaphors for the creation of family history in Acosta’s poem.

Quilts, in Teresa Palomo Acosta’s poem, are not just everyday items, something to sleep under when it is cold out or to wrap around you while watching television. Although they are functional, acting “as weapons / against pounding january winds,” quilts carry a much richer meaning in this poem. They are chronicles of family history, revealing physical wear and tear as they age as well as containing memories, which are physically represented by the fabrics found in the quilts. Thus, “my father’s santa fe workshirt / the summer denims, the tweeds of fall” refer to specific moments in time when they were worn. Acosta sees family history as not being chronological, a series of events that have taken place in the past, but as continuous, created by the binding of fragments of cloth, or, metaphorically, fragments of memories. Thus, it is through the narrator’s understanding of her mother’s artistic and physical effort in piecing together scraps of cloth that she begins to understand her mother’s role in forming their family history. Acosta uses the act of quilt-making, what is often seen as an everyday, ordinary activity, as a metaphor for the creation of family history and cultural heritage.

Because Acosta is a Mexican-American, or Chicana poet (defined by Alvina Quintana, in Home Girls: Chicana Literary Voices as a term that “signifies a specific ethnic or political identity or both”), it is important to read the poem within a specific cultural and political context, one that considers both gender and ethnicity as primary concerns of Chicana writers. Questions that many Chicana writers probe in their writing are: What does it mean to be a woman in Chicana culture? And, what does it mean to be a Chicana in mainstream society? The answers to these two questions are often at odds with each other and create complex and conflicted narratives about Chicana identity.

Thus, to reveal their complex “cultural makeup,” many Chicana writers write from a specific position, one that Gloria Anzaldua describes in her introduction to Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature as la frontera (the borderlands). This concept represents both the geographical location that separates the United States and Mexico, and, when used with an upper case B, a metaphorical space that positions many Chicanas within and among two different cultures. This tension plays itself out in the way that language is used. For example, many Chicana writers use their bicultural backgrounds in their writing, switching from English to Spanish to demonstrate their position as being located within and outside of both Mexican and American culture. In this way, innovative language use forges new cultural, or “hybrid,” identities that combine and reject aspects of both cultures. On the other hand, some Chicana writers may use English in one poem and Spanish in another depending on who their intended audience is.

Although Acosta’s poem is written in English, she makes frequent references to her bicultural background through her use of a phrase such as “corpus christi noon” to refer to a Roman Catholic wedding and her allusions to migrant farm work that employs a high number of working-class Mexican and Mexican-American families. In one of the final stanzas of the poem, the narrator provides a strong image of migrant work and its repetitious and backbreaking labor by repeating the preposition “into” as in:

into the river crossing at five
into the spinach fields
into the plainview cotton rows
into tuberculosis wards.

“The quilts, similar to the poem, become a material symbol of family history; each fabric contains a story, a memory, that like the quilts which are described as ‘october ripened canvases,’ may fade with time but remain tangible.”

Yet, at the same time that she recounts this painful image of harsh working conditions, the narrator also uses it to show how the quilts her mother made contain both good and bad memories that are all related to her cultural heritage and cannot be disregarded.

Because women’s experiences have been historically overlooked by both the Anglo and Chicano literary canons, many Chicana writers respond to that oversight by emphasizing ordinary and everyday experiences where women play an essential role. Acosta follows this particular tradition in her use of a mother as a central figure. She is the “you” of the poem, the one who is being addressed by the narrator as well as the “quilter” of family history. The editors of Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero, note that “In literature, Chicanas’ world perspectives are shaped and determined by their immediate female kin and the values they embody. . . .” Hard work, family ties, community, cultural pride, and a reverence for the past are some of the values that the mother in the poem possesses as well as passes on to her daughter.

