Romeo García, University of Utah
History isn’t a dead and remembered object; it is alive and it speaks to us
At the Cemetery
I want to begin with a memory, one that situates me at a local cemetery — the Restlawn Memorial Park in La Feria, Texas. Then, and there, I remember Grandma stating firmly, “No pises las tumbas.” An important lesson learned that day was to treat the non-living with respect; I walked, thereafter, with caution. As we got closer to the people we were visiting, Grandma reached out her hand and said, “Dame la mano,” and continued by saying, “Habla con ellos…ellos pueden oirte…te miran y te cuidan.” That day, I was reaffirmed the importance of pausing and listening, of working to create presence from absence and sound from silence (see García 7). I’d come to associate her words, “Nos vemos,” that day, too, with more than just an indication of our preparation for departure. Similar to al rato, nos vemos could translate to see you later; y esperamos ese momento. The cemetery was a site of/for community praxis. It is here where I learned how to engage in and with community listening: a departure from mere presence as the genesis for listening, a situating of the self in polylog with past and present selves and others, a learning how to be-with others, otherwise.
Today, I return to this memory of the cemetery vis-à-vis community listening, because community remains at the fore of thinking my racialized and minoritized body out of spaces of domination such as settler archives. The cemetery situates me within a community who has struggled for generations in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). A people thrown “into the world of colonial legacies, colonial differences, and colonial wounds” (“Decoloniality and Phenomenology” 377). A people forced to learn how to address themselves to hauntings and forced to mitigate a precarious subject position between being a subject of hauntings and becoming a subject in hauntings. A people who remain hopeful — that one day they will be seen and heard, belong, and not haunted — despite the contrary communicated to them. I left the LRGV and the cemetery many years ago, but I return often as I do, both to continue to learn and to grow and to be-with my community. Community is important particularly in moments like this, where I must do work in a site that demands a decolonial praxis project.
Settler archives haunt us all. In reading its contents, I gain a greater understanding of my brown(ed) body. Settler archives demand a carefully reckoning, to be sure, with erasure, death, terror, trauma, and settler invention practices, all of which affect how and why I speak today from a particular place, out of a particular history, and from a particular community practice. And so, I come back to the LRGV, as a matter of responsibility; a region six times tilled over by the political order of colonization; a region ecologically affected by a 500 year old invasive species with deep roots for which grip all resources available (e.g., settler colonialism or coloniality); a region, and a people, today discursively contained, monitored, surveilled, interpreted, and checked by human (agencies) and non-humans (borders, checkpoints) in the name of a modern(/colonial) nation-state. Settler archives haunt me because they remind me settler colonialism, or coloniality, is a set of persisting technologies, for which the settler possesses and uses to enforce viewpoints; settler archives are a fixture within such technologies. I began/begin with a memory of the cemetery, because in this essay I must see and listen to an effaced humanity left in the palimpsests of settler subjectivity, whiteness, and settler intimacies; a humanity today forced to reside in a nation’s imaginary space of death and considered half-dead (Anzaldúa 25). In this essay, I have made it my responsibility to amend a settler archive against the backdrop of a socio-political milieu that remains committed to monitoring, surveilling, and interpreting brown(ed) bodies.
In the fall of 2014, I began research in the LRGV for my dissertation. I was partially interested in settler archives. So, I turned to the Special Collections and Archives at the University of Texas — Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). I requested archival boxes from various cities in the LRGV. Each box, I found, was a storehouse of various artifacts such as newspaper clippings, images, and pamphlets all pertaining to the arrival of settlers, their settlement, and their march towards modernity (salvation, progress, and development). At the onset, I had four goals: (1) to gain insight into settler discourse and invention practices, (2) to locate, identify, and reveal a complicity between a logic of coloniality and a rhetoric of modernity/rationality, (3) to understand the role settler archives play in strengthening the complicity, (4) and, to demonstrate how settler archives can be a site for a decolonial praxis project. I have chosen to focus on one settler box, the Harlinen, Texas box, a local history of settler colonialism (and local desire to veil a darker side of settlement and modernity) important to the West’s hegemonic narrativization of civilization and modernity, to exemplify such a decolonial praxis project.
