A comparative examination of the literature produced in the wake of the U.S.-Mexican War—in both countries and in the borderlands—and the subsequent impact on the formation of lasting, diverse identities.
The literary archive of the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–1848) opens to view the conflicts and relationships across one of the most contested borders in the Americas. Most studies of this literature focus on the war's nineteenth-century moment of national expansion. In The Literatures of the U.S.-Mexican War, Jaime Javier Rodríguez brings the discussion forward to our own moment by charting a new path into the legacies of a military conflict embedded in the cultural cores of both nations.
Rodríguez's groundbreaking study moves beyond the terms of Manifest Destiny to ask a fundamental question: How do the war's literary expressions shape contemporary tensions and exchanges among Anglo Americans, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans. By probing the war's traumas, anxieties, and consequences with a fresh attention to narrative, Rodríguez shows us the relevance of the U.S.-Mexican War to our own era of demographic and cultural change. Reading across dime novels, frontline battle accounts, Mexican American writings and a wide range of other popular discourse about the war, Rodríguez reveals how historical awareness itself lies at the center of contemporary cultural fears of a Mexican "invasion," and how the displacements caused by the war set key terms for the ways Mexican Americans in subsequent generations would come to understand their own identities. Further, this is also the first major comparative study that analyzes key Mexican war texts and their impact on Mexico's national identity.
- Introduction: Narratives, Borders, Dreams
- Chapter One: U.S.-Mexican War Novelettes and Dime Novels: Cousins, Seducers, Bandits
- Act One: Tales of Chivalry
- Act Two: Encounter on the Frontier
- Act Three: Fictive Facts
- Chapter Two: Antinarratives of the U.S.-Mexican War
- Chapter Three: Nation and Lamentation: The Catalysis of Mexicanidad
- Chapter Four: Mexican Self-Consciousness: El monedero and the Quest to Reform Mexico
- Chapter Five: Mexican American Visions: Grief and Liberation in Global Time-Space
- Epilogue: Narrative Arcs, Arrows of Time
- Appendix: Novelette Titles
I begin with three observations: first, the U.S.-Mexican War remains largely, and infamously, unknown by most citizens of the United States; second, Mexican Americans in the United States dwell for the most part on the margins of the national imaginary; and third, Mexican Americans in their literature and other arts emphasize forms of identity that value hybridity, or mestizaje, over essentialist notions of the nation-state. An elision of war, a continuing exclusion, a pervasive anti-essentialism. The following analysis of U.S.-Mexican War literature argues for a relationship among all three, but it specifically relies on a claim that the literature of the war, especially in the nineteenth century, reveals that the conflict undermined, at least momentarily, modes of nationalism in both the United States and Mexico. The point might seem commonsensical, given that war writing often dwells in violence and trauma and frequently exhibits antinarratological pressures, but to bring forward the U.S.-Mexican War as a destabilizing event is to contemplate possible linkages to the ongoing psychosocial anxieties about national meanings in the global moment of the early twenty-first century. If one considers how often the U.S.-Mexican border has been a zone of international violence, how intensively the border remains militarized to this day, and how closely matters of U.S. identity erupt from anxieties about Mexican contact, then observations made about the openly declared war in the 1840s can come to seem not only relevant but urgent and crucial to our contemporary moment.
Thus, what lies behind the following analyses is an abiding sense that the literary materials on the U.S.-Mexican War, fought from 1846 to 1848, can be keys to contemporary relationships among Mexicans, Anglo Americans, and Mexican Americans. Needless to say, that raises a range of problematic questions. How can one prove that fears about Mexican immigration or the assimilability of Mexican Americans, or the abiding concerns for recognition among Mexican Americans, all stem from a mid-nineteenth-century conflict, or even correspond in any significant way to the plots and characters to be explored in the following pages? After all, my work here involves fiction and poetry from a very different time and written under very different conditions. Any conclusions about such literature, even when restricted to seemingly reliable points about the literature itself, run a risk of presentism, and so a project that openly sets out to link the aesthetics of nineteenth-century literature to a contemporary political condition might seem troubled from the outset.
