Legacy 20.1&2 (2003) 195-196
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Since Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita's 1993 and 1995 republications of The Squatter and the Don (1885) and Who Would Have Thought It? (1872), María Amparo Ruiz de Burton has become a key figure in the recovery of nineteenth-century Mexican American literature specifically and the reconfiguration of nineteenth-century American literary culture more generally. The success of these two novels has encouraged efforts to locate other Ruiz de Burton writings. As a result, Sánchez and Pita now present a compendium of Ruiz de Burton's personal correspondence. Included in the collection are over 150 letters by Ruiz de Burton and over 25 letters by important historical figures of the time who either corresponded with her or were connected to her through land litigation claims or business ventures (such as Samuel L. M. Barlow, E. W. Morse, and Matías Moreno). The volume also includes a sampling of articles written by or about Ruiz de Burton and her family, for the editors feel that it is only when Ruiz de Burton is framed in this fashion that "a broader sense of her place [can] be reconstructed" (xviii). [End Page 195]
Of the book's seven chapters, six focus on letters and documents written between 1851 and 1891. These chapters include correspondence to a number of her friends and professional acquaintances, as well as to prominent Mexican-American Californian and lifetime friend, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. The Vallejo letters, especially, provide scholars with another fascinating view of this remarkably erudite woman who lived during some of the most tumultuous decades in Mexican and American history. She reveals to Vallejo her most intimate thoughts and feelings concerning gender, politics, the Californios (nineteenth-century Mexican-American Californians), Mexican and American government legislation, and her involvement with these two institutions.
How she regards her status in American society and her ability to negotiate her life, especially after the death of her husband, changes throughout the years and during her stay in various locales. On March 6, 1860, for example, she invites Vallejo to Washington, D.C. so that she may introduce him to President Lincoln: "Yo quiero tener el placer de presentarlo a Mr. y Mrs. Lincoln. Ella y yo somos muy buenas amigas" [I want to have the pleasure of presenting Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln to you. She and I are very good friends] (18-19). Seven years later, she writes from South Carolina, "Los Americanos son y seran siempre los enemigos mortales de mi raza, de mi Mejico" [The Americans are and will always be the mortal enemies of my race, of my Mexico] (271; translation by Amelia M. L. Montes).
The letters are transcribed but not translated. The fact that they are not translated is a clue to an overall weakness in this project. Perhaps the editors did not translate the letters in order to privilege bilingual readers and scholars or to present a more realistic picture of Ruiz de Burton's body of writing, one that reveals a woman writing novels in English for an American audience but correspondence in Spanish for her intimate Californio and Mexican acquaintances. Yet throughout her life, Ruiz de Burton was always in the act of translating.
Not having translated the letters may be why Sanchez and Pita go to such great lengths with their commentaries—perhaps they wish to give non-Spanish readers a sense of what Ruiz de Burton is saying. However, because the commentaries at the beginning of each chapter cover various topics (from historical data to the editors' own analyses of the materials), an odd structure is created. The seventh chapter, for example, contains nineteenth-century reviews of her books, newspaper articles, and legal documents. But the commentary is preoccupied with how her writing is "a case study of an individual who emerged... with...