- The Mexican Revolution in the Eyes of Katherine Anne Porter and Nellie Campobello
The literature of the U.S. South has found new life in the burgeoning field of inter-American literary studies.1 Both the U.S. South's literatures and its histories have played key roles in the academic attempt to connect the literatures and histories of the United States to those of Latin America and the Caribbean from the groundbreaking work of Bell Gale Chevigny and Gari Laguardia's 1986 collection, Reinventing the Americas: Comparative Studies of Literature of the United States and Spanish America, through Gustavo Pérez Firmat's "invitation or come-on" (5) to study American literatures side by side in his 1990 edited volume, Do the Americas Have a Common Literature? to Caroline F. Levander and Robert S. Levine's recent collection, Hemispheric American Studies. The U.S. South aptly serves as the metaphorical bridge between the northern and southern halves of the American hemisphere because, as Deborah Cohn and Jon Smith argue in their introduction to Look Away!: The U.S. South in New World Studies, "the U.S. South comes to occupy a space unique within modernity: a space simultaneously (or alternately) center and margin, victor and defeated, empire and colony, essentialist and hybrid, northern and southern (both in the global sense)" (9).
With the importance of the U.S. South in this inter-American conversation, it is surprising that very few scholars examine the work of Katherine Anne Porter from a hemispheric approach, especially considering Porter's involvement in Mexican art and politics in the early 1920s and again in the early 1930s.2 Thomas F. Walsh's Katherine Anne [End Page 99] Porter and Mexico: The Illusion of Eden and José E. Limón's American Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States, and the Erotics of Culture stand out as the two primary examples of literary criticism that does bring Porter's biography and literary corpus into a hemispheric context, although only Limón's approach can be considered comparative since Walsh focuses primarily on Porter herself, her time in Mexico, the pieces she wrote while living in Mexico, and the works about Mexico that she wrote after returning to Texas. Limón, in contrast, brings Porter's life and literature into conversation with the experiences and work of her friend Manuel Gamio—a renowned Mexican archaeologist and anthropologist whom Porter met in the early 1920s—as one of several readings that support his comparative analysis of the U.S. South and what he calls "Greater Mexico." Following the lead of Américo Paredes, Limón uses this term to describe "all Mexicans, beyond Laredo and from either side [of the U.S.-Mexico border], with all their commonalities and differences" (3), and he insists that Greater Mexico maintains an ironic relationship with the U.S. South since the two "have had much in common historically" (9).
In the following pages, I place Porter's writings about Mexico alongside the work of Mexican author and outspoken villista Nellie Campobello to offer a critique of how each writer creates what she calls "authentic" portrayals of the Mexican Revolution. This reading supports Limón's comparison of the U.S. South and Greater Mexico and expands the latter construct by showing the lasting effects of the Revolution on both a quasi-canonical writer of the Mexican Revolution and on a foreigner who insisted that Mexico was her "familiar country" (Porter, "Why" 356).3 Reading Porter and Campobello side by side reinforces the primary argument of inter-American literary studies, that literature is best understood when read across and through the national and linguistic borders that supposedly separate various American literary traditions. However, this reading also demonstrates that the very identities that a hemispheric approach to American literatures calls into question—in this case both the national and regional constructs of the United States, Mexico, the U.S. South, and northern Mexico—heavily influence Porter's and Campobello's depictions of the Revolution.4 Finally, a comparative analysis of Porter's and Campobello's writings offers a more nuanced perspective on the convoluted series of events we call the...