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  • Jovita González and Margaret Eimer's Caballero as Memory-Site
  • Erin Murrah-Mandril (bio)

In fact, memory has never known more than two forms of legitimacy: historical and literary. These have run parallel to each other but until now always separately. At present, the boundary between the two is blurring . . . . History has become the deep reference of a period that has been wrenched from its depths, a realistic novel in a period in which there are no real novels. Memory has been promoted to the center of history: such is the spectacular bereavement of literature.

Pierre Nora, "Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire"

María Cotera and José Limón's 1996 publication of Jovita González and Margaret Eimer's 1938 Caballero manuscript is clearly presented as manuscript, as an unfinished document with its textual construction laid open for scrutiny.1 The recovered novel not only opens with a typewriter-esque facsimile of the manuscript title page containing seven alternative titles, a list of characters, and a floor plan of the Mendoza y Soría hacienda, it also reinforces the unfinished form of the manuscript through repeated parenthetical passages, which were labeled "omit" in the manuscript version, and by a disjuncture in the narrative where a section from the disorganized "MS-1" is used to supplement several missing pages from the more complete "MS-2." As José Limón explains, a finalized version of the novel also existed, which has since been lost, "presumably the version sent to the publishers" (Introduction xxviii).

This unfinished form of Caballero, including the final version's status as "lost," textually enacts the same troubling lack of finitude and resolution displayed in the narrative itself where the coherence of the [End Page 135] Mendoza y Soría family unravels in the wake of US conquest of South Texas during the 1846-48 US-Mexico War. Both the text and its tale are stories of unfinished, incongruous pasts, of the conflicting and contested histories of Tejanos in South Texas. Yet most scholars agree that, despite its invocation of historical figures like Juan Cortina and General Canales, Caballero fails to present the "true" history of nineteenth-century South Texas Mexican adaptation to US conquest. As Monika Kaup points out, Caballero ignores the historical adaptability and sustainability of the hacienda system in South Texas in order to:

[synchronize] the [mid-nineteenth-century] intermarriage plot with another development that, in South Texas, does not occur until half a century later: the collapse of Mexican ranch society with its feudalistic class structure and paternalistic work arrangements and the full displacement of the old Mexican landowning elite as a result of an agricultural revolution that violently displaced ranchers and ranching.


Vincent Pérez, who places Caballero in the context of 1930s plantation novels, reinforces the interpretation that González and Eimer's novel deals with 1930s social issues by placing them in the 1848 past. For Pérez, the novel, "recovers the Southwest's own 'premodern' agrarian socioeconomic institution—the semifeudal hacienda—to negotiate a cultural and political path in the modern era for a population that . . . had been conquered in the mid-nineteenth century by the United States" ("Remembering" 474). More than transposing one time onto another, though, Caballero sets multiple histories in dialogue with each other by positioning them within a single space, within what Pierre Nora calls a memory-site. This memory-site works across time to open, rather than close, a new historical memory of South Texas by creating a space for multiple, divergent cultural memories.

The textual organization of Caballero, like the narrative itself, posits multiple possibilities that are not resolved or reduced to a single truth. Though the novel is named Caballero, the seven alternative titles present equally viable alternative identities for the text. In them, we can see the unfinished dialogue of co-authorship wherein the authors are still deferring to each other and to the publishing industry that may demand a new name for the book just as it advised Eimer to place her [End Page 136] pseudonym, Eve Raleigh, first in the final typescript version (Limón, Introduction xx). The front matter further sets the stage...


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pp. 135-153
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