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  • Unspeakable Violence: Remapping US and Mexican National Imaginaries by Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández
  • Joshuah O’Brien
Unspeakable Violence: Remapping US and Mexican National Imaginaries. By Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. 400 pages, $25.95.

Addressing violence as “an ongoing social process of differentiation for racialized, sexualized, gendered subjects in the US borderlands in the nineteenth century and early twentieth,” Unspeakable Violence seeks to challenge the celebratory readings of resistance narratives generally attributed to mestizaje, indigenismo, and hybridity (3). Nicole Guidotti-Hernández employs a transnational feminist framework to critique an uncritical romanticized Chicano nationalism, “which casts Chicano identity as indigenous and masculinist” and does not allow for an understanding of “what compelled Native Americans, Anglos, and Mexicans to participate in violence against others of their own race in the making of borderlands cultures” (10, 23).

Unspeakable Violence comprises five chapters, which are broken into two sections. The first section relates three episodes of unspoken borderland violence through use of historiography, close textual analysis, and feminist and cultural theory. The first episode investigates the 1851 lynching of a Mexican woman, referred to as Josefa and/or Juanita in official testimonies and newspaper articles, in Downieville, California. Guidotti-Hernández refers to her as Josefa/Juanita as a means of representing fragmented cultural memory and the woman’s unfixed identity and objectification of her body.

The second chapter examines the 1871 Camp Grant Indian massacre’s “important implications for narratives that were unspeakable for multiple nations, the identities they forged through violence, and questions of citizenship” (81). Critically examining the nineteenth-century discourses that reduced the participants to one generic monolithic group, Guidotti-Hernández seeks to highlight the silence and selective forgetting of alliances that create power differentials. Intraracial violence becomes a means of enfranchisement, of gaining citizenship through participation in the massacre.

The final chapter of the first section examines the archives of racialized and gendered violence in Jovita González’s archive. González, the first Mexican American woman to graduate with a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Texas, produced illuminating work on gender oppression that “reflect[s] upon the impending threat of violence against women, children, and racialized others ... who can’t always speak for themselves” (140). However, González’s stories that demonstrate the Texas-Mexican identity as constructed through opposition of Indians and blacks in South Texas finally show that her “narratives become disciplinary, especially for racialized and gendered subjects” (140). Guidotti-Hernández [End Page 405] critiques González’s scholarly contributions “in order to make evident how the discourse of resistance is insufficient” and to urge Chicana/o studies scholarship to “develop new paradigms for its analysis of history and folklore” (170).

The second section of Unspeakable Violence is devoted to the Yaqui Indian wars of 1880 to 1910. This section is divided into two chapters, the first of which details, through the use of historical documents, government policy and military agency records from Porfirio Díaz’s regime and US archives, “how hegemonic narratives of nation erase scenes of violence as points of origins and substitute genealogies to underwrite the unequal power relations within traditional hierarchies of families, labor, and nations based on a clear goal of achieving modernity” (174).

The final chapter utilizes Montserrat Fontes’s novel Dreams of the Centaur (1997) alongside historical documents to “demonstrate the different kinds of ideological work these texts do in the cause of nationalism, on the one hand, and of the project of revisionist historiography, on the other” (236). While Guidotti-Hernández’s purpose with Unspeakable Violence is to show “the failure to archive a subaltern version of history,” the final chapter focuses on “speech as an alternative to silence and the unspeakable that lies beyond public understanding for a reason,” ultimately concluding that Yaquis shaped modernity rather than being simply the victims of modernity’s violence (235).

Guidotti-Hernández ends Unspeakable Violence with a personal anecdote set in present-day Mexico City. The scene takes place at a bar in which Guidotti-Hernández and colleagues watch CNN’s coverage of the 2008 US presidential election. Interspersed with reports...


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pp. 405-406
Launched on MUSE
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