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Gente Decente

Gente Decente
A Borderlands Response to the Rhetoric of Dominance

A study of Mexican American writers who provided counternarratives to Walter P. Webb's images of "savage" Mexicans and Indians.

January 1998
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
327 pages | 6 x 9 | 15 b&w photos |

In his books The Great Plains, The Great Frontier, and The Texas Rangers, historian Walter Prescott Webb created an enduring image of fearless, white, Anglo male settlers and lawmen bringing civilization to an American Southwest plagued with "savage" Indians and Mexicans. So popular was Webb's vision that it influenced generations of historians and artists in all media and effectively silenced the counter-narratives that Mexican American writers and historians were concurrently producing to claim their standing as "gente decente," people of worth.

These counter-narratives form the subject of Leticia M. Garza-Falcón's study. She explores how prominent writers of Mexican descent-such as Jovita González, Américo Paredes, María Cristina Mena, Fermina Guerra, Beatriz de la Garza, and Helena María Viramontes -have used literature to respond to the dominative history of the United States, which offered retrospective justification for expansionist policies in the Southwest and South Texas. Garza-Falcón shows how these counter-narratives capture a body of knowledge and experience excluded from "official" histories, whose "facts" often emerged more from literary techniques than from objective analysis of historical data.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. History as Narrative
  • 2. Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Plains and The Texas Rangers: The Dissolution of History in Narrative
  • 3. The Historical Fiction of Jovita González: Complex and Competing Class Identities
  • 4. María Cristina Mena's Elite, Fermina Guerras' "Folk": The Struggles of Their Distinct and Converging Worlds
  • 5. Américo Paredes's Narratives of Resistance: Property, Labor, Education, Gender, and Class Relations
  • 6. Media Reportage as "History-in-the-Making": Two Short Stories by Helena Maria Viramontes
  • 7. The Texas History of Beatriz de la Garza's Narratives: Sustaining Women, Hispanic Heroes, and a Sense of Place
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix A: Shannon's Appraisal
  • Appendix B: Biographical Outline of Jovita González's Life
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Among the experiences from which we learn nothing that we didn't know already, there is to be counted the insight that the reality we consider as all-dominating in truth consists mostly of fictions.

—Gregor von Rezzori, The Snows of Yesteryear

Following the Texas War for Independence, in which the newly arrived Anglo Texans fought side by side with native Texans against the Mexican forces of Santa Anna, a particular history of the Texas Mexican as a part of a larger history of the U.S. West was projected into the future from the basis of a history written in the service of current trends. After the turn of the century, with Anglo colonization almost complete and the last of the Mexican American and Native American resistance having been put down, the time was ripe for a historian such as Walter Prescott Webb to arrive on the scene and legitimize as "proper" history a story already in construction, a story which he, as a character in his own narrative, would help to perpetuate. Webb's brand of history serves as an excellent example of how scholarship considered academically sound during a particular epoch can be revealed as a justification for racism and serve to anesthetize a national consciousness. Webb built a great reputation for himself as historian and eminent scholar, while writing fictions. Incorporating an Anglo American worldview of exclusion, Webb's brand of history epitomized the spirit of the West while it perpetuated stereotypes and misinformation, as in the following: "Without disparagement, it may be said that there is a cruel streak in the Mexican nature, or so the history of Texas would lead one to believe. This cruelty may be a heritage from the Spanish of the Inquisition; it may, and doubtless should, be attributed partly to the Indian blood.... The Mexican warrior ... on the whole, is inferior to the Comanche and wholly unequal to the Texan" (Webb 1935:14). Ideas stemming from statements like this were well received as history by the academy and the general public, and, worse, they perpetuated restrictive racial, ethnic, and class identities through reiteration in state-sanctioned, public school history texts.

Webb's work effectively re-created the enemy, even though the last confrontation between Anglos and Mexicans had occurred almost two decades earlier. His romanticized version of history recalled in the mind of his audience portrayals revealing the "cruel streak" in the resurrected enemy, reflecting as well as reinforcing popular Anglo attitudes toward Mexicans. Webb offered to his audience a cheering nationalism that was tainted with notions of Aryan supremacy, much like the attitudes based on ideological racism that were gaining strength at the same time in Europe: "The 'scientific racism' of such European writers as De Gobineau in the mid-nineteenth century was used to justify the spread of European colonialism in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. A long line of racist theorists followed in De Gobineau's footsteps, including the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. They even applied the ideology of racial inferiority to culturally distinct white European groups, such as Jewish Europeans. In a racist ideology real or alleged physical characteristics are linked to cultural traits that the dominant group considers undesirable or inferior" (Feagin and Feagin 1996: 7).

Today, similar, repeated patterns in the construction of similar stories reappear in the dominant media for a public wanting to be reminded of its "exclusive" participation in the American Dream. In retrospect, we see that "history" comes to be considered through a selection of significant forces that shape the current order of things: "It made history," we often say, without realizing that the factors that "make history" are socially and politically controlled. During the past half-century, the network of metaphors articulating history as a straight but embattled track carved through time by the "forces of progress" has come to look threadbare, if not conceptually mistaken. We realize that certain voices, considered at one time to be insignificant or threatening, were silenced, and we recognize retrospectively that what did not fit before, what was relegated to lower importance in the hierarchy of events called history, had a shaping significance. After certain concepts of history have been selectively rigidified, unselected forces may come to light and change our perspective. Analyzed afresh, the past and present relevance of those factors challenges historians to revise the previous view. The antecedent historian's linear, one-track narrative may come to be viewed as an ideologically induced fiction. Yet the partial truths of such fictions may be so entrenched that the (re)appearance of the suppressed past hardly shakes them.