As I opened up the Harlingen box, I was transported to a cemetery, once more present with my Grandma. I could hear her say “que curioso” and ask: “¿qué ves?” | “¿estás escuchando?” | “¿ves lo que está pasando”? Settler archives are a curious fixture in settler and modern/colonial technologies. In my initial observation of the box, documents were founded on peaceful settler narratives and a sense of settler vision, order, and direction. On a local and global scale, this was a settler vision, however, that produced images of empty landscapes from which other inhabiting bodies vanished, that established ways of relating to people (being/human/reason | non-being/less human/nature), that pursued the management and control of land, resources, and people. I remain convinced today we must approach and treat settler archives not simply as a storehouse for the West’s fictions and myths, but rather, as a premier site of production for colonial difference and coloniality of knowledge.
For this essay, I have selected a few artifacts to showcase a local settler discourse inextricably predicated on foundations of dualism (reason/nature), evolutionism (savage to rational, primitive to civilized, traditional to modern), and epistemic and ontological difference (human/knowing and less human/inferior). Specifically, though, I focus on how these artifacts bare the jussive claims that civilization commenced when settlers arrived into, wrestled away, and saved empty lands; that settlers alone possessed a vision and sense of direction for modernity and alone are responsible for any and all accomplishments; that settlers were peaceful and philanthropic in their colonizing endeavors. I intend to amend these archives and haunt back vis-à-vis delinking and bringing forth from the shadows of coloniality humanity left in the palimpsests of settler subjectivity, whiteness, and settler intimacies. I do this work throughout, and it becomes more apparent in the latter part of the essay when I introduce borderland literature and corridos.
It is with this opportunity to amend that I maintain a glimmer of hope despite inheriting what Michael Taussig calls spaces of death — a physical, ideological, and imaginative space of death, terror, and trauma consubstantial to the (re)creation of a coloniz(ed/ing) world (4-5); despite inhabiting wound(ed/ing) cities and wound(ed/ing) institutions of education normalized by the dialectic between space-time specific projects and societal institutions and material structures that rewrite geographies and inhabiting bodies in colonial ways (see Till 6; Brasher et al. 2-3). And with this opportunity, rather than speak on the differences between settler colonial studies and decoloniality, I have decided to place them in conversation with each other. That being said, the following premises, based on readings, underwrite this essay:
- Settlers discovered (doctrine of discovery), arrived, stayed, and sowed a disease (coloniality) into the landscape of the Americas and their subsequent practices of testing variegated methods of bringing together designs of missionaries, civilizing missions, modernization, development, marketization constituted imperial modernity and the eventual emergence of a modern/colonial world system.
- Imperial modernity veils at the same time articulates a pretended universality of a particular ethnicity and place, and hence, a historical rationality and sense of direction too, which is responsible for ignoring and rendering invisible geo-and-body politics of knowledge and understanding, elsewhere and otherwise.
- Coloniality and a modern/colonial world system illuminates an association of social interests between dominant groups of nation-states interested in the management and control of land, resources, and people. This resulted in images of empty landscapes from which othered inhabiting bodies vanished and established ways of relating to people. Unavoidable today, both affect the human experience across all domains: economic, political, civic, and epistemic.
- In the spirit of learning how to re-exist and rebuild in and across differences, not casted in terms of plus or minus degrees of humanity, it is important to strike a balance between the analytical task of critique and the task of reaffirming modes and principles of thought and feeling denied.
I proceed forth, in the spirit of a decolonial praxis project, ultimately to peel back the layers of settler discourse (epistemic murk), to reveal a complicity between a logic of coloniality and rhetoric of modernity, and to short-circuit the grid by amendment; to create friction in the trafficking of settler images, narratives, and rhetorics in the normative. And I do this work by heeding the advice of Lorenzo Veracini, amending an unnamed and undisturbed image by focusing on settlers: what they do, how they think about what they do, and their desire for permanency (15). Of course, any shortcomings in this pursuit are mine.
