Academic journal article MELUS

Caballero's Global Continuum: Time and Place in South Texas

Academic journal article MELUS

Caballero's Global Continuum: Time and Place in South Texas

Article excerpt

The historical novel Caballero wants to follow the rules. It desires to be known, recognized, deemed worthy, and assimilated. It is so obviously conventional, so intent on depicting a tyrannical, patriarchal father, his rebellious daughters, and the seductive foreign (Anglo) men who free them from their confinement, and so insistent on deploying a setting in which a feudal empire gives way to modernity, that any discussion of its plot risks reviewing the obvious contours of formula. But in its efforts at typicality Caballero never entirely persuades. The authors, Jovita Gonzalez, an early Tejana folklorist from South Texas, and Eve Raleigh, of whom relatively little is known, seem at once committed to their project and detached from it. (1) They write in a state of narratological ambivalence, oscillating between the play of broad romantic convention and a countervailing awareness of romantic illusion. The resulting contradictions pervade the plot, its characters, even matters of style. Why does the novel insist on right resolution and rupturing emergence at the same time? Where does it get its twin desires for romance and skepticism? One approach, perhaps, would elaborate a modernist lamentation for the loss of unitary structures. Another, the one pursued here, relies more on postmodernism's indulgence of" play and ambiguity to describe a globalism that structures Caballero's sense of space and time. The result is a highly flexible, if fraught, vision of life, a modernist melody with postmodern harmonics. In its drive toward closure, the novel opens outward toward alternate centers of identity, and in its drive toward meaning, it dwells in liberating fragmentation that breaks the strictures of masculinist conservatism. Rather than force the novel into the box of cultural affirmation, or into that of conservative assimilationism, I recover it as a profoundly vexed work of art that nonetheless--or perhaps because of" its troubled terrain--illuminates key quandaries and strengths of the Mexican American experience.

As I suggest above, my interpretation adopts the tensions within the contested field of globalization. One of the key paradoxes of globalization is that it both blurs differences and accentuates them--homogenization and heterogenization being the twin effects of felt dislocations. In Caballero, Gonzalez and Raleigh write from within this dualism, activated in this case by the collapse of a feudal Tejano ranching culture under the pressure of Anglo farming and mercantilism in the early-twentieth century. (2) The loss of traditional identity, however, or what a community may deem traditional identity, catalyzes the search for that which is felt to be lost. In this essay, I examine the connective framework between such broad global political/economic trends that generate identity projects in the name of cosmic universals and a twentieth-century, formulaic romance that never quite enacts a formulaic romance. In a sense, the genre itself offers its own starting point, because historical romance fiction characteristically aims at establishing fixed values amid uncertainty, already invoking the dialectical tension of global pressures that both erode and construct ideas of unchanging values. Caballero's ambivalence locates it within a literary tradition, not of ethnic assertion, but social disturbance, although the former emerges from the latter.

Caballero is in part a reaction to the broad economic, political, and technological changes buffeting South Texas in the early 1900s (Garza-Falcon 79, 113-14). Written in the 1930s, but not published until 1996, the novel posits the dilemmas of Mexican Americanism squarely in the ongoing and irresolvable interplay between subnational and supranational identities that oppose the nation-state. (3) In the novel, Mexican Americans, or, more specific to the present argument, Tejanos and Tejanas, emerge from their disrupted domain as global actors, both regionalists and cosmopolites. …

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