A watershed revision in the history of Mexican American literature and culture, revealing the crucial role played by the Texas Centennial of 1936 in crystallizing a new, politicized ethnic identity.
The Texas Centennial of 1936, commemorated by statewide celebrations of independence from Mexico, proved to be a powerful catalyst for the formation of a distinctly Mexican American identity. Confronted by a media frenzy that vilified "Meskins" as the antithesis of Texan liberty, Mexican Americans created literary responses that critiqued these racialized representations while forging a new bilingual, bicultural community within the United States. The development of a modern Tejana identity, controversies surrounding bicultural nationalism, and other conflictual aspects of the transformation from mexicano to Mexican American are explored in this study. Capturing this fascinating aesthetic and political rebirth, Border Renaissance presents innovative readings of important novels by María Elena Zamora O'Shea, Américo Paredes, and Jovita González. In addition, the previously overlooked literary texts by members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) are given their first detailed consideration in this compelling work of intellectual and literary history.
Drawing on extensive archival research in the English and Spanish languages, John Morán González revisits the 1930s as a crucial decade for the vibrant Mexican American reclamation of Texas history. Border Renaissance pays tribute to this vital turning point in the Mexican American struggle for civil rights.
- Preface and Acknowledgments
- Introduction: Renaissance in the Borderlands
- Chapter 1: "Texanizing Texans": Texas Centennial Discourses of Racial Pedagogy
- Chapter 2: "This Is Our Grand Lone Star State": Reclaiming Texas History in Elena Zamora O'Shea's El Mesquite
- Chapter 3: Forging Bicultural U.S. Citizenship: LULAC and the Making of Mexican American Aesthetics
- Chapter 4: A Mexico-Texan Interlude: Américo Paredes, Border Modernity, and the Demise of Patriarchal Anticolonialism
- Chapter 5: Mujeres Fronterizas: Writing Tejana Agency into the Texas Centennial Era
- Epilogue: From Centennial to Sesquicentennial
- Works Cited
For nearly two hundred years the Texas-Mexicans lived knowing very little and caring less of what was going on in the United States. They looked southward for all the necessities and pleasures in life. Mexican newspapers brought them news of the outside, their children were educated in Mexican schools, Spanish was the language of the people, Mexican currency was used altogether . . . these people had lived so long in their communities that it was home to them, and home to them meant Mexico. They lived happily ignorant that they were foreigners in a foreign land.
—Life Along the Border, Jovita González
The Texas Centennial of 1936 was an unlikely watershed in the development of Mexican American literature. The huge statewide celebration of the independence of Texas from Mexico in 1836 sparked an outpouring of literature from the one group of Texans arguably most marginalized by the event: Texas Mexicans. The media frenzy that blanketed the state with innumerable paeans to the Anglo-Texan heroes of the Alamo and San Jacinto resounded in the ears of Texas Mexicans like a reproach and a goad. The reproach lay in the Centennial's racialized representations of "Meskins" as the main obstacle to Anglo-Texan freedom in the past and as a persistent social problem for the state in the present. As the modern iteration of a long Anglo-Texan tradition of anti-Mexican representations, Centennial discourses spurred Texas-Mexican writers to formulate literary responses that critiqued the link between racist representations and racial domination while envisioning a prominent and honored placed for their community within the Lone Star State. Prodding onward a process that had been under way since the turn of the century, the Texas Centennial served as an improbable catalyst in crystallizing a new, politicized ethnic identity—the Mexican American—as articulated through an emergent aesthetic practice—Mexican American literature. The result was what Jovita González, a key figure in this book, termed a Renaissance in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands, an aesthetic and political rebirth of people of Mexican descent as Mexican Americans struggling for civil rights through the idiom of a culturally pluralist U.S. nationalism.
The concept of a bilingual, bicultural Mexican American identity oriented toward the United States was altogether a new development in the cultural life of people of Mexican descent within the United States. Before the 1930s, neither Mexican Americans nor Mexican American literature existed in the descriptive manner typically assigned to those terms today. Rather, a century of racialized conflict waged upon ethnic Mexicans had ensured that their cultural identity and cultural productions would remain defiantly antagonistic to U.S. nationalism's production of Mexican racial and cultural difference. After the Texas Revolution and the U.S.-Mexican War, ethnic Mexicans found themselves cast as the inconvenient remainder of conquest, as the living excess of Manifest Destiny's dream of new virgin lands. Occupying a social position characterized not so much by invisibility as by what the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha has termed supplementarity, ethnic Mexicans experienced their interpolation into U.S. nationalism as racialized and gendered subjects who resided within the legal discourse of citizenship yet existed outside dominant formulations of nationalist agency.
This partial presence of ethnic Mexicans within U.S. nationalism manifested itself in many ways. In terms of nationality, many supposed Mexicans were U.S. citizens yet were routinely denied their civil rights, legislatively stripped of their economic resources, and denied the legitimacy of their cultural practices. In political terms, ethnic Mexicans were voters to be herded by political machines, yet not a constituency whose interests its elected representatives would champion. In economic terms, ethnic Mexicans were useful laborers paid a fraction of what white labor received for the same work—skilled or unskilled—but also undesirables who made for neither good neighbors nor good citizens. In legal terms, ethnic Mexicans were white and thus not subject to statutory discrimination directed against African Americans; nonetheless, they suffered juridical, administrative, and customary discrimination justified upon legalized linguistic, hygienic, and socioeconomic grounds that functioned in a manner akin to Jim Crow.
While the idea of ethnic Mexicans as a racially oppressed, culturally specific community within the United States had taken deep root by the late nineteenth century, the concept of the Mexican American would have been largely unfamiliar to early narrators of this experience. Prior to the twentieth century, the vast majority of people of Mexican descent in the United States, regardless of citizenship, considered themselves puros mexicanos despite living under U.S. sovereignty. Even the legal fact of U.S. citizenship meant little to the communal self-conceptualization of those with that status, and much less to those without it. Articulating this sense of communal oppositional consciousness in their ballads of cultural conflict, the corrido singers of the Texas-Mexican border region sang stirring songs about the violent clash between mexicanos and los americanos. In the corridos, the key distinction between the ethnic Mexican hero and his Anglo-American antagonists was not any formal legal status of citizenship but rather differences in cultural practices and class standing that demarcated an unjust color line of unequal social power.
This sentiment was voiced in print as much as in the oral tradition. A perusal of Spanish-language newspapers throughout the U.S. Southwest reveals a strong sense of communal disidentification with U.S. nationalism. Poetry submitted by readers elegized the loss of Mexican cultural identity, while editorials clamored for governmental recognition of Mexican land titles, human rights, and labor struggles. What the literary historian Gabriel Meléndez has demonstrated for the Spanish-language print culture of Nuevomexicanos after 1848 can usefully be extended to characterize the oppositional cultural stance of periodiqueros (journalists) from California to Texas: "Newspapers became the principal means for Nuevomexicanos to tap the wellspring of their Indo-Hispano literary and expressive sensibility and share it publicly via the printed word. . . . In essence, newspaper publication released the creative impulse of Mexicano thought in the U.S. Southwest"(7).
In addition to providing a public forum through which to communicate, debate, and confront the ebbing of mexicano social agency as the cultural and institutional phases of the conquest proceeded apace, Spanish-language newspapers fostered strong transnational linkages with the politics and culture of a Latin America confronted with U.S. imperial ambitions.