To meet these risks, I have endeavored to remain conscious of my own narrative imperatives, but also to maintain a commensurate criticality and an emphasis on the literary forms and subject matters of the texts under discussion, although history and national culture play key roles. Throughout the following chapters, which themselves move deliberately toward the present and then the future, I stress a narratological elision of time in the literature rather than a drawing out of the various and particular relationships between the literature and its social context. I hope thereby to show that what is most salient about the writing under review is not only its connections to the nineteenth century, although these are important, but also what it says about the conditions of war, persistent conflict, and the abiding anxieties between the United States and Mexico. These possible connections between then and now must remain somewhat speculative, matters of musing hypothesis rather than absolutist argument. In fact, in certain ways I am content in this book to focus on the movement of ideas and motifs across the multifarious terrains of the literary; this is so because I am usually discussing writings once dismissed as "popular," writings understood perhaps to be socially significant but not necessarily as having particular literary dimensions that might be tracked across genres. Thus, reading the "literary" back into pulp fiction already makes a straightforwardly recuperative argument. On the other hand, a mass-market pulp novelette appears at first as a one-dimensional surface so keenly flattened and polished that it seems to do little more than reflect its social circumstance. Indeed, popular narrative often engrosses students of literature because it seems written not by authors but by readerships, thus promoting an expectation that we may learn something about a "country," a "nation," or a "people" by reattaching social history to characters and plots. I too map the literary domain of the U.S.-Mexican War by identifying plots and characters and other features of the literary environment as it seems to have existed during and shortly after the war itself. My mode of analysis, then, values both these general realms, the literary and the social, in an exploration of their interdependence, but my aim is to shed light on the U.S.-Mexican War's specific and continuing significance. At the very least, I hope my meditations bring forward the aesthetic nuances in works that may seem to be reducible only to matters of contextual contingency.
It is perhaps a truism that popular art forms conceal a daunting complexity. What appears simple and formulaic almost without fail quickly becomes intricate and challenging. Thus, even when I emphasize basic claims about the literary environments surrounding the war at midcentury, the conclusions I propose might strike some as surprising or counterintuitive. But my method searches for the more abstract relationships between literary performance and a particular historical event that can be understood as the U.S.-Mexican War, or contact with Mexico and Mexicans, or, also, as contact with the Americas, or, finally, as contact with temporality. Rather than ahistorical truths, what I am writing about here can best be described as transient, historical, and specific effects emerging from the still evolving collision between the United States and Mexico. Somewhat like Walter Mignolo, who in Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking understands modernism as a category of colonialism, I sense that the United States of today cannot so easily keep the past in the past—at least not the particular past of the U.S.-Mexican War. There certainly will come a time when the events of 1846-1848 recede into distant memory, perhaps rewritten, but from a certain temporal vantage point, the military conflict of the mid-nineteenth century has only just happened, and perhaps continues at this very moment, as suggested by other Chicana/o critics, such as José Limón, who in Dancing with the Devil argues for war as an organizing structure in South Texas and other border locations, a "state of social war" continuing on into the twentieth century. Which leads to the central question running through this study: To what degree does the U.S.-Mexican War usefully illuminate the present moment or Anglo-Mexican tensions?
For example, there is the matter of George Lippard and his 1847 fantasy-docudrama Legends of Mexico, the book that initially spurred my thinking about the literature of the war. As I read it for the first time, Lippard's nearly surreal recreations of the war's early battles—with only the most casual, openly dismissive use of historical facts—vibrated with an anxiety remarkably consonant with the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, as if these fictive forays into nationalist propaganda had opened a window into how Anglo America thought about Mexico and Mexicans not in 1847 but right now, today, and the key issue at hand, then as now, was not only race or class but something more basic to the mythology of "America," the notion of a single nation with a narrative that explained its hallowed origins and its meaning. In other words, Lippard's text argued that what was at stake in the war against Mexico was the very meaning of life in the United States, which is but a short distance from the contemporary mass-media agon over the presence of undocumented Mexican workers and the "Mexicanization" or "Latinization" of the country. I turned to the literature of the U.S.-Mexican War, then, to see if I could find in it something that would reveal the machinery of a permeating anxiety little changed over the generations. Reading Lippard, to put it in a different way, led me not to wonder about anti-Mexican racism in 1847 but to consider the lines of connection between writers like Lippard and current-day apologists for a pure, coherent, sacred "America," which could then explain both the excision of the war from the nation's collective memory and the discrimination against Mexicans and Mexican Americans, who are seen by those essentialists as corroding the fabric of U.S. American political and cultural ideology.
