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Before ChicanoCitizenship and the Making of Mexican American Manhood, 1848-1959$

Alberto Varon

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781479863969

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479863969.001.0001

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Against Xenophobic Citizenship

(p.1) Introduction
Before Chicano

Alberto Varon

NYU Press

Abstract and Keywords

This introduction reframes Mexican American cultural production within the United States away from immigration and calls for a longer historical and multilingual approach to Latinos in U.S. culture. It argues for the importance of Mexican American manhood in understanding gender in the United States and describes some of the prevailing forms that Mexican American manhood took.

Keywords:   Immigration, Citizenship, Xenophobia, Manhood and masculinity, nineteenth century, nationalism

This is not a book about immigration. Or, perhaps put more directly, this is a book about not immigrating. It is a cultural history of Mexican American manhood from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries that underscores Mexican Americans’ long-standing place in American political and cultural life. Decades before the Border Patrol, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, the Delano grape strike, the Chicano Moratorium, or the 2006 immigration protests, Mexican Americans, living in cities and homes they had occupied for generations, found ways to imagine themselves as U.S. citizens. These Mexican American men and women worked to build safe, happy, and productive lives within the United States and as U.S. citizens, but to do so, found themselves time and again excluded from the country they called home and worked diligently to support.

In turning to an earlier historical period, this book challenges prevailing, facile, and often flawed associations between Mexican Americans and immigration that typecast Mexican Americans as immigrants. To access the long history of Mexican American culture, this book examines manhood and asks how the experience of being a man—and how that experience was represented—shaped the lives of Mexican American men and women. By focusing on manhood, we can see how Mexican Americans understood themselves as racial, gendered citizens and how that experience impacted the way they organized socially, how they functioned politically, and how they connected to broader, mainstream, and usually white American society. In examining Mexican American manhood during this period, this book reevaluates the Anglocentric focus of existing studies of U.S. manhood and illuminates the myriad ways that Mexican Americans produced competing notions of U.S. citizenship.

(p.2) In 1848, U.S. expansionist ambitions resulted in the acquisition of what is now the American West and Southwest, known as the Mexican Cession and a familiar fact among historians of the U.S. and Mexico. Following the cessation of hostilities with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, vast swaths of territory in what is now the U.S. Southwest traded national hands, and along with it, the nationality of those we know as Mexican American.1 The agreement granted citizenship to those Mexicans now living in the U.S., under certain stipulations.2 In short, since at least the mid-nineteenth century, Mexican Americans have found themselves in the paradoxical position of U.S. citizen and perceived foreigner.

The outcomes of this conflict are captured by Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton in her 1872 Civil War novel Who Would Have Thought It?—the first novel written in English by a Mexican American woman living in the United States. One of the main characters, Mrs. Norval, finds herself in a bind. Her husband, recently returned from extended travels in the American Southwest, brought back with him a young orphaned girl, Lola, daughter of a Mexican woman held captive by an unnamed group of Native Americans.3 Lola enters the narrative with her skin dyed dark but possessing fabulous wealth, and Mrs. Norval is caught between her racial prejudices against Lola and a consuming desire to control her wealth. Responding to a comment on the diversity and complexity of the U.S. population, Mrs. Norval exclaims, “How I do hate foreigners!”4 She struggles to makes sense of the racial status of Mexican Americans while acting on and rationalizing her desire to acquire that which the U.S. Southwest offers. She is not alone in this conundrum, and the encounter between these disparate ideas fuels much of the narrative. Later in the novel, Julian, the Norvals’ son, demands an audience with President Lincoln as “an American who will not cast a fellow citizen down into a mire of disgrace, and as a man who will not let a fellow man perish in despair.”5 Julian, desperately fighting false accusations of treason and working to clear his family’s name, places his faith in two interlocked ideas: citizenship and manhood. These are pitted in part against the discourse of “foreignness” but also as the terrain on which the very ideals underpinning American democracy are at stake, exposing the tension between nativist impulses and democratic idealism.6

Her novel presents a complicated portrait of Californio racial identity, but as a woman facing her own legal challenges that sought to classify (p.3) her as non-white, Ruiz de Burton was keenly aware of Mexican Americans’ precarious position and how that position was further complicated by gender. Ruiz de Burton cleverly delivers a critique of U.S. racialization through her white characters that, by invoking and challenging the terms under which Mexican Americans were portrayed, opens up a complex history of Mexican American gendered political participation.7 While her novel offers a powerful example, she is only one of numerous writers, both male and female, who used manhood to frame Mexican American citizenship and group identity for a U.S. national audience—in part, simply by writing in English.

Just as contemporary political discourse regularly neglects or forgets Mexican American citizenship, Ruiz de Burton’s novel fell out of cultural and critical memory. It was recently recovered by scholars, and with it the imbricated histories of Mexican Americans and U.S. national culture.8 For Mexican Americans, and for Latinos more generally, debates about national identity and racial difference are often subsumed under the category of immigration. The current nativist position popular among conservatives has its earlier counterpart, when some began to bemoan the demographic changes that accompanied territorial expansion and “manifest destiny.”9 Yet since at least 1848, and arguably since the nation’s founding, Mexican Americans have been active participants in the formation of U.S. national culture and manhood, though their participation is routinely left out of the historical record and popular memory.10 Before Chicano offers a historical alternative to the xenophobic accounts that frequently populate contemporary media and overlook Mexican Americans by examining Mexican American manhood and citizenship within U.S. American culture on several fronts. First, it argues against the characterization of Mexican Americans primarily as immigrants by exploring their long-standing investment in the U.S. national project. Second, it offers an analysis of some of the major figures or types of Mexican American manhood, how these evolved historically, and how that development illuminates the emergence of a national category now identifiable as Latino. In doing so, it asks us to reconsider the cultural history of U.S. American manhood and Mexican Americans’ role within it. Third, it demonstrates Mexican American participation in U.S. public life and how Mexican Americans developed more expansive and inclusive notions (p.4) of citizenship that distinguished between local, regional, and national political participation.

Portraying Mexican Americans as recent arrivals to the United States is nothing new. Polemical political discourse from the 1840s onward derisively referred to Mexican Americans as immigrants in an effort to diminish their social and political power, a patent nativist response. In its most basic form, nativism opposes a minority group because of a perceived difference or foreignness (political, social, or cultural) in order to prevent, exclude, or excise that group’s participation.11 In a seminal work on immigration and nativism, John Higham defines nativism “as intense opposition to an internal minority on the ground of its foreign (i.e., ‘un-American’) connections” and points to how nativist responses are always inextricable from nationalism, as whatever the “ideological core of nativism in every form [… the nativist] stood for a certain kind of nationalism.”12