The concept of the Mexican American as the naming of a communal experience and cultural identification is also absent from the nascent literary tradition in English produced by people of Mexican descent during the late nineteenth century. María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, the author of two novels published in the 1870s and 1880s, variously described her beleaguered community as "native Californians," "Spano-Americans" in the hemispheric sense, or simply "the conquered." This last term highlights the conditions of colonial difference imposed upon the Mexican-origin community within the United States despite their designation as U.S. citizens by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Rather, as Ruiz de Burton's novels Who Would Have Thought It? (1872) and The Squatter and the Don (1885) demonstrate, the very government pledged to protect Californio property and citizens instead expressed the logic of colonial domination in its dispossession by due process of both Californio land and rights. In the context of a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century U.S. nationalism that racialized the key terms of civic inclusion, cultural producers within the ethnic Mexican community framed the marginalized social reality of Mexican life in the United States as one in which a cultural formation identified as both Mexican and American was simply untenable as a viable strategy of personal identification, communal survival, and strategic resistance.
Not until the Texas Centennial era of the 1930s did a significant number of individuals who now identified themselves as Mexican Americans begin to articulate this struggle for civil rights and state resources. They did so through the cultural triad of the selective transculturation of U.S. legal and political practices, the strategic adoption of bilingualism in English and Spanish, and the literary production of history, fiction, and poetry. For nearly all of the Texas-Mexican writers highlighted in this book—María Elena Zamora O'Shea, Rubén Rendón Lozano, Roberto Félix Salazar, Américo Paredes, Alice Dickerson Montemayor, Jovita González, and the numerous literary contributors to the LULAC News—this trinity of cultural strategies became a crucial point of reference, if not an outright goal. As the first generation to be exposed fully to the Texas-Mexican oral tradition of cultural conflict and the U.S. nationalist pedagogy of the public school system, these Texas-Mexican authors lived the profound contradictions not only between cultural values made antagonistic in a context of racial violence, but also as partial subjects formed between state discourses of democratic citizenship and widespread social practices of white supremacy. Through the merging of cultural practices long considered incompatible in the context of borderlands conflict, many of the Texas-Mexican authors discussed in my book hoped to transform their community's partial citizenship into what the historian David Montejano has termed "effective citizenship," or the ability to strategically claim and effectively use the established political and legal procedures of the state on par with other citizens or group of citizens (260).
The formation of a bilingual, bicultural Mexican American subject as a socioeconomic phenomenon is most closely associated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Mexican American civil rights group founded in 1929. Although LULAC has been primarily considered a civil rights organization concerned with political and legal strategies for combating discrimination against Mexican Americans, I emphasize the central role that literary aesthetics played in LULAC's greater cultural project of forging a bilingual, bicultural Mexican American subject; this nascent sense of Mexican American identity was critically articulated through the creative writing published in the LULAC News, the organizational newsletter, as well as in the few works that were published through other venues. While the many editors of the LULAC News over the decade of the 1930s never issued an explicit manifesto for Mexican American cultural productions, nonetheless the consistent attention they gave to creative literature in terms of allotted space in practically every issue indicated more than a casual or coincidental interest in literary aesthetics. An implicit recognition of the centrality of expressive culture to the production of subjectivities guided their regular inclusion of poetry, short stories, and translations. In this sense, the form of the LULAC News itself reflected the very bilingual, bicultural aesthetic they advocated in the merging of English- and Spanish-language periodical conventions.
LULAC proved to be not only an early advocate for Mexican American civil rights, but also a central organizational locus for the development of Mexican American literary aesthetics, listing many of the writers of this book as members or supporters. González, Lozano, Montemayor, Salazar, and various other Mexican American writers published creative or historical work in the LULAC News, one of the few periodicals consistently publishing literature by Mexican Americans. In the Centennial edition of Texian Who's Who, Zamora O'Shea proudly listed her membership in the "Latin-Amer. League" (348). Only Paredes kept aloof from the organization, although he was well aware of its existence. In a real sense, these Texas-Mexican writers and the literature they created were part of a new social movement, albeit a liberal middle-class one different in ideology, methods, and goals from the more familiar Chicano movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like the literature of almost every social movement, the texts written by writers actively involved in LULAC exhibited the silences, contradictions, and outright disagreements among LULAC's factions (particularly along gendered lines) as well as those the organization had with Anglo-Texas.
The reconceptualization of Mexican American identity occurred in large measure through the Texas-Mexican literary response to the early twentieth-century Anglo-Texan production of "Mexican" difference that I term Centennial discourses. Texas-Mexican poetry and narratives of the 1930s reveal a profound engagement with discourses of colonial difference constituting the very essence of the Centennial, which modernized and recapitulated the numerous and pervasive anti-Mexican discourses that had historically circulated throughout Anglo-Texas. While the direct involvement of Texas Mexicans in Centennial events varied widely, many of the writers discussed here experienced the celebrations firsthand or actively participated in them; in any case, none escaped their omnipresent media coverage. Although the Centennial was not always explicitly mentioned in such texts as Zamora O'Shea's El Mesquite, Paredes's George Washington Gómez, and Caballero (which González coauthored with Margaret Eimer), nonetheless its discourses formed the invisible field of textual force influencing the literary imagination of Texas-Mexican authors during the 1930s.
Centennial Discourses and the Making of Mexican Difference
Grappling with Centennial discourses of power and knowledge that circumscribed the social contours of their daily existence, Texas-Mexican authors interrogated the two foundational pillars of that commemoratory rhetoric: history and modernity. Selectively assigning vastly different roles to Anglo-Texan and Texas-Mexican communities in the making of Texas history, Centennial discourses celebrated the historical emergence of Anglo-Texas into modernity through the colonial difference of Meskins. While the anniversary discourse cast African Americans and Native Americans in similarly subordinated positions, Texas Mexicans served as the crucial foil of colonial difference past and present that made legible the Anglo-Texan narrative of racial progress. Complementary rather than oppositional in their operations, history and modernity formed the chiastic modalities of Anglo-Texan identity within Centennial discourses, which construed Texas history as the fulfillment of modernity's promise: autonomous subjectivity in the guise of rugged frontier individualism; the development of complex, large-scale corporate enterprises such as cattle ranching, agribusiness, and the oil industry; and the establishment of a white supremacist racial order in law and custom. Bringing together all the elements that made Texas modern, Centennial discourses made racial sense of the lived Texas present of the 1930s that legitimated the legal and extralegal dispossession, disenfranchisement, and exploitation of Texas Mexicans and other people of color.
If, as the anthropologist Richard Flores has argued in Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol, the Alamo became the articulating discursive nexus of what he terms "the Texas Modern," codifying the capitalist reordering of Anglo-Mexican social relations along great divides of race, class, and culture between 1880 and 1920, then the Centennial can be thought as the master narrative of Texas modernity that articulated all the sites, events, stories, and symbols of the colonial difference of Mexicans into a coherent teleological narrative of Anglo-Texan domination. Regarding the Centennial as the master narrative of Texan modernity enables an examination of its discourses as the enunciative juncture of a state that had been, and always considered itself, a nation. According to Bhabha, projects of nation building like the Centennial produce nationalist subjects in the narration of "the people." Situated between the pedagogical task of locating the historical origins of national identity and the performative moment of the present whose lived contingencies reproduce that nationalist identity as immediately modern rather than merely antiquarian, the nation, understood as the unisonace of its constitutive elements, emerges from the powerful processes of signification generated between the pedagogical imperative and the performative realization.
