- Refiguring “the American Congo: Jovita González, John Gregory Bourke, and the Battle over Ethno-Historical Representations of the Texas Mexican Border
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 35, Number 1, Spring 2000
- pp. 75-94
- View Citation
- Additional Information
R e f ig u r in g “t h e A m e r ic a n C o n g o ”: J o v it a G o n z á l e z , J o h n G r e g o r y B o u r k e , a n d t h e B a t t l e o v e r E t h n o - H is t o r ic a l R e p r e s e n t a t io n s o f t h e T e x a s M e x ic a n B o r d e r M a r ía E u g e n i a C o t e r a In the summer of 1925, Lilia Casis, the venerable professor of Spanish at the University of Texas in Austin, introduced one of her students, Jovita González, to J. Frank Dobie, a professor of English who, at the time, was a nationally recognized authority on Texas folk lore. This introduction was a turning point in Jovita González’s life. “Heretofore,” she writes, “the legends and stories of the border were interesting, so I thought, just to me. However, he made me see their importance and encouraged me to write them, which I did, publish ing some in the Folk-Lore Publications and Southwest Review’’ (“Early Life” xii). This meeting also had far-reaching implications for the ways in which the dialogue over Texas history would be played out over the rest of the century. Today, as a result of recovery projects which have brought González’s representations of the Mexican “folk” of Texas under new scrutiny, scholars have begun to explore her com plex relationship with folklore as an institution.1 While these discoveries have shed new light on this important Mexican American intellectual, the recovery of González’s “lost” texts has not exactly heralded a triumphant réintroduction into the canon of Chicana/o intellectual production. And in spite of the fact that González has always been viewed as a foundational figure within the field, she still occupies a somewhat marginal position in historical accounts of the development of the counterdiscursive practice of Chicana/o studies. As José Limón notes, González “has been anthol ogized only twice, in brief excerpts and rather early on in the Chicano movement years” (Limón, “Folklore” n.p.). Her relative invisibility in the arena of Chicana/o studies is due in no small part to the fact that her published work has traditionally been viewed as too deeply influ enced by the questionable romantic idealizations of the Mexican “folk” evident in the writing of her mentor J. Frank Dobie. In truth, González’s folkloric representations of the Mexican American people 7 6 WAL 3 5 .1 S p r in g 2 0 0 0 and their culture do not employ the obviously resistant narrative strategies of the man who followed in her footsteps at the University of Texas, the putative founding “father” of Chicano studies, Américo Paredes. Nonetheless, close analysis of both the recovered texts and her earliest extended attempt to represent the “social life” of her community, namely, her master’s thesis titled “Social Life in Cameron, Starr, and Zapata Counties” (1930), reveals a much more complex and resistant Jovita González than the accommodating scholar we have come to know through her published articles. Although she is best known as an expert in Texas folklore, Jovita González received her M.A. in history at the University of Texas and submitted her thesis for approval to Texas historian Eugene C. Barker. According to González, Barker “was somewhat hesitant at first to approve the thesis,” but he relented after her friend Carlos Castañeda insisted that the thesis would “‘be used in years to come as source material’” (qtd. in González, “Early Life” xiii). Castañeda’s prediction was correct, for historians such as David Montejano and Amoldo De Leon have used González’s master’s thesis as a major source of infor mation on early...