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Native Speakers

Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita González, and the Poetics of Culture

By María Eugenia Cotera

Publication Year: 2008

In the early twentieth century, three women of color helped shape a new world of ethnographic discovery. Ella Cara Deloria, a Sioux woman from South Dakota, Zora Neale Hurston, an African American woman from Florida, and Jovita González, a Mexican American woman from the Texas borderlands, achieved renown in the fields of folklore studies, anthropology, and ethnolinguistics during the 1920s and 1930s. While all three collaborated with leading male intellectuals in these disciplines to produce innovative ethnographic accounts of their own communities, they also turned away from ethnographic meaning making at key points in their careers and explored the realm of storytelling through vivid mixed-genre novels centered on the lives of women. In this book, Cotera offers an intellectual history situated in the “borderlands” between conventional accounts of anthropology, women’s history, and African American, Mexican American and Native American intellectual genealogies. At its core is also a meditation on what it means to draw three women—from disparate though nevertheless interconnected histories of marginalization—into conversation with one another. Can such a conversation reveal a shared history that has been erased due to institutional racism, sexism, and simple neglect? Is there a mode of comparative reading that can explore their points of connection even as it remains attentive to their differences? These are the questions at the core of this book, which offers not only a corrective history centered on the lives of women of color intellectuals, but also a methodology for comparative analysis shaped by their visions of the world.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page

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p. iii


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p. iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

Many people and institutions have enabled my work over the years by providing intellectual guidance, inspiration, and financial support. I must, first of all, thank my parents, not only for their unfailing faith in me, but also for the example of politically engaged intellectual practice that they have embodied in their lives and work. This book represents the continuation of a family tradition initiated by my mother...

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Introduction: Writing in the Margins of the Twentieth Century

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pp. 1-22

In the spring of 1935 Tejana folklorist Jovita González sat down in her South Texas study and wrote a short story: a fact not astonishing in itself, but unexpected nonetheless, given the resources necessary for the creation of fiction—a quiet room, time, repose—none of which were usually available to Mexican American women in Texas circa 1935. Miss González (for at that particular moment she was still a “Miss”) didn’t write...

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Part One: Ethnographic Meaning Making and the Politics of Difference

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pp. 23-39

In the summer of 1925, Jovita González discovered J. Frank Dobie, the “father” of Texas folklore studies, at the University of Texas where she briefly enrolled as a Spanish student. Before that moment of discovery, she recalled, “the legends and stories of the border were interesting, so I thought, just to me. However he made me see their importance and encouraged me to write them.”¹ González found folklore studies at the very...

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Chapter 1: Standing on the Middle Ground: Ella Deloria’s Decolonizing Methodology

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pp. 41-69

In a biographical sketch that she sent to anthropologist Margaret Mead in the 1950s, Ella Cara Deloria recalled her formative years as a “collector” of D/L/Nakota tales.¹ Telling her own artful story, Deloria remembered how she used to escape from her mission school, St. Elizabeth’s, to spend long hours absorbing the tales of the elder Hunkpapaya and Sihasapa Lakotas, who were there “to visit their children . . . and to draw rations at...

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Chapter 2: “Lyin’ Up a Nation”: Zora Neale Hurston and the Literary Uses of the Folk

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pp. 71-101

In her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), Zora Neale Hurston vividly recounts her earliest exposure to the folklore of her people. Lingering on the porch of Joe Clarke’s store, “the heart and spring” of her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, a young Hurston would often catch fragments of forbidden talk, the talk of men: “sly references to the physical condition of women, irregular love affairs, brags on male potency by the...

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Chapter 3: A Romance of the Border: J. Frank Dobie, Jovita Gonz

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pp. 103-132

Zora Neale Hurston was not the only folklorist returning to her home turf in the summer of 1929. That same year, Jovita González, a young Mexican American woman from the borderlands, returned to the place of her birth to conduct research into the social history of her people. Although she pursued her research rigorously—interviewing informants in the counties that bordered the Rio Grande and perusing...

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Part Two: Re-Writing Culture: Storytelling and the Decolonial Imagination

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pp. 133-143

In the winter of 1936, Zora Neale Hurston was in Haiti conducting research for her blurred-genre ethnography, Tell My Horse. Funded by a Guggenheim fellowship, she spent her days traveling across the country interviewing politicians, workers, and voodoo priests. Her nights were spent in an artistic fever, writing a story that had been “dammed up” inside of her since her final departure from New York earlier that year. She...

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Chapter 4: “All My Relatives Are Noble”: Recovering the Feminine in Waterlily

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pp. 145-169

In the summer of 1940, just six months before she began the process of transforming ten years of field notes into three separate manuscripts— The Dakota Way of Life, Speaking of Indians, and Waterlily—Ella Deloria found herself in Pembroke, North Carolina. She had been drawn there by the promise of six months of steady pay. Her assignment—under the joint auspices of the Farm Security Administration and the Indian Service—was...

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Chapter 5: “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world”: Storytelling and the Black Feminist Tradition

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pp. 171-198

In 1936, on the eve of Zora Neale Hurston’s departure to the Caribbean for what would be her last major ethnographic expedition, she wrote a letter to an Alabama librarian, William Stanley Hoole. In her letter, Hurston laid out the basic plot for a book that she had been kicking around for some time. It would be her follow-up novel to Jonah’s Gourd Vine, and in it she would tell the story of a brown woman:...

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Chapter 6: Feminism on the Border: Caballero and the Poetics of Collaboration

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pp. 199-224

In the late 1930s Jovita González and her friend Margaret Eimer began working on “a historical novel of the Border during the Mexican War” entitled “All This is Mine.”1 They started working on the manuscript in Del Rio, Texas, where González and her husband worked as teachers, and they continued to collaborate after relocating to different cities: González to Corpus Christi with her husband, Edmundo Mireles, and Eimer to...

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Epilogue: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”: Toward a Passionate Praxis

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pp. 225-232

What does it mean to turn from regimes of description that center on disconnection, objectivity, and distance, and embrace modes of telling founded on connection, subjectivity, and intimacy; to “cross that line,” as Virginia Dominguez puts it, that demarcates the intellectual safety of objective truth from the “untrustworthy” realm of subjective emotions; to shift, as did Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jovita...


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pp. 233-258


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pp. 259-273


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pp. 275-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780292793842
E-ISBN-10: 0292793847
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292718685
Print-ISBN-10: 0292718683

Page Count: 300
Illustrations: 7 halftones
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 637319687
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Native Speakers

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Subject Headings

  • Feminism -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • Deloria, Ella Cara.
  • Hurston, Zora Neale -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Mireles, Jovita González, 1904-1983 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Imaginary conversations.
  • Minority women -- United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
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