Introduction: The Futures of 1848 in the 20th and 21st Century

This dissertation focuses on the material and discursive consequences of 1848 beyond the

19th century. Ratified in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo today constitutes the “oldest

active treaty still in force between the United States and Mexico” (Griswold del Castillo

“Treaty”). In addition to establishing the border as a geopolitical divider, the Treaty inaugurated

the conditions for what this dissertation names “trans-temporality.” This latter term refers to the

way in which this local site-specific border stages the conflict between the various articulations

of colonial modernity, and its Anglocentric conception of historical time, versus the peripheral

modernities of distinct communities displaced by perpetually imposed boundaries. While the

term “peripheral modernity” is informed by a diverse scholarship, in this dissertation it

specifically refers to the varied counterhegemonic iterations of the modern along the U.S.-

Mexico border.1 In arguing for trans-temporality as a process that registers a series of border

asymmetries in a socioeconomic sense, in addition to the unevenness of and disjuncture between

historicities, this dissertation invokes the work of Enrique Dussel. Specifically, Dussel’s critical

vocabulary is useful in its elaboration of the concept “trans-modernity.” In contrast to the

Eurocentric developmental paradigm that postmodernity is the natural successor to modernity,

Dussel’s alternative conception provides a mode of accounting for the experience of non-

Western people and places. If, according to Dussel, postmodernity emerges “from within”

Eurocentric modernity, trans-modernity, on the other hand, “affirms ‘from without’ the essential

components of modernity’s own excluded cultures in order to develop a new civilization for the

21st century” (224).2 Following this lead, the dissertation theorizes the concept of transtemporality

to show how 1848 signals not only the United States’s largest territorial acquisition

but also the start of Mexican-American history. Moreover, this dissertation makes the case that

the trans-temporal dimensions of the Treaty, and the border it authorizes and deploys, must

complement analyses of its clearly territorially focused articles. As is demonstrated below, the

language of the Treaty, as well as scholarship regarding it, reductively overemphasizes space in a

manner that leaves unattended the logic underpinning Manifest Destiny. Undeniably, the

ideology of Manifest Destiny is at the core of U.S. expansionism, given its formulation that the

single most important locus of power is the claim to and control over space. Furthermore, within

the terms of Manifest Destiny, the appropriation of and movement across physical territory is

concurrent with advances in historical time. Indeed, theorizing the way in which “‘Time’

became a fundamental concept of coloniality at large,” Walter Mignolo writes that “Geography

[is] translated into chronology by the masters of historical time, and time [is] transformed into a

colonizing device” (69). Within a U.S. context, the fundamental premise of colonial modernity is

that territorial space, in this particular case the U.S.-Mexico border, is a discernible object only

by positing U.S. hegemonic formations as the central axis from which all other spatial and

temporal coordinates are determined. It is precisely this hegemonic construction of the U.S.-

Mexico border as both the ideal and the actualization of Manifest Destiny that this dissertation

interrogates. As this dissertation shows, this reliance on spatiality by the Treaty and its

subsequent legal and social interpretations constitutes the bedrock of a paradigm which serves as

the basis for both historical and contemporary material formations and social imaginaries on and

of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This dissertation examines 20th and 21st century border fictions that rearticulate and

recreate the meaning of 1848. The overarching claim of this dissertation is that the selected

narratives, which variously narrate the legacies of 1848, challenge the status of the U.S.-Mexico

border as an episteme. They constitute distinct types of counter-narratives to the U.S.

expansionist narrative underpinning 1848, thus generating new frameworks with which to

conceive it. As this dissertation shows the selected primary works are unique border adaptations

of four conventional 20th century literary styles (modernism, neopoliciaco, postmodernism and

neo-realism). Further, as is demonstrated in this project, their modern counter-narratives to 1848

are generated by linking the gesture of taking 1848 beyond the 19th century to a critical

appropriation of mainstream literary styles.

