- Is Luis Cervantes Queer in Mariano Azuela’s Los de abajo?
One of Luis Cervantes’s many problems in becoming an accepted member of Demetrio Macías’s band of revolutionaries in Mariano Azuela’s Los de abajo (serialized 1915 in newspaper form in El Paso, Texas; first Mexican book publication 1916) concerns his relationship with the soldaderas, the women camp followers who provide the revolutionaries with logistical support (often on the battlefield itself) and, to be sure, the entire spectrum of female companionship.
Cervantes insouciantly fends off the love-sick advances of Camila, and in the end only pretends to seduce her in order to place her at the disposition of the band’s leader, Demetrio; Camila in the end seems to find the substitution far from disagreeable (“¡Hum, pos no le paraba la boca de tan contenta!” [Azuela 1.94]), although she will go on to complain bitterly of having been betrayed by Cervantes. Meanwhile, the men react in a significantly pointed way:
–¿Y el curro [Cervantes]?
Callado como siempre: igual a como es él.
–Yo creo –opinó con mucha gravedad Venancio– que si Camila amaneció en la cama de Demetrio, sólo fue por una equivocación. Bebimos mucho. . . ¡Acuérdense!. . . Se nos subieron los espíritus alcohólicos y todos perdimos el sentido.
–¡Qué espíritus alcohólicos ni qué!. . . Fue cosa convenida entre el curro y el general.
–¡Claro! Pa mí el tal curro no es más que un. . .
–A mí no me gusta hablar de los amigos en ausencia –dijo el güero Margarito–; pero sí sé decirles que de dos novias que le he conocido, una ha sido para. . . mí y la otra para el general.
Y prorrumpieron en carcajadas. (Azuela 1.94)
One does not know for sure how a reader from the mid-teens would have completed the ellipsis following the phrase “No es más que,” but [End Page 61] the contemporary reader, accustomed to being aware of the sexualized nature of popular conversation, has little trouble in completing the phrase: “maricón.” Yet it is difficult to envision the reader of the novel of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, which brought to the fore so many of the harshest realities of life and the body, of completing the sentence in any other way. After all, the function of ellipsis is not to hide an asserted meaning, but to refrain, for a number of reasons, including conventions of discretion, what is likely to be known by the speaker’s audience. Or, to put it differently, in one prevalent use of ellipsis, the rhetorical device only functions if what the speaker elides is what can be counted on to easily be filled in by the audience; in this sense, the ellipsis only serves to emphasize the phrase that has been elided, not to mask or withhold it.
Throughout Azuela’s novel, Cervantes, who goes on to betray the meaning of the revolution he had previously endorsed (see his letter to Venancio that opens the third section of the novel), is barely tolerated by the men of the band. Cervantes is useful to them for his medical knowledge, which he uses to treat the men who have been wounded, including, in one important moment in the novel, Macías himself. Yet it is abundantly clear that he really does not fit in, and the word curro is frequently attributed to him, as in the quote above, a word that means “elegante,” especially in the sense of “presumido.” Cervantes is different in his social class and manners, his education, and, above all else in a novel marked by the significant attempt to capture the colloquial texture of the speech of the revolutionaries, in his language and discourse structure: indeed, the latter reduplicate significantly those of the narrator.
But was Cervantes really a maricón?1 The answer to this question is [End Page 62] key to his status in the world of the revolutionary men and their women. There can be no question of the weighty sanctions against homosexuality in the Mexico of the day, as witnessed by the case, only a few years prior to the writing of the...