In the introduction to his novelettes in The Writings of Eusebio Chacón, Chacón proclaims, “I dare lay the foundational seed of an entertaining literature on New Mexican soil so that if other writers with more felicitous talent can later follow the path I hereby establish, may they look back and single me out as the first to undertake such a rough journey” (49). This new edition of his writings makes it possible to identify his influence on popular narratives about how New Mexico and Southern Colorado developed distinctive cultures.
A. Gabriel Meléndez and Francisco Lomelí open The Writings of Eusebio Chacón with a useful biographical sketch. There follows a broad selection of texts that represent Chacón’s interests, ambitions, and the evolution of his thoughts over the decades before and after New Mexico’s statehood. We are first introduced to his juvenilia: academic papers and speeches from his undergraduate days at the University of Notre Dame and then two short novel projects, both in the original Spanish and in thoughtful English translation. Part 3, the longest section of the book, includes journalistic essays and public talks. Part 4 focuses on his poetry in English and in Spanish. The book concludes with two appendixes, one for historical essays and personal letters and the other for family photographs.
The collection reveals a writer of great ambition constrained by circumstance. Chacón’s was a small audience subject to racist persecution, and his writing surely helped them face down public challenges to Mexicans’ fitness for citizenship. Written at the beginning of this public shift toward a Spanish identity that would facilitate statehood, the novelettes reflect their times. “Hijo de la tempestad/Son of the Storm” is a romance about an orphan who becomes a master bandit. Read within the contexts of Hispanic resistance, this novelette reads as praise for both the sheepherding village and the anti-heroic bandit that terrorizes them. The second novelette, “Tras la tormenta/la Calma, After the Storm,” is a comedy, in which a youth from Santa Fe seduces a girl while under the influence of Byron. This work of short fiction, with Chacón’s later journalism, reveals an ambivalent relationship with Anglophone cultures. Over time, his journalism and speeches shift from playful affection for a nationalist Mexican patrimony to defensive stances that present New Mexicans as more Spanish than Spaniards in a nation where whiteness was a precondition for citizenship.
During the twentieth century, the Hispanophone intellectuals of this region mostly followed two distinct career paths. Promising students like Arthur Campa or George I. Sanchez pursued their careers in distant academic institutions, using their knowledge of local cultures to establish their reputations. Others, like Chacón, returned home to [End Page 477] cultivate new artistic and scholarly communities. Ironically, the works of Campa and Sanchez have been more available to these communities than those of Chacón. With this collection, readers can draw from the scholars who left and from one who tried to put his accomplishments to use in his hometown. Meléndez and Lomelí’s collection is an important addition to the archives and classrooms of anyone interested in New Mexican letters.