By the term “taking 1848 outside its immediate historical context,” the dissertation refers

to the different modes by which the texts assembled recycle, refract, and recreate the array of

semantic meanings made available in a counter-reading of the language of the Treaty of

Guadalupe Hidalgo and its larger trans-temporal legacy of colonial modernity on the border,

which is demonstrated below using Michel Foucault’s concept of “truth regimes.” This is not to

suggest that the articles of the Treaty are sequentially transcribed in each subsequent analysis of

fictions on and about the border, but that the distinct fictional modes examined in this project

variously reconfigure and re-conceptualize 1848. Moreover, by reading the texts as narrative

instances that mediate the Treaty’s plural meanings, the dissertation demonstrates how the Treaty

continues to frame contemporary discourses of geography (in terms of landscape), territory (in

terms of national domain), historicity (that is to say dominant history versus local myth and

folklore), and futurity (post-NAFTA progress narratives). Further, with the objective to provide

accounts from both north and south in mind the dissertation examines both borderlands and

fronterizo literature: borderlands literature designates the work of U.S. authors—including

Mexican Americans—whereas fronterizo literature refers to the texts by writers from Northern

Mexico. Before illustrating precisely how border styles recreate and re-conceptualize 1848 it is

necessary to explicate the language of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

In its final form, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was offered as a “Treaty of

Peace, Friendship, Limits, and Settlement.”3 Articles I-IV communicate the cessation of warfare

and protocol for the withdrawal of troops. While the title of the Treaty’s first two terms, “Peace”

and “Friendship,” are simply diplomatic rhetoric, a fact clearly borne out by the history of

conflict between the two nations, this dissertation’s point of departure is that the latter two

warrant further clarification precisely because of their double meaning. On one level “limits”

and “settlement” function as cartographic terms in signifying the treaty’s emphasis on mapping

geographic space. Article V is crucial in this regard as it delineates, in no shortage of detail, the

parameters of the U.S.-Mexico border: “The boundary line between the two Republics shall

commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio

Grande, otherwise called Rio Bravo del Norte, or Opposite the mouth of its deepest branch…”

Syntactically the article proceeds in this manner, as concatenation, until finally declaring that the

endpoint of the aforementioned boundary line is “the Pacific Ocean.” Articles VI through XIX

are equally attentive to controlling and regulating territory, specifying that all rivers in the newly

acquired lands are freely navigable to U.S. citizens (VI), and that “merchandise” transported via

these waterways shall not be taxed without mutual consent (VII). Moreover, this pattern, in terms

of prolixity and a focus on geography, is maintained in articles eight and nine. Thus the eighth

article announces, “Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and

which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present

treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican

Republic, retaining the property which they possess in the said territories…” In addition to the

promise of land rights, which were never fully realized, Article IX grants the constitutional

privileges of national self-identification by stating: “The Mexicans who, in the territories

aforesaid, shall not preserve the character of citizens of the Mexican Republic, conformably with

what is stipulated in the preceding article, shall be incorporated into the Union of the United

States, and be admitted at the proper time (to be judged of by the Congress of the United States)

to the enjoyment of all the rights of the citizens of the United States, according to the principles

of the Constitution…” The stipulation in this article is that the Treaty functions transnationally

not only as a mode of power but as the basis for civic identity. Hence according to this last claim

the abstraction of national belonging, especially tenuous for Mexican natives-turned-foreigners

in the annexed territories, is ostensibly thus cemented purely by the U.S. claim to territory.

However, while universal citizenship is the declared intent the literary and historical analyses in

this dissertation prove otherwise.

To be sure, scholarship emphasizing the consequences of the Treaty in terms of territory

is abundant. In his influential study Occupied America (1980), which constitutes a landmark in

the scholarly counter-narrative of 1848, Chicano historian Rodolfo Acuña writes, “[a]s a result of

the Texas War and the Anglo-American aggressions of 1845-1848, the occupation of conquered

territory began.” “In material terms, in exchange for 12,000 lives and more than $100 million,”

continues Acuña, “the United States acquired a colony two and a half times as large as France,

containing rich farmlands and natural resources” as well as “ports on the Pacific” which

“generated further economic expansion” (20). Elsewhere, Richard Griswold del Castillo observes

that territory continued to be a primary concern even after the ratification of the Treaty:

“[a]mbiguities and errors in the treaty led to boundary disputes, a near renewal of warfare, and

the drafting of another treaty, in 1854, that ceded even more territory to the United States” (43).

