My Protocol for Our Sister Americas (1)
Chambers, Maria Cristina, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Two typescripts of "My Protocol for Our Sister Americas" exist in the Maria Cristina Mena Chambers Papers.' The earlier version, reprinted below, is from 1943. The later version lacks a date, but one added line in Mena's handwriting notes Vice President Richard Nixon's "recent unfortunate experience" in South America, which is likely a reference to Nixon's run-ins with angry protestors during a 1958 diplomacy trip. A published version of the essay has not yet been uncovered.
In the version below, I incorporated all the corrections that Mena herself made in handwriting and have explained the nature of each correction in an endnote. I have retained misspellings, errors, and her somewhat idiosyncratic punctuation, including her use of semicolons and long ellipses. Occasionally, the typescript omits a space after a comma or semicolon. I have silently inserted a space in these places. The essay is reprinted here with permission from Arte Publico Press.
Perhaps because back there in 1916 I was the first Mexican woman to write Magazine-stories in English--and have continued "shuttling" through the years between Station U.S. of America., and US. of Mexico in my stories--I am accepting the challenge to write on "How to approach the Latin-American mind."
I say "challenge" because the request is not a simple one and a great deal is being written, these days, on the various ways and means to best accomplich a gracious but difficult task.
In letters from childhood friends in Mexico and other more recent friendships in South-America, I sense clearly how truly sincere and mutual is their desire to be known and understood by the people of the United States., for what they really are, for what they truly feel.
Letters are, sometimes, powerful weapons and I have one before me, on the desk, which I've kept many years. At the moment this letter becomes my weapon with which to meet this challenge and its contents make me feel spiritually armed for any fate. The letter is from the late poet and editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, who published my first story in the Century Magazine, when I was twenty years old. I shall quote one passage: "...... I think your story is the first Mexican story where the Mexicans are not called "greasers" ........ It is, in my opinion, the first story of authentic Mexican life, where the people think and move as human beings. ......" (3)
I feel extremely humble about this letter and I am mentioning it only in the hope that what I have to say might bring with it some small measure of that authority which comes from years of dedication to any problem very near to one's mind and heart. To me the problem of having the people of the United States know and understand the country of my birth (Mexico) has been my life's work.
My protocol--or correct proceeding--for the "approach to the Latin-American mind," begins with several, simple, "don'ts," which although simple they are in reality important to remember.
I don't think that we should call the inhabitants of Central and South-America "Latin-Americans." In Mexico or Bolivia or Peru, the people never think of themselves anything but Mejicanos or Peruanos, and etc, etc. And, on the other side, it is more to their way of thinking to call the natives of the Unites States, Norteamericanos.
Although I was born in Mexico, and it is of the Mexicans I can speak with inner-knowledge; I have lived several years in the Argentine and in Brazil, have visited Puerto Rico and Cuba; and I think that most of my observations in this article apply equally to the natives of these countries.
I don't think we can approach the mind of our friends and neighbors south of the Border if we persist in thinking of them as "old-fashioned," or as belonging to the 18th, or some other old century; because they chose to cling to the proprieties and social ways they have found best for them. Some of these "old ways" are not only charming but they are not old at all. …