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  • "Por Andarmos Todos Casy Mesturados":The Politics of Intermingling in Caminha's Carta and Colonial American Anthologies
  • Lisa Voigt (bio)

According to the chronicler of Pedro Álvares Cabral's arrival on the coast of what is now Brazil in April of 1500, less than a week after their first contact with the Portuguese crew, the natives "poucos a poucos mesturaranse cõ nosco, e abracauãnos e folgauam" (96) ["little by little mingled with us. And they embraced us and had a good time"] (24). The scribe later portrays the Portuguese as equally engaged in the "mingling," while also suggesting that their motivation extends beyond "having a good time": "este dia os uimos de mais perto e mais aanosa vontade por andarmos todos casy mesturados" (96, my emphasis) ["On that day we saw them closer and more as we wished, for all of us were almost intermingled"] (24).1 Such scenes of peaceful intermingling and "merrymaking" (96; 24) between Europeans and Amerindians have earned Pero Vaz de Caminha's letter to King Manuel a foundational position in the Brazilian literary canon and contributed to notions of the distinctive benevolence of Portuguese colonization. Historians and literary critics alike have interpreted the letter as not only the nation's "birth certificate" but one that attests to a painless delivery.2

The Carta [Letter] may also earn a place in the early "American" canon, if the trend toward more expansive and inclusive anthologies of colonial American literatures prevails. Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer's The Literatures of Colonial America (2001) includes an extract of Caminha's letter, along with selections from both North and South America that are translated from Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, and various Native American languages. The preface to Carla Mulford's Early American Writings (2002) claims a similar comprehensiveness, stating that "texts included represent the cultures of Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, Swedish, German, and English speakers" (xviii), although no Portuguese-language texts are in [End Page 407] fact present.3 And the most recent edition of The Heath Anthology of American Literature (2002) states that changes to the section "Colonial Period to 1700" (which incorporates subsections on "New Spain" and "New France") "reflect the growing interest among scholars of early American and New World studies in literature not originally in English and its impact upon the predominately English literatures of North America" (Lauter 1: xxxvii). If these anthologies are any indication, "all of us" might soon be "almost intermingled" under the rubric of early or colonial America, at least in some U.S. literature classrooms. Yet the reference to the "predominately English literatures" of "North America"—a geographical term that, like "America," extends beyond the borders of the United States—suggests that we still have a long way to go before announcing the birth of a new "American" canon that truly represents the hemisphere's linguistic and cultural diversity.

In this two-part essay I offer the response of someone working on the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Americas to the efforts at hemispheric "intermingling" embodied in these literary anthologies and the paradigm shift in American studies to which they point. In the first section, I explore some of the problems involved in the organization and presentation of texts from other linguistic and cultural traditions in three recent anthologies. In the second part, I focus on a text included in one of the anthologies—Pero Vaz de Caminha's Carta—in order to recontextualize some of the passages that have been used to construct the nationalist-inspired reading of a happy encounter. In both cases, I aim to problematize the uncritical celebration of "intermingling," whether in the construction of national origins or in the articulation of an emergent field of study. However, my reading of Caminha's letter in the second part of the essay in a sense suggests the obverse of my argument in the first part, by underscoring the relevance of a text from another linguistic, cultural, historical, and geographic context in the Americas to current critical debates about "American" studies in the U.S. academy. Indeed, the Carta may have something to teach us about the productive presence of alien bodies in familiar texts, if we acknowledge their...


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