Extinct lands, temporal geographies Chicana literature and the urgency of space
By Mary Pat Brady
Duke University Press ISBN: 0-8223-2974-3
Chapter One Razing Arizona
In the warm and sun-filled days I remember in the haze The happy sounds of children laughing, The rustle of the cottonwoods. Now all is old and cold and dark Underneath Presidio Park. -Patricia Preciado Martin, "The Journey"
Arizona began as a mistake. The United States government used a mistake on a map to take what is now called southern Arizona from Sonora, Mexico-to abscond with it. This far-from-innocent (mis)taking emerged out of contradictions and shifting interpretations; the mistake showcases the seeming aporia structuring the distinctions between the metaphorical and the material, the real and the mapped. Consideration of this particular (mis)take also exposes the politicality of space, revealing a battle over how to characterize space and how to produce places that then almost magically become background or setting, and thereby hide space as a formative, intimate participant in the pleasures and work of sociality and subject formation. Unpacking that mistake, resignifying a dubious nineteenth-century error, requires beginning with contrasting accounts, not of the mistake exactly, but of the spatial work that evolved from it.
Patricia Preciado Martin's short story "The Journey" (1980) offers a layered excavation of spatial memories that functions astestimonio, narrative monument, critique, and reportage of the production of Arizona and the lengthy struggle to remember Mexicano culture and life that such production seemed to pave over. The story begins with the poem quoted above, which invokes memories of a community and place that through the "haze" of dust, smog, memory, and years now lies "old and cold and dark / Underneath Presidio Park." The six-line poem works almost as a chant, conjuring the "disappeared" community and, with the reference to Presidio Park, locating it in Tucson, Arizona-a bit northwest of the originary site of the "mistake" but very much germane to the ultimate (mis)taking.
"The Journey" continues as the narrator first looks at subsidized housing, then reads a building's dedication plaque, moving us immediately into the politics of urban redevelopment in Tucson. "The Journey" takes its readers alongside the narrator and her Tia, Dona Juanita Mendoza, as they accomplish their Saturday errands. The two travel "past" and "slowly," moving the reader through Tucson by remembering significant people, entering important places such as the cathedral, and catching snatches of conversation. With each iteration of place, the narrative returns us to the complexity of development.
We walk out once more into the brightness. Past an elegant old home that is now a funeral parlor. Down South Meyer and west on Cushing Street. Past a sign that says Barrio Historico. THIS AREA HAS BEEN OFFICIALLY DESIGNATED AS AN HISTORICAL LANDMARK AND IS OFFICIALLY REGISTERED WITH THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORICAL PLACES. In Bronze. Most of the houses in the Barrio Historico are owned by Mr. Kelly Rollings, a local automobile dealer and millionaire and amateur anthropologist. He owns the old Robles House. It is now the Cushing Street Bar. "EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY IN AN AUTHENTIC RESTORED OLD ADOBE."
The tone suggests a mere documenting of signs and scenes. Only the quiet comment "In Bronze" alerts readers to the story's stringent spatial critique and prepares them for the irony of an old home, a remnant of Tucson's three hundred year Mexican history, advertised as a bar whose authenticity is located in the building material, not its cultural context. The sight of the Robles House inspires Dona Mendoza to remember happy events at their home. The contrast between the preservation of the buildings and the vibrant memories of an elderly woman highlights the work of a historic preservation project that maintains buildings but evacuates them of their complex significance, thereby lending a nostalgic authenticity to the city without threatening alignments of capital by acknowledging its dependency on racial narratives.
As the two continue to walk, Dona Mendoza recalls the gardens in the barrio that were possible before water tables were drained and rivers diverted to build fountains, golf courses, and subdivisions, impoverishing Chicana/o farmers and families. The politics of water management elliptically dovetails with the geography of race in her account: "The Freeways had cut the river from the people. The Freeway blocks the sunshine. The drone of traffic buzzes like a giant unsleeping bee." As in so many urban areas, interstate highway construction in Tucson cut through a Chicana/o neighborhood. The freeway functions now, the narrator acidly suggests, as a different type of river-rather than giving life, it separates, impedes, and engulfs the community's development.
The two pass by additional historic buildings and more urban renewal projects, moving toward what appears to be their destination.