The narrator’s focus on her mother’s quilting reflects the influence her mother has had in creating family ties and recording its history. The mother is the glue that binds the discrete elements of the family and its history. For example, in the lines, “how you shaped patterns square and oblong and round / positioned / balanced / then cemented them,” the narrator realizes that her mother has shaped and formed each of the individual family members into a larger unit, a family. Strong family ties do not come without some effort, and the mother has not only been a witness to the events that the varied fabrics symbolize, but her quilting reveals her participation in these events. The mother is the one who has “pieced / all these together / these strips of gentle communion cotton and flannel / nightgowns / wedding organdies / dime-store velvets.” The variety of fabrics she names such as “cotton,” “flannel,” “organdies,” “velvets” refer to the many occasions that the family has participated in from the ordinary to the extraordinary. In the quilt, these events come together in a mosaic of memories.

In Contemporary Chicana Poetry: A Critical Approach to an Emerging Literature, literary critic Marta Esta Sanchez claims that Chicana writers often “celebrate the history of Chicana women in their families, either by showing what their maternal ancestors had contributed to their personal formation or by documenting these ancestors’ experiences as memorable in their own right.” In “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” Acosta’s narrator clearly admires her mother’s abilities to create a physical testimony of their family history. The poem can be seen as a series of snapshots that the narrator remembers from her childhood. Each of these images reveal a mother who is engaged in both her quilting and her caretaking. The narrator/child watches.

how the thread darted in and out
galloping along the frayed edges, tucking them in
as you did us at night.

The variety of verbs used in the poem (“shaped,” “cemented,” “balanced,” “positioned,” “driving,” “delivering”) demonstrates the different activities that go into quilting as well as raising a family. Both activities require a tremendous amount of work, and it is the narrator of the poem who captures the tireless and spirited efforts, both physical and mental, of her mother.

For many Chicana writers, Tey Diana Rebollado and Elaina Rivero claim in Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, mothers “are seen as makers, doers, as women who did not have the opportunity to speak up . . . but who leave an indelible print on their children’s lives.” Thus, Acosta’s use of metaphors to describe the mother, such as “you were the river current” and “you were the caravan master,” reveal lasting images that have remained strong and vibrant and that portray the narrator’s mother as being a vital part of her childhood. Yet, at the same time that the narrator celebrates her mother’s creative force that pulled the family together, she also reveals the generational differences between her and her mother. The mother’s creativity found its expression in the making of quilts, a practical and communal act that is focused on the hearth. In contrast, the daughter’s creative energy is in her writing of poetry, an act that is more solitary and intellectual. Yet the poem she writes celebrates the community, both ethnic and family, of her childhood. In a sense, the mother’s “writing” of family history is similar to the daughter’s writing about her childhood memories; both engage in the act of remembrance.

The quilts, similar to the poem, become a material symbol of family history; each fabric contains a story, a memory, that like the quilts which are described as “october ripened canvases,” may fade with time but remain tangible. The memories that her mother has stitched into the quilts have informed the narrator’s own identity and inspired her to continue the tradition of family storytelling through poetry writing. The individual fabrics of the quilts create a family history, some of which the narrator did not witness, such as her parents’ wedding, “the corpus christi noon when my father held your hand,” but that have become part of the family’s lore, or oral tradition. Regardless of whether these memories are good or bad, the quilt is a testimony to those times and carries meaning into the present.

By the end of the poem, the quilts become personified, almost human, as they “lay / armed / ready / shouting / celebrating.” The narrator realizes that her own identity cannot be separated from her cultural heritage or family history as she exclaims in the last couplet of the poem, “knotted with love / the quilts sing on.” Thus, family history is never completely in the past but continues to be recreated from generation to generation. Through the passing of family traditions such as stories and heirlooms, cultural heritage, and family bonds are created and formed. The narrator expresses this concept of a living heritage when she claims “oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing / into our past.” Similar to Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use” in which quilts function within an African-American family not just as aesthetic objects or sterile family heirlooms but as a vital link to family history and cultural heritage, the quilts in “My Mother Pieced Quilts” are also deeply entwined with the narrator’s family and cultural history, one that is living and breathing and always present.

Source: Doreen Piano, Critical Essay on “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.

