West Meets East: Nineteenth-Century Southern Dialogues on Mixture, Race, Gender, and Nation

By Bost, Suzanne | The Mississippi Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

West Meets East: Nineteenth-Century Southern Dialogues on Mixture, Race, Gender, and Nation


Bost, Suzanne, The Mississippi Quarterly


WHEN I WAS GROWING UP IN THE EASTERN HALF of the United States, American history was presented to me in neatly binary terms: Cowboys and Indians, North and South, Black and White. There were binaries when my family moved out West, too, but the demarcations were in different places: North or South of the border, English or Spanish, hamburgers with or without green chile. Here, sometimes cowboys were Indians, and Mexicans were Americans. The fact that my Eastern home was North and my Western home yeas South complicated matters further, and I learned to accept that Souths, though never victorious, were not always as misguided as my first teachers had suggested they were. The deconstruction of American myths and binaries began for me long before I learned to see the world through the lenses of postmodernism or the new American Studies. Moreover, this racial and national decentering occurred not by way of contemporary globalization or NAFTA but throughout American history.

Mestizaje and hybridity are popular concepts today because they lift identity from singular categories and frameworks. They are celebrated, along with Tiger Woods, fusion cuisine, and the Internet, as transracial, transnational frameworks for new, millennial Americans. For Mexicans and Mexican Americans, however, hybridity and racial and national decentering are not a postmodern horizon but rather long-standing historical facts. Racial mixture was part of the Spanish colonial strategy for, literally, "hispanicizing" the natives and acquiring their lands. As such, mixture has been central to the formation of racism, nationalism, resistance, and identity politics in most Southern Americas for centuries. In nineteenth-century Mexico, mestizaje was nationalistic, not transgressive or defiant of norms, while in the Southeastern United States, miscegenation represented a breakdown in the definition of American identity.

After the United States took over the New Mexico territories in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Anglo-Americans traveled throughout the region and published accounts of the peoples there. Often these writers measured the races of the Southwest with the bipolar black/white expectations instituted by the racial laws of the East. For example, William W.H. Davis's 1857 text, El Gringo; or, New Mexico and Her People, highlights the difference of New Mexican racialization, starting with his insistence on his own identity as a "gringo," which positions him visibly outside of mestizaje. Davis describes the racially mixed New Mexicans as "destitute of manly attributes" because they have inherited what he regards as the worst qualities of the races that combine within them: the deceit of the Indian, the Spaniard's "spirit of revenge," and the "fiery impulses" of "the Moor." (1) This description separates mestizaje into the racial components that were familiar to Davis--Indian, European, African--and his proposition that mixture renders men "unmanly" conflates racial "impurity" with gender "impurity." This work thus reflects the centrality of sex and gender in U.S. taboos against miscegenation, which sought to circumscribe sexual behavior. Historian Erna Fergusson, who argued that racist attitudes in New Mexico were imposed by outsiders from the East, would claim that Davis is merely "importing" racist paradigms that are alien to mestizos. (2)

Davis's racial vocabulary reflects the clash between U.S. and Mexican race dynamics that occurred in New Mexico during the mid-nineteenth century. Normative mestizaje was strange to Anglo-Americans who came from a region where miscegenation was illegal though frequent and where races were officially segregated. If one regards censuses as a measure of the nation's racial self-definition, the United States was not prepared to accommodate the new identities, mixtures, or hierarchies of the West when it acquired the New Mexico territories in 1848. Mestizos of the Southwest were racially unintelligible in a system designed to support the racial hierarchies of U. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

West Meets East: Nineteenth-Century Southern Dialogues on Mixture, Race, Gender, and Nation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.