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  • Politicizing Spanish-Mexican Domesticity, Redefining Fronteras:Jovita González's Caballero and Cleofas Jaramillo's Romance of a Little Village Girl
  • Marci R. McMahon (bio)

You have your beautiful homes filled with many treasures, ordered households where courtesy reigns; food of the best, served graciously. . . . I say this: Seek the Americano officials who have influence and invite them to your homes and entertainments. Show them that we have much to give them in culture, that we are not the ignorant people they take us to be, that to remain as we are will neither harm nor be a disgrace to their union of states. They are far too well acquainted with the lowest of the Mexicans and not at all with the best.

Jovita González, Caballero: A Historical Romance Novel1

In this important scene of the historical romance novel Caballero,2 mid-twentieth-century Tejana author and folklorist Jovita González depicts Padre Pierre, a French priest who lives in a Spanish-Mexican land-owning community in nineteenth-century rural south Texas, advising the families to gain Anglo-American sympathy and approval of Mexican presence in Texas by displaying their "Spanish" colonial homes.3 According to the priest, the elite Spanish-Mexican families should use their houses to demonstrate the esteemed and civilized qualities of their culture and heritage, so as to distinguish themselves from the "lowest of the Mexicans." Padre Pierre's statement occurs precisely at the moment when racial tensions are escalating between this Spanish-Mexican land-owning community and the Anglo-American settlers during the U.S.-Mexican War, tensions that continued to intensify following the coercive displacement of Mexicans from their land after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.4 The priest's appeal to the land-owning Spanish-Mexicans to deploy "Spanish" colonial domesticity suggests the powerful role of prevailing nineteenth-century racial discourses of Mexicans within a white/nonwhite racialized binary and a civilized/savage dichotomy. Most Anglos of this period viewed all Mexicans as foreign, alien, "nonwhite," [End Page 232] and outside American citizenship. As historian David Montejano explains, "The newly arrived Americans did not distinguish between the aristocratic and laboring classes—'to Americans both types are the same—Mexicans.'"5 In this fictionalized scene of Caballero, we catch a glimpse of how Spanish-Mexican communities used their "Spanish" homes to claim "whiteness" and disassociate themselves from the newly classified group of stigmatized "Mexicans." In doing so, González's novel illustrates the important role of the domestic sphere as a site of both negotiation and resistance to U.S. imperialism and colonialism.

Padre Pierre's urging of the elite Spanish-Mexicans to display their "Spanish" homes publicly as a strategy for resisting the categorization of their communities as nonwhite, primitive, and foreign speaks to the shifting racial constructions of Spanish and Mexican peoples in the U.S. Southwest. Before the arrival of white settlers to the region in the aftermath of the treaty, existing Anglo inhabitants often viewed Spanish land-owning families and Mexicans who worked the land as belonging to distinct racial and social categories. Yet, after the treaty, as Montejano explains, "[T]here were no longer any significant differences between the displaced 'Spanish' elite and the landless 'Mexicans.' Now a Mexican was simply a Mexican."6 Montejano cites the words of an Anglo old-timer of Nueces County who was shocked by the new white settlers' inability to make such distinctions: "a newcomer here did not distinguish between an old Spanish family and other Mexicans; it was embarrassing to them and to me."7 Of course, the way such distinctions were used to marginalize all people of Mexican descent was a key concern for previously land-owning Spanish families. Such new categorizations of "Spanish" elite communities as simply "Mexican" and "inferior" led many Spanish land-owning families to assert their "whiteness" as a way to reclaim entitlement to land and citizenship within the region.

González wrote Caballero during a period when people of Mexican descent were once again viewed as homogenous and outside citizenship. Deportation and repatriation programs of this period affected the lives of generations of established Mexican-American communities in the...


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