Judi Ketteler

Ketteler has taught literature and composition, with a focus on nineteenth-century literature. This essay discusses female creativity in “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” Chicana mothers’ search for an alternative legacy to pass down to their daughters, and the various levels of meaning embedded in the poem’s imagery.

“My Mother Pieced Quilts,” by Teresa Palomo Acosta, is a poem about memory and the way it becomes intertwined—quite literally—with threads of fabric. But it is as much a poem about memory as it is about womanhood and female creativity. Acosta traces the line of female creativity by laying out the legacy her mother has passed on through her handmade quilts. “My Mother Pieced Quilts” is a deeply personal poem with larger implications about what it means to be a mother, a daughter, and a woman in Mexican-American culture.

Acosta writes from a distinct literary tradition. She is a Chicana, or a Mexican-American woman (a related, although separate tradition from Latina or Hispanic writing). The Chicano movement first became prominent in the 1960s, along with the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the Native American Movement. As a marginalized group, Mexican-Americans shared much in common with other minority groups and faced similar daily prejudices and hardships. Mexican-American men, or Chicanos, were among the first to be published.

Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero, authors of Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, write: “Although some women were included among the first [Mexican-American] writers to be published, it was the male authors who made the initial inroads, were most easily and frequently published, and were the most recognized.” Chicanas were certainly writing but were silenced in the publishing world for the most part. Chicana writer and thinker Gloria Anzaldua has remarked that Chicanas were “speaking from cracked spaces—from margins.”

In the 1970s and 1990s, Chicana writers began to gain a voice. They wrote about womanhood, sexuality, images and definitions of themselves, and the world around them. Acosta speaks about these things too, and “My Mother Pieced Quilts” is rooted in the Chicana tradition. The tradition carries with it a responsibility, as literary critic Rudolfo Anaya explains in Growing Up Chicano/a: An Anthology: “The voice of the Chicana writer in our culture is one of the most influential in helping to shape and change the cultural ways.” Acosta lives up to that responsibility in this poem about her mother and the strong legacy her mother has passed down to her.

As the poem begins, Acosta reflects on the quilts her mother made, regarding them as utilitarian objects. At first glance, they appear to be no more than covers for warmth, as the first stanza suggests: “they were just meant as covers / in winters / as weapons / against pounding january winds.” As a young child wrapping herself in the quilts, Acosta views them as unremarkable. It isn’t until she grows up and relives the moments immortalized in fabric and stitches that the full impact of her mother’s art stirs her. The poem is a process of remembering, as well as a process of appreciating the significance of those swatches of fabric, bound together stitch by stitch. Acosta works throughout the poem to personify the quilts, so that they move from being mere objects in the beginning to being alive in the end. They become living memories, ready to share their secrets with the next generation: “knotted with love / the quilts sing on.”

Acosta remembers her childhood in pieces, like snapshots from a photo album. The quilts trigger those memories in the snippets of cloth and scraps of old dresses: “these strips of gentle communion cotton and flannel nightgowns / wedding organdies / dime store velvets.” The fabric is rich and varied, and her mother shows resourcefulness in her ability to transform the mundane, the outfits of everyday life, into art. The entire process of making quilts is in fact a process of transformation for Acosta’s mother. As the matriarch of the family, she is the keeper of the domestic, the preserver of memories. According to Rebolledo and Rivero, Mexican-American culture values mothers for certain sets of skills. They explain: “Mothers are admired for patient ways, for survival skills, for homesteading virtues, and for crafts. They are seen as makers, doers, as women who did not have the opportunity to speak up, or even less to write, but who leave an indelible print on their children’s lives.” In other words, a women’s space is the domestic, and her role as housekeeper and mother defines her. Traditional avenues of artistic expression are not generally open to mothers, who find themselves limited by an unbending identity as a caregiver.