As Holden and Zolov note, this latter treaty, known as the Gadsden Purchase, or Tratado de

Mesilla, involved the sale of “30,000 square miles of land, the Mesilla Valley, now part of

southern Arizona and New Mexico” (31). Moreover, “The property guarantees of the treaty,”

state Raat and Brescia, “continue to shape the lives of the descendants of those Mexicans and

Indians who suddenly found themselves residing north of the newly established border in 1848”

(82). In regards to the Treaty, therefore, the primary unit of analysis is geographic space. No

doubt an emphasis should be placed on the United States’s massive land acquisition, however, as

this dissertation asserts, not at the cost of the Treaty’s equally significant but non-spatial


While “Limits” and “Settlement” register cartographically there is an alternate level at

which they operate as a series of meanings beyond the territorial. This alternate process of

signification occurs within the literary, and in particular via fiction that mediates historical

contexts in which the U.S.-Mexico border is materially and/or discursively consolidated in a

manner that is evocative of, yet distinct from, the foundational act of border-making in 1848. In

other words, fiction written from both north and south of the line provides a lens through which

to critique contemporary practices of border-making. Furthermore, it is precisely this history of

re-producing the border through which its status as a naturalized truth, or episteme, is open to

interrogation; if the border were an objective reality, as legal and social interpretations of the

Treaty suggest, there would be no need to fortify and reinforce it. Therefore, to return to a key

term, Northern Mexican and borderlands fiction work to foreground the trans-temporality of the

border and the Treaty through which this geopolitical divide is legitimized. However, to clarify,

trans-temporal does not simply mean that the Treaty’s “property guarantees” “continue to shape”

modern life at the U.S.-Mexico border. Actually, as Raat and Brescia note, the ownership of

disputed territory is determined not by “Hispanic property law” but by “Anglo common law”

(82-83). Thus, despite being written as a binational agreement, the Treaty presupposes the U.S.

as the final arbiter of its interpretation. As a result, even though nominally the Treaty ‘continues

to shape’ the lives of non-White claimants, in practice these claims are not legally recognized;

the Treaty thus is all but obsolete for them and in this sense its present day articulation is muted.

In this regard, “Limits” and “Settlement” assume an entirely different set of meanings outside of

their territorial definition: for instance they might signify the limits of where one culture ends

and another emerges; the contest between histories settled through imperial force and those latent

beneath the surface; the ontological state where identity is defined through opposition, and so on.

Viewed from this alternate perspective, and read with these semantic ambiguities in

mind, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is a fundamentally discursive act which functions on

behalf of regimes of truth well after its inception in 1848. Michel Foucault elaborates that

“régime of truth” refers to “the types of discourses” that are accepted and which function as

“true.” “Truth” in the modern era, Foucault crucially adds, is always “centred on the form of

scientific discourse and the institutions which produce it” (131).4 Further, he conceptualizes

“truth” as “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation

and operation of statements.” Moreover, the hypothesized “régime of truth” is “not merely

ideological or superstructural” but “a condition of the formation and development of capitalism”

(133). Thus Foucault’s term has a threefold significance: the way in which certain

epistemologies attain the status of inviolable facts precisely because they are derived empirically;

that these ‘facts,’ or epistemes as he names them, pervade the way in which humans order and

see the world; and that despite operating discursively these epistemes find concrete expression in

distinct capitalist formations. In regards to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, its interpretation by

U.S. courts historically favors Whites; in terms of scholarship, if read purely as a question of

territory the Treaty is sublimated into a framework which privileges a U.S. perspective. As a

result, the Treaty is subtended by and produces U.S.-centric epistemologies of space and time.

Further, these epistemologies govern popular imaginaries of the U.S.-Mexico border; and in turn

socioeconomic initiatives to modernize this border, whether as free-trade policies or

militarization protocols, are aided and abetted by these imaginaries.

