Identity Politics of the Captivity Narrative after 1848

Identity Politics of the Captivity Narrative after 1848

Identity Politics of the Captivity Narrative after 1848

Identity Politics of the Captivity Narrative after 1848


Andrea Tinnemeyer's book examines the nineteenth-century captivity narrative as a dynamic, complex genre that provided an ample medium for cultural critique, a revision of race relations, and a means of elucidating the U.S.-Mexican War's complex and often contradictory significance in the national imagination.

The captivity narrative, as Tinnemeyer shows, addressed questions arising from the incorporation of residents in the newly annexed territory. This genre transformed its heroine from the quintessential white virgin into the Mexican maiden in order to quell anxieties over miscegenation, condone acts furthering Manifest Density, or otherwise romanticize the land-grabbing nature of the war and of the opportunists who traveled to the Southwest after 1848. Some of these narratives condone and even welcome interracial marriages between Mexican women and Anglo-American men.

By understanding marriage for love as an expression of free will or as a declaration of independence, texts containing interracial marriages or romanticizing the U.S.-Mexican War could politicize the nuptials and present the Anglo-American husband as a hero and rescuer. This romanticizing of annexation and cross-border marriages tended to feminize Mexico, making the country appear captive and in need of American rescue and influencing the understanding of "foreign" and "domestic" by relocating geographic and racial boundaries.

In addition to examining more conventional notions of captivity, Tinnemeyer's book uses war song lyrics and legal cases to argue that "captivity" is a multivalenced term encompassing desire, identity formation, and variable definitions of citizenship.


In 1829 Josefa Carrillo, cousin to future California governor Pío Pico, was ready to be married at her family home. the altar had been constructed, Friar Antonio Meléndez was on hand to officiate, and the bridegroom, Henry Delano Fitch, a native of Massachusetts, was anxious to take Josefa’s hand in marriage. Suddenly, Don Domingo Carrillo interrupted the ceremony under orders of then–California governor José María de Echeandía. the priest and bridegroom both fled the scene, leaving Josefa stranded at the altar. Thanks to her cousin, Josefa and Henry were reunited that very night and set sail for Valparaíso, Chile, where they were married. When they returned to California nearly a year later, Fitch was placed under house arrest and the couple was separated for three months. Fitch tried unsuccessfully to sue Governor Echeandía, then he and his family settled in San Diego and opened up a business.

This romantic and true tale is narrated (albeit in mediated form) by Josefa Carrillo de Fitch herself and housed in the testimonios collected by Hubert Howe Bancroft. It is singular for its narrative and its narrator. Rarely do we get history from the conquered; much rarer, still, history by a Mexican woman. in Carrillo de Fitch’s testimonio, we witness resistance to an Anglo-Mexican union, the intervention of the Mexican government, and captivity occurring at “home.” This is decidedly a different story from those promulgated in fictional form in dime novels and analyzed in this book. It does not unite marriage and territorial expansion together as pro–Manifest Destiny literature would do a mere fifteen years later with the start of the U.S.-Mexican War.

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