- Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960 by Karen R. Roybal
In Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848-1960, Karen R. Roybal calls on scholars to expand [End Page 158] the archive. An undervaluation of oral testimonies and literary texts, she argues, has contributed to the erasure of histories critical to understanding the past. She models how one might utilize such sources to provide a more complete history by excavating the lives and work of five once-propertied women, herederas, who lost their land following the U.S.-Mexican War. With her excavation of testimonies from the U.S. Surveyor General's Office (SGO) and her analyses of the published and unpublished work of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Jovita González, and Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Roybal makes an important contribution to the history of the Southwest.
Roybal's text is organized into chapters first mapping the historical context, then addressing testimonies from the SGO, and finally analyzing the work of the three literary figures. Her first chapter addresses the testimonies she excavated from SGO records: those of María Cleofas Bóne de López and María Gallegos y García. Providing a close reading of their testimonies, Roybal demonstrates how the women, in speaking to the SGO, wrote themselves into land grant history. Roybal's middle chapters, examining the work of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton and Jovita González, use literary texts as historical source material. With Ruiz de Burton's published work, Roybal notes a shift in Hispanic women's relationships to the land and in their understanding of that relationship throughout the course of the late nineteenth century. When Roybal shifts her gaze to the work of Jovita González, her attention to González's master's thesis provides similar insights into Gonzalez's contributions to the Texas Folklore Society and into her novel, Caballero, published posthumously in 1996.
Even with these critical interventions, the absence of a critique of the settler-colonial status of Roybal's subjects leaves some of her arguments lacking. She briefly notes the formerly elite status of her subjects in the introduction, asserting that "we cannot forget that the women were members of families who benefited greatly from the colonial territorial practices of Spain and Mexico," yet nowhere in the text is this status critically examined (p. 12). Thus, in her fourth chapter, Roybal is able to address Fabiola Cabeza de Baca' s work as resistance literature, even while noting that her greatgrandfather "'had great dreams of an empire in the name of Cabeza de Baca,'" until "Indian raids" made such dreams unfeasible (p. 118). In a text utilizing tools such as testimonio and decolonial theory, erasing indigenous histories contradicts the theoretical base of the text itself. It is the absence of a settler-colonial critique that allows Roybal, in her conclusion, to claim the herederas of whom she writes as decolonial subjects. This absence does not negate the importance of Roybal's successful expansion of the archive, but it does stand as a reminder to insist on research that is truly intersectional.
With Archives of Dispossession, Roybal expands the archive, utilizing women's testimonies from the SGO's records and placing literary texts in deep historical context by reading them as primary sources. The book will be helpful for teaching advanced undergraduate and graduate students how historical excavation and literary analysis can work together to provide a richer understanding of the past. Roybal's negation of the lives of Native peoples throughout the text, however, will make it important to pair the reading with [End Page 159] work by scholars such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Devon Abbott Mihesuah, and Donald Fixico.