Nowhere is this entanglement between nativism and nationalism more visible and more complex than in the case of Mexican Americans. Just before the U.S.-Mexican War and riding on waves of anti-Catholic sentiment directed toward immigrants (first European but later Mexicans), a group of Protestant men organized the short-lived Know-Nothing Party under a platform of restricting immigration and naturalization.13 Responding to the Know-Nothing Party’s attempts to limit Mexican American social intergration, the Los Angeles weekly newspaper El Clamor Público (which evolved out of the English-language Los Angeles Star to serve the area’s Spanish-speaking population) notes how the Know-Nothings opposed a government working “en favor de derechos iguales y libertad religioisas […] y que ha firmado leyes que protejen los intereses de los nativos del pais” [in support of equal rights and religious liberty and who has passed laws to protect the interests of the country’s native residents].14 (In retort to “aquellos hombres cuyos proyectos de leyes que no hacian mucho honor” [those men whose proposed laws have no honor], the newspaper centers the Spanish-speaking population as “native,” inverting the Know-Nothings’ strategy of ostracization.) Half a century later, calling for Congress to extend the 1922-era three-percent quota on immigration, an editorialist of a separate newspaper charged, “The immigration peril from which this country has been spared is not fictional,” and elaborated on the “real threat” immigrants (p.5) posed to U.S. society.15 Just a few years later, demand grew for a police force to regulate the national borders in response to changes in the demographic makeup of the country. Like so often seen in contemporary political rhetoric, the Kansas City Star shifted the blame to Mexico and condemned the movement of people across the U.S.-Mexico border, stating “the entry laws and regulations of the United States are a laughing stock to that very nation whose shortcomings in law enforcement we are frequently protesting—the Mexicans!”—a call which would feed into the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924.16 Across the country, in the nation’s metropolitan heart, the New York Times reported on Congressional debates about immigration reform and stated that the argument “in favor of unlimited Mexican immigration was that American workers were rising out of the ranks of manual laborers so fast, through education and in other ways, that unskilled workers were needed to replace them. It was added that Mexican labor would not likely develop a racial problem for the United States, due to the Mexican’s roving temperament, and that the majority of them, once their temporary work was done, would return to their homeland.”17

Although these examples reveal slippage between Mexican and Mexican American, since the U.S.-Mexican War these groups have been linked to immigration, and nativist calls continually displace Mexican Americans from the national imaginary.18 While immigrants from Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were also seen as disruptive to the national character, most groups ultimately found a pathway to social incorporation.19 In contrast, immigrants from Mexico were typically described as temporary, transitory, and readily deportable. As Mae M. Ngai has shown for both Asian and Mexican Americans, “The legal racialization of these ethnic groups’ national origin cast them as permanently foreign and unassimilable to the nation [… possessing] formal U.S. citizenship but who remained alien in the eyes of the nation.”20 Conceiving of Mexican Americans as expendable, the Bracero Program (1942–1964) invited several million Mexicans to cross the border into the United States as temporary agricultural workers, though the legal structures through which these workers entered offered neither the expectation nor the path to permanent residency or citizenship.21 The specifics shift dramatically over time, yet there remains a persistent historical representation of Mexican Americans and Latinos as an immigrant (p.6) presence. (In fact, many opportunistic politicians and pundits frequently elide the difference between Mexican Americans and other Latina/o national groups, and “Mexican” becomes reductive or derogatory shorthand to stereotype Latina/os generally.) In critiquing the immigration label I am not recommending assimilation as the ultimate or even desired marker of social integration. Such binaries between exclusion and assimilation are too simplistic to adequately represent the complexity of cultural development. Rather, I point to the long-standing understanding of Mexican Americans, and more broadly Latinos, as immigrant (and, alongside it, the metonymic tendency to collapse one group with the other).

Indeed, in many ways the terms “Latino” and “immigration” have become ontologically linked, each fundamentally dependent on the other in the context of the U.S. nation-state. To be clear, immigration has historically been, will continue to be, and should be central to the category “Latino,” in the U.S. and elsewhere. It is a crucial aspect of national and international policy, especially in a global climate in which migration is increasingly at the center of debates about international conflict. Latino studies, which as a field has historically been concerned with the movement of people across and within national borders, is poised at the forefront of this debate and hence has much to offer the global conversation about the impact of immigration. However, conceiving of Latinos solely through frameworks of immigration or immigration rights in relation to public policy diminishes the ability of Latinos to participate in U.S. cultural and national life by perpetually deferring their place as agents of a U.S. national project in the making. My aim here is to engage a historical record that reveals Mexican Americans as producers of and longtime participants in U.S. national culture.

The coupling of Latinos and immigration has its domestic equivalent in understandings of citizenship and the political body: specifically, the concept of the “sleeping giant.”22 Corky Gonzales deployed this image in one of the foundational documents of the Chicano movement, the poem “I Am Joaquin” (1967), where he describes an emergent Chicano consciousness as “the music of the people stirs the revolution/Like a sleeping giant it slowly/rears its head.”23 The sleeping giant represents the statistical call for Latinos as a demographic group ready to be mobilized in the exercise of suffrage as a remedy to centuries-old political alienation, (p.7) rendered in the poem as a bubbling resistance to the nation-state. It represents the future-oriented potentiality of Mexican Americans—as revolution or as new voters—but its antithesis is the negative portrayal of “the Latino threat,” the perceived destabilizing effect and illegality often associated with Latino immigrants, as Leo Chavez has described.24 More so than any other ethnic group, Latinos are now associated with not only the issue of immigration but also with “illegality.” One of the questions this book thus asks is, what would it mean to recast the immigration debate with Latinos at the center of a U.S. national culture?

Manhood and Citizenship

My readings of manhood and citizenship operate somewhat counterintuitively, asking us to reconsider both the nation and Mexican American cultural history within it. One of the implications of thinking beyond resistance is to move past a notion of early Latino literature as recuperation or primarily a recovery project and into a more integrated intellectual history and U.S. national narrative. This requires us to decouple the idea of the Latino subject from immigration. This book counters the hegemonic view of Latinos as perennial immigrants by turning to Mexican Americans’ long historical investment in ideas of national manhood.

Whereas during the Chicano movement and its subsequent affiliated projects manhood was positioned as resistance to the U.S. nation-state (and the state’s concomitant policies of exclusion and oppression), Before Chicano demonstrates how Mexican American manhood shaped U.S. national culture in tension and conversation with prevailing discourses about Mexican Americans. The book’s analyses of gender bring together disparate actors working across vastly divergent geographic terrains, temporal distances, political spectrum, and nationality, but who come to see themselves as participating in a unified U.S. national culture, connecting a network of writers from California, to Texas, to New York. As such, manhood allows for asynchronous development that better reflects the multiple, diverse, and transnational registers in which contemporary Latina/os operate, as well as the complexity of the Latina/o experience. Before Chicano also shows how U.S. citizenship developed in a dialogue with external democratic projects, exploding (p.8) the nativist fabrication of the U.S. as isolated or insulated from external influence. Manhood—a gendered cultural practice through which men understood themselves and were understood as men and as political agents—functioned domestically between racial and ethnic groups, and transnationally as people moved across and within nations. For example, Mexican American bandit manhood discussed in chapter one was one of the primary cultural forms through which the nation reconciled itself with the vast former Mexican territories, as well as provided a justification for imperial expansion. To understand how Mexican Americans responded to and engaged with banditry is to recognize how the discourses of Mexican American manhood were part of the development of the U.S. nation as a continental power.

Mexican Americans developed a variety of views on manhood—some that emerged in part as a response to nativist movements—that reflected the community’s disparate values about the individual, the family, and the potential for intracultural integration. Manhood, to borrow from Darieck Scott’s description of blackness and sexuality, “makes tangible to us, visible, the operation of sociogenesis by which all of our human world comes into being.”25 The convergence of these categories through representation, left as a cultural archive and through literary documents, stabilizes, if briefly, the multitude of ideas surrounding gendered cultural identity—in the body, as a social relation, through national affiliation, or in the simultaneous distancing and tethering of all of these. In these ways, Mexican American manhood traded on an ambiguity between legal and racial conditions of citizenship and belonging: legally white though socially excluded; not quite white, black, nor native, yet enmeshed within the national social fabric.