The pace of Tia quickens now. I follow her, carrying the straw bag laden with groceries. We walk past the Concert Hall to the vast parking lot of the Community Center Complex. A billboard reads: CONCERT TONIGHT. ALICE COOPER SOLD OUT. We stop in the middle of the parking lot. The winter sun is warm. The heat rises from the black asphalt. The roar of the Freeway is even more distinct. It is the end of the journey. I know what Tia will say. "Aqui estaba mi casita. It was my father's house. And his father's house before that. They built it with their own hands with adobes made from the mud of the river. All their children were born here. I was born here. It was a good house, a strong house. When it rained, the adobes smelled like the good clean earth."
Their journey might be more accurately characterized as a pilgrimage-but instead of arriving at a publicly acknowledged shrine, they arrive at a spot of hot asphalt. Dona Mendoza must conjure her long-gone home, chanting memories and exclamations, transforming civic projects designed to attract tourist dollars into something else, revealing the layers of history hidden and razed.
"The Journey" works as more than a contrary gesture of reclamation. Beyond a critique of waste and excess (dried rivers and dead gardens, but teeming water fountains), the story asserts the presence of Mexicanos long before the arrival of Anglo colonialists. By asserting such a presence and pointing out the signs of the production of Arizona-the infrastructure projects, their detritus, and the structural projects, all designed to make Arizona appealing to "winter visitors"-the story destabilizes the dominant narrative of Arizona history as a wild cowboy frontier by pointing out its costs and by asserting a contrasting historical trajectory. "The Journey" also serves as a monument to or celebration of the strength of Chicana culture and Dona Mendoza's will to remember, despite the onslaught of devastation cum urban renewal.
One hundred years prior to the publication of "The Journey," Brevet Major General E. Carr offered a very different spatial story of Tucson. Speaking in July of 1880 at a celebration marking the arrival of the railroad, Carr gestured toward Tucson and proclaimed: "Tucson, the mud town on the banks of the Santa Cruz, will be magnificent.... The rude and unattractive mud front will give place to the stately mansion with pedestal and column, frieze and architecture.... Taste and capital and energy are mighty powers in the building of cities." The reference to mud-that is, to adobe-functions as an implicitly racialized counterpoint, intended to exalt the architectural style most characteristic of imaginary Southern plantations; this reference, with its claim to Anglo superiority, would not have been lost on Carr's Anglo audiences, many of whom emigrated from the Southern United States after the Civil War. Carr is baldly clear in his tropes: architecture is a sign of race; narratives of place become shorthand references for racial narratives. Architectural aesthetics merge with bourgeois notions of propriety to become signs of an imaginary Anglo superiority, and the South rises again "on the banks of the Santa Cruz."
Carr further underscores his racial-spatial story through the invocation of temporality: "Seated beside the Santa Cruz she slept a century away, little dreaming of her brilliant life to come. But to-day she awakens, and, conscious to the touch of the magic wand of science and civilization, rises erect, and with elastic step wheels into line with the advancing column." If the metaphors seem a bit mixed, they are nonetheless abundantly clear. Anglos bring science and civilization to a sleeping people, to a community now, as if by magic, incorporated into the (militarized) movement of Manifest Destiny. Carr attributes a Rip Van Winkle-esque quality to Mexicanos in an effort to emphasize the vigor, progress, and superiority of Anglos and to further disarticulate Mexicano contributions to the production of the region. Carr's language also sexualizes space in an effort to emasculate Mexicanos.
Far more than one hundred years lie between Preciado Martin's and Carr's accounts. Reading Carr's narrative alongside Martin's, one must consider that the adobes Carr so arrogantly dismisses are the very buildings preserved with plaques "In Bronze." What Carr sees as a landscape to be destroyed becomes a century later the landscape that authenticates the region for tourists seeking signs of the "Old West" and that signals legacies of survival and imperialism for the descendants of the buildings' first inhabitants. What is at stake, as these two accounts indicate, is not simply a contest over how to imagine the Arizona landscape. Rather, figured through landscape is a battle over both the imaginary of the future as well as of the past. By landscape, I mean not a simplistic depiction of scenery but rather the conscious construction of a perspective, a way of seeing the region that, in concert with policies, laws, and institutions, physically makes the land, produces the landscape materially, and sustains it ideologically.