However, women find other methods to express their creativity and to pass their legacy down to their daughters. This requires inventiveness, and it requires women who would be artists to look at “domesticity” in a fresh way, as an avenue of possibility. For Acosta’s mother, art becomes intertwined

“However, women find other methods to express their creativity and to pass their legacy down to their daughters.”

with her domestic duties, so that the poet remembers “how the thread darted in and out / galloping along the frayed edges, tucking them in / as you did us at night.” Her mother is both caretaker and artist in the same moment; she creates as she tends to her children. Her role as a mother is woven into her art and the quilts reflect that duality.

Author and essayist Alice Walker, in her pivotal collection of essays, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, addressed the female line of creativity. She is speaking specifically about the ways African-American women have passed down artistic legacies to their children in a society where they were both stereotyped and silenced, although her argument holds true for other marginalized identities. Walker recalls coming across a beautiful and inspired quilt in the Smithsonian museum that depicted the crucifixion, “made out of bits and pieces of useless rags.” Below the quilt, the plaque reads, “Made by an anonymous Black woman in Alabama, a hundred years ago.” Walker comments: “And so our mothers and grandmothers have more often than not anonymously handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.” The situation for Acosta and her mother is slightly different in that the quilts are not anonymous; the identity of the artist is known. But female creativity—realized in these beautiful quilts—faces the same kind of culture anonymity in that it is not valued in the way the great male artists’ work is valued.

“My Mother Pieced Quilts” is also a poem about work. Organizing a household and caring for children is not easy work. It is constant and demanding. Quilting provides an escape from the monotony, but it also involves its own work. Acosta emphasizes the active nature of quilting in the third stanza, which stands out from the rest of the poem because of its short, choppy phrases. The short phrases build on one another, similar to the way pieces of fabric build on one another to make a complete picture. It is a stanza about work: “how you shaped patterns square and oblong and round / positioned / balanced / then cemented them / with your thread / a steel needle / a thimble.” She uses active verbs and words that denote strength and stability such as cement and steel. Quilting is more than a pastime, it is a medium of expression, requiring as much raw talent and hard work as arts such as sculpting, drawing, painting, or writing.

Furthermore, quilting is not something Acosta’s mother just happens to do; there is planning and thinking involved. The poet recalls her mother’s planning sessions, sprawled out in the domestic space of the kitchen. One can image Acosta’s mother, fabric arranged neatly on the floor, picking and choosing colors and themes. “In the evening you sat at your canvas / —our cracked linoleum floor the drawing board.” Again, the reader feels a sense of the duality of the mother’s life. Her art and her domestic duties are intertwined, literally inhabiting the same spaces. And her children are nearby, watching her, as Acosta remembers, “me lounging at your arm.” Images of strength and nurturance are brought together as the cement and steel images float side by side with the image of the young Acosta lounging in her mother’s arms.

Throughout the poem, Acosta works to construct a portrait of her mother. She becomes multidimensional: the mother and the artist, performing household duties while she plans her next quilt. She becomes complex, and she becomes an active agent in her own life. In other words, in patriarchal cultures where men are dominant, women’s decisions are often made for them, consciously or unconsciously. Acosta’s mother finds a way to complicate that through her art. She is the active one, making the decisions, calling the shots, dreaming and envisioning beauty. In each stanza, Acosta’s mother takes on more and more urgency, as she makes crucial decisions about her quilts: “whether or not to mix a yellow with blue and white and paint the / corpus christi noon when my father held your hand / whether to shape a five-point star from the / somber black silk you wore to grandmother’s funeral.”

There is power in Acosta’s mother’s art. This power is fluid, such as the image of her mother as the “river current” suggests. But Acosta also portrays female power in ways it is not usually imagined; she uses battle imagery and reads her mother as a kind of high commander: “you were the caravan master at the reins / driving your threaded needle artillery across the mosaic cloth / delivering yourself in separate testimonies.” Her mother’s art allows her to inhabit multiple roles, to transform herself. That is the legacy Acosta finally understands her mother has given her: she can be who and what she sets out to be and define herself in the way she chooses. She can deliver her own testimony as to who she is: she is free.

