2014 MLA Conference Panel: Thursday, January 9th

Thank you for visiting our blog about our upcoming 2014 MLA panel on 19th-century New Mexican writers and cultural workers. Information about our panel is provided below. (Soon to be added: individual paper abstracts!)

The last 25 years have witnessed a plethora of scholarly work on nineteenth-century Spanish-language literary and journalistic writings in the United States. The recovery of this writing demonstrates both the longevity of the Hispanic presence in the United States as well as the diversity and abundance of writings in Spanish in the United States. This panel examines the politicized literary and journalistic production of 19th-century Mexican American—specifically New Mexican, or nuevomexicano—intellectuals writing in Spanish after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and the incorporation of the Borderlands into the United States. It builds upon current scholarship on recovered U.S. Hispanic texts and shows the power and importance that writing had in nuevomexicanos’ development and preservation of their ethnic and regional identity as a community.

Eusebio Chacón (1869-1948) spent his life living between Southern Colorado and New Mexico, where he was a prominent community leader, lawyer, writer, and advocate for Hispanic rights. He was part of a generation of New Mexican writers (periodiqueros) that aimed to create una literatura nacional—a distinctly regional, original, New Mexican, “national” literature—which he saw himself as helping to initiate with the publication of his two novelettes, El hijo de la tempestad and Tras la tormenta la calma (1892), the first Spanish-language New Mexican novels. Cara Kinnally’s paper, “Combating Banditry, Barbarism, and Empire: Eusebio Chacón’s New Mexican Literary Tradition and El hijo de la tempestad,” explores the significance of the bandit, an ubiquitous figure in nineteenth-century popular culture. She looks as this figure in Chacón’s El hijo de la tempestad as an allegorical meditation on the ways in which nuevomexicanos could adapt to U.S. politics and accommodate Anglo American culture, but also as a commentary on the importance of maintaining nuevomexicanos’ own unique ethnic and linguistic community, even as (a marginalized) part of the United States political body. At the same time, she argues that Chacón subtly manipulates the typical bandit narrative in order to critique U.S. imperial expansion and distance nuevomexicanos from negative associations with Spain and Mexico—and thus uniquely New Mexican.

The attributed writings of Felipe Maximiliano Chacón (1873-1948), published in 1924 as the Obras de Felipe Maximiliano Chacón ‘El cantor neomexicano’: Prosa y poesía, is exceptional among the Spanish-language publications of New Mexican writers of the late 19th and early 20th century as much for the breadth of genres it spans as for the depth of its engagement with the political and social issues facing nuevomexicanos of that complicated epoch.  Born in New Mexico to a prominent literary and political family known for its involvement in the Spanish-language newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Felipe Maximiliano Chacón was one of cadre of nuevomexicano literari (including his cousin Eusebio Chacón) whose influence over local and Southwestern regional politics among Spanish-speaking citizens was fundamental to the retention of agency within changing governmental and economic structures, as well as to the preservation of linguistic and cultural practices. Dr. Anna Nogar’s paper, “A 19th-century Transitional Literary Manifesto of New Mexico: Obras de Felipe Maximiliano Chacón ‘El cantor neomexicano’: Poesía y prosa,” examines how Felipe Maximiliano Chacón uses advanced literary and rhetorical techniques, many of which draw on those of contemporaneous Latin American writers, to calibrate his message of patriotic regional self-preservation in the collection’s “Cantos patrios y miscelánea.” Unique among the writing of his peers, Felipe Maximiliano Chacón’s poetry demonstrates a deftness in reminding nuevomexicanos of the value of their historical and continued particularity in the context of their increased participation in hegemonic American institutions.

Arturo Fernández-Gibert’s paper, “Language ideologies and politics in New Mexico’s quest for statehood,” will examine the changing roles of Spanish and English throughout New Mexico’s last decades of the territorial period (1890-1912) by studying primary sources, namely, texts printed in the pages of the Spanish-language newspapers published in New Mexico during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. The time span covers over twenty years. Besides the newspapers, the data contained in the U.S. census has also been considered to assess demographic, linguistic, and social transformations affecting New Mexico. The main focus of his paper will be the building of language ideologies in New Mexico during the transitional period that will culminate with statehood in 1912. The newly developed literacy in Spanish among native nuevomexicanos led to a boom in the Spanish-language press. This phenomenon stemmed from a literacy ideology that afforded nuevomexicanos access to self-representation and defense. This development also brought to New Mexico language ideologies constructed by politically dominant Anglo Americans, which rendered Hispanic cultural and linguistic practices “minoritized” and alien, in an attempt to exclude them from the making of the new state. The response from the Hispanic press and public opinion was one of resistance and accommodation. In a dialogical fashion, nuevomexicanos managed to keep control over important areas of politics in the new state, in spite of increasing political encroachments from Anglo American newcomers. Reflected in the Spanish-language press as well as in Anglo American newspapers and mainstream opinion, the language representations of Spanish and English were formulated and contested during this period, based on previous experiences rooted in different histories and traditions. The intellectual legacy of the Hispanic press in New Mexico, as the main discourse agency at the time, made the formation of a nuevomexicano identity possible.

Together, these three papers examine the ways in which nuevomexicanos adapted to, commented upon, and navigated their legal incorporation into the United States after 1848. This panel thus speaks to the ways in which nuevomexicanos used literary and journalistic writing as a means of preserving their culture, history, and language, and negotiating their position in relation to a new imperial power, the United States and Anglo America.