A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West

By Nicolas S. Witschi | Go to book overview

12
Mythical Frontiers: Manifest
Destiny, Aztlán, and
the Cosmic Race

John L. Escobedo

In line with the objectives of this new Companion I would like to engage with, perhaps further complicate, some of the queries concerning the creation of the American West. The American ambition of settling the vast and opulent western frontier was made possible by the close proximity between two neighboring nations: Mexico and the United States. Mexico’s inability to extensively populate its northern territories resulted in the foreseeable encroachment upon this geographical area by Americans to lay claim to the West. Whether viewed as the northern national boundary of Mexico or a western frontier for the US, the West was and remains what one made it, or simply how one perceived this great mythical frontier. After all, frontiers are socially constructed cultural symbols enacted to carry out historically specific political agendas that are usually veiled by national imaginaries: West as a mythical land of vastness and plentitude overflowing with the redemptive power of hopes and dreams. Legends are born in such places and new vibrant peoples are celebrated in the magical lure of frontier folklore. Unfortunately, frontiers inhabit a paradoxical existence that only commemorates the composition of these myths and legends at the expense of the existing inhabitants of these areas. In other words, one man’s quest to settle the wild frontier represents another man’s displacement and subsequent subjugation.

The Mexican–American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which surrendered Mexico’s northern territories (Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and Wyoming), finally legitimized the existence of an American western frontier. As with all conquered territory, the American West has since burst at its seams by the force of the various, and oftentimes divergent, histories of its colonial past. This chapter is my attempt to sort through the multilayered frontier narratives that have been imagined and claimed by the American

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