It is my central purpose in this work to discuss U.S. writers of Mexican descent in relation to Webb and the dominative history he helped perpetuate. Specifically, I examine the works of several significant pre- and post-World War II writers who wrote "against" Webb even as he was producing his history. Hitherto, the literary works of these writers—Jovita González, Fermina Guerra, Maria Cristina Mena, Américo Paredes, Helena Maria Viramontes, and Beatriz de la Garza—have been largely unexamined in this light. I do not want to posit polarities but instead try to achieve an acknowledgment, in the Bakhtinian sense, of the polyphonic "voices" still unheard and unrecognized by the histories written in the service of a rhetoric of dominance. Private, previously unpublished histories such as those recently unearthed by Rosaura Sánchez and Genaro Padilla or the oral histories still alive in our communities reveal how empty some of the spaces were left and how they could have shaped history more fully. Those voices, I hope to show, can also be recovered through a channel of fictions that has not yet gained its legitimate place in American letters. While revisionist historians have made many alternative views available recently, for the most part these remain inconspicuous or "tokenized" in the public school curriculum and thus the national consciousness.

Chapter 1 examines how language in fictional narrative counters the collapsing effect of a certain kind of historiography. Given eighteenth-century ideas of progress and the general positivist nature of Western History, I discuss how Henry Fielding's view of "private history" (i.e., the novel) anticipates the Bakhtiman idea of the novel standing in direct opposition to the "official unitary language." Bakhtin alerts us to the centrality of language and its creative functions in narrative (150-151). Just as fairy tales function as a mythology, setting forth culturally upheld norms and beliefs, a narration such as Webb's within historical texts posits—on the level of "deep structure"—a certain ethic of imperialism. Bowing to the fashion of the times, we superficially affirm our freedom to differ, but nothing really shakes up and topples the deep structure of a belief system still in construction.

When Ramón Saldívar states, "In Chicano narrative the history of [Mexican Americans and Chicanos of twentieth-century America] is the subtext which must be recovered from the oblivion to which American social and literary history have consigned it" (1990b: 19), he engages the dialectic of how a banished history is somehow more recoverable through narrative, "through the narrativization of the political unconscious," than through traditional history (1991: 15). The recent and current political strife in Latin America has indicated how literature is often the only means of recovering the ongoing subtext of events—a pressing reality—at the very moment in which it is being erased from normal channels of documentation and communication. Mario Vargas Llosa writes: "In Argentina, in Chile and in Uruguay the Departments of Sociology have been closed indefinitely, because the social sciences are considered subversive. Academic knowledge in many Latin American countries is, like the press and the media, a victim of the deliberate turning away from what is actually happening in society. This vacuum has been filled by literature" (163).

Against this backdrop, the present study examines the process by which a set of collective beliefs become the constructions of an individual historian (here, Webb) who refashions and clarifies those beliefs, making them available for a new collective, and thus transmits them. In so doing, the historian not only puts forth the repetitive compulsions of a historic process as such but also perpetuates inadequate fictions which confuse the collective beliefs and empty history of alternatives. Some histories are shaped by the concept of "progress" or evolution, something we very willingly accept if in our own lives we have experienced progress as it came to many during the post-World War II and Vietnam War eras. This conceptualization of history as progress, reinforced by many linear, single-voiced historical narratives, may be inadequate when it faces or even clashes with what has been relegated to "lesser" classifications of oral history, folklore, anthropology, legends, personal narrative—that is, a borderlands heteroglossia, or cultural /sub-cultural production, much of which our students bring with them into the classroom.

All stories or events as recounted by history, reduced to basic plot lines or chronicles, have the capacity for being turned into fuller accounts through fictional narrative. The themes of the narratives examined here coincide with a very widespread postmodern analysis of mass alienation. Helen Carr, in her study of the fiction of Anglo Creole Jean Rhys, notes, "Cultural criticism has been transformed by a burst of intellectual creativity and energy which has brought together those two conditions of being—on the one hand, creolization, marginality, hybridity, assimilation, syncretism, and, on the other, migrancy, exile, diaspora, dispersal, traveling" (1996: 23). As with the literature examined here, Carr argues that Rhys's fiction registers what has come to be the representative postmodern experience—"the sense of disorientation and the uncertain identity of those who live the ambivalent, uncentred, dislocated existences which some now argue have become paradigmatic of our postmodernist times" (1996: 23).

In Chapter 2 I attempt to unearth some of the rhetorical, narrative, and linguistic devices employed for a historiography that succeeded in banishing the history of the Mexican American: the work of Walter Prescott Webb. Elements of those linguistic patterns and of the narrative elements embedded within the rhetoric of such a narrativized history reappear for the same purpose in some of today's popular culture and especially in today's public educational system. Exact linguistic patterns are applied reiteratively within these constructions for purposes of intellectual, ideological, political, and economic dominance.