While there is an existing body of research on 1848, this dissertation builds on and

departs from it in order to generate new understandings of the U.S.-Mexico border’s varied

forms of appearance. As is well-known, 1848 was first taken up in the 1960s as the basis for a

mythopoetics of Chicano nationalist identity through the concept of Aztlán. By designating the

land ceded to the U.S. in 1848 “Aztlán,” the Chicano Civil Rights movement provided a viable

counter-narrative to the ideologies of U.S. expansionism and Manifest Destiny in symbolically

reclaiming the territories annexed in 1848 as the Chicano “homeland.” The watershed moment in

this history is the 1969 National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, which produced the

seminal document “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán,” written by the Mexican-born poet Alurista, and

that ultimately became the preamble to a four-part resolution.5 Part poem and part manifesto, “El

Plan” linked Mexican Americans to their indigenous heritage and the mythology of a preconquest

ancestral homeland of the Nahua known as Aztlán. In the language of militant

agrarianism the plan asserts, “Aztlán belongs to those who plant the seeds, water the fields, and

gather the crops and not to the foreign Europeans. We do not recognize capricious frontiers on

bronze continents…[W]e are Aztlán.” This declaration is an incendiary rhetorical maneuver that

dramatically alters the status of Mexican Americans in relation to lands lost to the U.S. in 1848:

from being immigrants and illegitimate latecomers to U.S.-owned territories, they become

legitimate natives with ties of belonging to the land that predate those of Anglo-Americans, who

in turn are figured as invaders. Aztlán is an anti-colonial cultural mythology that renounces the

second-class citizenship of Mexican-Americans that is rooted in the colonial circumstances of

their incorporation in 1848. As Luis Leal writes, “El Plan” “is important because in it the

Chicano recognizes his Aztec origins…because it established that Aztlán is the Mexican territory

ceded to the United States in 1848; and because, following one of the basic ideas of the Mexican

Revolution, it recognizes that the land belongs to those who work it” (11).

Following its creation, and while serving as the catalyst for political mobilization, the

Chicano myth of Aztlán would become a key trope in Mexican-American aesthetic production:

several pioneering works of the new Chicano literature emerging in the 1970s were organized

around the claim to Aztlán.6 In the 1980s and 1990s, as Chicano nationalism was subjected to a

post-nationalist—feminist and queer—critique, the concept of Aztlán-as-nation was challenged

and critically revised. Thus, in her landmark call for a “consciousness of the Borderlands” Gloria

Anzaldúa rejected the singular and masculinist conception of Chicano cultural nationalism (99).

Instead, Anzaldúa argued, a transformative politics is realizable only by including previously

excluded groups, particularly mestiza and queer populations, and taking seriously their “political

and artistic contributions” (106). Following Anzaldúa, and recognizing the “institutionalized

heterosexism” of “Chicano nationalism,” Cherríe Moraga asserted that “any movement to

decolonize” Chicano people “must be culturally and sexually specific” (226). Thus, “‘queer’

Aztlán,” her term for a newly reconfigured imagined community, represents “a nation strong

enough to embrace a full range of racial diversities, human sexualities, and expressions of

gender” (235).7

In Mythohistorical Interventions: The Chicano Movement and its Legacies, Lee Bebout

convincingly maps out the ways in which nationalist myths of Aztlán as well as later postnationalist

critiques have variously rewritten 1848. This dissertation extends the inquiry of 20th

and 21st century counter-narratives of 1848 and their attendant revisionist border-making

practices by analyzing concurrent efforts that are informed by but also distinct from Chicano/a

nationalist and post-nationalist periods and disciplinary imperatives. In order to do so, this

dissertation first expands the frame of reference to include trans-border north-south comparisons

between borderlands and Northern Mexican narratives. Additionally, with the objective to

broaden the field of analysis as a guiding principle, the literary archive transitions from the

modernist period to the late 20th and early 21st century. Thus, while the dissertation remains

politically committed to the anti-colonial impulse in rewriting the border, the iconography of

which until recently has most commonly been linked to the Chicano concept of Aztlán, the

emphasis is not on 1848 as the ideological framework undergirding the liberation mythologies

central to Chicano/a civil rights movements. Instead, the focus is on the way in which 1848 is

stylistically adapted and therefore reconfigured within the context of the literary.

