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  • Hegemonies of Language and Their Discontents: The Southwest North American Region Since 1540 by Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez
  • David Martínez (bio)
Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez. Hegemonies of Language and Their Discontents: The Southwest North American Region Since 1540. U of Arizona P, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-8165-3920-8. 337 pp.

Probably not since Octavio Paz offered his learned reflections on the Mexican soul in The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950) has a single volume captured the epic sweep of what is today the transborder region of the American Southwest and northern Mexico. From the homeland of Indigenous peoples speaking an array of Uto-Aztecan languages to [End Page 233] the Pimería Alta and New Spain under the Spanish Crown, then to the Gadsden Purchase and New Mexico Territory under the Americans, what Vélez-Ibáñez designates the Southwest North American Region (SWNAR) has been the site of significant cultural, political, and linguistic changes, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. More specifically, Hegemonies of Language and Their Discontents is about the sociolinguistic permutations that the populations inhabiting the SWNAR have undergone as the region was subjected to different types of political, religious, and economic control, or what the author refers to as "metascripts." Consequently, there is long but dramatic historical change in which power relations are articulated and reassigned between culturally distinct groups, such as Jesuit missionaries like Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino learning Indigenous languages, O'odham and Yuman among them, for the purpose of spreading the Christian Gospel and establishing a mission system to the intransigent efforts of, say, the state of Arizona asserting an assimilationist and monolingual approach to coercing Spanish-speaking schoolchildren and migrants into the American white-centric mainstream.

Ultimately, Vélez-Ibáñez's book is about the virtues of bilingual education and the benefits this creates for the student populations served by such programming and the societies across SWNAR where bilingualism is a part of everyday life. As such, Vélez-Ibáñez effectively rebuts the legal and political premises on which English-only laws, which arise in Arizona periodically, presume that a more linguistically homogeneous society means a more law-abiding society. Such propositions are simultaneously based on a condescending attitude toward Spanish speakers as socially corrupt, on the one hand, and the concept that English-based society is by definition more civilized, on the other. "These [attitudes]," though, as Vélez-Ibáñez poignantly observes, "are reminiscent of the nineteenth and twentieth century narratives of the Know-Nothings, the Ku Klux Klan of the Midwest, and the Posse Comitatus of recent vintage" (180). The latter example, of course, continues to roil the US-Mexico border, be it Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio's reign of terror or the current president's deployment of military troops in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act (1878).

Divided into seven chapters and three appendices, Hegemonies of Language and Their Discontents guides its reader across a variety of cultural, historical, and political phenomena that have shaped the SWNAR [End Page 234] into what it is today. In the case of the book's historic scope, 1540 marks the embarkation of the Coronado Expedition, which led to the Spanish colonization of SWNAR. At the same time, it was an era in which the Indigenous nations that Spanish explorers encountered maintained power and influence across their respective territories, including linguistic control, which the Spaniards had to accommodate lest their colonial ambitions come to naught. Chapters 1 through 3 thereby cover the Indigenous linguistic ecology of the SWNAR into which Spanish explorers and settlers imposed themselves, consequently sending the region into a cultural-linguistic upheaval out of which the "seeing man" syndrome emerged, a concept that Vélez-Ibáñez borrows from Mary Pratt's 1992 treatise on travel writing and colonialism to signify the "missionary agents, civil authorities, and the military and their attending discontents" (7) whose colonial gaze was fixated on possessing everything within its view. However, as dramatized by Popé and the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, for every people conquered there erupted an anticonquest movement that influenced all aspects of the SWNAR, in which languages and customs resisted oppression, assimilation, and erasure...


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