Dana Nelson is among the best-known critics to analyze manhood and citizenship in the United States, and among the first to link those concepts to racial difference. Focusing on early U.S. history through the mid-nineteenth century, her study shows how “national manhood” privileged the goals of the white, northern European founders of the nation, giving priority to English-speaking Protestant men with access to East Coast centers of power.26 Centering “white manhood [as] the legal criteria of civic entitlement, attaching the ‘manly confidence’ idealized by defenders of the Constitution to the abstractly unifying category of ‘whiteness,’” Nelson contends that the fraternity of white national manhood (p.9) promised civic equality and that white “manhood’s identification with national unity has worked historically to restrict others from achieving full entitlement in the United States.”27 In other words, white manhood provided an umbrella of inclusion that relied on the exclusion of others. What might it mean, then, to formulate national manhood from the position of that exclusion? Where white manhood was often defined in opposition to or in exclusion of people of color, Mexican American manhood defined itself from a position of exclusion. Mexican Americans, legally white but actively racialized, sought to disrupt the social boundaries imposed on their racial identity. Mexican Americans developed ideas of manhood that allowed them to draw on and define themselves in relation to racialization that was exclusionary and de jure, but not always legal or legislated. And while Mexican Americans turned to manhood to find common ground with their Anglo neighbors, to borrow from Eve Sedgwick, “when something is about masculinity, it is not always ‘about men.’”28 Mexican American women actively constructed manhood in order to express an array of social positions and to intervene in developing forms of citizenship, and both Mexican American men and women publicly represented their individual and communal concerns through manhood, even as those representations often excluded others.

The dialectic between inclusion and exclusion operated at several levels, internally within Mexican American cultural circles and externally between Mexican American and other ethnic groups. Mexican American men and women sought to overcome the exclusion of fraternal white manhood by, at times, appealing to whiteness; at others, they sought to redefine democratic ideals, appealing to and even beyond the U.S. nation. In some instances, Mexican American men and women differentiated between degrees of “authenticity” among Mexican American manhood in order to assert national inclusion; in others, they used manhood to reinterpret long-standing Anglo American political traditions within Mexican American culture. For instance, early twentieth-century Mexican Americans debated the degree to which certain groups, such as Mexican political exiles, could make claims to geographic attachment—the “how long have you lived here?” discourse is still prevalent in contemporary immigration debates—while both the late nineteenth-century revolutionary Juan Nepomuceno Cortina and mid-twentieth- (p.10) century novelist José Antonio Villarreal triangulated Mexican American manhood against other ethnic groups, including white, Mexican, Italian, and Japanese.

The archival record reflects values associated with recognizable white or mainstream manhood and masculinity, which include autonomy, assertiveness, self-control, independence, and aggression; but we also find introspection, self-reflection, intimacy, vulnerability, and uncertainty as characteristic of Mexican American manhood. Over the long century I discuss, and as the processes of racialization and social exclusion expanded and hardened, Mexican American manhood moved from a public political performance representing democratic ideals to a more internalized engagement with the question of individual subjectivity and productivity. Individuals working to carve out a social position constructed Mexican American manhood as agentive, as actively producing and responding to social and political difference and changing historical conditions. This gradual development occurred in tandem with normative constructs of white and other racialized forms of American manhood, yet these developments must be understood within the processes of racialization that affected Mexican Americans. Mexican American men and women sought to integrate themselves into U.S. public life by leveraging familiar and novel ideas about manhood, and while they wielded manhood in different ways, its cultural impact exceeded their control. But in a political climate of exclusion, both in terms of racial status and access to legal and civil rights, Mexican Americans deployed manhood both to combat exclusion and to reflect and create cultural norms.

Focusing on the fin-de-siècle earlier period, scholar Gail Bederman’s landmark work Manliness and Civilization shows how race in the U.S. was linked to colonial enterprises through the discourse of manhood as a matter of degrees of “civilization.” Bederman shows how a rugged, individualistic masculinity (as opposed to the more gentlemanly or effeminate manliness, with roots in Victorian sensibilities) formed part of the expansionist colonial project of the turn-of-the-century United States and how the racialized bodies encountered by U.S. imperial expansion possessed a “primitive” sexuality and aggressive masculinity that was simultaneously desired by white men and needing to be contained. The dialectic she describes, both in its historical time frame as (p.11) well as its understanding of the processes of racialization, is fundamental to this project. Still, her work operates within a black-white dichotomy in which Mexican Americans do not comfortably fit. Others, like Michael Kimmel, Anthony Rotundo, Amy Kaplan, and Clifford Putney, have shown the powerful force that cultural manhood plays in shaping American society.29 In particular, these scholars chart the gradual development of male characteristics (such as the gentleman farmer or the frontiersman), whether identifying archetypal formations (e.g. the self-made man) or the reach of a particular men’s movement (such as the YMCA), that refined our understandings of manhood as a variable historical cultural concept that intersects with other realms of public life. The forms of Mexican American manhood that I describe are often in conversation with these figures, but evolved separately from their white counterparts. In many cases, Mexican American masculinity was confined, constrained, controlled, and often rooted in reason, the rational, and deliberative action. In contrast to many portrayals of white manhood during the long century, and perhaps as a necessary reaction to racialization, Mexican Americans downplayed the aggressiveness and primitivism associated with white manhood and famously captured in the writings of Jack London or Stephen Crane, for example.

Mexican American manhood similarly questions the exclusionary processes that stereotyped black masculinity, which prompted Philip Brian Harper to ask, “Are we not men?”30 Mexican American manhood has historical analogues in black masculinity, but the processes of racialization operated in distinct and specific ways. Recalling Nella Larsen’s character Irene’s remark that “They always took her for an Italian, a Spaniard, a Mexican, or gipsy,” U.S. racial binaries frequently did not differentiate within an absolute black-white dichotomy.31 Yet because of its association with foreignness, Mexican American manhood provided a different response. Whereas black male stereotypes have often seen African American men “as animals, brutes, natural born rapists, and murderers,” “stereotypes that were first articulated in the nineteenth century but hold sway over the minds and imaginations of citizens of this nation in the present day,” Mexican American manhood has faced different challenges and associations.32 Other scholars have “elaborate[d] a schema of generative modes by which African American men have historically survived (p.12) the self-alienating disjunction of race and manhood in American culture” and “how social preoccupations with race, gender, and sexuality inflect not only the writerly record but the larger issue of the social ideal of black masculinity.”33

Michael Kimmel mentions how racism and nativism bore the mark of gender, as if “depicting ‘them’ as less manly would make ‘us’ feel more manly.”34 Amy Kaplan follows up this point in an international setting, showing how “the lament for the close of the frontier loudly voiced such nostalgia for the formative crucible of American manhood; imperial expansion overseas offered a new frontier, where the essential American man could be reconstituted in his escape from modernity and domesticity.”35 For both critics, U.S. anxieties about manhood could be resolved through a nativist response differentiating between “true” American men and the exotic and racialized others against whom they struggled for cultural and political supremacy. While these critics contribute greatly to our understandings of American manhood in the U.S. and imperial contexts, none considers how Mexican Americans’ unique position as both familiar citizen and foreign immigrant engaged with, fought, or defined manhood differently from a sense of universalized whiteness.

