Hailed by fans and critics as “Mexico’s Mother,” and later “Mexico’s Grandmother,” the actor Sara García exemplified the sentimental attributes associated with notions of womanhood. As Mexico’s mother par excellence, García created multigenerational portrayals that introduced audiences to a martyr-like maternal figure: the madre abnegada (selfless mother). This essay examines the origin, diffusion, and popularity of this uniquely Mexican subjectivity. Drawing on poetry, song lyrics, movie reviews, and an analysis of the film Mi madrecita (1940), the essay argues that, in combination with emerging priorities of writers and directors, García’s fashioning of the madre abnegada tapped into and vitalized the sentimental relationship between mother and child and between nation and citizen. In theorizing these relations, the essay introduces the term national maternal as a means of capturing the gendered, raced, classed, spiritual, and patriotic dynamics through which notions of motherhood in Mexico were structured. The national maternal rose to prominence as women and progressive leaders challenged exacting patriarchal family arrangements.

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