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N . C . Wyeth. BILLY T H E KID. 1906. Pen and ink. The Saturday Evening Post. W yeth was commissioned by The Saturday Evening Post to do a series of illustrations for Emerson H ough’s stories on the West. These illustrations along with H ough’s articles provided Am ericans with more representations of “imitation” bad men. M ig u e l A n t o n io O t e r o II, B il l y t h e K id ’s B o d y , a n d t h e F ig h t f o r N e w M e x ic a n M a n h o o d JOHN-MlCHAEL RIVERA Echoing the autobiographies of public statesmen John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin, Miguel Antonio Otero II, the first and only Mexican American territorial governor, opens M)> Life on the Frontier, volume 1 of his nine hundred-page autobiography, with a founding American republican phrase: the “public spirit” of man (1:2). In what constitutes one of the few pri­ vate reminiscences throughout his autobiography, Otero uses this phrase to describe his father’s virtuous service as one of the first New Mexicans to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, less than a decade after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848.1 But by claiming “public spirit,” the metaphysical, disembod­ ied quality of public leadership usually bestowed on America’s Anglo-European male leaders, Otero II— an embodied nuevomexicano bourgeois— ironically became a metonymic image for New Mexico’s body politic. As such, he displayed his claim to power as a public figure during a period he defined as the “metamorphosis of the democratic West” (Otero: Autobiographical Trilogy 2).2 Otero’s desire for public disembodiment is rooted within an exist­ ing lineage of American cultural and political thought from which the definition of and relationship between the body and the public emerge as particularly contested cultural sites during New Mexico’s years as a U.S. territory.3 In order to understand Otero’s rise as the political image of New Mexico— that is, as an embodied Mexican man with a disem­ bodied public spirit—we need to bear in mind the cultural shift the term the public was undergoing during the course of his life, especially as frontier history intersected with masculine ideology and constituted its cultural m ean in g.4 To explore the dynamics between frontier history and masculinity, this essay will focus on Otero’s early emergence into what Jurgen Habermas theorizes as the political and literary public spheres. Focusing on Otero’s own biography, The Real Billy the Kid, I will sketch a cultural biography of the early years of Otero’s life, the years sur­ rounding Billy the Kid’s death in 1881, which Otero would define as WAL 3 5 .1 S P R IN G 2 0 0 0 the most pivotal years in New Mexico’s frontier history as a territory. Otero’s peculiar act of writing Billy the Kid’s biography, an act of narrative embodiment by its very nature, effectively enabled him to chah lenge other existing discourses which rendered Billy’s body as symbolically representing Mexican barbarism on the frontier (328-33). In this way, I want to argue, his rendering of Billy the Kid’s biographical body creates for Otero a prosthesis for critical public discourse. Otero’s participation within the cultural construction of Billy the Kid reveals much about his own masculine desire to foster “publie spirit” as New Mexico’s first modern politician. What Otero rep­ resents in these pages is his own distinctive ability to rise within and, indeed, mimic masculine discourses of the mass-produced “official” literary and public spheres, with the result that Billy’s body becomes a site to mediate Otero’s most public cause, New Mexican statehood. We need to remember that at the turn of the last century such pub­ lic discourses construed both bourgeois and working-class New Mexicans’ bodies as “Indian and white,” hence constituting them in the public sphere as “semicivilized.” Therefore, their mestizo bodies were not worthy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 46-57
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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