The matter was not merely one of "constructions," of jingoistic U.S. Americans labeling Mexican Americans in some false way, because the escapism of popular literature arises from something that requires, or seems to require, escaping. To dissect such anxieties, one might begin with a common essentialist indictment—the charge that Mexicans are antidemocratic, for example, which is demonstrably untrue—or one can, as I do here, focus on the fear of cultural disunity prompted among many by the presence of Mexicans in "America" and massively supported by the materiality of anti-Mexican writing, broadcasting, and other forms of cultural expression. One might simply ask what lies at the core of U.S. American anxieties about Mexicans and Mexican Americans. The first answer that arises is race. Mexicans are racially “other” in many sectors of U.S. society (not all), and thus the victims of racist aggression, and there can be no question that race matters now as much as then, as Omi and Winant have argued in Racial Formation in the United States, a study that dramatizes how racial constructions and social structures interact to create and maintain racist hierarchies. But Lippard's Mexican enemies in Legends of Mexico were not only dark-skinned rancheros but, just as often, fair-skinned members of the Mexican aristocracy. Was that an ephemeral element of a particular time? Or might we need to understand anti-Mexican racialization as being accompanied by the always pressing national anxiety posed by Mexico? Might the anxiety among U.S. American purists today be based more or less on the same high stakes as were once perceived during the U.S.-Mexican War? Such musings led me eventually from the war to the modern moment, in which Chicana/o activists and artists argue for a hemispheric America without borders, or for an America that is both bordered and borderless at the same time, or for an identity based less (or not at all) on the nation-state than on globalist notions of justice and tolerance. To an extent, then, the following analyses argue for a historicism tempered by an attention to "what repeats," to quote Marjorie Garber in her critique of some new historicist practice, not to assert eternal verities but—and here I reference Garber's own quotation of Benjamin—to "'represent the age that perceives them [past events]—our age—in the age during which they arose.'" My narratological emphasis intends to add to contemporary historicist studies of Mexican-U.S. contact, and not to discount the separation in time between now and then. I am interested in understanding the narratological remnants of a furious military collision and in offering an argument that explains their persistence but certainly not their eternity.
Let me add that I am not forecasting an end to the nation-state, nor am I arguing that Mexican Americans are by definition or inherently globalized, or that a globalized consciousness ought to be a utopian goal. The odds are low that Mexican Americans will actually lead to the disuniting of the United States, or that they alone will radically alter the course of the nation. Nor am I claiming that contact with Mexico inaugurates an international consciousness within the United States, although I do claim that the war, Mexico, and Mexicans or Mexican Americans amplify that kind of awareness and the resultant tensions and anxieties. I am here musing on the way Mexican Americans, because they often instantiate a kind of dual or multinationalism, can be readily perceived—or projected—as threatening to national singularity. This is only a problem for you if you, along with the late Samuel Huntington and others, believe that "America" has been a single, unified nation with more or less the same principles whose statist origins can be pinpointed to a particular July day in Philadelphia in 1776. Regardless of one's views about the origin and future of the country, it is nonetheless possible to understand anti-Mexican sentiment as being grounded in national essentialism, but not against Mexicans, exactly, and here is where I offer an alternative interpretation of the relevance of the U.S.-Mexican War. Anti-Mexican antagonism aims at a group of people that hold two or more national identities together with a spectrum of racial mestizaje, and thus stand against the basic premise of a consistent single national ideology. The matter moves from such notions of hybridity toward the realm of modernist discourse because the "other" in this dialectic is not "Mexican" but a domain of being by definition opposed to singular boundaries. Said another way, what troubles anti-immigrant activists along the southwestern U.S. border is not the "flood of illegal Mexicans” but more precisely the artificiality of the international border, or, to follow the analogy, not the flood but the even more imaginary floodwall. By this hermeneutic, Mexican Americans endure discrimination not only because many are dark-skinned but also because they are walking, talking proof that the United States, like other nation-states, depends on an ephemeral, always evolving, yet still vital national fiction, and what this approaches is the envisioning of Mexican Americans as global avatars. The matter at hand, then, lies not only within concerns of racial identity or cultural artifacts but also with narrative itself, with historiography, and with time.
These are broad concerns, these observations and questions in which I collapse more than 150 years of history—again, not to impose ahistorical timeless verities but to consider that in the future, the temporal distance between 1848 and 2010 may come to seem very brief, that the international moment of violent conflict known as the U.S.-Mexican War might be rewritten someday not as a minor prelude to the Civil War but as the defining moment in the story of the United States and in the story of Mexico, new narratives to then be overwritten someday by others. One final prefatory note: the argument I pursue does not essentialize all Anglo Americans under the same critique, whether they exist in the moment of war in the nineteenth century or today. Indeed, the history of my home region of South Texas reveals how the most virulent anti-Mexican racism has developed in periods of significant Anglo-Mexican comity, not to mention intermarriages, economic partnerships, and political coalitions among Anglos and Mexicans. The dimensions of this study, moreover, touch on the dynamic cultural potential of Anglo Americans, who in the modern age may themselves increasingly cross previously reified boundaries.
