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C l o s in g t h e C ir c l e b e t w e e n P a s t a n d P r e s e n t J o s é F . A r a n d a J r . S p e c i a l Is s u e E d i t o r Where does one begin in telling the story of a Mexican American West? With maps and shifting borders? Or with an invading army and a resisting “native” population? For me, the most instructive place to begin is where history and myth collide in the production of culture. For example, there is this apocryphal story of Colonel William Barret Travis at the Alamo. The story goes that Travis, faced by impending mass desertion of his volunteers, drew a line in the sand and chah lenged the manhood and patriotism of his men. He asked them to cross the line if they wanted to be remembered by their courage. By appealing to their masculine sense of honor and place in republican history, and by dramatizing the contrasting tyranny of the Mexican despot, Santa Anna, Travis succeeded in retaining their services. This story is not true, and it has been repeatedly debunked by his­ torians.1Nevertheless, this story persists in Texas culture. It persists, I would argue, because this story accurately foretold the divisions that would come to separate mexicanos from Anglos, and vice versa. It also foretold of the alienation and cultural bifurcation the modern Mexican American would come to experience in the twentieth cen­ tury. And finally, the Travis story persists because contemporary cul­ ture at large would rather repress the memory of those other “Mexicans” who died with, rather than against, Travis. Instead, con­ temporary mass culture prefers to generate mythologies of absolute antagonism, narratives of “us versus them” that began in places like the Alamo, in order to legitimate anti-Mexican discourses that have culminated, for example, in the recent unparalleled militarization of the border.^ Ironically, those “manning” the front lines of the U.S.Mexican border today, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, are increasingly Mexican American. After 1836, lines in the sand are followed by lines in maps, in laws, by borders that would convert the Rio Bravo into the Rio Grande. Even words themselves would begin to evidence the lines ofdifference between “us and them”: greaser, wetback, illegal alien on one side find their coun­ terpart in pocho, pachuco, and chicano on the other. The “us versus them” WAL 35.1 Spring 2000 mentality that segregates Mexican Americans from the rest of the nation also divides them from Mexico, for maps and capitalism have created this otro México, this México de afuera. Neither here nor there, Mexican American literature since the nineteenth century is replete with the angst of this evolving historical and cultural stratification. Yet, if swords came to divide a people, words turned into plowshares have rescued Mexican Americans from the ruins of the Alamo, from the margins of official history. The essays collected here fore' ground the quiet but heroic efforts of a small sample of trailblazers who wrote when people still remembered, for example, that the “Yellow Rose of Texas” was a ballad sung to honor a Mexican American woman patriot. Other writers spent a lifetime denouncing the effects of Jim Crow, anti-unionism, and the newly established Border Patrol in 1924- While the story of Travis’s line in the sand lives on— consider former President George Bush’s homage to Colonel Travis during the Persian Gulf War— these essays give testimony about how some Mexican Americans met the challenge of the line, of division and separation , of discrimination and segregation, and invariably came to refute the politics of maps in favor of stories of connection, family, and place. If we read these essays carefully, we will glimpse a people and culture that survives in literature, a survival that challenges our pre­ conceived notions of the Mexican in the American West, and conversely the American West in the Mexican. Part 1 of this introduction establishes the critical and historical background, making it possible to conceive of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 5-19
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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