- Former Futures and Absent Histories in María Cristina Mena, Rosaura Sánchez, and Beatrice Pita
As Ramón saldívar has theorized, twenty-first-century ethnic writers increasingly turn to what he calls "historical fantasy," a new mode tasked with "narrat[ing] the emergence of transnational, cosmopolitan, economic, and cultural orders whose desperate inequities are most readily experienced by persons from diasporic, transitory, and migratory communities in the borderlands between the global north and south who lack recognition under dominant ideas of social membership" (2011b, 594). While Saldívar examines how historical fantasy operates across ethnic literatures and is invested in locating it as a contemporary mode of these literatures, his description emphasizes the centrality of the borderlands to his theorization of historical fantasy. Reading [End Page 69] outside of his strict periodization invites us to consider the major movements across the borderlands—central among them the Mexican Revolution—that have informed the emergence of historical fantasy.
Elsewhere Saldívar adds that historical fantasy "is a way of describing the 'something more' that the literary works I refer to as postrace fictions do in linking fantasy, history, and the imaginary, the imaginary history, in order to remain true to ethnic literature's utopian allegiance to social justice" (2012, 14). Although Saldívar's explanation reveals his investment in postracial aesthetics, which names a temporal shift in the nature of race and racism rather than a space free of racism, María Cristina Mena's imaginary histories of the revolution demonstrate that such historical fantasies and their attendant preoccupations with ethnic literature's relation to social justice have been part of U.S. ethnic literatures well before Saldívar's periodization.
A proto-Chicana feminist figure, María Cristina Mena, who was born in Mexico but fled in 1907 before the Mexican Revolution (1910–17), is a figure whose contributions to Chicanx literature remain largely unexamined.1 Publishing in the prestigious, modernist Century Magazine as well as more women-focused venues, such as Cosmopolitan and Household Magazine, Mena published the majority of her short stories between 1913 and 1916. An elite Mexican whose parents were of European descent, Mena's work explores U.S. imperialism in Mexico, Aztec mythology, the changing roles of women, and the Mexican Revolution.2 Writing for white audiences in the United States, Mena had to negotiate how to represent Mexico during a turbulent time.3 Although her background was privileged, she was still subject to prejudices faced by Mexican exiles living in the United States during and after the revolution. Mena became alien to her homeland—there is no evidence that she ever returned to Mexico—suggesting that her relationship to her country was largely speculative, most likely gleaned from newspapers and letters from friends still in Mexico. Although I am myself imagining Mena's relationship to Mexico, what we do know is that throughout her career Mena grappled with Pan-American issues while living in the United States (Toth 2013, 337). In short, Mena's writings about Mexico and the revolution are necessarily speculative, as her status as an exilic subject requires her to draw connections through memory as well as, in key ways, anticipation and prediction, the two [End Page 70] speculative models we see at work most prominently in her short stories. In arguing that Mena's writings on the revolution are speculative fictions, I draw upon Aimee Bahng's capacious understanding of the term, which she uses "not to identify a genre wholly distinct from science fiction, but to use a more expansive term that might include related genres such as fantasy, horror, and historical fiction; and that highlights the speculative mode of the 'What if?'" (2017, 13).
In considering the "What if?" I argue that Mena is a speculative precursor to later Chicana speculations, particularly for contemporary Chicanx literature, such as Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita's novella Lunar Braceros 2125–2148 (2009).4 I contend that both Mena, Sánchez, and Pita engage with what Reinhart Koselleck has alternately called futures past, superseded futures, or former futures (1985, 3). In theorizing former futures, Koselleck highlights the relationship between "a given present and its...