Given the extreme class and social slippages brought about by modernity (most immediately experienced during the 1930s as the Great Depression), the strongest sense of a stable nationalist identity for Anglo-Texans came through Texas history and its narrative of unbridled racial triumphalism. Made a required course in public schools by the Texas legislature in the 1890s, Texas history as a central expression of Anglo-Texan power and knowledge formed the essential ideological substratum that legitimated the practice of white supremacy as an essential, constitutive element of Anglo-Texan subjectivity. As the historian David Gutiérrez has argued in his discussion of the discursive creation of the American West, the relatively quick phase of military conquest was followed by decades of the "construction of elaborate set[s] of rationales which are designed to explain," through the victor's writing of history, "why one group has conquered another" ("Significant," 520). Writing histories to construct and prioritize categories of knowledge and agency, U.S. historians wielded great social power through their ability not only to interpret the past in a manner favorable to the conquerors, but also to pass off their categorizations as being legitimate, disinterested knowledge. As Gutiérrez writes, "The critical aspect of the annexation of the West proved to be the power that conquest bestowed on Americans to explain what had occurred there" ("Significant," 522).
Yet even as Centennial discourses produced and legitimated an invidious Mexican difference in the service of domination, the necessary linguistic and cultural slippages between the pedagogical and performative aspects of nation signification created what Bhabha calls "minority discourse" as a critical commentary on the exclusionary principles inherent in the process of imagining national communities. As Bhabha writes,
Minority discourse sets the act of emergence in the antagonistic in-between of image and sign, the accumulative and the adjunct, presence and proxy. It contests genealogies of "origin" that lead to claims for cultural supremacy and historical priority. Minority discourse acknowledges the status of national culture—and the people—as a contentious, performative space of the perplexity of the living in the midst of the pedagogical representations of the fullness of life. (157)
In other words, minority discourse engages in the world-historical project of deconstructing regimes of colonial discourse and renegotiating the power relations that flow from such representations, a project that Texas-Mexican writers recognized as their task vis-à-vis Centennial discourses. They recognized history as the imaginative grounds upon which the parameters of national inclusion were formulated in Centennial discourses; hence, the explicit contestation of Anglo-Texan historiography became a fundamental strategy in their texts. If Texas history had been mobilized by generations of Anglo-Texans to deny that Texas Mexicans had any claim to either civil rights or historical recognition, then these Texas-Mexican writers, recognizing the linkage between the two, would work to assert claims to both. Mexican American literature became, in effect, the cultural front in efforts to claim not only the formal rights of citizenship, but also the symbolic capital and material resources adjudicated by civil society and the state.
Yet the cultural work of early Mexican American literature went beyond a critique of anti-Mexican Centennial discourses to a far-reaching examination of their conditions of production, namely, border modernity, or the full capitalist incorporation of south Texas into national and global economies as a consequence of colonial duress. The Texas-Mexican community had indeed endured social changes at least as drastic as those in the cosmopolitan metropoles of Europe and the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but these changes were not experienced as an organic outcome of autochthonous development, however welcome or unwelcome. Collectively experiencing the modernist fragmentation of space and time at gunpoint and point of sale, Texas Mexicans encountered border modernity as apocalyptic rupture, but in a different way from that theorized by metropolitan commentators of the day. In contrast to the perceived abridgments of individual agency or the fragmentation of individual subjectivities so central to accounts of metropolitan modernity, Texas-Mexican writers and intellectuals of the 1930s analyzed border modernity as a communally traumatic experience in which the radical social displacements of modern life developed within the dynamics of racial domination.
The shock of the new for Texas Mexicans came as racial conflict, in the form of the erosion of civil rights, the loss of ancestral lands, and an explosion of violence, physical and symbolic, directed against them. Their emphatic demonization in Texas historiography and gradual erasure from Texas modernity dismally presaged the social death of their community. Unlike the utopian visions available to metropolitan modernists, border modernity held no promise for Texas Mexicans and yet nonetheless demanded a strategy for communal survival. By the 1930s, border modernity had made the social analysis of previous tejano organic intellectuals less relevant to the modern moment; the corridos of earlier generations offered neither viable modes of analysis nor clear lines of action even as this ballad form lingered in residual, increasingly commodified forms. Given the traumatic reorganization of everyday life for Texas Mexicans throughout the early twentieth century, the social conundrum was not so much about whether or not to be(come) modern as much as the necessity of negotiating the currents of border modernity that were rapidly changing labor relations, gender roles, linguistic and other cultural practices, and the very sense of a coherent, knowable communal identity. Indeed, the very attempt to reformulate a new Mexican American identity begged the question of whether or not civil rights and human dignity could be found within modernity's destabilizations of communal identities and individual subjectivities as conceptualized within either the mexicano social world, the putative American one that forcibly displaced it, or the bicultural Mexican American hybrid that sought to supersede both.
The response to the Centennial necessarily prompted an intense debate over the impact of border modernity on the Texas-Mexican community itself. Many of the Texas-Mexican authors discussed in this book were from long-standing border families who had lost landholdings to Anglo-American newcomers after 1848 and had therefore experienced firsthand the economic and social decline of family and community fortunes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Out of those conditions emerged an intense debate about the future of the Texas-Mexican community: how should tejanos respond to the changed conditions of communal existence when their community itself had become increasingly stratified by class differences in the modern age? In what fashion were Texas Mexicans to participate in the white supremacist society of Texas and the United States? Would Americanization hold the answer to becoming fully realized social agents under U.S. nationalism? or would Americanization only reinforce subordination to Anglo-American domination? Wrestling with the dilemma they inhabited, Texas-Mexican writers strove to generate new cultural practices that could more effectively represent a community increasingly fractured by the very social processes they sought to represent in their texts. The Centennial would serve to remind them that the representation of those social processes as Texas history mediated the terms of social agency in a state that thought itself a nation.
Texas Mexicans and Texas: A History of Violence
On May 1, 1936, Manuel Gutiérrez Castañeda, the editor of the Spanish-language newspaper La Voz in the small south Texas town of San Diego, bemoaned the apparent lack of interest in the Texas Centennial exhibited by the residents of Duval County. The key Centennial anniversaries of the Declaration of Texas Independence (March 2), the fall of the Alamo (March 6), and the final victory at San Jacinto (April 21) had come and gone with no special recognition by the townsfolk, prompting Gutiérrez Castañeda to ask his readers, "Y los Texanos de San Diego. Que hacemos? Acaso no hay patriotas en San Diego? Entonces, porqué no demostramos el entusiasmo igual al de los demás pueblos?" [And what of the Texans of San Diego. What are we doing? Are there no patriots in San Diego? Then, why don't we show an enthusiasm equal to that of all the other towns?] (2). The distinct lack of enthusiasm, Gutiérrez Castañeda argued, could result in a significant loss of touristic revenue for the town, as many celebrations, including the main Texas Centennial Central Exposition in Dallas, were set to occur over the summer. As a stop on the Texas Mexican Railroad and being located at the intersection of two major roads, San Diego stood to profit considerably by drawing tourist travel to the town with Centennial events.