While the ideas of manhood described by these scholars at least partially overlap with Mexican American notions of manhood prevalent in the same period, most scholars do not pay attention to Latinos generally, and specifically to how Mexican Americans conceptualized a shared, collective notion of masculine public life, an omission which this book seeks to correct. This work amplifies that of feminist scholars of the 1980s and 1990s who sought to dispel the unitary masculinist premise of the Chicano movement in order to recognize Chicana contributions to the movement and to empower Chicanas living with the vestiges of a patriarchal culture.36 This body of work evolved into what is now known as queer-of-color critique, expanding our knowledge of how sex and gender intersect with other cultural formations.37 Chicana feminists were instrumental in critiquing the explicit and implicit gender biases that shaped Chicano culture, drawing attention to masculine restrictions and male oppression over women and sexual minorities. More powerfully, these critics and writers helped us realize how multiple, overlapping categories of identity function simultaneously and cannot be analyzed in (p.13) isolation of each other, a formidable rebuke of the tendency to isolate racial, sexual, or gender differences from each other. This recognition enabled a whole generation of scholars, including myself, to think critically about the multiple ways that gender shapes the lives of people of color. Their work has helped elucidate how gender and sexuality operate to restrict or enable social inclusion, within communities ranging in scale from the intimate to the national. This book draws on the contributions by these scholars in its understanding of how Mexican American manhood distills various and often-contradictory social categories. Before Chicano examines manhood not to reify it as central to the project of the Latino subject, but rather to diagnose how it functioned as a key, if problematic, construct of Mexican American public life.

Making Men: Democratic Citizenship as Masculine Values

Manhood is a process inseparable from the legal, political, and social developments of the time, and this study of early Mexican American manhood reveals an engagement with the historical processes of exclusion, a need to define oneself and one’s community against the racializing forces that threaten to normalize Mexican Americans as outside or unworthy of U.S. citizenship. It is a reaction to forms of oppression, but it is also a statement of a collective commitment to national ideals and the political process. Nowhere are claims to national belonging more salient than in suffrage, which is often considered the final arbiter of citizenship; a person who has the right to vote is considered a full member of society. At a national level, Mexican American men gained this legal right in 1848; Mexican American women did so in 1920. (It is worth noting that universal women’s suffrage in Mexico came much later, in 1953.) Yet for Mexican Americans, legal status as a citizen was hardly a guarantor of social integration; suffrage granted the legal capacity to vote, but in practice access to that right was restricted. Although often in direct dialogue with the legal system and its institutions, Mexican Americans were frequently unable to claim the rights and privileges from the courts or legislative bodies.38 As a result, both men and women mobilized manhood to advocate for their individual or communal needs, against racial exclusion, but at times also against the needs of other Latinos or recent immigrants.

(p.14) Departing from a legal viewpoint of citizenship as organized hierarchically from individual to institutions to the nation-state, Before Chicano instead treats citizenship as moving laterally across disparate communities through the circulation of texts and ideas in a shared print culture, where the community and the state are equal guarantors of civil rights. Communities found common status not solely in national identity, but in shared cultural norms often articulated around gendered identity. Here, I argue for citizenship as nationally oriented but transnationally derived, a kind of participatory practice both discursive and material that functions to designate inclusion within a local or regional community and as a practice of U.S. nation-building. Rather than resist the nation-state and its exclusionary practices, Mexican Americans prior to the civil rights movement used existing understandings of the U.S. nation and of citizenship to position themselves as agents and producers of national culture.

To engage with U.S. citizenship (a point, as I argue, that was constitutive of early Mexican American manhood) is not to say that such engagements were not critical of the U.S. and of the exclusionary practices that determined social and political rights. Manhood and citizenship represented an attempt to inscribe Mexican Americans within and alter prevailing conceptions of U.S. cultural belonging. The confluence of manhood and citizenship describes social, cultural, legal, and political attachments, and at times emerges as a mode of aspirational citizenship, a desire for social bonds that exceed racial discrimination.39 For Mexican Americans in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, citizenship provided a means of articulating their own emergence into U.S. national culture alongside the development of a national manhood. However, the conception of citizenship was more expansive than we understand it today. Mexican Americans understood citizenship within a transnational context in which republican or democratic values exceeded national boundaries and the narrative or cultural constructs which sought to represent them. Using “manhood” as a common cultural currency, disparate writers from far-ranging communities began to imagine themselves as a collective and national whole, and these writers mobilized print culture as a part of a broader practice of citizenship.

In its most basic terms, citizenship is a political philosophy describing a relationship between an individual and the political community.40 “At (p.15) a minimum, citizenship implies a legally and politically defined status, involving both rights (guaranteed by custom or law) and corresponding responsibilities,” and was, at least until the twentieth century, a privileged status extended to a limited number of people, either by de jure or de facto methods.41 Citizenship rests on the possibility and enforcement of exclusion, of limiting access, and on the legitimation of violence and coercive force. Citizenship is a political identity, as well as a set of rights and obligations that pertain to membership in a nation-state. It is commonly understood as the relationship between the individual and the state: the vertical relations between an individual and the institutions (typically governmental, but not exclusively) that make possible the activities of daily life.

One of the most celebrated philosophers to have written about the United States is the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville. Since the first volume was published in 1835, Democracy in America has been interpreted as a commendation of U.S. democracy. Tocqueville’s writings, based on his travels in the U.S. in 1831, provide a blueprint for the promise of democratic government at a time when the world was experiencing radical change and multiple revolutions. Tocqueville noted how “the government of the Union rests almost entirely upon legal fictions […] only in men’s imaginations,” a point upon which many have elaborated.42 He praised the United States’ citizenry’s ability to understand the relationship between individual and collective sovereignty, between state and federal rights, as among the most laudable characteristics of the country. In contrast, Tocqueville notes, “The Mexicans, aiming for a federal system, took the federal constitution of their neighbors, the Anglo-Americans, as their model and copied it almost exactly. But although they transported the letter of the law, they failed to transfer at the same time the spirit which gave it life.”43 Tocqueville’s criticism of the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which he claims left Mexico unable to fully negotiate the tensions between regional and national concerns, accurately predicts Mexico’s inability to forge a cohesive central state, but he attributes those shortcomings to a racial and masculinized understanding of political organization, one of “those fine creations of human endeavor which crown their inventors with renown and wealth, but remain sterile in other hands.”44 The tension between these national projects is a secondary concern in his study, but Tocqueville uses the contrast between (p.16) Mexico and the United States to point out the importance and intentional fabrication of any democratic project. At the center of his critique of the “fictions of government” is the potential divergence between state and federal law, between the needs of the individual and those of the state, and in this space between the individual and the state, Mexican Americans utilized cultural manhood to inscribe themselves into a national imaginary.45

Many of the writers and thinkers discussed in this study were familiar with if not raised in Mexico’s political tradition, ideas that informed their political participation in the United States. National citizenship in Mexico developed and shifted throughout the nation’s early history, most notably in its founding Constitution of 1824, the liberal Constitution of 1857, and the Revolutionary Constitution of 1917.46 For much of its national history, Mexico had a relatively weak central state and a large agrarian (and often impoverished) population. From the nation’s founding until at least after the French Intervention, “citizenship was continually invoked as the first and foremost need of the nation at a time when the country had no effective central state, had a declining economy, and was threatened by both imperial powers and internal regional dissidents.”47 In its early republic phase, Mexican law (in theory if not always in practice) leaned toward inclusivity in determining citizenship, directed at creating an engaged, patriotic citizenry. The 1824 Mexican Constitution distinguished between “citizen” and “national” as distinct categories of civic participation, with the rights of suffrage and governance vested in the former.48 Yet, while the nation legally eliminated slavery and caste difference, it reserved public office for wealthy and literate elites. Between the Constitutions of 1824 and 1857, the states determined criteria for citizenship, and presidential election was done by act of Congress. This division tended to concentrate political power among regional elites, and divided power between state and federal rights in a way similar to that of the post-U.S.-Mexican War United States.

