Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands

Article excerpt

River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands. By Omar S. Valerio-Jimenez. (Durham, N.C., and London: Duke University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv, 369. Paper, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-8223-5185-6; cloth, $99.95, ISBN 978-0-8223-5171-9.)

In River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands, Omar S. Valerio-Jimenez analyzes the formation and ambiguity of regional and national identities and citizenship at the border. Covering three conquests, he "describes the transformation of privileged Spanish subjects into neglected Mexican citizens and, ultimately, into unwanted American citizens" (p. 3). Valerio-Jimenez reminds readers to look back to the colonial period to understand the situational character of national identity at the border in the past and even in the present day.

River of Hope begins with Spanish colonization on the Rio Grande. In 1749 Spaniards established a set of towns along the river (las villas del norte) and served as agents of the crown by settling the area and assimilating or exterminating the Indians. The vecinos, as they called themselves, received land and tax exemptions from the colonial state, privileges that favored elite men, which helped them consolidate their position atop the social and political hierarchy. The settlers' special relationship with the crown tied them to the empire, but they constructed a regional identity as frontier conquerors responsible for their own self-defense and for providing for the native peoples they incorporated into their community as laborers or slaves. Isolation, trade protections, and the government's failure to safeguard its subjects against raiding Indians reinforced regionalism in the villas. In particular, the Mexican independence movement and subsequent struggles for political control in the new republic fueled regional identity formation as the Spanish and Mexican states demanded taxes and supplies from communities they had abandoned.

When the United States annexed the Rio Grande Valley in 1848, the new border divided family members and communities. Anglo-Americans flooded into the region and acquired Mexican lands through legal and illegal means, displacing many Tejanas/os (Mexican Texans). The newcomers struck alliances with the resident elite, oftentimes through intermarriages. …

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