The following chapters reflect on an eclectic, disparate collection of readings, but they coalesce around the historical moment of the U.S.-Mexican War, as either central issue or background, and through the initial proposition that the war's literature makes visible the mutability of nationalist identity. The war's literary manifestations projected national ideals not because writers felt guilty, either about their nation invading another or about the weakness of their own nation in the face of invasion, but because the war—perhaps like all wars—made apparent that identity always rests on a sandy foundation. The writings pursued here go to war not against nations, exactly, but against unpredictability, which I believe it safe to say nearly always attends war and the writing of war. Military conflicts typically devolve into chaos, confusion, and disaggregation as much as they wrestle with often unspeakable, perhaps unwritable, violence, as Paul Fussell explored in 1975 in The Great War and Modern Memory, a key study in the literature of the First World War. The U.S.-Mexican War is no different, even though it lasted less than two years and resulted in a treaty that fixed the boundary between the two nations, then quickly began receding in the U.S. American public memory. The point may seem banal until one considers that writers often approach the U.S.-Mexican War as an act of hypocritical aggression by one nation against another, as if the most disturbing fact of the U.S.-Mexican War were that it contradicted U.S. ideals of republican freedom, and that once we understand that, we have unfolded the war's meaning. But—and here I borrow from the work of Thomas Hietala in Manifest Design: Anxious Aggrandizement in Late Jacksonian America—the paradox of manifest destiny lies in its emergence from a domain of national insecurity. This is the doorway through which I enter my literary analyses: exploring Hietala's paradox in the literary record, showing how the nineteenth-century literature of the war in both countries wrestled with the terrifying disruptions of nationalist belief.
The first, overarchingly synoptic, premise, then, is that the literature of the U.S.-Mexican War reveals nationalist fears rather than patriotic confidence, in both Mexico and the United States. From this paradigm of anxiety, my analysis of the U.S.-Mexican War literature leads to a set of three discussions corresponding to the United States, Mexico, and finally Mexican Americans. I draw the primary theoretical foundation, the interpretive frame relied on throughout the book, from the structural analysis of M. M. Bakhtin in The Dialogic Imagination, because in my reading the problem each nation-state poses for the other has less to do with race or culture and more to do with narrative. For example, for the cultural purist in the United States, it is not only that Mexicans are "brown" or "working class"—though fictional Mexicans emerge with such constructions clearly enough—but also that Mexicans in this calculus stand for the erosion of American meaning, where "American" stands for an exceptional balance between the stress of individuality and communal meaning. What I find compelling is the way such anxieties attend the U.S.-Mexican War, as if this military conflict cracked open the best, clearest view into the problems posed by Mexicans for certain kinds of "Americans," and also, let me hasten to add, the fears generated by yanquis for Mexican intellectuals and writers. The conceptual field of Mexico and Mexican, then, becomes invested with a memory of war trauma, elided and recast, and thus all the more significant.
The literary investigation to follow, then, investigates how popular literature of the period exemplifies the stresses and fractures at the intersection of literary production and quotidian reality, this being, as I claim, one of the keys to understanding the Mexican presence in the United States. Attending the argument, as might be surmised, is another theoretical influence, the historiographic critique offered by Hayden White in The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, among others, critical interrogations that reveal the fraught exchanges between the recording of facts and the drive toward meaning, a project involving the dialectics between synchronic ahistoricality and diachronic time. Thus, I am not claiming an essential difference between fiction and nonfiction; rather, I am claiming— drawing now from Bakhtin as well as White—that fictional writing of the war tends to resist a consciousness of time, whereas historical documentation of the war tends to be informed by a greater sense of unpredictable mutability. But fiction and history do not divide along the line between invention and truth, and my intent in part is to explore varieties of historical imagination, as well as the historical significance of the fantastic.