These Mexican political legacies carried into the Mexican American culture, but were only one of the characteristics that marked Mexican Americans as different. Perhaps the most easily recognizable difference between the white and Mexican Americans was language, which has historically been used to dismiss Latinos from their role within U.S. national culture. Despite various attempts to the contrary, English is not (p.17) the official language of the United States, though it has and will continue to be the primary language of communication. In the nation’s early days, it was quite common for people to live in multiple languages. The nation’s “founding fathers” could speak, read, and write in a variety of languages, including Latin, Greek, and French. Thomas Jefferson claimed to “read Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English of course, with something of its radix the Anglo-Saxon.”49 Multilingualism was a sign of cultivation and education, and it demonstrated the connections between the United States and other democratic states. Subsequent generations seem to have forgotten this aspect of our country’s history. Despite claims calling for a multilingual evaluation of American culture, there remains a persistent division by language within ethnic American cultural studies.50 As Kirsten Silva Gruesz states of a different but related context, “The transnational turn has, with a few exceptions, politely ignored that call [to multilingualism] in favor of methods that compare domestic English texts with those written abroad in other languages. The potential of ‘multilingual America’ is still mostly untapped, but that nascent subfield has even more to do besides recover texts, authors, and the contours of forgotten paths of print circulation.”51 Such linguistic dexterity is a requirement for any study of early Latino culture, and, to access the archives of Latino letters, this study recognizes the bilingualism among its actors as essential to the practices of everyday life.

Nonetheless, for a variety of reasons (institutional, archival, linguistic, etc.), Mexican Americans are frequently left out of accounts of the American nineteenth century. A century and a half after Tocqueville, after the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court, explained how the credit for American democratic values “does not belong to the framers. It belongs to those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of ‘liberty,’ ‘justice,’ and ‘equality,’ and who strived to better them.”52 It is in this spirit that Mexican Americans (and arguably Latinos or minorities more broadly) view citizenship, as a developing process. One recurring attribute of nineteenth-century Mexican American manhood is its deployment of ideas of republicanism that circulated in a variety of media and genres, thereby reflecting and creating men as citizens. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the construction of Mexican American manhood attempts to reinvigorate a communal sense of (p.18) democratic potential, which variously takes shape as republican idealism, regional cultural history, transnational citizenship, and sexual cultural politics. Roderick Ferguson identifies “the nation as the domain determined by racial difference and gender and sexual conformity,” so that “racist practice articulates itself generally as gender and sexual regulation” and gendered critique can “approach culture as one site that compels identifications with and antagonisms to the normative ideals promoted by state and capital.”53 Writers and thinkers turned to manhood to forge a nationally recognizable Mexican American subject and citizen from among the scattered Mexican origin groups and in dialogue with public conceptions of U.S. citizen.

To some extent, democracy itself posed the very challenge to civil and political obstacles that faced Mexican Americans. It was near impossible to overcome majoritarian rule and control of institutional jurisdiction under the conditions encountered across the U.S., particularly in the Southwest, the former territories of Mexico. With few alternatives to the discriminatory legal and social practices, perceptions of manhood were interwoven with notions of citizenship to combat exclusion. The latter half of the nineteenth century ushered in Women’s Property Acts across many states, guaranteeing women’s economic and property rights to varying degrees, but these rights were repeatedly contested and occasionally repealed. As political scientist Gretchen Ritter points out, citizenship “is regarded as a public identity. Gender intersects with civic identity differently for men and women.”54 Under these conditions, manhood offered a cultural rhetoric available to both men and women through which to address social difference and to advocate for political inclusion across linguistic lines and national origin. In order to exercise many of the rights and privileges of citizenship, and to be recognized as an equal member of society, an individual had to qualify as a “man,” though the standards against which that measure was applied shifted and varied.55

Writing the Nation: Emerging Mexican American Collectivity

The writers discussed here do not fit into easy categorization, and they work across a multitude of genres and forms not always associated with literature. In fact, many of these writers would not define themselves as (p.19) novelists or, at times, even writers (for Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, for instance, writing was a necessary outgrowth of and complement to his other endeavors, but never a central focus). These texts ask us to reconsider the role of writing, literature, and print culture. In his terrific study of what he calls Latino “textuality,” Raul Coronado demonstrates how “the turn of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Protestant world shifted from [a] republican ideology of the common good to liberalism’s emphasis on self-fulfillment, [whereas] the Hispanic world would not,” as Latinos remained committed to “a nation comprised of constituent groups rather than self-interested individuals.”56 In drawing on the Catholic roots of the modern West, Coronado points to how the family, not the individual, formed the foundational principle of the social contract and social body.57 In many ways, Mexican American manhood is a political construction of a newly formed social group that emphasized developing collectivity and simultaneously inscribed Mexican Americans as national subjects. For Mexican Americans of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, republican ideals presumed the common good over the individual, and republicanism offered an important ideological and political framework through which Mexican Americans could address the limitations and exclusions imposed upon them by democratic rule, even as they sought to perform as members of a national democracy. The focus on the common good never fully dissolved, but by the mid-twentieth century the individual’s relation to the collective became a more important focus. Whereas earlier manhood represented transnational republican values, by the early twentieth century those values became embedded within individual labor and the body. Manhood thus provided a language through which to posit the equality of labor and bodies across racial and ethnic groups, and similarly to unify sections of the population. Manhood and citizenship describes the imagined and real relationship between individual and political community; it is both a legal status and an action, the labor and pursuit of political participation.

Because of their long attachment to the geographic space of the Americas in the age of revolution, Mexican Americans—perhaps more than other ethnic groups—sought to reinvigorate the U.S. nation’s conception of citizenship with republican values, against the rising populist democracy that had taken precedence throughout the long nineteenth (p.20) century. In the United States in the age of empire, Mexican Americans drew on this past to animate an expanded and often conflicting sense of citizenship. Somewhat contradictorily, exerting political rights as an extension of republican values within the nation often required “an acknowledgment of the increasingly transterritorial quality of political and social life, and […] a commitment to a vision of citizenship that is multiple and overlapping.”58 On the one hand, manhood facilitated attempts at incorporating or nationalizing Mexican Americans into the United States by expanding conceptions of U.S. citizenship that located U.S. nationalism within other hemispheric, democratic projects. On the other hand, manhood served as a mechanism of social organization, establishing and communicating commonality across disparate groups within the U.S. and as a tangible representation of lived experience that routinely crossed borders.

In the fields of cultural and American studies, citizenship denotes wide-ranging approaches to the concerns of ethnic Americans and people of the Global South, generally seeking to explain the intricate ways individuals and groups form consensus, affiliation, and attachments to one another and to the nation. These models of citizenship further explain the methods through which the rights and privileges of citizenship are enacted and enforced, expanding on T.H. Marshall’s influential formulation of the tripartite structure of citizenship.59 Within cultural studies, studies of citizenship delineate the forms of attachment and group collectivity that enable, limit, or challenge participation in civil life and the polity. William Flores and Rina Benmayor posit a notion of cultural citizenship, where cultural difference offers a source for claiming access to political life.60 Others, such as Monica Mookherjee, Lauren Berlant, and Alice Kessler-Harris, focus on how gender and sexuality impact citizenship, developing what might be called affective citizenship.61 David Luis-Brown, Brian T. Edwards and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Etienne Balibar, Nigel Dower, and John Williams have sought to identify forms of social and political alliances across national borders, as well as the difficulties these alliances pose and the possibilities they offer.62