With the Industrial Revolution technology became our means of perfectibility and reinforced our faith in eighteenth-century concepts of progress which excluded other ways of looking at historical events. As I show in Chapter 2, Walter Prescott Webb invokes the inventions of the Industrial Revolution to "explain" the success of his Anglo pioneers in the Southwest in his book The Great Plains. Embedded in this explanation is a larger story of how, with civilization now advanced to this point through inventions as well as travel and acquisition of land, the West could be won by these "unique" characters of this particular story. "Stories" appear repeatedly throughout the construction of a history situated within the ideologically tilted framework of an evolutionary theory of progress. In a longer retrospect, Webb's story is not unlike the Whig positivist history launched in eighteenth-century England, not against a different race but against the common man perceived as a threat to the propertied class, those for whose protection the laws had been written. It would appear that eighteenth-century England provided the model for the great Anglo colonization of Texas; its descendants, the oppressed, became the oppressors during the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglo-Mexican struggles over property and human rights. Indeed, Webb strictly defines his pioneers of pure American stock as descendants of the English, the Scots, or the Scots-Irish. English law and the history being written in the service of that law protected the "freedom not of man, but of men of property." Douglas Hay, writing on the Glorious Revolution of 1688, describes a situation that is repeated in the southwestern frontier of the New World and that echoes the growing cynicism of our own times: "Henceforth among triumphant Whigs, and indeed all men on the right side of the great gulf between rich and poor, there was little pretense that civil society was concerned primarily with peace or justice or charity. Even interests of state and the Divine Will had disappeared. Property had swallowed them all: 'Government,' declared Locke, 'has no other end but the preservation of property.' Most later writers accepted the claim uncritically" (18). Thus a historian selects significant data, based on a type of "scientific" history that has been validated for his time, to support the "rightness" of the values manifested in his history.

While Ramón Saldívar proposes a "reconstructing of American literary history" (1991: 19), I propose a critique of the process by which this "American ideological consensus" has taken hold. I also attempt to show how, against the grain of a history written in the service of and within a specific and narrow ideological framework, the literary texts—in other words, the aesthetic and cultural productions—of the peoples bereft of a sanctioned history eventually come to the fore as "the ideological rewriting of [their] banished history" (Saldívar 1990b: 19). I inquire whether the real features of that process can be lifted from their flattened contextualizations, made identifiable, and matched against the world of values that Chicano/a narrative recovers. My aim is not so much to present an alternative conception of the "Real," but rather to help reshape the consensus that, as Saldívar points out, has failed to "take into account the ways that class origins and racial and gender difference [have affected] literary and social history" (1991: 19).

I shall also note effects on our society that result when literary constructions not only banish the history of a people but also serve to marginalize ethnic groups psychologically, groups who later resist socialization by an educational system upholding this history through its adoption of state-sanctioned textbooks. As a present-day artist and activist, but especially as an educator, Yreina Cervántez speaks of her own painful memories as a student of color in a U.S. educational system which evoked in her feelings of intimidation and alienation resulting from institutionalized racism:

As a child growing up in Kansas and later rural San Diego county, it was obvious that there existed two standards of education within the same classroom--standards applied by mostly white educators. One standard, based upon the precepts of "potential and possibilities," was imparted to the white children, the sons and daughters of ranchers and landowners. Another standard of inferior or lower expectation was inflicted on the Mexican and Indian children, those from families of migrant laborers, workers and the descendants of the original inhabitants of the land.

Sadly, it is no surprise that children internalized either feelings of entitlement and superiority or those of alienation and a profound disappointment in their limited life choices. These extremes reveal the racist structure imposed by the colonizer, the powerful upon the powerless. They are still reflected in the policies of many mainstream institutions, particularly the institutions of higher education. (Cervántez 200)

Taught a history full of the complexities involved in the coming together of several cultures, students may not be so persuaded or inclined to disdain their own culture, nor will the privileged take their experience to be the norm or even the standard by which to measure achievement. The suppression or marginalization of "the other" is a dialectical process, both ways: "the other" is infected by the poor view taken of him or her, but the viewer can also be trapped in an exalted construction of himself or herself, only to be stricken when that construction fails. Efforts to maintain or reaffirm a distorted curriculum in the name of "essential skills" and "history standards" continue to our own day. In a discussion over the most recent proposed curriculum by the Texas State Board of Education, Donna Ballard and four other members of the fifteen-member State Board of Education proposed "paring down the proposed standards to the basic core subjects.... History standards should focus on the study of patriotic periods and heroic figures," reflecting Webb-style, hero-worship instruction of exclusion and dominance. On the other hand, board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi said that "schoolchildren should not only study American and Texas patriots, but also 'those who were there to greet Stephen E Austin when he arrived in Texas'" (A. Phillips Brooks: A14). Some of the writings I examine feature this very dialectic in fictionalized yet nonfictive narratives; others recover history by directly opposing habitual ways of interpreting events from the point of view of a dominator; yet others offer more subtle opposition by restoring contours to the flattened picture of borderlands Mexicanos and their history.

Following Chapter 2 I turn to the literary works themselves to explore their challenge and response to a Webbian rhetoric of dominance. Chapters 3 and 4 thus approach the "unselected factors" that had been overlooked in the shaping of the canon of literary works recognized as responding to events as viewed in the optics of the dominative history—the women, "Mexicana" writers of the early twentieth century. "Chicano" literature has been defined primarily as the work of "an ethnic working-class minority of opposition and struggle," many times with folk roots in the corrido (Saldívar 1990b: 10-11), for much of the literary production that first came to the fore resulted from the first wave of Mexican American writers, whose university education was obtained by virtue of military service in the second World War or Korea. Such is the case with Américo Paredes, José Antonio Villareal, Tomás Rivera, Rolando Hinojosa, Rudolfo Anaya, and many other male writers. Thanks to the "GI Bill," and with the exception of Paredes, who wrote much before serving in Japan, these mostly working-class men could seek a university education a generation before or in the very midst of a cultural awakening and ethnic minority struggle for equal rights. Their literary production was born of this struggle and was the result of their personal and communal resistance to the dominative cultural hegemony. Their works represent a reinscribing of what is theirs, or perhaps what was theirs before the war, and a physical and psychological distancing from their communities prompted them to adopt a tougher stance of resistance in order to reinforce their culture through its literary re-creation.

