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Wednesday, February 04, 2004
What does “history” mean to you? How does it relate to your identity? How do you feel warfare affects culture? What’s the political purpose of the Corrido?
History is the study of past events through analysis of documents, relics, eyewitness accounts, oral traditions, anything and everything. In relation to Acuna’s Chicano History of the Southwest, it is an important and vital political document. A group of people ignorant of their own history is politically crippled. Acuna states that the Southwest and the native Mexicans and Indians who inhabit it have been treated as a conquered, inferior race by Anglo-Americans since the Mexican-American War. He gives each state a chapter, and in each chapter he reveals a pattern of violence and injustices perpetrated against Chicano’s in the name of Anglo progress. The pattern goes like this. Anglos move to Southwestern states. Anglos steal Mexican’s lands by applying their own corrupt real estate system. Mexicans rebel, sometimes violently, sometimes peacefully. Then Anglos subjugate the Mexicans either through violence (the Texas Rangers, lynch mobs), or through corrupt judicial systems and biased laws. Then Mexicans fight back with “banditry” and the cycle continues.
As a Fifth (or Sixth?) generation Spanish colonial born in Brownsville, this article is of great interest to me. It’s difficult to accept the legacy of being a ‘Whitexican’, since in the history Spanish-Mexicans often play both sides against the middle, for example, in New Mexico. Growing up around the de facto Spanish caste system has often been a source of embarrassment. For example, I don't like admitting to growing up wth housekeepers. I’m also rather anglicized. Many of my closest friends are white. In the past this was a source of shame, as well as pride. I often did not feel Mexican enough around family, whatever that means now. I’ve tried to get my family to discuss our genealogy with me. My findings have been interesting but limited. So I’ve taken to investigating Latin American history, and lately, Brownsville history; to figure out my place in the world, where my allegiances lie, and whether that matters anymore. I can be both Mexican-American and Anglo. I guess that’s what Chicano means in a way, though there must be something post-Chicano.
In my brief visits to the Historical Research Center in Brownsville, I learned that in order to understand Brownsville I had to understand the Mexican-American War. Thanks to Acuna’s article I now understand the War to have been an embarrassing loss to Mexico, an easy and ugly victory for the United States, and most interestingly of all, a war that is often glossed over quickly in high school history class. Too quickly, especially, considering how broad the ramifications were. I understand now that Brownsville started off as a peaceful, self-reliant pastoral settlement (From the Paredes quotes in the article), which became an outpost for the U.S. Military (Fort Brown), and then a bustling frontier commercial town when Charles Stillman became its resident (benevolent?) dictator. It’s not that surprising now that there are so many ghost stories in the valley, and Texas as well, considering how much of the West was born out of violence.
I remember in class we spoke of how authors from conquered lands tend to emphasize their virility. I wonder if this also accounts for all the horror nerds and metal fans that I know in the valley. I was strongly influenced a few years back by a book called, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, by David J. Skal. One of his central ideas is that horror, as a genre, emerged greatly as a reaction to warfare as well as technological anxiety in the twentieth century. I guess the Corrido, and the cultivating of legendary heroes, thereabout, is part of the Mexican’s reaction to violent Anglo subjugation in the nineteenth century. (The only horror movie I can think of that comments on the Mexican-American War, and Manifest Destiny in general, is Ravenous. In the movie cannibalistic soldiers eat the flesh of other people in order to absorb their virility, much like the white man stole the lands of other peoples and therefore stole their livelihood.)
I am aware that the juxtaposition of Corridos and horror movies is almost offensive to some. But they're both different responses to violent or sudden change. Corridos are about pride. They’re about uplifting the souls of the downtrodden through a romantic look at history. I heard the “Corrido of Gregorio Cortez” online and, for some reason, it was heartbreaking to listen to. Maybe because something so beautiful and earnest about a man who fought the system in the 19th century was being played in a technocratic context. It entered a brain (mine) that’s grown fatalistic about “corporate feudalism” and imperial technocracy, when I entertain such notions about ‘the big picture’. It expressed simple humanity in a world full of funhouse mirrors. Maybe I just missed Brownsville.
On the other hand horror is about waking people up. Its visceral, cathartic and in a world becomig noiser and noiser with media distractions a good science fiction or horror movie with underlying social commentary can be a welcome release from the burdens of the post-modern world. Or at the very least it can be entertainment with a brain.
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