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  • At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O’odham, Gender, and Assimilation, 1880–1934 by Andrae M. Marak and Laura Tuennerman
  • Blanca Tovías
At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O’odham, Gender, and Assimilation, 1880–1934. By Andrae M. Marak and Laura Tuennerman. Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 2013. Pp. xiii, 232. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $55.00 cloth.

The study of assimilation generally, and in respect to specific Native American peoples as well, has received ample scholarly attention. Marak and Tuennerman trace this process among the less-studied Tohono O’odham of the San Xavier and Papago reservations in southern Arizona, and the related Tohono O’odham of Sonora, Mexico. The division is the result of the 1853 Gadsden Purchase (p. 7). This is not, the authors note, “a truly transnational history of the Tohono O’odham” who “make only ephemeral” (p. 10) appearances in Mexican state and national archives. By contrast, documents from the US Office of Indian Affairs abound, albeit that they seldom reflect views other than those of the officials who designed assimilation policies in Washington, and those who implemented them on the reservations. The authors could have been more critical when citing from these documents.

Writing borderlands histories is a notoriously demanding task, requiring not only familiarity with two national histories, but also sensitivity in the interpretation of the complex [End Page 365] cultural processes undergone by peoples such as the Tohono O’odham, who became wards of the United States 200 years after contact, first with Jesuit and later with Franciscan missionaries (the Jesuit Eusebio Kino established the San Xavier and Tucson missions circa 1687-1711) (p. 13). Their early history, explored in chapter 1, should prove valuable, especially for readers unfamiliar with Mexican history or the dynamics of “desert-river cooperative complexes,” which account for the annual migration of Tohono O’odham from desert villages to river-based settlements of their brethren (p. 17). Seeking refuge from adverse economic conditions, severe droughts, and Apache raids, these migrations across borders complicate the portrayal of assimilation or “Americanization” at the core of this book (p. 30).

The first five chapters, on “Vices and Values,” “Marriage and Morals,” “Schools and Gendered Education,” and “Vocation: Of Men and Women,” will ring familiar to scholars of Native North America. A welcome approach is the attention authors pay to the effects on the Tohono O’odham of national phenomena such as the rise of industrialization and urbanization in the United States. In chapter 2, the Prohibition movement of the 1920s provides the wider context for efforts by officials and clergy to prevent alcohol consumption. Chapter 3 goes over familiar ground and adds little. Like the previous chapter, it places a great deal of reliance on perspectives expressed by the “outing matrons,” the female officials charged with supervising the employment (in domestic work for whites in Tucson) of Tohono O’odham women. The documentation pertaining to these federal employees has been amply explored (see Lisa Emmerich in the bibliography, as well as Victoria Haskins in Matrons and Maids: Regulating Domestic Service in Tucson 1914-1934). Surprisingly, Marak and Tuennerman did not consult Haskins’ 2012 book, which shared the same editors at the University of Arizona Press.

Chapter 4 is notable for the authors’ sensitive treatment of education within a context of rivalry between Protestants and Catholics. They navigate skillfully between the agendas of the two denominations, governmental policy “to meet schooling needs at the least cost” (p. 83), and the interests of the Tohono O’odham. Also valuable is the authors’ illustration of how the process of assimilation imposed on once self-sufficient and autonomous peoples had unexpected consequences (p. 118). Notably, although Tohono O’odham women were trained to become housekeepers and guardians of the moral order on the assumption that they would remain dependent on their wage-earning husbands, they found it easier than men to become incorporated into American society, primarily through domestic employment (p. 126). As to the Tohono O’odham in Sonora (chapter 6), Marak and Tuennerman posit how neglect by postrevolutionary governments was conducive to assimilation, forcing them to migrate into Mexican communities for survival.

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