Yet, before these male writers made their appearance in this seemingly initial phase of the Chicano literary movement, significant women's writings had already begun the re-creation. For several reasons, some of which will also be discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, their work did not come to the fore as "Chicana" literary production. These two chapters are devoted to a discussion of the writings of three women authors of Mexican descent who preceded the first wave of Chicano male writers. Note that, without the benefit of the GI Bill, the educated or university-trained women writers could hardly come from anywhere except from the Mexican elite, a term that in this case defies normal definition. This was the case for Maria Cristina Mena, Jovita González, and Fermina Guerra, the last two of whom are descendants of South Texas land grantees and students of J. Frank Dobie (see Chapter 2). These "Mexicana" women writers do not overtly write about or represent a specifically working-class struggle or opposition as is thought to define Chicano literature, yet they offer contradictions to the restrictive, flattened pictures of Mexicanos that have for the most part prevailed in U.S. history and narrative fiction. Nonetheless, this canon, which has been taking shape for over three decades now, is gradually being redefined, thanks to many Chicana writers and scholars who have entered the field of literary criticism and history since the late 1970s. "The 1980s decade witnessed an explosion in the literary output of Chicana authors. The initial success of vanguard writers such as Alma Villanueva, Bernice Zamora, Lucha Corpi, and Lorna Dee Cervantes in the late 1970s and early 1980s encouraged Chicano-oriented publishing houses to "risk" investing in Mexican American women writers" (Sobek and Viramontes: 1).

In this book I take a thematic approach to various aspects of literary, folkloric, and autobiographical writings of authors of Mexican descent seldom acknowledged for their response of resistance to the male-dominated and historically inaccurate portrayals of their people. Their writings constitute a response to the reductive portrayal of their people that has been drawn by dominative historical and literary narratives. Women writers like Jovita González, Maria Cristina Mena, and Fermina Guerra who lived during Webb's time have been given little credit for doing what male writers who came after them accomplished in either fictional works or revisionist histories countering the dominative history.

Chapter 3 focuses on the literary writing of folklorist and historian Jovita González, who in her two novels written between the 1920s and 1940s, Dew on the Thorn (unpublished) and Caballero: A Historical Novel (1996), examine the meeting, or clash, between older traditional ways of life and new Anglo ways as a result of the annexation of Texas to the United States. Like Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton's novels The Squatter and the Don, originally published in 1885 (see Garza-Falcón-Sánchez 1993), and her Who Would Have Thought It?, originally published 1872, but only recently recovered in 1992 and 1995, respectively, or Leonor Villegas de Magnón's early-twentieth-century autobiographical account of her struggles, The Rebel, finally published in 1994, González's never before published works have only recently been recovered. As such they serve as sources of extraordinary value in light of how they engage the themes of war, land loss by Mexicanos, the patriarch, and the woman struggling against and with a patriarchy, which played a prominent role in these authors' lives and in their historical accounts. Paralleling each other, Ruiz de Burton's patriarch in The Squatter and the Don, Don Mariano Alamar, and González's Don Santiago in Caballero fail tragically in their attempts to deal with the new social and economic order despite the two very distinct forms their resistance to oppression takes. They can thus be contrasted to show how, despite the attempts at litigation and generous compromise on the part of one and the unyielding and even violent oppositional stance taken by the other, both are defeated, their lives and way of life destroyed. Together, the works of these two authors, who were unaware of each other's existence, create a literary historical representation of the limited options available to the landowning Mexicanos shortly after the signing to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. I alert the reader to the voice of "the new leader" in González's Dew on the Thorn, which offers hope through an approach to education that defies the indoctrination of Mexican Americans into subculture mentalities. This theme gains increasing prominence in the works later examined.

As descendants of landowning families, both Ruiz de Burton and González offer another parallel: they succeed in telling a larger story of their own life struggles as elite women in relation to the patriarchy of their times. Jovita González's two fictional representations of the changing social and family structures of Mexican Americans due to their declining economic and political power are infused with her own personal struggles to negotiate her identity within a world where her people's place was already inscribed in the mind of the academicians into whose world she had gained admittance. Ruiz de Burton, on the other hand, struggles to maintain a dignity suitable to her landowning background despite her declining financial conditions. González struggles with her desire for intellectual pursuits, which tend to silence a voice that would otherwise speak more loudly for her people. She also negotiates between her own people's sense of decencia and the patriarchy of the Anglo-dominated academy of her time. Though in this study I do not include Ruiz de Burton or Leonor Villegas de Magnón together with Jovita González, their narratives and their struggles reveal important historical realities that provide some insight into how the presentday socioeconomic conditions of many Mexican Americans came to be. For our own times, the story of the representative struggles of Jovita González between her identity as a South Texas Mexicana of limited financial means, with a strict gente decente consciousness, and that of a scholar wanting to fit within the Anglo academic world encircling the University of Texas during the 1920s and 1930s is most valuable.

