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American Literary History 14.1 (2002) 83-114

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Sangre Mexicana/Corazón Americano:
Identity, Ambiguity, and Critique in Mexican-American War Narratives

B. V. Olguín

There can be no fifty-fifty Americanism in this country. There is room only for one hundred percent Americanism.

Theodore Roosevelt

The pressing need of Our America is to show itself as it is, one in spirit and intent, swift conqueror of a suffocating past, stained only by the enriching blood drawn from the hands that struggle to clear away ruins, and from the scars left upon us by our masters.

José Martí

1. Introduction:
Narrative, Ideology, and Mexican-American Identity

Since the publication of Américo Paredes's foundational 1958 study on the epic heroic corrido,With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero, war has figured prominently as a historical reference point and as a metaphor in theorizations of Mexican-American history, culture, and identity. 1 The Texas Mexican War of 1836 and the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848, which culminated with the US annexation of one-half of Mexican national territory and the subsequent transformation of the local Mexican population into Mexican Americans, traditionally have served as touchstones for Mexican-American studies. During the evolution of Mexican-American studies as an academic discipline [End Page 83] in the 1970s and 1980s, other US conflicts such as World War II and the American War in Vietnam additionally were situated as central to the field. However, there are some profound limits to the ways in which these wars have been theorized. For instance, World War II often was located within a progress narrative, in which the conflict served as a benchmark for gauging Mexican-American claims to empowerment and inclusion into the American polis. On the other hand, the American War in Vietnam has been figured as a moment of hegemonic rupture and the evolution of a Mexican-American, or more precisely, Chicano culture of resistance. 2

These undertheorized uses of war to celebrate ideologically diverse claims to power have been complicated by recent archival discoveries and critical scholarship on Mexican-American soldiering and citizenship. The republication of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton's 1885 historical novel The Squatter and the Don in 1996, and the recent discovery and publication of Jovita González and Eve Raleigh's jointly authored romance novel Caballero (1930) are exemplary. By examining the complex negotiations of gender and power undergirding romances between Mexican-American women and Anglo men during the Texas Mexican and Mexican-American Wars, they destabilize what José E. Limón has critiqued as the masculinist "pre-1848 'utopian' visions of the South Texas social sphere in Paredes's With His Pistol in His Hand" (Introduction xv). 3 New research on Mexican-American soldiering and citizenship presented at the May 2000 US Latinas and Latinos and World War II Conference at the University of Texas at Austin and, more importantly, George Mariscal's recently published anthology, Aztlán and Viet Nam: Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War (1999), further illustrate that although US wars are always historically situated, they often accentuate and even intensify preexisting conflicts and contradictions in American society rather than resolve them. 4 As Mariscal notes, "serious differences based on class, gender, and levels of assimilation produced in Chicana/o writings about the American war in Viet Nam a wide range of figures whose complex identities take shape at the intersection of contradictory and often mutually exclusive categories" (17-18). These reassessments of the variable status of war in Mexican-American history and culture reveal that US wars demand, and may even enable, broader diachronic and more complex remappings of Mexican-American identity and ideology.

Significantly, Ramón Saldívar foregrounds this remapping of Mexican-American soldiering and citizenship in an expanded discussion of a Hegelian and Derridean inflected model of "Chicano difference" in his critical introduction to Paredes's collected short stories, The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories(1994). [End Page 84] Having lucidly proposed that...


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