In a patriarchal tradition, it is men who pass down the name and the property to their sons. Acosta’s mother imagines an alternative tradition, a distinctly Chicana tradition, whereby she passes down the legacies of memory and identity. The reader understands by the end of the poem that the quilts are about more than just reminiscing. They are—symbolically—the thing that both connects Acosta with her mother and frees her to define herself in multiple ways. “Oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing / into our past.” That fall into the past keeps the quilts alive. They have both a history, which has withstood “the thrashings of twenty-five years,” and a future. In the same breath that “My Mother Pieced Quilts” recalls the past, it also looks toward the future. The quilts are ready for future battles, for new sets of experiences and challenges. “Stretched out they lay / armed / ready / shouting / celebrating.” In the end, the tone is hopeful more than nostalgic. The lessons and struggles of the past are not over; rather they live in the legacy Acosta’s mother has passed down, which lays waiting to tackle the obstacles of the next generation Chicana women.

Source: Judi Ketteler, Critical Essay on “My Mother Pieced Quilts” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.


Acosta, Teresa Palomo, “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” in Women Poets of the World, edited by Joanna Bankier and Deirdre Lashgari, Macmillan, 1983, pp. 393–395.

Anaya, Rudolfo, Growing Up Chicano/a: An Anthology, William Morrow and Company, 1993.

Anzaldua, Gloria, Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, University of Arizona Press, 1993.

Dvorak, Angeline Godwin, “Piecing It: The Mother–Quilter as Artist and Historian in Teresa Palomo Acosta’s ‘My Mother Pieced Quilts,’” in Women in Literature and Life Assembly (WILLA), Vol. 5, The Assembly: National Council of Teachers of English, 1996, pp. 13–17.

Quintana, Alvina E., Home Girls: Chicana Literary Voices, Temple University Press, 1996.

Rebolledo, Tey Diana, and Eliana S. Rivero, eds., Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, University of Arizona Press, 1993.

Sanchez, Marta Ester, Contemporary Chicana Poetry: A Critical Approach to an Emerging Literature, University of California Press, 1985.

Walker, Alice,In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.

Walkley, Christina, “Quilting the Rocky Road (Women in a New World),” in History Today, Vol. 44, November 1, 1994, pp. 30–37.

Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne, “Cultural Influences: Chicano,” in Women Poets of the World, edited by Joanna Bankier and Deirdre Lashgari, Macmillan, 1983, pp. 343–345.

For Further Study

Acosta, Teresa Palomo, “They are Laying Plans for Me— Those Curanderas,” in Infinite Divisions, edited by Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero, University of Arizona Press, 1993, pp. 296–297.

In this poem, the speaker is looking for a spiritual healing that will lead her back to herself. In other words, Acosta is searching for her roots.

Aida, Hurtado, “Sitios y lenguas’: Chicanas Theorize Feminisms,” in Hypatia, Vol. 13, March 22, 1998, pp. 134–162.

With extensive coverage of the history and an understanding of Chicana feminism, the article summarizes the works of Chicana feminist scholars, creative authors, and artists in reference to their understanding of Chicana feminism.

Bankier, Joanna, and Deirdre Lashgari, eds.,Women Poets of the World, MacMillan, 1983.

This extensive collection of poetry includes Acosta’s poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” as well as poems from other women from around the world.

Carlson, Lori, ed., Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States, Juniper, 1995.

This exciting collection of poems deals with the concerns that many young adults must face as they try to bridge the gap between two cultures and two languages. Concepts of bilingualism, prejudice, and Latino culture are presented. Poems are written in both English and Spanish.

Christ, Carol P., Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest, Beacon, 1980.

This work presents a study of other women writers whose writings, like Acosta’s, focus on a search for self. Authors covered include Kate Chopin, Doris Lessing, Ntozake Shange, and others.

Milligan, Bryce, and Mary Guerrero-Milligan, eds., Flori-canto Si: A Collection of Latina Poetry, Penguin, 1998.

This work is an extensive collection of newly emerging young poets of the post-Chicano movement. Forty-seven different voices are heard in this collection, coming from all over the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America.