In Chapter 4 I show how two writers from distinct social classes and regional experiences contradict the stereotypical portrayal of Mexicano life, both in Mexico and on the South Texas border. I discuss a short narrative by an early-twentieth-century writer, María Cristina Mena, the only one of these authors whose writings originally appeared in prestigious magazines, and a brief literary work by folklorist and educator Fermina Guerra. Few of Guerra's writings have surfaced, but "Rancho Buena Vista" presents a historic scene, from a Texas Mexican perspective, of South Texas ranch life during an important epoch. These two writers' works contrast the value system of the Mexican elite with that of the South Texas Mexicanos of approximately the same period in history. This contrast is particularly telling because of how the Mexican elite exiles would have their destinies joined with the descendants of the South Texas original settlers with the coming of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, a story told later by Beatriz de la Garza in her "Temporary Residents" (see Chap. 7). The Texas-Mexican border, in fact that space south of San Antonio and north of Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, is a unique place for this reason. It is a place that is neither all U.S. American nor all Mexican in its identity because many Mexicanos on both sides of the river have retained centuries-old ways and traditions while also feeling the threatening, growing influence of the surrounding, increasingly dominating cultures. In fact, a desire to sustain traditions, as pointed out in González's novels, is what brought many settlers to the isolated area of the Rio Grande Valley during the eighteenth century. Mena's and Guerra's depictions of a former world speak to changing class and gender relations. Mena, through her subtle use of irony, and Guerra, with her blatant telling of occurrences seldom depicted in the history of the Southwest, recover a banished history of internal and external class and gender distinctions.

In Chapters 3 and 4 I attempt to show how these women's writings signify "opposition" and "struggle," and I attend to these authors' particular challenge to the Webbian histories of the Southwest. In varying degrees of awareness of how this dominative history was being written, the three women writers I discuss responded either consciously or spontaneously. I contend that their presence and their literary statements, even when coming from within the Mexican elite, or from within an academic Anglocentric world, must be recognized. The picturing of their worlds, from their however privileged perspectives, provides a more complex and more complete picture which illuminates the dialectics of today's Chicano/a struggles.

Since I began working on this book, new anthologies of works and criticism, such as Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero's Infinite Divisions (1993) and Rebolledo's Women Singing in the Snow (1995), which include other early women writers, have been published. In these early narratives, this dialectic comes to the fore with a clarity hardly expressed by Chicano historians, and even less so by histories and literature rooted in the dominative culture.

I continue in Chapter 5 with the narratives presented in some of the poetry of Américo Paredes's early literary career, a poetry little known until the publication of Between Two Worlds in 1991. Also, I discuss Paredes's historical novel George Washington Gómez, which remained in manuscript form for half a century before being published in 1990 in relation to an earlier published short story, "The Hammon and the Beans" (1963). My discussion attends to the ways in which these works all more directly respond to a dominative history than do the women discussed in earlier chapters. The novel begins with the author's portrayal of the efforts of los Sediciosos ("the Seditionists") to resist colonialization and a repressive state order. Paredes would later further reflect upon this form of resistance in his in-depth studies of the South Texas and Northern Mexico folksongs and corridos that captured this spirit and thus provided early insight into today's frequently depicted "gang" violence:

From the Anglo point of view, the Texas-Mexican was a lawless character who used intercultural conflict to excuse his natural bent for violence and disorder; and it must be admitted that the average mexicotejano of those days tended to see almost any act of resistance against the law as a protest agains Anglo oppression. There is a close similarity between those Border attitudes and the current, so-called ghetto attitudes toward law and order, and for very much the same reasons. If people are not allowed to share in their own destinies, if they feel they are being governed from above by an alien group, then the 'law' is not considered their law, and flouting it becomes one more way of protesting against their inferior status. (Paredes 1976: 34)

Applying the Althusserian notion of an ideological state apparatus ensuring the provision of labor power, I examine in this novel the role of education in relation to labor. The "function" of this particular ideological state apparatus to reproduce a labor force and even a permanent underclass has been the underlying theme of many narratives by Chicano/a writers. Américo Paredes's novel is an important "fictional" description of the way the Chicanos were perceived and taught to perceive themselves in actual segregated school systems.

Interestingly, unlike the two patriarchs in González's and Ruiz de Burton's novels, Américo Paredes's Feliciano in George Washington Gómez succeeds, despite difficult negotiations, by accommodating to a new world order, but only to a certain extent. Because he refuses to be confined by only one norm of the new social, political, and economic system, he manages to save himself from total devastation during the Great Depression years. It is a message that can be drawn from many Chicano/a narratives, including those of the women writers examined here: "take from both worlds and draw from them something stronger and more sustaining, but never forget where you come from." The intelligence and survival instincts of this new leader dictate in pragmatic terms that a person divided between cultures, even when the cultures are dovetailed, can afford a little fraying at the edges as long as it does not induce erosion at the core. On the other hand, Feliciano's nephew, Guálinto, who for all intents and purposes is Feliciano's son, comes to represent the ultimate result of racism and the ideological state apparatus—self-hate. He is shamed into a denial of his origins and disparages his own community. This story is also telling of our own times, especially with today's second or third generation more "educated," an upwardly mobile minority that disdains being identified as Chicanos/as and that often becomes the mouthpiece for a reemerging rhetoric of dominance that justifies familiar policies of oppression.

