Anthropologies traces the border between Alvarado’s two worlds, her affluent white family and her husband’s Mexican-American one on the proverbial wrong side of their Arizona town. Alvarado shares her memories, and the many family histories that have been shared with her by the women in each family. These family histories blur the lines of the past and the present, exploring how we are haunted – sometimes literally – by people and times past.
Alvarado writes intimately about many different relationships, but perhaps about none as poignantly as those between mothers and daughters. She imagines what her mother thought of her as a drug-addicted young adult:
“There is a distance between us. You have build a wall around yourself – she says this sometimes – and I can’t get in. But I am thinking, you don’t want in. You don’t want to hear the truth. You just want me to be someone else.”
She writes later of her mother’s reserve:
“She had sealed off some part of herself long ago, long before I was born, I had always known that, I think. I had always known it was impossible for her to give me what I needed and, maybe, even then, I knew it was unfair for me to ask the impossible.”
In her husband’s family, the spirit world intermingles with the living. Alvarado relates the story of a young girl whose forehead was burned by her mother’s ghost when she wouldn’t let the dead woman braid her hair.
Alvarado writes that she has “autobiography anxiety”: “first person terrified me”. Be that as it may, in Anthropologies she overcomes it transcendently.