While undoubtedly keeping the economic benefits of local celebrations in mind, Gutiérrez Castañeda nonetheless emphasized the less tangible "deber civico," or civic duty, of his readers to commemorate the Centennial. Calling this duty "una necesidad imperiosa" [an imperative responsibility], Gutiérrez Castañeda volunteered himself, the mayor, and the superintendent of schools to organize San Diego's Centennial events. Recognizing that these efforts would come to naught without the enthusiastic support of the town's heavily Texas-Mexican population, Gutiérrez Castañeda appealed directly to them in the name of civic pride: "Tu eres texano. Deja que tu orgullo de serlo te mueva a obrar! Es tu celebración!; ¡Foméntala!" [You are a Texan. Let your pride move you to action! It's your celebration! Support it!] (2).
Yet the townsfolk's apparent lack of interest in celebrating the Centennial indexed the vexed Texas-Mexican experience of Texas's highly polarized racial order. Anglo-Texans customarily, and sometimes violently, refused to recognize Texas-Mexican membership in the imagined community of Texas and the United States, treating Texas Mexicans as foreigners, even those who came from a family of many generations' standing in the state. Texas Mexicans widely maintained that the Centennial celebrations most emphatically did not include them. The troubling images of cruel, treacherous, and lazy Mexicans often appeared as the racial antithesis of freedom-loving, civilization-spreading Anglo-Texans in popular Centennial narratives. Given that similar images had long been used to justify social segregation and labor exploitation, the Texas-Mexican community's silent boycott of the Centennial in San Diego reflected a critical awareness of the politics of modern representation, implicated as it was within the racial hierarchy that was Texas in the 1930s.
Underlying the everyday experience of Texas Mexicans of social and economic discrimination in San Diego was the communal memory of cultural conflict and racial violence that had periodically punctuated life in the volatile Nueces Strip, the vast arid region of south Texas bounded by the Nueces River to the north and the Rio Grande to the south. While a shared experience for ethnic Mexicans throughout the U.S. Southwest, the unfolding of border modernity occurred with extraordinary rapidity along the Texas-Mexican borderlands, bringing about violent clashes and sharp contradictions that represent some of the most intense manifestations of cultural conflict within the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The U.S.-Mexican War had started over competing claims as to which river formed the international boundary, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had ended that war by drawing the border from the mouth of the Rio Grande near Brownsville, up the river to El Paso, across the Sonoran Desert of New Mexico and Arizona, and finally to the Pacific Ocean just south of San Diego, California. A profound economic, social, and cultural struggle flourished for a century in the formal peace that followed. If Anglo-Texans consistently remembered themselves as the oppressed victims of Mexican tyranny in Centennial discourses, thereby erasing their own subsequent oppression of Texas Mexicans, then the latter did not forget the protracted conflict that unfurled after the treaties of Velasco and Guadalupe Hidalgo, telling of the clashes in corridos and passing the stories along as bitter family heirlooms.
And they knew the tales all too well. In the mid-1870s, vigilante Regulators scoured Nueces County (which included San Diego at the time) for "prowling Mexicans" suspected of committing heinous murders of Anglo-Texans (quoted in Taylor, 53). Turning a criminal investigation into a one-sided race war, the vigilantes murdered many hapless victims as they made their way across the countryside, lynching Texas Mexicans on the slightest pretext and driving off the ones they did not kill. The mob violence was so great that even Captain Leander H. McNelly of the Texas Rangers, a man who had little compunction about applying la ley de fuga or torture to Meskins, made known his dismay at the situation in a dispatch to Ranger headquarters in the state capital of Austin: "The acts committed by Americans in this section are horrible to relate. Many ranches have been plundered and burned and the people murdered or driven away; one of these parties confessed to me in Corpus Christi as having killed eleven (11) men, on their last raid" (quoted in Graham, 135-136).
Many ranchos were burned to the ground, and only coincidence prevented the vigilantes from carrying out a plan to kill every Texas Mexican in Goliad County. Under color of avenging murders, controlling cattle rustling, and curtailing other so-called bandit activities, Anglo-Texans terrorized Texas-Mexican landowners throughout the region, forcing them to sell cheaply or otherwise abandon their holdings. The race war was in many ways a proxy for the economic displacement of Texas-Mexican landowners in the Upper Nueces region. What was characterized by Anglo-Texans as the Skinning Wars over Mexican cattle rustling and hide peeling accelerated land transfer from small Texas-Mexican rancheros to large Anglo-Texan enterprises (Montejano, 53). Many of the properties would become "part of two large ranching operations, those of Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King" (Graham, 133). Accelerating the wholesale descent of Texas Mexicans into the ranks of wage laborers, this ethnic cleansing of the Nueces basin burned itself into the collective memory of Texas-Mexican communities along the Nueces River.
The Texas Mexicans along the Rio Grande at the southern end of the Nueces Strip had their own tragedias to tell. Although ushered into mercantile capitalism by Spanish colonization during the mid-eighteenth century, the border region had been only partially integrated into U.S. markets during the late nineteenth century. Despite the displacement of elite Texas-Mexican rancheros by Anglo-American ranchers during the second half of the nineteenth century, the relatively low level of integration into national markets did not significantly transform the nature of everyday life for most tejanos in the Nueces Strip. As Montejano has shown, periodic economic depressions temporarily switched the otherwise export-driven ranching economy into a largely subsistence mode, cushioning the impact of capitalist market swings and delaying the complete realization of wage-labor relations. Corridos recorded the conflict between Anglo-Texans and Texas Mexicans during that period. The flash point, however, was not Anglo encroachment upon the everyday operations of Texas-Mexican civil society but rather the racialized operations of the U.S. legal system, particularly as it functioned in its repressive mode.
While the law dispossessed and discriminated, often violently through the actions of the hated rinches (Texas Rangers), nonetheless its operation did not significantly transform Texas-Mexican civil society of home, work, and worship. Civil society remained semiautonomous, removed from overt Anglo-American influence except for the thorny matters of landownership and labor relations on Anglo-owned ranches. What Montejano terms the "peace structure" of the era required the subordination of ethnic Mexicans to Anglo-American authority in law and politics and an accommodation among Anglo and Texas-Mexican elites, but Anglos did not have the wherewithal to impose major cultural changes (34). The late nineteenth-century social world of south Texas that generated the corrido heroes and narratives was thus a starkly polarized world in the sense that U.S. institutions of civil society—religious, educational, and civic—only indirectly touched the everyday lives of Texas Mexicans. The face of the patrón might have changed, but even the Anglo patrones largely adopted Mexican culture, and Spanish remained the dominant language of the region. In essence, Texas-Mexican civil society along the border remained relatively intact through the end of the nineteenth century, even as tejano elites were displaced at the northern end of the Nueces Strip and reached accommodations within the new power structures at the southern end. One implication of this accommodation was that Texas Mexicans, especially those within the Nueces Strip, continued to identify themselves politically and culturally with Mexico.
Not until the completion of the St. Louis, Texas and Mexico Railroad into Brownsville in 1904 did the Texas-Mexican communities of the lower Rio Grande Valley experience such a complete transformation of everyday life. The arrival of the railroad in the valley not only ended the region's economic isolation, but also foretold the end of a Mexican way of life on the border that had endured for over fifty years after the U.S. annexation. Aided by the invention of the refrigerated boxcar, the railroad transformed the region's economy by providing a fast and reliable distribution network for agricultural products, a development that made the previously dry and remote flatlands of the Rio Grande delta valuable for commercial agricultural cultivation. The railroad also facilitated the migration of numerous white Midwesterners to the valley, intensifying the redistribution of land and political power to Anglos and creating a disenfranchised Texas-Mexican working class as wage-labor relations became gradually normalized throughout the region. The first thirty years of the twentieth century saw the often-violent full-scale incorporation of south Texas, and particularly the lower Rio Grande Valley, into national markets and U.S. civil society.