Chapter 6 brings us sharply back to our own times as the author Helena María Viramontes takes us into the stark reality of the present-day inner city of a people without a history. Taking us west to southern California, the author closely focuses our attention on the violence and powerlessness felt by inner-city dwellers, Chicano/as and Central American political refugees who struggle with their past in the absence of a legitimate history in the present they simply endure. Though Viramontes is originally from California, her grandfather was a miner in Morenci, Arizona. I include her voice among these writers in my attempt to reveal how the reporting of inner-city events continues to have the same effects as Webb's history. The reiterated messages of violence and crime in the inner city where recent immigrants and Chicanos are caught up in day-to-day struggles come up against the lingering effects of a loss of history and memory in light of their current historical construction. In Viramontes's narratives we see how media language—drawn anyway to sensational events, as history is drawn to high points—tends to reduce those events by labeling, stereotyping, or configuring "history" as the history of only the dominant group.

In contrast to these images, the larger-than-life images of Anglos in the eyes of Mexicanos result in distortions of respective human value. Ed Montoya, a miner who grew up in the company towns of Clifton /Morenci, Arizona, and who saw the worst fighting in Okinawa, where he served during World War II, provides an example of this. In an interview conducted by Héctor Galán for his PBS documentary Los mineros, Montoya painfully remembers how he had internalized his perception of Anglos as superhumans in relation to his own community. Growing up in this Arizona mining community, where third- and fourth-generation Mexican Americans were relegated to the worst jobs, treated harshly, and forced despite three generations of struggles for equality to endure a dual-wage system imposed by the Dodge Phelps Company, left him with little reason to trust his own courage over others. Experiencing the equalizing effects of war, Montoya recalls his astonishment in 1941 at the tears and faltering courage of the Anglos in his company whom he had previously seen in heroic proportion:

On April 13, at 8:00 in the morning, there was 186 men in my company; by 5:00 in the afternoon, there was only 24 of us left. I remember a guy by the name of Thackery, "I knew there would be days like that," he would say, and tears started running down his eyes. "What's going on here," I said. "Hey, hey wait a minute. I'm the one who's supposed to be crying. You guys are Superman; you're Batman; you're Roy Rogers. You're super. You're not supposed to cry." I had never heard an Anglo cry in my life. Here in the neighborhood, I heard kids, Mexicanos, crying. I thought we were the only ones that cried.

We went on a patrol and there were six of us. We were going to go on a reconnaissance patrol, and two of the Anglo boys didn't want to go. I told them, I said, "Hey, wait a minute. If there is a guy that is supposed to refuse, it would be me [Here Mr. Montoya begins to cry and he covers his face with a handkerchief; camera shot changes and then returns] ... because back in the States, I was discriminated, and I should refuse to go right now. But no, I'm ready to go! Come on, bastards, let's go!" And they just bowed their heads and we went on the patrol. [You] see, those things are inside of you. (Galin 1991)

The internal effects of images resulting from a dominative history that invalidates one group's existence while it makes heroes of the others is evident in the stark reality that Viramontes's stories force the reader to (not just hypothetically) recognize. With this chapter, I also try to bridge the gap between narrative "fiction" and the fictions that present-day advertising, consumerism, and popular culture force upon our minds. That such stereotypification and reduction exists is validated by the fictive construction of Viramontes's characters' innermost psychological responses. The horror is brought back to its original immediacy; the cover of dominant mediaimposed labeling is blown. Those fictions, like Webb's history, perpetuate the rhetoric of dominance.

In Chapter 7 I cover three short stories by Beatriz de la Garza that speak directly to Webb's history to reveal the internal diversity and historical distinctions within the Mexicano community that are wiped out by dominant media. In this analysis, I draw attention to the neglected story of Hispanic women in general. Beatriz de la Garza's female characters in her short story "Temporary Residents" speak to the particular struggles of women to resist family disintegration as a result of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and pressures to acculturate to U.S. society. In "The Candy Vendor's Boy" de la Garza also inserts the missing story of Chicano military history with her depiction of a World War I soldier returning to Austin, Texas, his hometown in 1918. De la Garza extends her narrative beyond the theme of war to segregation and the lack of educational opportunities for Mexicanos during various periods. Even after their service in the military, Mexicanos were to find their return compromised by their being still confined to the menial, low-paying, low-status roles in a society in which they are still defined as "others." Her narratives depict dichotomous perspectives on the world that surrounds her protagonists. As Chicanos, her characters struggle against earlier constructions of themselves as they relate in uneasy ways to U.S. society.

Finally, all of the authors discussed in these chapters, as well as the various representations of gender and class struggle they create, are especially important because they succeed in offering their own versions of history by depicting the complex struggles of their people to survive and accommodate to change. Unknowingly responding to Webb's crediting of "his" pioneers as the sole participants in the carving out of a living on the American Western Frontier, these writers recover through literature what would have been a lost history of struggles that responds even to the most recent reemergence of the rhetoric of dominance voiced and perpetuated by what is known politically as the conservative right. I point, in Chapter 7 and in the epilogue, to the stories arising from a rhetoric of dominance that are still credited and continue to be constructed. In these final chapters, and especially as I examine de la Garza's story "The Kid from the Alamo," I pay particular attention to how present-day public school systems perpetuate an old story—the country's generally accepted narrative history (replete with present-day versions of the theory of Manifest Destiny, as theory of progress). This story carries with it a force that has laid the groundwork for ungrudging acceptance of certain attitudes about this country's account of the past. These attitudes still survive in popular culture and are carried out by some current media. The ideology reflected in the powerful image of the pioneering struggles prominent in traditional U.S. history (that view which prevailed before revisionist histories had made their influence felt) reinforces the prefabricated framework of an evolutionary theory, that is, a process in which we are always evolving, always succeeding in making things "better," without taking into account (except through occasional lip service) the destruction of civilizations along the way.

