Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature

By Blanton, Carlos Kevin | The Journal of Southern History, May 2011 | Go to article overview
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Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature


Blanton, Carlos Kevin, The Journal of Southern History


Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature. By John Moran Gonzalez. History, Culture, and Society Series. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009. Pp. [xvi], 259. $50.00, ISBN 978-0-292-71978-1.)

John Moran Gonzalez, an associate professor of literature at the University of Texas at Austin, contributes an erudite study of the Mexican American community of Texas in the 1930s with Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature. Gonzalez interrogates ignored or forgotten essays, poems, novels, and histories by authors Maria Elena Zamora O'Shea, Jovita Gonzalez, Americo Paredes, Alice Dickerson Montemayor, and others who defended the reputations of Mexican Americans and pointed to new ideas of culture and identity designed to advance their community.

Border Renaissance examines this literary outpouring as a response to the influential Texas Centennial celebration of 1936 that glorified independence from Mexico. By 1939 the Advisory Board of Texas Historians for the Texas Centennial had placed almost five hundred roadside historical markers throughout Texas. Sanctioned by academic scholars like Walter Prescott Webb and J. Frank Dobie, "Centennial discourses highlighted the Anglo-Saxon origins of democracy in Texas, becoming in effect a primer about the racialized nature of social agency in modern Texas" (p. 38). Anti-Mexican racism abounded. This exemplified how Texans were then distancing themselves flora the South's Lost Cause while aggressively asserting a more western and frontier-centered identity. As such, centennial writings and exhibits deemphasized or ignored African Americans while vividly demonizing all Mexicans as "vicious, volatile, and vice-ridden" due to a "blending of inferior Indian and European bloods [that] resulted in a degenerate race as treacherous as it was cowardly" (p. 59).

The author's intelligent interpretive balance on the racialization of Mexican peoples notwithstanding, Border Renaissance is mostly focused on how Mexican Americans responded to such portrayals. Gonzalez views these writers as literary modernists confronting a legacy of violence and loss as well as a colonized present.

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