As a quick note, I invoke settler not to suggest a homogenous population nor imply settler colonialism unfolds evenly across space and time. Apropos to the discovery of the Americas, settler names and situates a mutation of a palimpsest of identity (men of letters, men of science, men of vision and integrity), an ego (ego conquiro, ego cogito), and a rhetoric (rights of man/empire, rights of citizens/nation-states) incited by epistemic and ontological difference (human/rational, less human/nature) and a hubris of the zero point principal. Similarly, I speak in the register of settler archives, but not to infer they are monolithic. Acknowledging the etymology of archives (arkheion), their entrustment to archons (e.g., human and non-human agents), and the role of archons in storing and commanding the law (see “Archive Fever” 9), settler archives name and situate the arrival and settlement of settler storehouses. Such directly correspond with the discovery of the Americas, the development, emplacement, and dissemination of a structural pattern of power (coloniality), and the emergence of a modern/colonial world system; storehouses that both store/record settler projects (legitimizing accomplishments and ownership of land/property) and produce colonial difference. The Harlingen box, I argue, exists within a constellation of settler archives encamped and guarded across the U.S.
In recent years, rhetoricians and compositionists have considered the applicability of delinking beyond its theoretical baseline. I submit this essay as an example of that possibility. While the structure of the archive, which is spectral (“Archive Fever” 54), interests me, I am equally interested in how settler archives illustrate an awareness by settlers of the role literacy and rhetorical work can play in enforcing viewpoints. Literacy and rhetorical work can take and make place in the image, narrative, and rhetoric of settlers. This is where my contribution is, within a plethora of Texas-based scholarship on settler discourse (“The Indian” and “The Mexican” problem) and the colonization of Texas — de-linking settler archives’ literacy and rhetorical work. Settler archives are most appropriate for a decolonial praxis project. We can begin to triangulate (and works towards decolonizing) the remaking of a colonized world vis-à-vis an attentiveness to different permutations of settler archives. And in the process of carefully reckoning with settler archives, of being forced to come to terms with how we inherit death spaces and reside in wound(ed/ing) cities and institutions of higher education, my hope is we can all learn how to address ourselves to hauntings, a possible stepping-stone towards decolonization and pluriversality.
Ambitious Pioneers: Men of Vision and Integrity
A Great Movement South
In Texas settler discourse (epistemic murk), there are wild landscapes, savages, and primitives proposed to be overcomed. Harlingen, in particular, was a “floundering community buried in mud,” a barren wasteland that was rough, raw, and undeveloped (“Harlingen: The City that Citrus Built”). Yet, settlers possessed a unique vision and sense of direction to overcome. They saw a promised land, a rich fertile, potentially productive, and empty Valley. Some, squatted on, bought, and/or stole the land, but settler citizens of Harlingen celebrated the fact that their land was both “settled on free land with no Spanish background” (while contracted for, the land was originally part of a 1781 Spanish land Grant El Agostadero del Espiritu Santo) and “built on men of integrity,” who’d leave “their records for posterity to read” (“50 Years of Progress,” emphasis mine). A settler vision and sense of direction marked the beginning of a great movement South, and thus, the colonization operation of bringing about “civilization from the wilderness” commenced (n.p.).
We Invite You, “Builders With Vision and Confidence,” to Come
In Harlingen (Lon C. Hill Improvement Company), as well as in Sharyland (The Southwestern Land Company) and Progresso (The Progresso Development Company), fliers, pamphlets, and booklets were published by settler companies, inviting other settler citizens to invest in the land and “to keep capital on the move” (“The Missionite”). I refer to some of these as settler advertisements.
Settlers compared the discovery of the LRGV to the discovery of a new country. So, all accomplishments were documented in that vein, for posterity to read. Such documentation and celebration is essential for solidifying the permanency of the settler in the present and future. One booklet, for example, advertises the settler vision, conversion of the LRGV, and their modern accomplishments as follows:
Down at the very ‘Tip of Texas’ is a section known as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which has had a more remarkable growth and development in the last score of years than any section of similar size in the world. From a cactus covered desert it has has been converted into an evergreen garden…and most progressive communities of its size in the country…This booklet is not intended as a…record of its achievements…only as an interesting story of modern day development…a promise of a most brilliant future (“The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas”).