Looking to protect their economic interests, the newly arrived Anglo farmers demanded publicly financed infrastructural services that local county and municipal governments had seldom hitherto provided, such as paved roads, public schools, and regional irrigation canals. Such projects constituted a model of government redistribution of resources for the common good that had not existed during the late nineteenth-century ascendancy of ranching, when the cattle barons in control of county governments did not need such infrastructural improvements for their economic profitability. To wrest county governments out of the hands of ranchers, agricultural interests formed Good Government Leagues to denounce Texas-Mexican voters, the key to victory for the political machines of the region over the previous five decades. In the guise of breaking machine power, these Good Government Leagues explicitly targeted the Texas-Mexican vote for disenfranchisement. The implementation of a poll tax (1902), the state Democratic Party's establishment of White Man's Primaries (1904), and the enforcement of citizenship, language, and literacy requirements for voting and jury duty effectively disempowered the Texas-Mexican community as a viable political bloc across much of the state. The simultaneous establishment of customary racial segregation meant that the benefits of this Progressive model of community improvement accrued largely on the Anglo side of the color line, leaving Texas Mexicans to occupy a subordinate political and social position within the emergent commercial agricultural economy of the countryside and the growing class of white-collar professionals in the towns.
Between 1900 and 1930, the "peace structure" along the border that had previously accommodated Anglo-American newcomers to the landed tejano elite during the late nineteenth century crumbled before the large influx of white Midwesterners unused to, and disdainful of, any social accommodations with what they considered inferior, nonwhite races. As landownership and political power shifted from the old-timers to the newcomers, customary racial segregation became solidly ensconced in south Texas except in border towns such as Brownsville and Laredo, where the old elites, along with a Texas-Mexican merchant middle class, held some sway. Even in border towns, however, the absolute racial differentiation of the color line radically altered the quotidian life of ethnic Mexicans regardless of class standing. Texas Mexicans across the state found themselves increasingly disenfranchised in political life, marginalized in economic development, and segregated in social life. Just a decade after the railroad's arrival, the harsh experience of racial segregation and wage labor had become an everyday reality for the ethnic Mexican community at the southern end of the Nueces Strip.
The Borderlands War of 1915 erupted throughout the lower Rio Grande Valley forty years after the ethnic cleansing of the Upper Nueces Strip and just two decades before the Centennial. Seeking to reverse their drastic economic and social losses, small bands of Texas-Mexican rancheros and townspeople staged an armed uprising against Anglo-Texan domination using hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. Far from being the passive, unmotivated Mexican laborer so central to white supremacist ideologies of the region, los sediciosos (the seditionists) gave notice that they would react forcefully against the invidious transformation of their everyday lives. An irredentist manifesto linked by U.S. authorities to los sediciosos, provocatively titled El plan de San Diego, called for the restoration of Mexican sovereignty throughout the U.S. Southwest. Inspired by the overthrow of the repressive administration of President Porfirio Diaz by the Mexican Revolution, this revolutionary plan called for an uprising of Texas Mexicans, blacks, and other people of color against the Anglo-American occupiers of the Southwest. All Anglo males over sixteen years of age were to be summarily executed. Once victory had been achieved, the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Colorado would become an independent Mexican republic. Large parts of the Southwest would be returned to the Apache and other Native American tribal nations while African Americans would carve their own country out of six states bordering Texas to the north and east.
While no consensus has emerged among historians about a verifiable link between El plan de San Diego and los sediciosos, nonetheless the manifesto and the insurgent tejano group embodied an expressly antiracist militancy that profoundly frightened the Anglo-Texan populace. Nominally led by the Texas-Mexican rancheros Aniceto Pizaña and Luis de la Rosa, los sediciosos destroyed the technology that had facilitated their economic dispossession and social disenfranchisement: irrigation pumps, automobiles, and railroad lines. Raids occurred as far north as Las Norias, an outpost of the King Ranch some seventy-five miles from the border. The most spectacular insurgent action was the derailment of a St. Louis, Texas and Mexico Railroad train in October 1915 in Olmito, just north of Brownsville. Throughout the summer and fall of that year, los sediciosos killed seventeen Anglo men: six civilians and eleven soldiers (Harris and Sadler, 296). Moreover, the actions of los sediciosos were reported across the nation as a possible prelude to a general race war. The New York Times reported in August 1915 that Anglo-Texans in the lower Rio Grande Valley brandished arms "in fear that the overwhelming Mexican population of the section may break out in a racial fight" ("Texans Armed," 4).
Indiscriminate collective punishment of Texas Mexicans followed, as the Texas Rangers and local vigilante posses carried out reprisals that often resulted in the death of any Texas Mexican unlucky enough to be in the area, whether or not any actual connection to los sediciosos could be proven. Estimates of the Texas-Mexican dead range from a conservative number of three hundred to an upper limit of five thousand, a number arrived at by the historian Walter Prescott Webb, the hagiographer of the Texas Rangers at the time of the Centennial. As in the Nueces County conflict during the 1870s, mass displacements of ethnic Mexicans occurred as the Borderlands War raged on. Over thirty thousand left the valley as some fifty thousand U.S. Army troops—"practically all the American armed forces available for combat duty"—flooded the border (Montejano, 122-123). The exodus further cemented the subordinate position of Texas Mexicans in the area as the Rangers and vigilante militias used the conflict to force the sale of Mexican-owned land to Anglos through intimidation or abandonment. The reprisals lasted well after the war itself. As late as 1922, an editorial in the New York Times commented that "the killing of Mexicans without provocation is so common as to pass almost unnoticed" along the Texas-Mexican border ("Protecting Mexicans," 11). Exacting a terrible price, the Borderlands War proved to be the last concerted gasp of a Texas-Mexican guerrilla war of maneuver that had flared sporadically throughout south Texas since 1836.
The situation of the ethnic Mexican community in Texas at the time of the Centennial twenty years after the Borderlands War could best be described as harsh. Racial discrimination against Mexican Americans in housing, public accommodations, and jobs was widespread, if de facto rather than de jure; only the segregation of African Americans was enshrined in federal and state law. Beset by decades of this customary discrimination and state violence, ethnic Mexicans in Texas faced high levels of impoverishment, political disenfranchisement, severe public health problems, and low educational attainment. Texas-Mexican laborers on average earned just over seven hundred dollars annually at a time when an annual income of seventeen hundred dollars defined the federal poverty line (Orozco, "Origins," 42). Even when employed in white-collar professions such as banking and retail or when holding skilled blue-collar jobs such as carpenters and masons, Texas-Mexican men earned only thirteen hundred dollars per year (Orozco, "Origins," 49). Large urban areas such as San Antonio offered some opportunity for upward mobility, but nonetheless Texas-Mexican professionals found their path blocked by racial discrimination and almost total exclusion from important social networks of fraternal orders and other civic organizations.
