- Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature
In Border Renaissance, John González argues that, against the backdrop of the white supremacist rhetoric of the Texas Centennial project of the 1930s, there emerged a critical body of creative work produced by Mexican American artists and intellectuals which challenged the racialist discourses of exclusion. This literary corpus, composed of essays, short stories, poetry, and novels, constitutes a contestatory and corrective history that locates Tejano cultural citizenship in its rightful place within the formation of modern Texas. Border Renaissance is a timely contribution to the field of Chicano/a studies because of its particular concentration on [End Page 314] the 1930s as a significant period of Tejano/Mexican American cultural formation.
González's work begins by documenting the reassertion of Anglo-Texan racialist pedagogy on the eve of the 1936 Texas Centennial, a resurgence that took place at all levels of civic, political, and economic life. González maps this aggressive racialist pedagogy within the late development of modernity in Texas and argues that the Anglo-Texan vision of a modern democratic state rested on racial exclusion, and, in particular, upon the erasure of the Mexican contribution to the cause for Texas freedom one hundred years earlier. While González's critique of such luminary figures as the historian Walter Prescott Webb is by now familiar to Chicano/a literary historians, his analysis of the Mexican American response to the exclusionary discourses of the Texas Centennial uncovers an alternative history-making project in the mid-century writings of Maria Elena Zamora O'Shea, Américo Paredes, and Jovita González, as well as in the Mexican American civic organization LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and its publication, the LULAC News.
Zamora O'Shea's El Mesquite (1935), a novella narrated by an ancient mesquite tree, stands as a needed corrective to Anglocentric histories of Texas, which erase the Mexican presence from the landscape as well as history books. González notes that Zamora O'Shea, as a woman and educator with deep family roots in South Texas, keenly felt the Mexican's invisibility in history books, and her novella provides an alternative historical narrative. González then goes on to illuminate the work of LULAC members as they strive to build a bicultural American citizenship based on democratic, family, and middle-class ideals. González astutely recognizes the presence of early feminist voices in the pages of the LULAC News as Chicanas debated the masculinist bias of LULAC's citizenship agenda.
While the sections on Zamora O'Shea and LULAC ably demonstrate the strong counter-discursive quality of 1930s Mexican American literature, the chapters on Américo Paredes and Jovita González sometimes stray from the book's overall objective. For instance, the analysis of Paredes's "Tres faces del Pocho" (1936) seems to be more about the relationship between a Mexican national consciousness and an American consciousness within Mexican American subjectivity rather than a sustained engagement with Texas Centennial discourses. This tangent notwithstanding, González's readings of Paredes's George Washington Gómez (1990) and Jovita González's Caballero (1996) are fresh and provocative and provide a rich addition to the existing criticism on these two important Tejano intellectuals. [End Page 315]