It seems strange that Texas, a peripheral Mexican province with a miniscule Hispanic population at the end of the colonial period, should be at the center of an effort to explain Latino/a consciousness in the period before Mexican Americans became victims of internal colonization in the mid nineteenth century. In fact, much of the book is less about what happened in Texas during the Mexican War of Independence era than about the intellectual underpinnings of what happened and the consequences. In Chapter 2, for instance, the author explains how Mexican insurgents, specifically the brothers Antonio and José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, were the intellectual products of a combination of Late Scholasticism and the new scientific method: “Scientific skepticism and rationalism, then, were the harbingers of revolution, not the political philosophy of the eighteenth-century revolutions” (p. 59). Spanish Enlightenment figures, he comments later, “yearned for reforms that would raise the prestige of their patria. But patria no longer only signified the monarch, nobility, and clergy; it also meant the nación, the pueblo, the social body, and the state” (p. 137). [End Page 154]
As the title implies, Coronado comes to his subject from the perspective of literary studies. The book is heavily influenced by social science theory and includes considerable discourse and literary analysis. Not only the terms patria, nación, and pueblo come in for extended analysis, so do concepts such as “felicidad pública,” public happiness, which represented a new way to think about the purpose of government. In Philadelphia and elsewhere in the young United States, the author argues, a Hispanophone political print culture debated and promoted first the reform of the Spanish monarchy and then the abandonment of the relationship to Spain when it became obvious that Spaniards would not accept Spanish Americans on equal terms. Particularly insightful is Coronado’s creative analysis of José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara’s diary of his trip to the United States in 1811–1812. He makes a convincing argument that Gutiérrez de Lara came to equate the physical trappings of civilization with the workings of an effective and just government. Among Gutiérrez de Lara’s influences was the Cuban-born revolutionary José Alvarez de Toledo, who would come to play a major role in the defeat of the insurgency in Texas only a short time later and whose writings are equally well examined by Coronado.
Less well considered and detailed are the nuts and bolts of the Mexican War of Independence on New Spain’s northern frontier. Despite some mention of the area as a whole, the reader never quite gets a good understanding of how the insurgency arose and declined throughout the region. References to Hidalgo are confusing, and there’s no real effort to tie things in Texas to what was happening in the rest of Mexico under Hidalgo’s successors. With regard to Texas itself, Coronado accepts versions of events by anti-royalist sources without the same kind of critique that informs his treatment of philosophical and socioeconomic ideologies and theories. For instance, Ignacio Elizondo’s pursuit of defeated insurgents and their families is presented from the recollections of a source who was 13 years old at the time of the events and who was not an eyewitness. Elizondo’s own reports of events—graphic enough on their own—are not even mentioned.
Despite some significant issues on the historical side, the great strength of A World Not to Come is that Raúl Coronado has introduced into the study of eighteenth and nineteenth century Hispanic life an intellectual component that has been largely missing. Whether or not one agrees with his effort to give consciousness to the residents of Mexico’s northeastern borderlands as Latinos, it is hard to dismiss his argument that they were the heirs to a distinct, legitimate, and viable intellectual tradition that sprang as much from Spanish Catholic as Enlightenment roots. [End...