Crushing poverty, coupled with institutional neglect, resulted in appalling mortality rates for ethnic Mexicans across Texas. Deaths from tuberculosis reached near-epidemic levels in San Antonio's barrios, where ethnic Mexicans had mortality rates two and a half times greater than those of African Americans and almost six times greater than those of Anglos (Gutiérrez, Walls and Mirrors, 91). Similarly, the infant mortality rate in San Antonio for ethnic Mexicans was 14.4 percent, compared to 10.5 percent for African Americans and 5.1 percent for Anglos (Gutiérrez, Walls and Mirrors, 91). In 1939, one observer characterized the West Side barrio as "one of the foulest slum districts in the world": "Floorless shacks renting at $2 to $8 per month are crowded together in crazy fashion on nearly every lot. They are mostly without plumbing, sewage connections or electric lights. Open, shallow wells are often situated only a few feet from unsanitary privies. Streets and sidewalks are unpaved and become slimy mudholes in rainy weather" (Granneberg, 423). Conditions outside the cities were no better. In the rural areas of south Texas, a researcher for the Work Projects Administration found that "tuberculosis, enteritis, and infectious diarrhea were endemic" in the population, which lived in crowded conditions inside tin shacks with dirt floors and outdoor open toilets (Gutiérrez, Walls and Mirrors, 91).
Matters were scarcely better in terms of educational attainment, as statistics reveal an appalling dropout rate for ethnic Mexicans within the public school system. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, some 40 percent of Mexican American school-age children never attended school, while approximately three-quarters of those in school were concentrated in the first through third grades. Only 3 or 4 percent attended high school, while an estimated two hundred fifty ethnic Mexican students attended college; all told, only one in twenty-eight hundred Texas Mexicans (or 0.036 percent) received any form of higher education.
In addition to the hardships of daily living in Texas, the ethnic Mexican community found itself vulnerable to Depression-era scapegoat politics, particularly since the two decades prior to the Centennial had seen a drastic increase in the number of Mexican nationals residing within the state. Fleeing the Mexican Revolution, approximately one million wartime refugees headed northward; as a result, the ethnic Mexican population in the United States grew more than tenfold, from one hundred thousand in 1900 to one and a half million in 1930 (Orozco, "Origins," 35). The ethnic Mexican population in Texas had tripled to seven hundred thousand, or nearly half of the entire Mexican-origin population in the country (Orozco, "Origins," 39). Over eighty-two thousand called San Antonio home, constituting 35 percent of the city's population (R. García 29). Claiming that foreigners were taking much-needed jobs from Americans, cities across the nation, including San Antonio, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, and Los Angeles, organized campaigns in conjunction with federal agencies to pressure ethnic Mexicans into departing for Mexico either voluntarily or through deportation. Between three hundred fifty thousand and six hundred thousand ethnic Mexicans—both Mexican nationals and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent—were "repatriated" between 1929 and 1937 (Gutiérrez, Walls and Mirrors, 72).
Given this profound history of violence, exploitation, neglect, displacement, and discrimination, Gutiérrez Castañeda of San Diego's La Voz did acknowledge that the Texas-Mexican community's nonparticipation in the Centennial might have something to do with resentments and distrusts built up over the years between them and Anglo-Texans, the principal promoters of the Centennial. Moving ahead, Gutiérrez Castañeda suggested, involved setting aside these bitter memories: "Has tú, mi querido lector, un esfuerzo por alejar de tí todo agravio personal, todo prejuicio y presta tu ayuda con despego. No le estarás prestando ayuda a ninguna organización, asociación, o persona sino a tu pueblo y a tu Estado" [Make an effort, dear reader, to forget all personal grievances, all prejudices, and lend your help dispassionately. You would be helping not just any organization, association or person but your community and your state] (2). In calling for civic engagement rather than communal disidentification, Gutiérrez Castañeda advocated a change in the way Texas Mexicans acted in their capacity as residents of Texas and citizens of the United States. The reward would be recognition of Texas-Mexican citizenship by Anglo-Texans, who would be forced to acknowledge their participation in the Centennial as proof positive of their willingness to be considered American. But doing so would come at great cost. Gutiérrez Castañeda suggested that Texas Mexicans would have to forget the state's history of violence against them, but what's more, they were, in Bhabha's words, "obliged to forget" that violence "in establishing the nation's writ" (160). Full citizenship, Gutiérrez Castañeda implied, meant forgoing the pursuit of justice, with its necessarily conflictual view of the past, for the pursuit of happiness in the present.
If Gutiérrez Castañeda had no apparent qualms about being obliged to forget, many other Texas Mexicans of the Centennial era would neither forget the injustices, past and present, inflicted upon their community nor remain silent on the matter of asserting citizenship rights. Quiet resistance to the Centennial on the part of San Diego's tejano residents might have sufficed to derail local celebrations and profits, but how Texas Mexicans should collectively confront Centennial discourses and the unjust racial order it legitimated remained a question whose roots extended to the violence of the Borderlands War some two decades earlier. The Borderlands War and its consequences suggested the need for Texas-Mexican intellectuals of the next quarter century to formulate a new communal identity distinct from the polarized binary of mexicano and American so commonsensical to previous generations.
Texas-Mexican expressive culture almost immediately registered the dimensions of this looming problem. "Los sediciosos," a corrido about the Borderlands War composed in the war's aftermath, is notable for its distinction between "puros mexicanos" and "mexicotejanos," the mexicotejanos bearing the brunt of state repression as the puros mexicanos, implied to be Mexican nationals, took refuge in Mexico. Rather than celebrate los sediciosos as heroes who defied the Anglo-American colonial order, the corrido mourned the great loss of life and property suffered by Texas Mexicans, the ones who could not retreat into a nation-state that claimed them. "Los sediciosos" demarcates the cultural moment when Texas Mexicans realized that their historical identification with Mexico could not save them from the political realities of living in the United States: "Once identity is constructed from the social borders of socioeconomic and historical conditions of marginalization between two cultures, the expressive, discursive form of that identity also changes" (R. Flores, "Corrido," 176). The lesson of "Los sediciosos" was that geopolitical boundaries did matter in terms of community safety, however artificial the international line might have seemed to the Texas-Mexican sense of communal identity before 1915. While their disavowal of U.S. citizenship might have had few practical consequences for most Texas Mexicans in their daily lives during the late nineteenth century, the increased incorporation of the Nueces Strip into the nation during the early twentieth century necessitated a fundamental rethinking of the Texas-Mexican political and cultural orientation toward Mexico.
Along with the subsequent passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 and the deportation of Mexican American citizens during the Great Depression, the Borderlands War demonstrated how even the partial citizenship of Mexican Americans could disappear before the contingencies of racial violence. For the Texas-Mexican intellectuals of the Centennial era, countering the fact of being effectively rendered stateless meant transforming the cultural and political sensibilities of U.S. citizens of Mexican descent through a command of the English language and the adoption of other cultural knowledge deemed necessary to secure rights and resources. Mounting a concerted effort to critically engage the Centennial and its exclusionary discourses, a determined group of middle-class Texas-Mexican writers organized largely through LULAC sought to change the racialized relationship between the United States and its citizens of Mexican origin without forgoing communal justice. Formulating their demand for civil rights as part of their aesthetic project of reorienting ethnic Mexican communal identity toward the United States, Texas-Mexican writers of the 1930s would construct the Mexican American subject as their answer to the dilemma posed by the Borderlands War.