Brevet Major General Carr's envisioned landscape doesn't just entail the dissolution of a Mexican community; he also imagines erasure of that community from history itself, through a seemingly aesthetic if openly racialized hierarchy. In this manner the General worked within a tradition, then nearly forty years old, of depicting Arizona in a manner that would produce an Anglo Arizona landscape at the expense of the colonized Mexicanos, Apaches, Tohono O'odhams, Pimas, and others. Preciado Martin's story points to the smug and contradictory signs of this effort. Yet her story also offers signs that the Anglo Arizona landscape did not fully eliminate Mexicanos or Mexican culture. Indeed, "The Journey" is yet another reminder of the intensive contest waged against the making of such landscapes and their consolidation in historical memory.
The contest over Arizona emerged from a mistake that then became a glorious opportunity; the emergence of the Gadsden Purchase became an emergency for Mexicanos who had lived and worked in the region for several hundred years prior to this critical case of (mis)taken identity. Not surprisingly, Mexicanos both recognized the emergency and understood the need to offer a repertoire of responses to the deformation of the area then known as Northern Sonora. Although largely unknown today, Mexicanos' political geographies at the time countered the Arizona fantasized and being developed by Anglo miners, politicians, travel writers, border surveyors, and ethnographers. Producing the Anglo Arizona landscape entailed more than the manipulation of public policy, the establishment of boundaries, and the development of the region's resources; its producers first narratively razed Arizona, demolishing the signs that marked it as a Mexican region with Mexican communities, mines, ranches, and legal and political networks, emptying it of its Mexican inhabitants in order to create an Arizona available for Anglo capital and development. Then, at a less symbolic level, Anglos encouraged and supported the Apache wars with Mexican settlers; they forcefully took over Mexican mining operations; they raided and burned ranches; they then used the legal and political structures to produce an "English-only Arizona" that created a dual wage structure, segregated schools, limited opportunities, and violently promoted Anglo hegemony. Mexicanos responded and contested those productions in numerous forms, including theater, fiction, essay, and testimonio, as well as strikes, mutual aid alliances, and the development of counter-public arenas. Fights over producing the landscape, as "The Journey" makes clear, were not simply fights over metaphorical interpretation but contests whose implications and outcomes would haunt, trouble, nourish, and inspire Chicana authors for the subsequent 150 years.
Southern Arizona was not part of the land ceded by Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Instead, it was purchased in a separate agreement worked out years later. What happened? While the boundary survey commissioners were working to establish the post-1848 border near El Paso del Norte, they discovered a problem: the Disturnell Map used during treaty negotiations incorrectly located both El Paso del Norte and the Rio Bravo. The difference between the "material" and the "metaphorical" was not insignificant. Depending on how that "difference" was resolved and the border produced, the two countries would either gain or lose valuable mineral resources. Not surprisingly, the region subject to dispute possessed rich copper and silver reserves, encompassed lucrative cattle grazing land, and promised a potent agricultural future.
In initial attempts to settle the dispute, Mexico's boundary commissioner, General Pedro Garcia Conde, noted that the map had been "drawn upon false statements-that is to say, things appearing on it which exist not on the ground"; hence, the first serious result of the discrepancy "would be to destroy the boundary system of New Mexico adopted in the treaty." Garcia Conde's sense that the mistake threatened the boundary system was more than a prescient observation: he clearly worried that if Mexico did not cede additional territory, the United States would wage a new war against the nation and take all of Sonora. The boundary system-the settled sense of what the United States had acquired in its most recent war-was in danger because, as Garcia Conde recognized, the crisis over a "mistake" opened the distinct possibility that the United States would again mis-recognize Mexican sovereignty and renew their aggressive acquisition of land. Garcia Conde's anxiety that negotiations toward a compromise would demolish the integrity of the border system before the border had even been established further suggests that built into the production of the border was the anxiety over its demise. The border's destruction had to be imagined and narrated, nostalgically figured in advance, before the border itself could emerge as coherent and intelligible. The result, just as Garcia Conde feared, kept the "Southwest" unsettled, marking it not through a permanent border but with an intermittent or temporary boundary while the United States continued to swallow larger and larger chunks of territory. Indeed, over the next thirty years, the United States tacitly sanctioned filibustering raids on Northern Mexico and, when these failed, pressed Mexico's central government to grant U.S. capital unrestricted access to its mines and agricultural resources.
Excerpted from Extinct lands, temporal geographies by Mary Pat Brady Excerpted by permission.
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