Yet a legal definition of citizenship inadequately describes the demands placed upon the label, and legal structures are shaped by the political and cultural contexts from which they emerge.63 For Mexican Americans, citizenship was an ongoing and malleable process of civic (p.21) life, which could influence and be influenced by the men and women who worked to better themselves and their communities. Where legal and institutional laws and reforms failed to address other means of exclusion, notions of manhood could suture the divide between political and social rights. Men and women turned to print culture to disseminate competing understandings of Mexican Americans and to reflect disparate ideas of who they were and how they were part of the nation. To borrow from Jonathan Fox’s analysis of electoral politics and social organization, manhood mirrored “how regimes begin to accept the right of citizens to pursue their goals autonomously.”64

In conceptualizing gender as a critical framework for accessing this Latino past, this book considers manhood as a feature of Mexican American culture that spans time and geographic space. It asks how these interdependent categories of manhood and citizenship are present in and represented by language, in the archival record and in public life, but also how these cultural narratives about manhood operate along a trajectory that is variously transnational, historical, presentist, and proleptic.65 Conceiving of gender in this way makes visible how individuals utilize recurring notions of manhood to interject themselves within national conversations about citizen and nation. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, manhood—both as a biological and racial category—was a precondition for the practice of many civil rights, legally and culturally. Each chapter of this study identifies and critiques a recurring and prevalent cultural form of Latino manhood.

The cultural construction of manhood both reflected and constituted the emergence of Mexican Americans as a social group. Cultural narratives are both descriptive and instantiative, which not only register their cultural moment by commenting on and critiquing it, but also bring about the creation of new cultural paths and initiate new directions for public expression. In the late twentieth-century Chicano movement, there emerged a paradigm of resistance as a historically-specific development necessary for the advancement of a particular political project.66 I take up the challenge of many critics who have shown the need to move beyond a resistance paradigm for the fields of both Chicano and Latino Studies. By focusing on an earlier period, Before Chicano seeks to remedy the omission of Chicano participation in the national narrative, a corrective to the historical amnesia that frequently marks Chicanos (p.22) (and Latinos) as an ethnic group. The tendency to obfuscate this past has repercussions in the present. About once each decade—as the media narrative would have it—Latinos supposedly “emerge”: in the 1980 census, the 1990s Hispanics consumer market, the 2000 “watershed” moment in becoming majority minority, the 2012 election as voting block, and so on. Each of these periodic emergences speaks to the rising demographic and cultural visibility of Latinos. In today’s national imaginary, too often Latinos are regarded as newcomers, as a contemporary phenomenon whose potential is directed into the ever-receding future, perpetually deferred. The postponement of the Latino present generally hinges on the question of immigration and its associated economic and political policy, a connection both troublesome and difficult to dislodge. But Latinos are already here—they have been part of the nation for generations. The danger in futurity, always receding before us, is that it can cause an historical amnesia that ruptures the past from the present. It is not about Latinos becoming (as the 2000 census or the 2012 election would have us believe), but about the ways they always have been and continue to be part of the national story. Historicizing Chicano manhood enables a different kind of future, and Before Chicano alters the prevailing understanding of Latinos as newcomers or outsiders, instead showing how they participated as agents—often fraught, regionally conflicted, and internally disputed, but nonetheless—within a developing U.S. nation and as contributors to American culture.

From Mexican Americans to Latina/os: A Note on Terminology

It is unlikely that any of the writers and thinkers I discuss would have used the term “Latina/o” to identify themselves or their contemporaries, since the word’s first documented usage was in 1946 (the term became common in the 1990s and officially adopted as an ethnic category on the 2000 U.S. census).67 I use the term “Latino” anachronistically to indicate the diverse population within the United States who identify as having some connection (familial, cultural, ethnic, etc.) to the Spanish-speaking world, although in contemporary usage the term also includes other non-Spanish speakers. Similarly, I use the term “Mexican American” to refer to those individuals and communities living within the United States who claim a degree of Mexican origin, whether they are (p.23) first-generation immigrants or fifth-generation citizens of the United States. I do so primarily to draw a historical distinction from the term “Chicano,” which developed in the late twentieth century as part of the civil rights movement. However, the utility of “Chicano” in both past and present to represent a politically minded activism is crucial to the field and to our understanding of the people it represents.

In her excellent book on Chicano literary and cultural history, Chicano Nations, Marissa Lopez urges us to consider Chicano culture in broader temporal and spatial terms. Lopez seeks to invigorate the term “Chicano” as something more than a historical referent to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and posits that Chicanismo be understood within “a vast network of transnational latinidad” and as a critical mode of engaging with U.S. power. Invoking “ambivalence about the nation,” Lopez looks outside the U.S. to invigorate cultural nationalism and to animate the hemispheric origins of Chicano cultural life.68 I share Lopez’s desire to reanimate Chicanismo for the future, although I use the term “Mexican American” precisely for its broader historical signification. Less an oppositional politics than an investment in state making, Mexican American manhood before the Chicano movement produced a sense of collective manhood and citizenship that helped define Chicano and U.S. culture. The title Before Chicano deliberately invokes the historical frame, but also the political promise of the label.

Before Chicano focuses primarily on the archive of Mexican American experience for several reasons. Demographically, nearly two-thirds of the U.S.-Latino population claims Mexican descent, and recent census data states that over ten percent of the U.S. population is of personal or familial Mexican origin.69 Moreover, the relationship between the U.S. and its southern neighbor was crucial to the project of U.S. expansion. Through war and direct political annexation, the geographic expansion of the U.S. came through the acquisition of Mexican territory during the period this study covers. Latinos have been present in the United States since before the nation’s founding, but the end of the U.S.-Mexican War in 1848 marks an important transition for Mexican Americans as a national group. For these reasons, it is imperative to understand the unique historical relationship of Mexican Americans with the U.S. nation-state, even as this study imagines Chicano print culture within a larger national Latino dynamic.

(p.24) Figures and Forms of Mexican American Manhood

For the most part, the Mexican Americans we will meet in the coming pages did not imagine themselves as recent arrivals, having spent significant portions of their lives in the United States. Yet these writers do not have an established place in the U.S. political and cultural imaginary. They are relegated to the position of outsider, the target of nativist attacks on national purity. In constructing an archive of Mexican American manhood before the Chicano movement, this book brings together a wide array of material from a variety of sources, genres, and discourses across print media. Mexican American culture varied substantially across geographic areas, among groups in dialogue with each other but often espousing divergent regional concerns. These differences beg the question of how to assemble an archive within such a variegated print culture and among communities that did not yet fully conceive of themselves as a unified demographic block, as we currently do. Borrowing from Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic notion of the assemblage, this book organizes its archive radially around the central concept of manhood; thus the archive becomes a method of ascribing meaning and boundedness to multiplicity.70 Thinking about an archive radially also helps account for linguistic difference, in that it can organize by assuming familiarity across languages. It also offers a method through which to connect the notion of individual or idiosyncratic archives: rather than canon as common ground, with specific texts unifying a field, we might ask what common themes, ideas, contexts unite seemingly disparate groups of texts, and how these intersect. As shown by these men and women writers, manhood stands in for a wide array of social concerns.

