The Table Dancers’ Tale, like Oscar Lewis’ classic study of the Mexican family, The Children of Sanchez, is a close and unflinching observation of the everyday lives of overlooked Mexicans. As an anthropologist, and as a foreigner, Lewis remained the detached observer of the sometimes cruel and perverse relationships of Jesus Sanchez to his brood. Lupita Dominguez also records the less than comfortable truths about los de abajowith one crucial difference — she is writing about her own culture and her own life.
In the original Spanish, Dominguez uses the phrase “doble moral” — something perhaps lost in English, where even an excellent, sensitive translator like Sabina Becker, is forcrealed to use the English equivalent, “Double Standards”. “Standards” are merely conventional norms of propriety. And there is much in The Table Dancers Tale to offend propriety.
The very existence of a commercial sex industry is enough to make some uncomfortable. A trade that caters to fantasy — erotic or otherwise — is bound to reek of double standards. That Lupita tells of the more clandestine (or frankly illegal and often dangerous) activities that occur in these entertainment centers is not so much meant to shock us, or even raise our consciousness, as it is to show rather than tell the high price women pay for economic and social independence in this particular society. That, to meet the fantasy of their clients, the women often resort to dangerous (and sometimes fatal) surgery, and are encouraged to do so, and are proud of it, shows us the extremes we accept when it comes to meeting our “standards” when it comes to fantasy.
The untranslatable word mamitis — “mommy-itis” —the unspoken, and unchallenged, assumption that women exist to support their sons, fathers, husbands, boyfriends (even paying boyfriends) is the basis of double moral — not double standards, but moral duality that give’s The Table Dancer’s Tale its moral force.
The women we meet in The Table Dancer’s Tale have to live within a universe of impossible moral opposites. Few of these women have been, as we might comfortably think in our superior way, “lured” into the sex trade. Yes, there is the story of the underage girl whose father has groomed her for the trade, and is “managing” her career (i.e., taking her money) but that only reinforces the only reinforces the portrait we get of women’s torn moral sense… economic support being but a different sort of mothering. Marriage or children — a traditional means of escaping family control — often just means a new form of bondage, and for the young woman seeking autonomy, the lure of what Lupita ironically calls “easy work.”
Perhaps what most bothers us is that women chose to take a socially or morally objectionable path in the hope of achieving economic and social liberation. In one poignant and horrifying story, albeit with a relatively hopeful ending, Lupita tells of a dancer who is supporting not just her only her own mother, but three brothers as well: a non-traditional means of fulfilling one’s daughterly obligations, but one the dancer sees as honorable and honest . Yet, to the mother… “My daughter the whore.”
The Table Dancer’s Tale was not an easy book to publish, nor an easy book to read. Raw, raunchy and brutally honest, it is not the work of a polished author but a primary document that presents a slice of Mexican culture neither wrapped in the gaudy trappings of sensationalism, nor swathed in academic impartiality. We are continually confronted with uneasy questions about doble moral… moral duality… the double standard… as they apply not just to table dancing, and not just to Mexican women, but to the role our own assumptions and moral duality play in the lives of workers and women in our own society.
The Table Dancer’s Tale might make for an uneasy read, but that makes it an important book that Editorial Mazatlán is proud to have published.