Near the center of these investigations lies a claim that, for a brief moment, the U.S.-Mexican War actually created an opportunity to see both Mexico and the United States as having more or less equal claims to an American nationality. Today, most critics understand how nation-states exist in a hierarchical arena, divided up along different modes of interpretive value; in such a world Latin American nation-states have been relegated to a variety of subordinate categories. But nineteenth-century nationalism, as Anthony Smith has noted, posited "nationness" as a common denominator (paradoxically, in terms of exceptionalism), and it is that fleeting possibility that circulates in some U.S.-Mexican War texts. Clearly, the Monroe Doctrine and Anglo American racism and essentialism had already stacked the deck against a utopian sense of international respect, but wars often have unpredictable blowback effects, surprising contradictions, and paradoxes. In the case of the U.S.-Mexican War, the fighting could actually lead U.S. soldiers to question hard dichotomies and could lead some U.S. writers to at least recognize Mexico's claim to national sovereignty as similar, if not always equal, to the claims of U.S. America. Let me add here also a note on the set of terms I use to refer to the Anglo American imaginary: although I occasionally use "white," I most often use "American," in bracketing quotation marks, to denote the dream of racial and cultural exceptionalism undergirding a great deal of U.S. American nineteenth-century nationalism, and “U.S. American” is my way of denoting the United States as only one nation-state in the hemisphere presently known as the Americas. As might be expected, I strenuously try to avoid conflating America with the United States; whenever I do employ the term, I am referencing the hemisphere in its entirety. “Anglo” and “Anglo American” refer interchangeably to the self-ascription of those in the United States who may see themselves as "white," and not Hispanic or Latina/o.
Somewhat like Mexicans in the mythology of the United States, literary Anglo Americans in Mexico function as agents of nationalist disillusionment, as destroyers of national belief. Again, the conflict might generate distinctions of class, or "civilization," the infamous gringo invader being in many literary works little more than an uncouth barbarian, but at bottom, the invading U.S. army operates as an abstract agent of existential destruction. For Mexicans witnessing and enduring la guerra del '47, nothing less than Mexico's entire existence seemed at stake; yet from the shards and fragments of military defeat, a national belief, an ideology, began to coalesce, although Mexican nationality has remained troubled by a modernist self-consciousness. Do Mexicans see the United States in similar terms today? It’s hard to say definitively, but I am thinking here of the famous aphorism apocryphally attributed to President Porfirio Díaz about Mexico being so far from God and so close the United States, a seemingly self-deprecating mythic aphorism that probably took hold because it casts the United States as an absolute antithesis to Mexico's national dream. For both Mexico and the United States, broad abstractions were probably inevitable, given that both nations were founded on utopian ideals, on the promise of America being the environment for humanity's final redemption. What is undeniable is that in Mexico as well as in the United States, the enemy became The Enemy. Everything seemed to be at risk, because both sides believed, and perhaps many still do, that they were actors on a cosmic stage.
What then of the Mexican American response? How did these writers see the war whose conclusion meant that those in California and other northern Mexican states went from being Mexican to "American"—technically U.S. citizens—with the stroke of a pen on a peace treaty? To pursue the question, I draw mainly on twentieth-century fictions by authors who viewed themselves as Mexican American, that is, as ethnically marked subjects, the stakes being no less absolute for them than they were for authors much closer in time to the war itself. Just as national meaning is the troubled terrain for nineteenth-century national writers, Mexican Americans write about the war in ways that reveal lingering trauma, a psychological and cultural scarring, but one that leads now not simply to dismay and aporia but also to cultural reconstitution, both tendencies—we can see them dialectically as toward doubt and toward belief—emerging in Chicana and Chicano war literature as more or less in uneasy tension. Identity, then, for these writers resides not in the materiality of culture, not in language, food, or customs, not in "ethnicity," but in the stress, familiar in discussions of globalization, between tradition and invention. Indeed, my discussions throughout these chapters often touch on matters of globalization and modernity, two other key terms in my analysis. By globalization I do not mean a unidirectional homogenization of culture but rather the double move that leads at one end toward universalization and at the other to particularization, and here I follow the work of Roland Robertson, Stuart Hall and many others. Globalization means, in this sense, a state of crisis—moderate or intense—but still a troubled terrain, which nonetheless opens out toward invigorating possibilities. Starting from this agonistic paradigm, I address how globalization's contradictory process emerges not only in metropolitan centers, the capitals of empire, but also in the hybridizing and hybridized global contact zones such as South Texas and, more generally, the U.S.-Mexican border. Chicana and Chicano literatures often exhibit dramatic instances of modern or postmodern interrogation, and I follow here standard definitions, which see modernism marked by a deep nostalgia for a former unity and postmodernism as a form of negotiation of that nostalgia, resulting in an always ambivalent play of multiple centering projects. Moreover, Fussell's thesis in The Great War and Modern Memory directs the United States to consider the potential parallels between twentieth-century warfare and modernism, which would lead to an understanding of twentieth-century Mexican American literary recoveries of the war as ironic responses to military violence and psychological trauma. These terms—globalization, modernism, postmodernism—all play central roles in the U.S.-Mexican War literature precisely because the experience of contact with a foreign other and the experience of brutalizing military violence tend toward the fragmentation of singularizing projects. Thus, to claim that the Mexican American experience emerged from a legalistically formative moment in 1848 as modernist crisis is to ask how the legacy of territorial dispossession and psychological devastation stemming from the U.S.-Mexican War has established at least one important foundation for Mexican American society. Such an analytical paradigm understands the linkages between war, modernity, and globalization as key terms in Mexican American culture and aesthetics.