Chapter one examines the dominant depiction of Mexican American manhood, the bandit figure. Unlike most accounts that either villainize the Mexican American bandit or champion him as a figure of resistance, this chapter reinterprets the bandit as central to the U.S. narrative of liberal democracy, disrupting U.S. colonialism and situating Mexican Americans within broader hemispheric social and political movements. Literature about bandits was ubiquitous in the decades following the U.S.-Mexican War and depicted Mexican Americans as inassimilable, but I insert these fictions into a transnational, multilingual archive that more accurately reflects the Mexican American communities it represented. (p.25) In contrast to most understandings of the bandit as an anti-U.S. criminal, Mexican American bandits developed cultural values that positioned Mexican Americans as U.S. national citizens fighting for freedom and justice—the very republican ideals used to justify national conflict. This chapter proposes the bandit as a figure that “cleaves” Mexican Americans to citizenship, playing on the contradictory meanings of the term as both to sever and to adhere. Cleaving then becomes a way of conceptualizing the relationship between Mexican American manhood and citizenship throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Chapter two considers the other dominant thread of late nineteenth-century gendered public identity, one often directed at a middle-class readership—that of the “Spanish fantasy heritage.” By Spanish fantasy heritage, I refer to the cultural construct and identity that emerged in the late nineteenth-century to claim a Europeanized heritage for Mexican Americans and others living in parts of the U.S. Southwest formerly under Spanish colonial rule. The fantasy heritage manifested in myriad ways, including architecture, literature, cultural events, and as personal identity. Spanish fantasy heritage distinguished between assimilated or Europeanized Spaniards and the other mestizo, immigrant, or Spanish-speaking populations that came under U.S. control. Focusing on California as a site of cultural conflict, I contend that Spanish fantasy heritage, which coincided with the revision of California’s Constitution, responded to the dual nature of American citizenship (federal vs. state); examining cultural accounts alongside government documents about the constitutional convention reveals the complicated ways in which fantasy heritage racialized Mexican Americans. This chapter recovers the work of Mexican exile, politician, and journalist Adolfo Carrillo alongside more familiar Anglo American regionalist writers such as Gertrude Atherton and Charles Lummis to illustrate how Mexican Americans repudiated their social exclusion and of the need for multilingual cultural history.

As agents of political change, Mexican Americans were embedded within both national and global events. Chapter three examines the expatriate phenomenon known as “México de afuera,” an extranationalist ideology that emerged during and after the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) through which those fleeing civil war came to see themselves as the last stronghold of an ailing national identity. The chapter interrogates (p.26) México de afuera as a structuring principle of Mexican American manhood, an aspect of the ideology previously unaccounted for. Examining the ideology within a broader dialogue of U.S. manhood and citizenship allows us to consider the global dimensions of U.S. national citizenship in the mid-twentieth century, and asks what happens when World War I replaces the Mexican Revolution as the central national conflict for early twentieth-century Mexican American cultural life and manhood. As a structuring force of manhood, México de afuera shifts from an extranationalist ideology into a mode of citizenship that understands civic participation transnationally, what I call “expatriate citizenship.” Alongside periodicals, travel guides, and government promotional materials, the chapter centers on Josefina Niggli’s 1947 novel Step Down, Elder Brother to contend that Niggli offers a way of understanding U.S. race relations both domestically and abroad, staging Mexican American manhood as both national and global citizenship. Through expatriate citizenship, U.S. readers could deliberate on the nation’s place as an emergent global superpower and the contradictions posed between exported democracy and domestic citizenship.

One outcome of the extranationalist and expatriate drive of México de afuera manhood was a re-entrenchment in the nation and in familiar notions of Anglo-American manhood. Chapter four turns to a moment in the early twentieth century in which two novels, now widely accepted as part of the Latino “canon” and central modernist texts, were coincidentally written (though unpublished) within a few years of each other. Since their publication in the 1990s, Jovita González and Margaret Eimer’s novel Caballero (~1936) and Américo Paredes’s novel George Washington Gomez (~1937) have become cornerstones of Chicano literature and have largely been interpreted as either furthering Chicano movement resistance or espousing an assimilationist position. Here, I argue that the novels create a manhood that addresses a Mexican American middle class, and they rewrite citizenship as non-migratory labor. This figure of manhood urges pragmatic integration through economic cooperation. By championing the economic capacity of Latinos not as laborers but as managers, inventors, and entrepreneurs, these texts engage with early twentieth-century ideals about productivity and the division of labor, critiquing notions of the so-called “self-made man” and refashioning Mexican American manhood as a model for the national (p.27) citizen. Economic citizenship seeks a place within the structures of capitalism that dominated social life and to dissociate Mexican Americans from ideas of migration and transience that characterized discourses of labor frequently associated with ethnic Mexicans.

Chapter five sutures the pre– and post–civil rights movements—a divide that operates as a historical schism for Latino Studies. Analyzing José Antonio Villarreal’s novel Pocho (1959, which many have hailed as the first Chicano novel), I argue that the novel is better understood not as an origin point but rather as a node within a longer genealogy of Latino culture. Few scholars have accounted for the novel’s troubling depiction of masculinity and sexuality except to dismiss the narrative as chauvinist and misogynistic. Sexuality underpins the multiethnic community’s fragile alliances, and this chapter examines the sexuality, homoeroticism, and homophobia within Anglo and Mexican American culture, a depiction that is at odds with some of the stated objectives of the Chicano movement’s foundational documents. Read alongside early Chicano movement manifestos and correspondence, the chapter calls for a more historically expansive understanding of the emergence and legacy of the Chicano movement. In these ways, the Mexican American men and women discussed in the following pages speak to the complexities, contradictions, and interplay of race and gender in the United States. (p.28)


(1) Many scholars, among them Gerald Poyo, Angela Castañeda, and Ramon Gutierrez, have demonstrated that the long history of the peoples we now call Latina/os predates the U.S.-Mexican War. Early Latina/os were the product of colonization between Europeans (especially Spain) and indigenous peoples inhabiting what is now the United States. The U.S.-Mexican War is an artificial temporal marker, but it is nonetheless a useful bookend for thinking through the cultural history of Mexican American manhood, in part because it emphasizes national conflict.

(2) Much has been written and debated about the treaty and its effects, and its granting of citizenship is a point to which I return throughout the book. For a discussion of the treaty and its articles, see Griswold del Castillo, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

(3) What little information the novel provides about the Native Americans among whom Lola was raised suggests they were in southern Arizona, near the juncture of the Gila and Colorado rivers, where there are twenty-one federally recognized tribes (Ruiz de Burton, Who Would Have Thought It?, 34). It is possible that the novel refers to any of these, but it also likely that Ruiz de Burton was using “Indians” as a generic plot device rather than as a specific tribal reference.

(6) Julian denies the charges against him, but insists on the primacy of the institutions of justice: “If I had said all that, sir, I think I would still have the right to a trial and defense” (Who Would Have Thought It? 215). While the novel critiques the exclusionary practices through which capitalism overrides democratic values, at the same time it paints an ambiguous picture of the potential for democracy when biases overrule universal principles.

(7) For a discussion of Ruiz de Burton and whiteness, see Alemán, “Thank God, Lolita Is Away from Those Horrid Savages”; and González, “The Whiteness of the Blush.” For Ruiz de Burton, race, and the hemisphere, see Murphy, Hemispheric Imaginings, especially chapter three.

(8) Two of Ruiz de Burton’s novels were recovered by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita, published by Arte Público’s Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project. The massive efforts coordinated by the recovery project were fundamental to the revived study of Latino cultural history, and the work done by scholars (p.222) associated with it and similar projects are central to this book. Ruiz de Burton’s novels have since taken on near-canonical status, perhaps in part due to how American culture privileges the novel form.

(9) “Manifest destiny” was often used as shorthand for U.S. territorial expansion after journalist John O’Sullivan coined the term in 1845 in the Democratic Review. It was no coincidence that O’Sullivan also coined the phrase the “Mexican Question” in the essay “Annexation,” published just one month later in the same magazine. The two ideas are intertwined, though the latter has since come to be associated with immigration and not with conquest. See Rivera, The Emergence of Mexican America.

