West Meets East: Nineteenth-Century Southern Dialogues on Mixture, Race, Gender, and Nation

West Meets East: Nineteenth-Century Southern Dialogues on Mixture, Race, Gender, and Nation

The Mississippi Quarterly
Volume 56, Number 4 (Fall 2003)

Suzanne Bost, Associate Professor of English
Loyola University

When I was growing up in the Eastern half of the United States, American history was presented to me in neatly binary terms: Cowboys and Indians, North and South, Black and White. There were binaries when my family moved out West, too, but the demarcations were in different places: North or South of the border, English or Spanish, hamburgers with or without green chile. Here, sometimes cowboys were Indians, and Mexicans were Americans. The fact that my Eastern home was North and my Western home was South complicated matters further, and I learned to accept that Southerners, though never victorious, were not always as misguided as my first teachers had suggested they were. The deconstruction of American myths and binaries began for me long before I learned to see the world through the lenses of postmodernism or the new American Studies. Moreover, this racial and national decentering occurred not by way of contemporary globalization or NAFTA but throughout American history.

Mestizaje and hybridity are popular concepts today because they lift identity from singular categories and frameworks. They are celebrated, along with Tiger Woods, fusion cuisine, and the Internet, as transracial, transnational frameworks for new, millennial Americans. For Mexicans and Mexican Americans, however, hybridity and racial and national decentering are not a postmodern horizon but rather long-standing historical facts. Racial mixture was part of the Spanish colonial strategy for, literally, “hispanicizing” the natives and acquiring their lands. As such, mixture has been central to the formation of racism, nationalism, resistance, and identity politics in most Southern Americas for centuries. In nineteenth-century Mexico, mestizaje was nationalistic, not transgressive or defiant of norms, while in the Southeastern United States, miscegenation represented a breakdown in the definition of American identity…

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