The conventional way of looking at the past maintains the hegemony, in turn an instrument of dominance. Major revisionist histories get published and receive some acknowledgment within the academy, yet the power of the original, essential story already inscribed within the minds of most Americans, particularly the history of the Texas Mexican in the service of Anglo colonialist ideology, still asserts itself in our schools. This became increasingly clear to me when I was teaching Chicano Literature at the University of Texas at Austin, and now as I teach U.S. Ethnic Studies and Chicano/a Narrative and Social History at Southwest Texas State University to increasing numbers of students from the Rio Grande Valley. Many of these students express disappointment and a sense of having been somehow cheated out of the truth of their own identity and experience. At the university the process of devaluing their culture even further is often accelerated. As the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC & U) draft report "American Pluralism, American Commitments and the College Curriculum" notes: "It is at college, however, that students learn to devalue their cultures. Universities teach them to forget their particularities and local cultures. Sometimes that process of erasure is accelerated when the institution fails to challenge negative cultural stereotypes and media caricatures" (27).

Students closely identified with their culture, as are many of the students from the Rio Grande Valley, are appalled that so many Chicano/as from the Valley have no sense of their own history; they realize how the schools have done their part to erase it. Sometimes even their parents, not wanting their children to suffer the discrimination which they underwent, have sheltered them from their history and consciously kept them from learning Spanish. In their attempts to have their children blend in more easily with the hegemony, and supposedly suffer less, they fear instilling hate or a victimization mentality. Many "minority" students experience these conflicts in our educational system, but with the particularly youthful population of Hispanics in the United States and the alarming dropout rate among them, these issues deserve crisis-level attention. The AAC & U put it this way: "Education for diversity requires that we encourage, rather than discourage, the exploration of origins and identity as a fundamental subject for college study. Students must learn to understand the metaphorical place of their birth and how that place and the specific identities rooted in it fit into an historically textured matrix of social relations" (27).

One subtextual concern throughout this work is to examine how the school systems have done their part in ensuring the establishment of a permanent underclass of Mexicanos. The process by which this has occurred has been the telling of a story, a story constructed out of the history, the literature, and the politically controlled media of an epoch; stories that gained credence at a particular time in history that called for and needed a justification for past and contemporary acts of suppressing and denigrating the borderlands Mexican. The power and influence that these stories have exerted serve as a subject for analysis. I wish to identify what in our educational system, and in our society as a whole, allows for the easy acceptance of these stories and perpetuates a cultural knowing of "one's place," even after the state apparatus ceases to be overtly oppressive.

The resulting experience for Chicano/a youth has been told over and over again with such literary depictions as the poems "History Class" by Tino Villanueva and "Rules of the Game" by Rogelio Gómez. But the Texas public education system, as it exists today, may still be generally if not directly linked to Webb because of the influence he exerted over the teaching of history, the writing of textbooks, and consequently the curriculum that has existed in the state of Texas since that time. As one of his biographers points out, in 1939 Webb conceived of The Handbook of Texas project while director of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA): "When the two-volume work was published in 1952, the total cost was only $1 million—and Texas had the only book of this type in the United States" (Kingston: 2). About Webb's writing of Texas history textbooks and his influence over the way Texas history would be taught in the public schools this same biographer notes:

Webb also was always active in attracting young Texans to the history of their state. He was concerned about the quality of instruction they received, and throughout his career he worked to improve the teaching. Webb began his university career by teaching the first course at the University designed to train Texas history teachers in the public schools. As director of the TSHA, he launched the junior Historian program.

While many historians disdained the writing of textbooks, Webb embraced the responsibility. Including textbooks, he wrote or edited more than twenty books during his career. The textbooks were a method of earning money, and they gave him access to students. The teaching of history should not be dull, he felt, and there were many lessons for today to be learned from the state's past. He also wrote numerous articles for popular history magazines. It was a major criticism of most historians, he argued, that they do not write for the public, but only for others in their field. Indeed, he felt that too many historians were not good writers. Webb was a good writer, for his style was concise and he concentrated on content. (2-3)

As an educator, Webb must have been fully conscious of the power of textbooks, but how much that played into his motivations for writing them is yet another matter for further exploration.

Today, the myths of Texas history continue to be perpetuated while the Texas Mexican's history and perspective are never really taught. Instead, the reverse is taught, causing the Chicano students of today to believe themselves inferior or to position themselves in an adversarial role to the ruling culture in order to assert an identity—or, as we shall see in the dual identities developed in Parades's George Washington Gó6mez, they must pretend to accept the lies. Overt segregation as described by the protagonist's father in de la Garza's "The Kid from the Alamo" or in Paredes's novel continues into our own time and in some cases is even worse. The paradigm is still active and measures out in narrative terms an ongoing historical situation. At any public school function where students congregate separately, even in the so-called integrated schools, internal segregation becomes evident: the white students take up leadership roles in the school community as almost the exclusive enrollees in the prestigious honors courses and societies, while minorities find themselves tracked in lower-level classes and receive little encouragement for higher education. According to a recent study reported in the Austin American Statesman,

