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MARIA AMPARO RUIZ DE BURTON NEGOTIATES AMERICAN LITERARY POLITICS AND CULTURE Amelia Maria de la Luz Montes La inaguracion de Mr. Lincoln ha pasado sin novedad, y ha dado su primera "public reception" sin q. lo hayan asesinado como amenazaban. El estado del pais continua en agitacion y el peligro de guerra todabia hace temblar a los infelices q., como yo, tanto tendrian q. arriesgar. . . . No deje de venir, y yo quiero tener el placer de presentarlo a Mr. y Mrs. Lincoln . . . yo se muy bien q. si yo lo presento sera muy bien recibido. [Mr. Lincoln's inauguration has occurred without incident, and he has given his first"public reception" without having been assassinated as they had threatened. The state of the country continues in alarm and the threat of war makes those unfortunate ones tremble because they, like me, would have much to place at risk. . . . Do not forget to come, and I want to have the pleasure of presenting you to Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln . . . I know very well that if I present you, you will be well received.) —Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, March 8, i86o[i]] "LET ME PRESENT YOU": OPENING PREESTABLISHED BOUNDARIES Of all the racial and cultural impressions people imagine of nineteenth -centuryAmericans, it isdoubtful they envisiona learned MexicanAmerican woman who writesfrom Washington, converseswith the Lincolns, and reports on the Civil War.2 Mexicans, like novelistMaria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, who became American after 1848 were recreated into stereotypes ordismissed as writers.3 During and after the Mexican-American War,Mexican womenwere described in western popular books and newspapersas loose and undisciplined while the men were portrayed as sleepy dons or drunken bandidos.4 Such stereotypes made it difficult for emerging Mexican American voices to establish themselves in American literary circles. Even today,American canonical literature figures nineteenth-century Americans of Mexican descent as decaying cu- RUIZ DE BURTON NEGOTIATES LITERARY POLITICS AND CULTURE : 203 riosities: ghostly exotica haunting the wheat fields and missions up and down the West Coast. By the late iSoos, traditional American literature depicted Mexican presence in the West as nonexistent. A good example is Frank Norriss turn-of-the-century novel The Octopus. Norris's California is a backdrop for what he felt would be a new American work, or more specifically a greatAmerican epic of the West.5 In the novel, Norriss old Mexican ranch is named Los Muertos (the dead), and he describes the Spanish-Mexicans as "relics of aformer generation/'6 What happens in the first half of the novel is a fascinating metaphor for Anglo-western canon formation, a metafictional construction in which Norriss western literary space creates an American literary history to privilege an Anglo-American experience. Presley says he wants to be a poet "of the west, that world's frontier of Romance, where a new race, a new people — hardy, brave, and passionate—were building an empire . . . but its poet had not yet arisen" (9). Yet there is a poet present before Presley's arrival: the dark and brooding Vanamee, whose symbol is romantic and whose heritage is not quite Indian and not quite Mexican, making him a mestizo of uncertain origin. Presley describes him as a shattered "half-real, half-legendary" person. Norriss Latin naming of Vanamee is no accident. Vannus or vanus connotes "someone born in a bacchus festival; empty and void . . . whose actions are without consequence (vain)."7 Vannus coupled with amee or ame meaning "soul" underlines Norriss intent to pronounce romanticism at itsend and announce the arrival o. realism, but he does so at the expense of a Mexican American literary presence in California. Presley the new poet is youthful, vigorous, and determined, in contrast to the "centenarian [Mexican) of the town, decrepit beyond belief" (20). The Mexican American presence and literary voice in Norriss novel is without soul, without meaning, and worse yet, without truth. There is no room in this literary landscape for multiple voices of color. How can such a historical literary landscape accommodate the vibrant existence of a Mexican American woman's novels which focus on California as well as New England and reveal modes of realism and naturalism thirty years before Norris? It cannot. The focus of my work, then, concerns revisiting traditional American periodization not to delete its literary contents but to complicate what is there by including Ruiz de Burton's works, which help us further understand the emergence of realism, naturalism, and muckraking.8 Ruiz...


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