Review of: Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries

Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández, Duke University Press 2011

In Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries, Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández forcefully argues, “…violence forms the foundations of national histories and subjectivity….”  To demonstrate this, she examines four historical flashpoints: the 1851 lynching of a Mexican woman in a California mining town, the Camp Grant Indian Massacre of 1871, the erasures of racialized and sexualized violence in South Texas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the Yaqui Indian wars of 1880-1910. In the five chapters of the book (two are dedicated to the Yaquis) Guidotti-Hernández takes each of these historical flashpoints and interrogates them, showing first how they have been minimalized and erased from national histories. She then offers new analyses of these somewhat familiar incidents, illuminating how violence creates the nation-state – both Mexican and U.S. – in the context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

In Chapter One, “A Woman with No Names and Many Names: Lynching, Gender, Violence, and Subjectivity,” Guidotti-Hernández takes a fresh look at the story of the 1851 lynching of a U.S. Mexicana, Josefa/Juanita (she is referred to by both names), and the historiographical responses to it. She focuses on the gendered, classed, and racialized ways in which “disciplining bodies” through lynching was an accepted way to police behavior and determine who belonged and who did not in a ninetheenth century California mining town. In Chapter Two, “Webs of Violence: The Camp Grant Indian Massacre, Nation, and Genocidal Alliances,” Guidotti-Hernández examines how the alliance between Mexicans, Papago Indians, and Anglos against the Aravaipa and Pinal Apache demonstrated that Mexicans and Indians were not only resisting Anglos in this period, but that economics and internalized racism contributed to a variety of ethnic alliances involved in violent projects of nation-building in the borderlands. Guidotti-Hernández addresses the racism in the work of Jovita González (the first Mexican American woman to earn a master’s degree in anthropology at the University of Texas) in Chapter Three, “Spaces of Death: Border (Anthropological) Subjects and the Problem of Racialized and Gendered Violence in Jovita González’s Archive.” Guidotti-Hernández suggests that the erasure of the racism in the work of Jovita González shows the failure of gender analysis in the portrayals of some racialized subjects that are from a lower class.

In the last two chapters of Unspeakable Violence, “Transnational Histories of Violence during the Yaqui Indian Wars in the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands: The Historiography, and  “Stripping the Body of Flesh and Memory: Toward a Theory of Yaqui Subjectivity,” Guidotti-Hernández focuses on the Yaqui Indians and the formation of the Mexican nation-state. In these chapters, Guidotti-Hernández shows how the Mexican government aligned with U.S. and Mexican capitalists in an attempt to annihilate the Yaquis because they disrupted progress and modernization. Her argument is most forceful and compelling in these chapters. She describes how the Yaqui fight for their land and sovereignty upset the Mexican government’s project of “orden y progresso” under Porfirio Díaz as well as U.S. and Mexican capitalists’ desire for mining and industry in the Mexican northwest.  The violent campaigns against the Yaquis included lynching, photographing the lynchings, and posting the photos as warnings to other Yaquis. Guidotti-Hernández shows how the photographs of lynched Yaquis demonstrated that “the state was invested in a project of annihilation of indigenous people as a means of making the state modern.”

Guidotti-Hernández states in the introduction that Unspeakable Violence is not a resistance narrative, nor is it a celebration of mestizaje, hybridity, and nationalism. Her intervention in U.S.-Mexico Borderlands historiography, but especially in Chicana/o historiography, is to illuminate the ways in which all types of violence, national and corporate as well as intra-ethnic violence, created national identity and sought to determine who was a national subject and who was not in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Categories: Book and Journal Reviews | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Review of: Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries

  1. Pingback: Review of: Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries by Jennifer Seman | Amatlakwiloa

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