Nearly six of 10 minority students attended schools in 1993-94 where more than 70 percent of the students were minorities, according to the computer analysis of Texas Education Agency data. Conversely, fewer than one in 10 whites attended predominantly minority schools that year.... An increasing number of low-income students are attending schools where more than 70 percent of students are poor. More than four of 10 low-income students attended such schools in 1993-94. About 45 percent of Texas' 3.4 million students were considered low-income that year. (Phillips and South: A1)

Even programs designed to help, such as the bilingual program plagued with inadequate funding for both teachers and curriculum, often become dumping grounds for the "learning disabled" they sometimes create. The term "bilingual" in many cases becomes a stigma attached to those "other" students, while for white students in private or elite schools, learning Spanish becomes chic or at the very least a staple in their preparation to live and work in a pluralistic society, particularly in the Southwest.

Attention to resulting gaps in achievement of Mexican Americans is crucial as we approach the end of this century and enter a new one. The state of Texas, which has traditionally depended on its rich natural resources, faces a tremendous challenge entering the new millennium. With natural resources running out and with the shift to a knowledge-based service economy, the state's economic success will increasingly depend on the quality of its human resources (Hazelton: 13). According to current demographic projections and economic trends, and in the absence of major changes in public policy, the state's population will become more ethnically diverse, as 87.5 percent of the projected growth will be due to growth in minority populations: Hispanic population will rise by 257.6 percent. By 2030, Hispanics will account for 45.9 percent of the population. The number of elementary and secondary school students enrolled in Texas public schools will increase from 33 million in 1990 to 4.5 million in 2005, and to 5.4 million by 2030. Unless significant changes occur in the relationship between minority status and educational attainment, occupations of employment, and income, the state will find itself with a higher level of poverty, a lower level of income, greater demand for all public services, and reduced public revenues (Hazelton: 14).

Though it becomes obvious that a strong higher education system is essential to the country's prosperity and well-being, even with the Affirmative Action efforts by some institutions to at least sprinkle its faculty with the minimal, complying numbers of minority faculty, institutions are hardly altered. As Rosaura Sánchez indicates, minority faculty have become co-opted by oppressive "tenure-track" systems: "The absorption of some faculty into established departments does not however indicate that Chicanos, Blacks and Native Americans have gained access to the inner sanctum of academia. A look at educational attainment statistics, recruitment and retention figures on minority students at colleges and universities would indicate that, despite two decades of a liberal discourse on opportunity and affirmative action, we have not made great strides in higher education, unless a handful of academicians who now have tenure and a handful of minority Yuppies are considered meaningful change for the vast majority of ethnic minorities" (1989: 87).

Bakhtin's maps of heteroglossia in the novel can serve as a model for dynamic institutional change that goes well beyond the tolerated "celebrations" of diversity. He raises to a high level of discourse the plain facts of life, insofar as he detects in the novel an image of language capturing, in many facets, conflict as the pulse of articulate social life. The novel, he writes, is "an artistically organized system for bringing different languages in contact with one another, a system having as its goal the illumination of one language by means of another, the carving-out of a living image of another language" (361). It is through conflict by differing systems of meaning that new meanings will be derived and learning and institutions can best engage, respond to, and refract a rapidly changing society.

But the messages we receive through various dominant media constructions continue to exercise a tremendous power over the minds of a public untrained and unwilling to question, interpret, and analyze such constructions. The socialization process, the pressure to conform that takes place in the schools, is specifically created by a curriculum still based on ideologically constructed histories. The new Western history continues to challenge romantic notions of Anglo and European glory, but what meaningful changes have occurred within the school curriculum? How accessible are these new and different ways of looking at our past in the schools or in the general public? Stories such as Webb's, which present the myth of the Winning of the West as American History, continue to be the pedagogical mainstay. As Richard Slotkin points out, the myth perpetuated by these stories continues to survive:

It is by now a commonplace that our adherence to the "myth of the frontier"—the conception of America as a wide-open land of unlimited opportunity for the strong, ambitious, self-reliant individual to thrust his way to the top—has blinded us to the consequences of the industrial and urban revolutions and to the need for social reform and a new concept of individual and communal welfare. Nor is it by a far-fetched association that the murderous violence that has characterized recent political life has been linked by poets and news commentators alike to the "frontier psychology" of our recent past and our long heritage. (5)

Communication and thus understanding is necessary for that new concept of "individual and communal welfare" to occur. Together, the works I examine here can represent a conversation, through time, between the authors and Webb. Though such a conversation unfortunately never took place, the lives and the commentaries through story of these writers provide both a reiteration and a response to the rhetoric of dominance. In the absence of such a conversation, and given our history and our continual denial of the intimate stories of the repression of the soul that history required, it is no wonder that we presently live in such a violent society. With this book I hope to add to the already proposed redefinition of the canonical U.S. literary history: already the writings of Ramón Saldivar, Patricia Limerick, Norma Alarcón, David Montejano, Sarah Deutsch, Rosaura Sánchez, Antonia Castañeda, and many others have changed the horizon quite fundamentally. Such a definition is under way, and I believe it will eventually change perceptions of our country's literary and cultural history and bring about a more honest reckoning with our past.



“This book challenges, expands, and reinterprets current knowledge about the development of Chicana/o literary history.... It will make significant contributions far beyond the field of American literature.”
Antonia I. Castañeda, Department of History, St. Mary's University