Settlers saw themselves as humble people, so they tended to express their intentions. They were not interested in recording achievements, but rather, in narrativizing development and a march towards modernity. Other similar settler documents were put into circulation, all of which advanced a settler image, narrative, and rhetoric. Each functioned as invitations to specific men though — “different from the kind usually found in new countries” — specifically, they were aimed at settler citizens (different from the other inhabiting bodies): “Sons of valorous men,” who inherited the “deeds” of their fathers and who were encouraged to emulate their ancestors, to “Heed the call of the Treasure Land” (“The Treasure Land of the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” emphasis mine; see Appendix C). Settler citizens, sons of valorous men, answered this call, penetrating what seemed to be at the time impenetrable wilderness.
Harlingen would be founded on April 15, 1910 by Leonidas Carrington Hill (Lon C. Hill), a man deemed to be a settler of moral conviction, known to others as “The Developer” and “The Land Man.” Hill was born in Travis County, Texas in 1862, managed a plantation east of Austin as he grew older, and eventually became a lawyer and established a firm in Beeville, Texas. By 1898, due in part to his interest in farming, he had already visited Brownsville, Texas, and thus, by the early 1900s, settled in Brownsville and eventually purchased the land that would become Harlingen (1903). Hill, in many settler documents, is described as a pioneer who came, saw, and stayed in a land known then as the “Wild Horse Desert,” a great “man of dreams,” “man of action” (a one-man colonization entity), and an empire builder, eager to “get his hands on all the land that he could” (“Six Shooter Junction”). He, as one settler document puts it, “saw beneath the tangle of brush and cactus” (“Harlingen in 1910”).
The LRGV was considered the last frontier. Settlers saw it as a “wild region” that needed to be conquered (“Harlingen: The City”). Civilization was on the march, and Hill would be that man of action, “directing traffic” (“Man of Action–Man of Dreams”). In 1950, Caroline Feild (“Story of Lon Hill is Story of Early Valley Growth: Pioneer Visioned Lush Area”) recognized Hill as a man with a sense of vision, he who first “realized the wonderful opportunity for changing an extensive wasteland, covered with mesquite and cactus, into a veritable garden spot” (n.p.; emphasis mine). Hill’s story, Feild notes, is “not the typical story of an empire builder” (n.p.; emphasis mine). The story captures it perfectly, Hill was an empire builder.
In the same year, The Valley Morning Star published, “Lon Hill, Sr., Had Vision to Found Empire in Valley,” describing Hill as a settler, who “came of pioneer stock,” as well as an unofficial member of the state and federal agents, often assisting soldiers and the Texas Rangers in pursuing “bandits” (n.p.). Offering one more description, Jack Rutledge describes Hill as a pioneer who came to the Valley when it was “still lawless, uncivilized, undeveloped,” whose dreams of transforming a wasteland into a city was realized when he purchased and owned more than 100,000 acres of land (“Good Morning”). Harlingen, settlers argue, was the culmination of Hill’s vision — he came, saw, and conquered.
Hill had similar sentiments about himself and his fellow settlers citizens: they were men of vision, integrity, faith, and guts. In, “Our Lower Rio Grande Valley,” appearing in The Sand Dollar, he describes for readers the LRGV as he arrived: few streets, no railroads, no water systems, and only a few settlements along the Rio Grande river. (It is important to note the Karankawas resided here and that seven land grants were issued dating back to the 1700s: San Martin, Santa Isabel, Potrero Del Espiritu Santo, San Pedro de Caricitos, Concepcion de Carricitos, Ojo de Agua Sub, and La Feria. Ranching communities were prominent too in and around Cameron County in this time). Harlingen was a wild landscape, one however, that if cleared could be the epicenter of progress. Hill speaks to this in his essay:
The Valley’s land development began with a comparatively few larger operators, who foresaw the Valley’s great possibilities and believed in its future. They purchased large tracts of land, which were sold in smaller tracts to various developers for improvement and colonization. Land was cleared, roads and canals built, townsites established. More people came to buy farms, plant orchards. Some prospered, some failed, but the growth continued (emphasis mine).