Other studies of the U.S.-Mexican War literature have provided the grounding for my work here, and I want to acknowledge their contributions to this study, but also to explain my own methodology and the distinguishing features of my project. The landmark work in studies of U.S.-Mexican War literature remains Robert W. Johannsen's To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination (1985), the most comprehensive review of U.S. American writing and other forms of expression about the conflict. Johannsen recovers and remarks on practically every element of the war's literature and delineates its role in both promoting the war and offering platforms for its critics. The other work of great value is Shelley Streeby's American Sensations: Class, Empire, and the Production of Popular Culture (2002). Like Johannsen’s, Streeby's nuanced and comprehensive study also concentrates on charting the literature of the war as an index to the nation's sociological landscape at the time of the fighting, though her study deals more pointedly with racial, gender, and labor tensions within U.S. America's mainstream. Although these works differ in substantial ways, they are both simultaneously empowered and limited by a focus on the nineteenth century, as if the impact of the war came to a conclusion along with the ending of hostilities or shortly thereafter in the ensuing decades. Both Johannsen and Streeby tend to understand popular war writing in the United States as being part of the large, anti-Mexican, manifest destinarian push into the western territory, pulp fiction enlisted in programs to racialize Mexicans and to further a U.S. American internal class and racial consolidation. Both rely to various degrees on implied or explicit criticism of Anglo American essentialism, either to register how war literature functioned as part of the war effort—a key aspect of Johannsen's project—or to explore how the literature reveals class and racial anxieties in the United States at midcentury—perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Streeby's approach. Also important in establishing key historical bearings is Reginald Horsman's Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (1981), which investigates how the war catalyzed ideas about Anglo-Saxon identity and supremacy. Finally, I note also the important contribution made by David Kazanjian in The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America (2003), a chapter of which focuses on the complexities of racial formation during the war and, most pointedly, during the Caste War in Mexico's Yucatán. However, he, like Streeby, reads the U.S.-Mexican War novelette fiction mainly as an index to U.S. social anxieties of that time, and he seems to regard war novelettes as unified by a general project to assimilate some Mexicans (those deemed white or white-like) and to eradicate the "Indianized," hence barbaric, darker-skinned natives. My project agrees in many respects with and draws from all three of these scholarly studies, especially given that all of them recognize the complications coursing through these texts, as well as from many other studies that excavate U.S. culture, sociology, and national identity in the nineteenth century.
My work, however, draws it main inspiration from the category of war literature itself, and so it is more concerned with matters of physical and existential trauma, disruption, and meaning. In other words, I relate U.S.-Mexican War literature to the U.S.-Mexican War itself, taking these texts not as mere escapism that speaks about societal divisions back home in Boston or New York or Philadelphia but as fictions that register questions and problems raised directly by military conflict with Mexico. Let me acknowledge that this is indeed a retroactive framework. I began with my own suspicion that what I was reading in Lippard was more than a form of propaganda, and I began to sense that the relationship between Mexico and the United States today could be defined within the above-mentioned overlapping categories of trauma, disruption, and meaning, and these in turn could speak to a more enduring understanding of the U.S.-Mexican War and, more crucially, to larger facts regarding Anglo-Mexican tensions.
