- Writing in the Disciplinary Borderlands
One might compare the relationship between the fields of Border Studies and Chicano Studies to that of half siblings reared in different households. Both have in their lineage the patriarch (or favored uncle, depending on the account) Américo Paredes, Texas-Mexican folklorist, novelist, scholar, corridista, and poet of the borderlands, whose seminal work With His Pistol in His Hand (1958) has influenced the development of both fields. While Chicano Studies has generally, but not exclusively, studied Mexican American experience, Border Studies claims a broader field of racial and ethnic groups, though both disciplines claim the American Southwest as a central locus. Although literary studies in both fields overlap considerably in terms of the texts that scholars study and the critical questions that are posed, a preponderance of US researchers and teachers trained to study the northern side of the border equation has caused a more shallow engagement with the Mexican side of the border. The ways [End Page 405] that disciplines are conceived of and organized in US universities perpetuates this imbalance. The two texts under discussion here illustrate, in turn, the limitations of doing border studies from a UScentered orientation and the success of a more solidly transnational approach.
Rosemary A. King’s Border Confluences: Borderland Narratives from the Mexican War to the Present examines the way “borderland authors” construct literary space in order to represent cultural encounter. King agues that the border marks an ideological divide between the two nations and is the “primary agent” of difference (xii). Borderland writers create characters who react to this experience of difference “imbued in the history and literature of the region” (xii). King also sees a connection between the authors’ genre choices and the cultural and historical legacies of borderland space.
According to King, Border Studies was cofounded by Américo Paredes and Herbert Eugene Bolton, a broad characterization of the field’s history.1 In addition to the work of Paredes and Bolton, King sees her work extending that of Cecil Robinson, author of three volumes on the Mexican southwest published between the 1960s and the 1990s. Her inclusion of Native American literature in the borderlands framework, according to King, corrects a serious omission in Robinson’s and Paredes’s homogeneous characterizations of US culture. She pairs her discussion of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead with Miguel Méndez’s Pilgrims in Aztlan in part because King identifies Méndez as a “Mexican Indian” (xv) although his work has long been considered part of the Chicano literary canon. King’s attempt to broaden the scope of the field falls back onto binary models that disregard engagements with indigenous history and voice, both in Mexican nationalism and in the Chicano movement. Although she defines borderland authors as being from both the US and Mexico, the writers she studies, with the exception of Carlos Fuentes, all write within a US context, even when they write in Spanish, like Miguel Méndez, or were born in Mexico, like Ernesto Galarza.
To show the interconnection between genre and place, King discusses Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s The Squatter and the Don, and Jovita González’s Caballero as historical romance novels in which interracial and interethnic love plots serve as allegories of US nation building. All three novels address the nineteenth-century shift of the borderlands from Mexican to Anglo control, and the struggles over land are tied to obstacleridden love plots between members of competing communities. Genre conventions of the historical novel, she argues, combine with historical conflict in these works to represent the dynamics between more and less powerful groups. King uses the term “geopoetics” [End Page 406] to characterize “the artistic expression of place and space . . . the intersection of genre and geography” as a useful lens with which to study borderland literatures (xvii...