In addition to constituting the most recent scholarship on border writing, the critical

demand for a trans-border archive is central to this dissertation due to its inclusion of previously

excluded Mexican authors and by extension the development of new literary histories. As this

body of scholarship demonstrates, the timeline of literary production on and about the border can

no longer be restricted to the Chicano Civil Rights movement or the post-nationalist critiques this

moment engendered. Among the many trans-border studies currently in circulation, this

dissertation draws on Debra Castillo and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba’s Border Women:

Writing from la frontera, given its focus on the array of unique and contemporary fictional

modes authored by writers below the border.8 Castillo and Córdoba convincingly show that

analyses of the U.S.-Mexico border are perpetually inhibited by the tendency to privilege U.S.

scholarship as well as the prevailing Mexican centrist discourses regarding Mexico’s northern

border regions. “Despite numerous elements that would seem to suggest the affinity between

U.S. and Mexican border theories and literatures,” they argue, “the asymmetry between the U.S.

and Mexico also marks the difference between the two cultural projects” (6). For Castillo and

Córdoba, this asymmetry is set within a 1980s context. However, as is demonstrated below, it is

more accurate to think of the north-south asymmetry as one of the many effects of colonial

modernity. Nevertheless, following their lead in tracking border asymmetries is productive in

that it illuminates how these effects are not only economic-political imbalances between the two

states, but are also manifested within a literary context such that “writing the border” is mainly a

northern project. Further, they state, “the rising trend of Chicana/o based border theory has

effectively captured the bulk of critical attention” (5). The issue in this sense is that even when

analyzed from the position of Chicana/o scholarship the “geopolitical border” is reduced to a

theoretical abstraction. As they observe in their study, scholars such as Claire Fox are currently

working to interrogate and revise the tendency that “the border that is currently in vogue in the

United States, both among Chicano/a scholars and among those theorists working on other

cultural differences is rarely site-specific” (12). At the same time, however, it is important to

recognize how the border’s persistence beyond the 19th century can also be enacted through nonmaterial

means, as is demonstrated in Chapter One’s analysis of John Dos Passos. Thus, in

deploying it this dissertation does not equate the term “site-specific” with “physicality” but

instead refers to the fact that the border’s form of appearance in discourse, refracted via border

fictions, exists in a conditional relationship to the particularities of time and place. In addition to

a lack of site-specificity, within the context of Mexico, its northern region is often misconstrued

as a homogeneous zone whose literary output is at best secondary to supposedly more authentic

and representative texts from Mexico’s national center (Castillo and Córdoba 19, 24).

Ultimately, Castillo and Córdoba provide a framework which urges recognizing the fact that

modern literary production on the border is a transnational if uneven process. The critical

demand to rethink the archive and periodization of the border can also be located in Jaime Javier

Rodríguez’s The Literatures of the U.S.-Mexican War: Time, Narrative, and Identity, focusing

on the subject of nations and the various narratives by which they are sustained. Specifically,

Rodríguez reads texts focused on the U.S.-Mexico war in order to contend that writing about

1848 both disturbs 19th century U.S. nationalism, which he argues persists in the present day

albeit configured differently, as well as anticipates the increasingly global subjectivities of

contemporary Mexican-Americans. Further, according to Rodríguez, analyzing texts about the

war provides a model with which to make sense of present-day “anti-Mexican sentiment.” War

fiction, claims Rodríguez, is a “hermeneutic” which illuminates that “Mexican Americans endure

discrimination…because they are walking, talking proof that the United States, like other nationstates,

depends on an ephemeral, always evolving yet still vital national fiction, and what this

approaches is the envisioning of Mexican Americans as global avatars”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 4 = 2

Filter products / Showing all 2 results
Sort by
Price range
Filter selected