Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonza´lez, and the Poetics of Culture

Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonza´lez, and the Poetics of Culture

Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonza´lez, and the Poetics of Culture

Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonza´lez, and the Poetics of Culture

Synopsis

In the early twentieth century, three women of color helped shape a new world of ethnographic discovery. Ella Cara Deloria, a Sioux woman from South Dakota, Zora Neale Hurston, an African American woman from Florida, and Jovita González, a Mexican American woman from the Texas borderlands, achieved renown in the fields of folklore studies, anthropology, and ethno-linguistics during the 1920s and 1930s. While all three collaborated with leading male intellectuals in these disciplines to produce innovative ethnographic accounts of their own communities, they also turned away from ethnographic meaning making at key points in their careers and explored the realm of storytelling through vivid mixed-genre novels centred on the lives of women. In this book, Cotera offers an intellectual history situated in the "borderlands" between conventional accounts of anthropology, women's history, and African American, Mexican American and Native American intellectual genealogies. At its core is also a meditation on what it means to draw three women-from disparate though nevertheless interconnected histories of marginalization-into conversation with one another. Can such a conversation reveal a shared history that has been erased due to institutional racism, sexism, and simple neglect? Is there a mode of comparative reading that can explore their points of connection even as it remains attentive to their differences? These are the questions at the core of this book, which offers not only a corrective history centred on the lives of women of colour intellectuals, but also a methodology for comparative analysis shaped by their visions of the world.

Excerpt

In the spring of 1935 Tejana folklorist Jovita González sat down in her South Texas study and wrote a short story: a fact not astonishing in itself, but unexpected nonetheless, given the resources necessary for the creation of fiction—a quiet room, time, repose—none of which were usually available to Mexican American women in Texas circa 1935. Miss González (for at that particular moment she was still a “Miss”) didn’t write about romantic love, a subject that might well have been on her mind since she was planning her wedding at the time, or even about the folk traditions of Texas Mexicans, her central scholarly preoccupation during this period. Instead she turned away from these personal and professional concerns and crafted a story about two women in dialogue—and not just any two women. in a literary gesture that might have been considered audacious by some of her Anglo friends in the English Department at the University of Texas, Miss González imagined a conversation between two foundational figures in American letters: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Anne Bradstreet.

She set this imaginary dialogue within the “close and smoky” confines of her own study and titled it “Shades of the Tenth Muse,” a historically appropriate choice given that both Bradstreet and Sor Juana were celebrated as the “Tenth Muse” of the Americas, Bradstreet in England and Sor Juana in Spain. While their parallel titles suggest the two traditions from which González drew her uniquely gendered vision of American literature, Sor Juana and Anne Bradstreet share the space of González’s study in uneasy and frequently conflictual relation, debating questions of race, nation, and history, while acknowledging key points of connection, in particular their social location as “women who like knowing” (as Bradstreet puts it) within colonial cultures dominated by patriarchy. As such, their dialogue suggests a shared epistemological orientation that traverses the boundaries . . .

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