(10) There are important distinctions between Mexican Americans and the broader category Latino, which I discuss later. Given the country’s demographics and history, I examine Mexican Americans as paradigmatic of the broader movement of Latinos in the public imaginary.

(11) For a discussion of immigration and nativism, see Curran, Xenophobia and Immigration; Perea, Immigrants Out!; Benn Michaels, Our America.

(13) The Know Nothing Party was formed in 1844, just before the U.S.-Mexican War, but was most active politically after the war, in the 1850s.

(14) El Clamor Público, August 14, 1855, 34. For a brief history of the newspaper, see Kanellos, Hispanic Periodicals in the United States.

(15) “Keep Out the Aliens,” Albuquerque Morning Journal, April 15, 1922, 8. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), this piece ran adjacent to a statement claiming that the YMCA is “a man-factory where boys are turned into useful citizens.”

(16) Kansas City Star, January 3, 1922, 20. The Border Patrol began as part of a national restriction on immigration, attached to the Immigration Act of 1924.

(17) “Mexicans Watching Quota Move Here,” New York Times, March 5, 1928, 8. The Times reported the counterargument calling for a quota: “The Mexican immigrant is detrimental to the country, that he is Socialistic if not Communistic, and that he robs an American working man of a job.” While some claims are less impactful today, such as the unsubstantiated claim that “low living standards of the Mexicans made them undesirable,” the former could be ripped from contemporary newspapers.

(18) For a discussion of U.S. national fears about incorporating Mexicans after the U.S.-Mexican War, see Weber, Foreigners in Their Native Land. For the nativist response in the early twentieth century, see Reisler, By the Sweat of their Brow.

(22) The notion of Latinos as a “sleeping giant” in U.S. politics is frequently deployed by the media, yet some scholars have taken issue with the characterization. For a (p.223) critique of the Latino political bloc, see Beltrán, Trouble With Unity. For a discussion of anti-immigration politics (an “anti-migrant hegemony”), see Gonzales, Reform Without Justice.

(23) Gonzales, I Am Joaquin, 91. Gonzales’s work helped catalyze civil protest, but his notion of Chicano identity was decidedly masculinist, “bold with machismo” (64) and grounded in a “struggle for my sons” (82).

(27) Ibid, 6, 27.

(29) Kimmel, Manhood in American; Rotundo, American Manhood; Putney, Muscular Christianity; Kaplan, Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture. Kimmel’s work has been particularly influential in masculinity studies, and I return to his text throughout.

(37) Queer-of-color critique marked a powerful shift in our understanding of intersectionality and brought attention to the ways that sex and gender are implicated in constructions of race, class, and ethnicity. See Ferguson, Aberrations in Black; Muñoz, Disidentifications; Holland, Erotic Life of Racism; Hames-Garcia, Identity Complex.

(38) There has been a great deal of excellent scholarship on the legal exclusion of Latinos, especially regarding land claims following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. See, for instance, Sánchez, Telling Identities; Gómez, Manifest Destinies; Orozco, No Mexicans, Women or Dogs Allowed; Olivas, Colored Men and Hombres Aqui; Garcia, White But Not Equal.

(39) I invoke the term “aspirational citizenship” with some reservations. Some, like Jayal’s use of it for India, suggest a desire for a just and equal society. My skepticism comes from the potential pitfalls of “aspirational” as it has been deployed by neoliberal policy. For a discussion of aspirational citizenship, see Bosniak, Citizen and the Alien, and Raco, “Neoliberal Urban Policy.”

(40) For a general overview of global citizenship in contemporary political thought, see Carter, The Political Theory of Global Citizenship.

(43) Ibid, 194.

(44) Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 192–23. Despite his condescending tone and his omission of the intervening presence of the United States in the history of Mexico, Tocqueville was in some way prescient, as Mexico would revise its constitution several times over the next century to manage the various regional and national interests. See Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 357–70.

(45) Throughout the 1920s, the San Antonio newspaper La Prensa (see chapter three) routinely provided quotations by Tocqueville, in Spanish, as nuggets of wisdom to inspire their readers. See, for instance, November 23, 1916; July 16, 1918; December 5, 1920; or July 17, 1921.

(46) In tracking the development of Mexican citizenship, Lomnitz sees a gradual move from liberal equality where “ideal” citizenship offers the chance for national unity to, at the turn of the century, an emphasis on order and economic development as the key to national strength.

(48) For a discussion of Mexican citizenship in the nineteenth century, see Lomnitz, “Modes of Citizenship in Mexico.” The essay was translated for a Mexican readership as “La construcción de la cuidadanía en México” in Metapolítica. For a discussion of Mexican citizenship and the public sphere, see Aguirre, “Cuidadania ante el espacio publico.” For the role of republicanism and Spanish influence in the founding of the Mexican state, see Chust and Frasquet, “Orígenes federales del republicanismo en México, 1810–1824.”

(55) At least until 1920 at the federal level, only men could vote, and whether or not an individual fit the eligibility requirements was often cast as a question of manhood. Until 1870, men of color were excluded from voting, and following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, suffrage was legally extended to non-white men. Cultural constructions of manhood helped articulate or restrict men’s eligibility for the privileges of citizenship. For instance, the threat of black sexuality was used to rationalize extralegal restrictions of African American voting rights, as seen in texts like Charles Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1901). For a discussion of black masculinity, see Stokes, Color of Sex; Richardson, Black Masculinity and the U.S. South; Hodes, White Women, Black Men; Wiegman, American Anatomies.

(57) See Coronado’s discussion of Catholic political thought, 229–38. His discussion of how the broadsheet formally mimics hierarchies of authority is particularly illuminative.

(59) In his essay “Citizenship and Social Class,” Marshall divides citizenship into civil, political, and social categories, a loose structure that has subsequently been expanded upon and critiqued. Marshall’s analysis of “social citizenship” has been particularly influential in its focus on social equality and the government’s role in providing access to comparable standards of living (Marshall, “Citizenship and Social Class”).

(61) See Mookherjee, “Affective Citizenship”; Berlant, Queen of America Goes to Washington. Kessler-Harris explores how work was essential to asserting the privileges of citizenship, and how work was then constricted by gender in In Pursuit of Equity.

(63) For a discussion of “legal realism” in American law, whereby judges at the appellate level reflect their own social views of the world as much as the legal statutes, see Leiter, Naturalizing Jurisprudence.

(64) Fox, “Difficult Transition,” 152. Fox defines “autonomy” as the ability of a state or its members to develop independent goals and to organize to that purpose. In contrast, a state’s “capacity” is its ability to get its constituent members to follow the stated goals. See also Fox, Politics of Food.

(65) Thinking of gender in this way is something akin to Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope, for whom the chronotope represents the interdependence of space and time and how those categories are present in and represented by language. See Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, especially his essay on the Bildungsroman, pp. 10–59.

(67) This is its first known usage as listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, and its emergence likely a contraction of Latin American (itself a French term dating to the mid-nineteenth century).

(69) See U.S. Census data for 2016, summarized at “FFF: Hispanic Heritage Month 2016,” www.census.gov/.

(70) In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari provide a post-structuralist model for imagining social critique through a concept of “assemblage.” The text suggests that a book or archive organized rhizomatically (their metaphor for the assemblage) can resist the structures of domination (intellectual or institutional) that dictate social bonds, instead extending outward, horizontally, and in multiple simultaneous directions. Their text is particularly useful for imagining a political theory in which challenges to the nation come from non-state actors.