Organization of the Book
Each of the book's five chapters examines the dynamic interplay of Centennial discourses and Mexican American literature across specific sites of representation. In chapter 1, I look at the Texas Centennial not only as a discrete event, but also as a crucial modernist project that made selected aspects of the Texas past meaningful to Anglo-Texans in the 1930s. Centennial discourses synthesized the historical elements of what historians now recognize as the iconography of Texas into a coherent narrative through which modern Texas emerged. Hoping to shed the national and international image of Texas as an economic and cultural backwater, business and intellectual elites staged the Texas Centennial as the cultural project of making modern Texan subjects by commemorating Texas's successful revolt from Mexico in 1836. As told through saturation media coverage, Texas history became more than the advertising hook for events such as the official Centennial Central Exposition in Dallas. Becoming a modern Texan meant learning one's place within Texas's historical narrative of racial progress, progress that had culminated in mass consumer culture, a lesson taught through the numerous works of history, poetry, and fiction generated for the Centennial.
Depicting the Texas Revolution as a racial clash of civilizations, Centennial narratives—whether popular or academic—reinscribed race as the key determinant of just which inhabitants of Texas could become modern. A wide range of poetry, fictional literature, and popular histories portrayed people of color, and particularly the Mexican, as persistent and troublesome obstacles to Anglo-Texan progress. Above all, Webb's The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense (1935) articulated most clearly and completely the Centennial vision of Anglo-Texan racial triumphalism. This hagiographic assessment of the paramilitary state police force by a leading historian at the University of Texas depicted Texas history as the tripartite racial struggle between Anglo-Texans, Indians, and Mexicans for control of the region's vast natural resources. Indeed, many of these texts attributed the development of Anglo-Texan character—rugged self-reliance, aggressive individualism, and intractably white supremacist—to the struggles to wrest a rich land from lesser Mexican, African American, and Native American races. These narratives provided Anglo-Texans with nationalist pedagogy of race that seamlessly connected the past to the present in the name of the future, while commercial spectacle incorporated that narrative into the lived contemporaneity of the moment. Yet despite celebrating what appeared to be the inevitable triumph of the Anglo-Texan over lesser racial foes, Webb's Texas Rangers anxiously anticipated the growing political power of one enemy supposedly defeated in the past and currently held in a state of abject submission: Texas Mexicans.
Chapter 2 discusses the discursive struggles between Anglo-Texans and Texas Mexicans over the Texas landscape itself as a lieu de mémoire. Here, the focus is on María Elena Zamora O'Shea, a little-known Mexican American writer, and her literary broadside against J. Frank Dobie, the dean of Texas folklore for much of the twentieth century. As a member of the Advisory Board of Texas Historians for the Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations, Dobie helped consolidate a vernacular understanding of Texas history as Anglo-Saxon progress through an extensive state-sponsored program of erecting historical monuments throughout the state. Approximately 500 roadside markers erected under this program, supplemented by another 264 erected by the Texas Highway Department, created an informal textbook of Texas history that sacralized the establishment of civilization in Texas while demonizing or marginalizing African Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans. In effect, the Centennial historical markers created an easily comprehensible cognitive map of the state that transformed the landscape itself into a monument to Anglo-Texan triumphalism.
Contrasting what she considered to be an artificially imposed history of conquest and betrayal with her metaphor of organic Texas-Mexican history, Zamora O'Shea published El Mesquite in anticipation of Dobie's central role in formulating the historical narratives to be used to commemorate the Centennial. This novella from 1935 chronicles over two centuries of Spanish, Mexican, and Texas-Mexican history in the Nueces Strip of South Texas as witnessed by el Palo Alto, the mesquite tree of the title. El Palo Alto relates the events stricken from Anglo-Texan historiography, particularly the violent dispossession of Texas-Mexican rancheros despite their enthusiastic support for the independence of Texas. Far from positing a naturalized, ahistorical vantage point for Texas Mexicans, el Palo Alto itself falls victim to the very processes of modernity it depicts. Yet, unlike the Anglo-Texan narrative of complete Mexican abjection before a superior white race, El Mesquite suggests that the Texas-Mexican community survives in a new, modernist form, as the very technologies of representation evolve to open new possibilities of communal memory. Passing from oral history to literature, from pencil sketch to photograph, Zamora O'Shea seeks to reclaim Texas history from Anglo-Texan historiography and thereby invert the truth valences traditionally assigned to either literature or history. Displacing history as the locus of truth, Zamora O'Shea's El Mesquite suggests how Mexican American literature assumes the ideological function of critical counternarrative to dominant U.S. cultural productions.
Chapter 3 considers the formative role of LULAC in the creation of a bicultural Mexican American identity through literary aesthetics during the Centennial era. In 1934, the organization formed a Centennial committee charged with formulating the organization's participation in the upcoming celebrations. Recognizing the opportunity to intervene in public perceptions of Texas Mexicans, the committee appointed Rubén Rendón Lozano to write a commemorative history of Texas Mexicans who fought against Antonio López de Santa Anna's troops during the Texas Revolution. Published in the Centennial year of 1936, Viva Tejas: The Story of the Mexican-Born Patriots of the Republic of Texas reminded Anglo-Texans of what Texas Mexicans had never forgotten: that the two communities had cooperated as equals in seeking freedom from an oppressive tyrant and in creating a modern, multiracial democracy. The narrative was an implicit call to remember the true democratic egalitarianism of comrades-in-arms before invidious racialization had set Anglo-Texans over Texas Mexicans in postrevolutionary Texas.
Although the publication of Viva Tejas failed to influence the dominant Centennial discourses in any significant way, the effort indicates LULAC's keen awareness that their goal of securing nationalist agency for Mexican Americans was as much an aesthetic project as it was a legal or political one. My examination of fiction, poetry, and historical narratives published in the organizational periodical LULAC News during its first decade of publication (1931-1941) reveals a complex, nuanced social movement riven by internal debates not only about legal tactics and political strategy, but also centrally about the aesthetic dimensions of a bicultural Mexican American identity. This monthly newsletter was geared toward keeping the membership informed about chapter meetings, fundraisers, and organizational activities combating racial segregation, political participation, police brutality, public health, and public education. Published in English and Spanish, LULAC News reflected not only the practical necessity of reaching a population that was still largely Spanish-dominant, but also the organization's desire to foster a distinctly bicultural identity fluent in both languages. Following in the tradition of Spanish-language newspapers that presented creative works alongside hard news, the LULAC News became a showcase for an emergent Mexican American literary aesthetic that is bilingual in expression, bicultural in meaning, and self-consciously political in formulation.
Chapter 4 centers on the early fictional works of Américo Paredes, the renowned Chicano studies scholar best known for his foundational work on the corrido. His early fictional works, composed during the mid-1930s—such as the poem "Alma Pocha," the performance piece Tres faces del pocho, and the novel George Washington Gómez—represent Paredes's immediate response to the Centennial, through which he examined the impact of a century of colonial rule on an increasingly fragmented Texas-Mexican community. The critical reservoir from which corrido heroes sprang with pistols in hand, Texas-Mexican culture had fostered the anticolonial subjectivities that had built communal identity in resistance despite decades of Anglo-Texan domination. No longer organically unified by the patriarchal anticolonialism exemplified by the corrido, the Texas-Mexican community had shattered into class-based factions that were unable to generate anticolonial resistance through the mass culture available to them. As a result, neither the middle-class novel nor the working-class conjunto music offered emergent resources of hope for the beleaguered community. For Paredes, border modernity appeared poised to destroy the organic totality of Texas-Mexican culture itself, the final barrier to the community's reduction to a pliant state of racialized abjection.
