Doña María′s Story

Life History, Memory, and Political Identity

Doña María′s Story

Latin America Otherwise

More about this series

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 9 b&w photographs Published: January 2001

Author: Daniel James

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > Latin American History

In this remarkable book historian Daniel James presents the gripping, poignant life-story of Doña María Roldán, a woman who lived and worked for six decades in the meatpacking community of Berisso, Argentina. A union activist and fervent supporter of Juan and Eva Perón, Doña María’s evocative testimony prompts James to analyze the promise and problematic nature of using oral sources for historical research. The book thus becomes both fascinating narrative and methodological inquiry.
Doña María’s testimony is grounded in both the local context (based on the author’s thirteen years of historical and ethnographic research in Berisso) and a broader national narrative. In this way, it differs from the dominant genre of women’s testimonial literature, and much recent ethnographic work in Latin America, which have often neglected historical and communal contextualization in order to celebrate individual agency and self-construction. James examines in particular the ways that gender influences Doña María’s representation of her story. He is careful to acknowledge that oral history challenges the historian to sort through complicated sets of motivations and desires—the historian’s own wish to uncover “the truth” of an informant’s life and the interviewee’s hope to make sense of her or his past and encode it with myths of the self. This work is thus James’s effort to present his research and his relationship with Doña María with both theoretical sophistication and recognition of their mutual affection.
While written by a historian, Doña María’s Story also engages with concerns drawn from such disciplines as anthropology, cultural studies, and literary criticism. It will be especially appreciated by those involved in oral, Latin American, and working-class history.


“[P]rovocative and entertaining . . . . [T]o know a beautiful, optimistic human being, to appreciate the struggles of Argentina’s working class, and to contemplate the issues of evidence and meaning in crisscrossing social contexts, read, enjoy, and judge for yourself!” — Joseph L. Arbena, The Americas

“James attempts to find meaning in the process of exploring another person’s life: ‘How was intellectual closure concerning this incomplete project possible?’ His questions and answers will resonate with oral historians, folklorists, and biographers. All levels.” — S. S. Arpad, Choice

“James presents the gripping, poignant life story of Doña María Roldán, a woman who lived and worked for six decades in the meat-packing community of Berisso, Argentina.” — Hispanic Outlook In Higher Education

"[A]n exceptional book, a joy to read . . . . The secret to its success is the writing. The author skillfully draws you into his subject, making you eager to know more about Doña Maria, entangling you in the web of Peronist political intrigue and the Argentine labor movement, presenting you with a wealth of information, then questioning the very means by which the data has been gathered and reproduced . . . . [A] powerfully emotive engagement . . . . To sum up, the message of this book brings to mind one word: respect. Respect for a woman of such fortitude and faith; and respect for a historian of such ability, sensitivity, and insight."

— Catherine Davies, Biography

"[P]owerful. . . . [This] testimon[y] helps us reconstruct women's working-class history in ways that are unachievable using traditional historical sources. . . . [T]he most important thing that [this] text [does] is insert women as historical agents, submissive to and defiant of economic inequality, traditional gender roles, and racial prejudice." — Susan E. Mannon, International Labor and Working-Class History

"Daniel James has written a wonderful ‘one source history work.’ . . . James engages in a dense and innovative way with some of the most challenging theoretical and methodological issues currently faced by historians in their craft."
— Alexandre Fortes, Labor History

"Historians frustrated by what has been written for and against I, Rigoberta Menchú should rush to read this book. . . . One would think that historians would consider it de rigeur to twin testimony with analytical commentary, especially after the Menchú furor, but James is one of the first to do so, and he does it exceedingly well. . . . [R]iveting. . . . [A] highly readable life history that combines politics, personal triumphs and tragedies, and humor. . . . [I]nsightful. . . . [O]utstanding. . . . James’s personal reflections and his politics add to the book’s considerable merits. . . . [A] refreshing departure from most history books. . . . [P]owerful. . . . This important book makes original contributions to oral history, Latin American history, labor history, women’s studies, and cultural studies. It will be widely read and discussed for a long time, I am sure."
— Elizabeth Dore, American Historical Review

"James’s recovery of the subjective experience of even one woman is a valuable step forward in the gendered study of Latin American history." — Elizabeth Quay Hutchison, Latin American Research Review

"Roldán’s life history is important, given her prominent role in the founding of the meatpackers union in Berisso, and the intersections between this local struggle, burgeoning labor activism in the political sphere, and the emergence of a national populist movement with Juan Perón at its head. She provides an insider account of these struggles, a lived experience that traditional archival sources could never convey with the same immediacy. . . . Doña Maria’s story is compelling in its own right, a narrative she conveys through exceptional speaking skills and a keen analytical sense."
— Gerard Huiskamp, South Eastern Latin Americanist

"This book contains plenty of . . . insightful observations."
— José C. Moya, Journal of Social History

“A landmark book. For those interested in history, testimonio, women's
studies, Doña María’s Story brings to life a forgotten heroine of the struggle for justice in Latin America and questions how we can listen to her voice.” — Ariel Dorfman

“This book is a gem, a gift to the reader, a wonderful read. We learn about a significant part of Argentina’s sad modern history at the same time that we are reading a highly sophisticated and well-informed meditation on the oral historian’s craft.” — Deborah Levenson, Boston College


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel James is Bernardo Mendel Professor of Latin American History at Indiana University. His previous books include Resistance and Integration: Peronism and the Argentine Working Class, 1946–1976 and The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series ix

Acknowledgments xi

I. Prologue. The Town with No Plaza: Memory and Monuments in Berisso's Centro Cívico 1

II. Doña María's Testimony 29

III. Interpretive Essays

1. Listening in the Cold: The Practice of Oral History in an Argentine Meatpacking Community 119

2. "The Case of María Roldán and the Señora with Money Is Very Clear, It's a Fable": Stories, Anecdotes, and Other Performances in Doña María's Testimony 157

3. "Tales Told Out on the Borderlands": Reading Doña María's Story for Gender 213

4. A Poem for Clarita: Niñas Burguesitas and Working-Class Women in Peronist Argentina 244

IV. Epilogue 281

Notes 299

Index 309
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2492-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2455-3
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