I have grouped these arguments in five chapters, each one focusing on a particular writer or group of writers. A lengthy Chapter 1, divided into three acts, begins the analysis by launching into a discussion of U.S.-Mexican War novelettes, early mass-market fiction that preceded and informed the more familiar genre of dime novels. I begin here for two reasons: first, the writers of these war novelettes concentrated most directly on the war, and thus these texts are useful as introductions to the subject of U.S.-Mexican War literature, and second—and critical to my general project—these novelettes exemplify the very process of historical elision. I show in this chapter how the novelettes can be subdivided into three distinct—though always overlapping—categories that move from a kind of historical documentary interwoven with a sense of chivalric, aristocratic equivalence between the United States and Mexico, through an intermediate stage in which the war begins moving into the background as a cultural and racial hostility against Mexico begins to harden, to a third stage in which the war is mentioned but expelled or excluded from narratives characterized by high levels of abstraction, quasi-war tales that are dominated by Mexican bandits. By beginning with this triad, I lay out a key aspect of my argument, which is not only that the iconic Mexican bandit figure is a vestige of the war but that he instantiates an illuminating genealogy within the category of U.S.-Mexican war fiction. Said another way, the stereotypical figure of the Mexican bandit is inversely related to the presence of historical contingency. Let me note here that at no point in this study do I mean to suggest that the mutual relationality I locate in a chivalric imaginary actually references a moment in which real Mexicans and real Anglo Americans saw themselves as equal participants in the Americas. Rather, these literary motifs document a range of modalities generated by a profound unease attending the invasion of Mexico. Thus, when I refer in this study to an equivalent or reciprocal relationship between the United States and Mexico, I am referring to the very border-defying energy unleashed by the U.S.-Mexican war in a kind of paradoxical blowback, and also to the same energy as always already inhering within the Americas, to which the fantasies of nationalism respond in part by establishing cultural and jurisdictional borders. U.S. America—and other nations—have never actually existed in a utopian space of "equivalent" nations, but one of the key points about the U.S.-Mexican War is that it confused the issue; it blurred the comfortable hierarchy between a noble, progressive, fully authorized United States and a supposedly backward, anachronistic, corrupt Mexico. The fires of battle often burn away customary definitions.
Chapter 2 focuses primarily on a single work by James Russell Lowell, a prominent man of letters in Boston at midcentury, whose The Biglow Papers (1848) languishes as a largely unappreciated and untaught antiwar satire. Along with Lowell's somewhat difficult text, I consider how the complications for U.S. American identity that erupt from the war move through and shape writings by Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In different ways, these texts challenge casual reading, resisting national essentialisms or failing in their attempts to discover it. For example, Lowell's Biglow Papers comprises three different voices and uses several metafictional devices, and it features fragments of narratives rather than any single dramatic arc, being the kind of text that lends itself to discussions of modernity and postmodernity during the nineteenth century. Its complexity places it at the center of this chapter because its ideological fissures lie at the core of the meaning of the U.S.-Mexican War. Specifically, I read Lowell's three primary characters as each expressing a distinct response to the war, a new triad that might at first seem to parallel the three-part analysis in Chapter 1, because the issue in both chapters concerns a tension between narratological resolution and epistemological uncertainty. But Chapter 2 does not parallel Chapter 1 as much as it explores its middle paradigm. In other words, Chapter 2 probes deeper into a field of "frontier" ambiguity as a defining characteristic of the U.S.-Mexican War. The result is a character analysis that explores three different disruptive effects of contact with Mexico: (1) a turn inward, grounded largely in national exceptionalism, (2) a meditation on the Mexican enemy as a projection of the hidden or denied reality of the United States, and (3) an exploration of the nearly complete dissolution of national belief.
In Chapter 3 I shift to Mexican writing about la invasión norteamericana and investigate the invasion poems of Guillermo Prieto, written from 1847 to nearly the time of his death in 1897. Prieto's war poems dwell in the agonistic response toward invasion and the defeat, and, like U.S. writers writing about the war, Prieto also framed matters in abstract, absolute terms. Prieto's poems, as might be expected, dramatize the extreme rupture in national belief triggered by the U.S. invasion, but they also hint at the first stirrings of recovery, at least in terms of a reconstituted national story. I concentrate on his poems first, because they offer a sustained response, a decades-long concentration, on the meaning of the war for Mexico, and second, because Prieto himself as a writer and politician straddles the very divide I seek to bridge in my own analysis. Mexico broke from Spain officially in 1821 after a ten-year revolution, but it never got going as a domain of national meaning until after the U.S.-Mexican War; the defeat at the hands of the barbarians from the north forced Mexican intellectuals and writers to define themselves through the vocabulary of American utopianism—already in play before, of course, or else there never would have been a break from Spanish control, but the liberal reformers who wanted to emulate the United States began to gain traction, somewhat paradoxically, after the U.S. invasion. Prieto's poems, as much as they rail against the gringo invader, bring forward the narratological workshop in which reformist ideals began to gain new momentum. Mexico's nationalism remains a troubled, uncertain field, as many others have noted, and rather than simply mark the origins of Mexican national identity, a review of this writer's response to the U.S. invasion sheds light on the catastrophic violence that may continue to unsettle the Mexican nation-state, as well as mark an ideological turning point. I should point out that I am not making a recuperative case for liberalism itself but rather tracking its narratological grounding in the catastrophe of the North American invasion.