As George Washington Gómez in particular suggests, the penetration of U.S. civil society into the borderlands, driven by border modernity, had undercut the possibility of anticolonial Texas-Mexican subjectivities. The title character, who goes by the presumed Indian name Guálinto for most of the narrative, is born during the Borderlands War, the violence of which claims his innocent father's life. Named to be a "great man among the Gringos" and expected to become "the leader of his people," Guálinto attends U.S. public schools in the bordertown of Jonesville-on-the-Grande with the intent of gaining the cultural skills needed to defend Texas-Mexican rights. Instead, the full implementation of a U.S. nationalist pedagogy through the public education system results in a deeply compromised postcolonial subjectivity that rejects not only the community's expectations but the community itself. After a childhood spent vigorously championing Texas-Mexican dignity, Guálinto betrays his community's hopes by adopting the racist Anglo-Texan disdain for everything Mexican. Formally indicating this historical failure of alternative subject making via the narrative gap between the final section and the rest of the novel, Paredes suggests a modernist aesthetic of negation that makes that failure productive of a specifically postcolonial knowledge of anticipatory liberation.
Simultaneously, Paredes's commitment to patriarchal anticolonialism sustains his erasure of tejana agency in the lived present of the 1930s. Guálinto's uncle Feliciano, the representative of the heroic corrido age of patriarchal anticolonialism, is unable to restore either Mexican sovereignty or Gómez family honor. In the antiheroic postcorrido age, the undermining of Texas-Mexican patriarchal agency precludes any effective resistance to Anglo-Texan domination. Malinche-like, Texas-Mexican women like Guálinto's sister Maruca and his manipulative love interest, María Elena Osuna, come to symbolize the corrosive effects of border modernity in what Paredes portrays as their sexualized betrayal of Texas-Mexican traditional culture, symptomatic of the tejano patriarch's emasculation. However, attention to characters at the margins of Paredes's masculinist vision reveals possibilities for a tejana feminist anticolonialism only vaguely perceived by Paredes himself.
Chapter 5 deals with the modernization of Texas-Mexican female sexuality in writings by LULAC's mujeres fronterizas (border feminists). Even as LULAC's male members linked the struggle to gain effective citizenship to its own ideals of masculinist leadership, the women of LULAC fought to gain recognition of women's rights and leadership through articles, editorials, poetry, and short fiction that critically interrogated traditional ethnic Mexican gender roles. Women Lulackers such as Alice Dickerson Montemayor and Adela Sloss used the pages of the LULAC News to develop a feminist critique of LULAC's masculinist rhetoric of racial democracy that would nonetheless retain gender inequality in the name of preserving traditional ethnic Mexican culture. Centering their critiques on the unequal gendered division of power within the ethnic Mexican family, LULAC feminists explicitly thematized the trope of companionate marriage as a vehicle to more equitable gender relations in their creative writings for the LULAC News.
The writer and folklorist Jovita González stands out as the most prolific and accomplished of LULAC's group of mujeres fronterizas. She developed a broad variety of narrative strategies for intervening in racist Centennial discourses and sexist ethnic Mexican ones. Throughout her writings, González joined LULAC's project of restoring Mexican American agency to the feminist project of democratizing gender roles within the ethnic Mexican community. Challenging Centennial discourses that erased tejanas from Texas history, González created "Catholic Heroines of Texas" as a poster exhibit at the Texas Centennial Central Exposition's Catholic Exhibit. "Catholic Heroines of Texas" represents one of the earliest extant published histories about tejanas as well as González's trial run for an ambitious historical novel that envisions the modernization of Texas-Mexican female subjectivity itself.
González greatly expanded the scope of her project of modernizing Mexican American female subjectivities with the historical romance Caballero. The novel examines the Texas-Mexican community's options in dealing with the political, legal, and gender consequences of the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848. While Texas-Mexican patriarchs such as the ranchero Santiago Soria y Mendoza and his son Alvaro preach resistance to the new order through cultural isolation and guerrilla warfare, Don Santiago's daughters, Susanita and Angela, and his youngest son, Luis Gonzaga, defy their father by forming romantic and pragmatic alliances with open-minded Anglo-Americans. Positing that true acceptance into the United States was premised upon disarticulating patriarchal ethnic Mexican tradition from Mexican American women's subjectivities, Caballero depicts the transformation of tejanas from patriarchal objects of homosocial exchange to autonomous, desiring subjects. Reciprocating these desires, Anglo-American characters such as Lieutenant Robert Warrener, Red McLane, and Captain Devlin learn Spanish, respect tejano culture, and view the new Texas-Mexican citizens as assets to the nation. Like the collaboration of the two authors, the multiple pairings of Anglo-Americans and Texas Mexicans throughout the novel suggest a model of interethnic cooperation for the 1930s.
In the epilogue, I consider the legacy of Mexican American literary responses to the Texas Centennial. Even as the entry of the United States into the Second World War initiated a slow improvement in the effective citizenship status of Mexican Americans, the task of rebuffing Centennial discourses would lead Mexican American cultural critique in new directions. I begin with the unlikely pairing of articles by Dobie and Paredes in the Southwest Review for summer 1942. Whereas Dobie's "The Alamo's Immortalization of Words" deployed Texas history against the new racial enemy on the frontlines of the Pacific war, Paredes's "The Mexico-Texan Corrido," together with his notes on Dobie's article, suggested that Centennial discourses would be increasingly contested in public letters by Mexican Americans.
Transforming the residual cultural practice of the corrido into the emergent anticolonial practice of subaltern scholarship, Paredes did more than shift the terrain of ideological engagement within the U.S. academy. He also laid the groundwork for future Chicano studies scholars like Montejano, whose landmark Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas 1836-1986, published a year after the Texas Sesquicentennial of 1986, demonstrated how a growing Texas-Mexican demographic, political, and economic presence had transformed the way Texans commemorated Texas history. Dismissing the remnants of racialized Centennial discourses still prevalent in Texas historiography, Montejano's revisionist intervention echoed the actions of Texas Mexicans during the 1930s as they strove to become Mexican Americans through the narration of their community's historical experiences.
Yet Chicana/o literature of the 1980s did not overtly concern itself with the Texas Sesquicentennial, an indication of the profound transformations in the social circumstances of people of Mexican descent during the fifty years between the Centennial and the Sesquicentennial. Rather than focus upon Texas history and its effects on Mexican Americans, Chicana/o literature of this decade centered upon the struggles that remain after the practical accomplishment of effective citizenship. In particular, Chicana feminist writers continued the efforts begun by mujeres fronterizas of the Centennial era to expand narrow masculinist concepts of subjectivity to include women as transformative agents. In doing so, Chicana/o writers superseded the historical terms of the Centennial and greatly expanded the scope of Chicana/o literature's socially transformative project beyond the boundaries of state and nation-state to realize social justice in terms that Mexican American literary antepasados could only begin to imagine.
“A richly textured and well crafted work that will stand as one of the best in the field of Mexican American literature.”
John-Michael Rivera, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of English, University of Colorado at Boulder