Chapter 4 continues the discussion of postwar Mexican literary nationalism with a review of El monedero (The Counterfeiter), by Nicolás Pizarro Suárez, a long novel of more than six hundred pages published in 1861 but set primarily during the time of the war. Indeed, the novel may be one of the few lengthy, energetically reflective novelizations of the Mexican experience during the U.S. invasion. In many ways, El monedero leads to the same conclusions I propose for Prieto's poetry, because Pizarro also writes from an agonistic perspective, the war for him similarly raising problems of personal and national meaning. The difference is that Pizarro's literary answer to the dismembering of the country is more overtly utopian, more clearly informed by democratic ideals, as it chastises the United States for nefarious hypocrisy. Prieto's poems, regardless of their time of composition, represent the trauma, the lamentation, that seeks a new beginning; Pizarro's novel, though severely conflicted, yet deploys the more developed structure of a utopian argument. In the end, El monedero's answer to the problem of the war depends on abstract values of ultimate good and ultimate justice. As in the United States, meaning and redemption emerge as the operative terms of the U.S.-Mexican War, which is to emphasize that like many wars, the one between the United States and Mexico generated explorations of essential ideals.
In the final chapter I turn to fictional works by Mexican Americans that incorporate the war as a critical narrative element. These works reject calls for a singularizing national identity, either Mexican or U.S., as if having been cut off from both nations leads not to nostalgia for Mexico or a desire for inclusion in the United States but a third response that oscillates not between two nations, but between faith and doubt. In keeping with many other literary expressions of war, these texts, by María Amaparo Ruíz de Burton, Jovita González (with Margaret Eimer), Nash Candelaria, and Maria Cristina Mena (Chambers), sound chords in minor keys, plaintive and skeptical. Yet they exibit a double, holographic quality, at times invested in tradition or belief, at other times energized by the possibility of new forms of identity, which invests them with the sharp edges of globalized perception, a feature I discuss at some length because it suggests how the dislocations that follow upon war and violence can evoke the kinds of interruptions in time and space that resemble modes of global consciousness. That is, the dual-national and non-national imperatives driving parts of Chicana/o aesthetics can be traced not just to twentieth-century hybridity but also to the field of international military conflict in the nineteenth century. Again, as in the Mexican literary domain, relatively few Chicana or Chicano authors have written fiction or poetry about the U.S.-Mexican War, but in this case all four of the authors in this chapter are distinguished by being key figures of Mexican American literature who at least momentarily turned their writing energies to the U.S. invasion.
Studies of Mexican Americans often rely on models of previous waves of immigration, or they concentrate on racial dichotomies or, at times, seek to understand Latinas and Latinos as actors in a new utopian America, Las Américas—all valuable and necessary re-visions. What I present here basically argues for inter-American conflict as a critically important aspect of Mexican American life, art, and culture. This may seem a pessimistic stance compared with the immigrant story, which leads to assimilation into U.S. ideals; or the antiracialist attack that calls forth tolerance, miscegenation, or the neutralization of race as a definitional category; or the new utopia of a hemispheric America that invests in a dream of the just society. The present work offers no singularizing proposition, and when I meditate on possible futures, they remain speculative possibilities. This may be because war literature concentrates on moments of chaos, destruction, and disillusionment, turning our attention to the outermost limits of narrative. To settle on conflict in the Americas as a key to a great deal of U.S.-Mexico interactions and as one of the defining features of the Mexican American experience attempts only to explain a particular history and to describe a given condition, not to predict the dissolutions of nations. Further, my analysis remains grounded in the inevitabiality of evolution in human cultures precisely because of their catalysis within crisis. At best, we may glean certain possibilities and anticipate a few of our challenges; to such ends I have aimed the present study.