The LRGV is often described as a realization of “yesterday’s vision,” the vision of pioneers who “recreated the wasteland into a land of plenty” (“Prosperity”). Hill, similarly, describes Harlingen and the LRGV as a “man-made miracle” created by “men of vision” who saw the fertility of the land. (It is important to note that vision connotes those who can colonize and see the productiveness or fertility of the land). In the “Proclamation” for Harlingen, Hill indeed is celebrated for these accomplishments, for seeing “under the tangle of brush and cactus” and developing the land into a productive and “lush semi-tropical paradise” (n.p.). As Hill would put, he and his settler friends had the “guts” to transform the Valley, which remains a “product of vision, self-reliance, and hard work” (n.p.).
Early on, Hill established a strong relationship with the Texas Rangers (Company A), who moved station posts to help protect the newly acquired land. This was per the request of Hill. He is quoted saying to the Rangers: “You boys just clean out the [lawless element], make it a safe place to bring people to, and leave the brush, cactus, and water to me” (“Six Shooter Junction”). (Lawless element is a significant viewpoint, particularly in the context of the other). And the Rangers and settlers did just that vis-à-vis violence (broadly conceived of here), and violence not just aimed towards “bandits,” but towards anyone that got in the way of managing and controlling land and resources. This relationship with the Rangers paved the way for another of Hill’s visions. With the help of Uriah Lott, Richard King (of the King Ranch), Mifflin Kennedy, and Benjamin Franklin Yoakum, construction of the St. L. B. & M Railroad began. The citizens of Harlingen celebrated this accomplishment, as well as the alleviation of the lawless element.
Hill overcame the wilderness and the lawless element. And his success in the LRGV and Harlingen is duly recorded. The citizens of the LRGV, conceivably other settlers, celebrated him. One example of this is a 1925 pamphlet (“Harlingen Gateway to the Valley ‘Wants You’”), a settler advertisement written by settler citizens of Harlingen. The pamphlet identifies modern-day Harlingen as a “spot on a railroad map” (again, absent of inhabiting bodies), one that had grown into a “modern city” in the “center of the richest, most productive, and most thickly populated agricultural regions in the United States” (n.p.). It had overcome its “pioneering” and “experimental” stages. Harlingen was now thoroughly awake and “the world’s most fertile region” (n.p.). Progress, the pamphlet argues, is the story of Harlingen. It was written to point the way to the future and the future was/is the settler (n.p.).
Settlers were humble people. They, once more, were not interested in recording achievements, only in narrativizing development. And so, it can be read in the pamphlet above that the goal is not to “dwell upon its [the settlers] achievements,” but rather “to point the way to the future” (n.p.). Its citizens and their pamphlet do indeed, however, celebrate a “record of progress” (n.p.). Citizens were proud insofar that their investment into “capital” and capitalistic markets (commodification of cotton, sugar cane, citrus, and gin) turned into “prompt and profitable returns” (“View of Jackson Avenue”). By 1925, Harlingen was considered a rich and productive agriculture region that continued to experience growth and prosperity as the “world’s garden spot” and “Heart of the Valley” (“Harlingen’s Location”). It was an empire in the building. Hill, and other settlers, were responsible for its development.
The 1925 pamphlet (Image 3) concludes with a selling point towards other settler citizens: “Harlingen Gateway to the Valley ‘Wants You” (n.p.). To be certain, once more, settler citizens didn’t just want anyone. Settler citizens of Harlingen wanted other “men of vision,” a palimpsest of identity to be sure (ego conquiros, empire builders), to come to the “pivot city around which the tremendous development of the past decade…has amazed a nation (“Harlingen: The City that Citrus Built”). They wanted settlers citizens who could continue the tradition of colonizing and managing and controlling land, resources, and people. These citizens, recall, were and are the sons of valorous men. Settler citizens, ultimately, were interested in the permanency of their image, for posterity to read, and literacy and rhetorical work offered such assurances.
Amending vis-à-vis Delinking
The goal, as I spoke of from the onset of this essay, is to peel back the layers of settler discourse (epistemic murk), to reveal a complicity between a logic of coloniality and rhetoric of modernity, and to short-circuit this grid (coloniality and modernity/rationality) by amendment. I want to amend the storehouse of and site of production for erasure, death, terror, trauma, and settler invention practices. In the thick of both hegemonic representations of peaceful settlers marching towards modernity and settler visions producing empty landscapes and/or uncivilized people and land (e.g. literacy and rhetorical work that takes and makes place), thus, I bring forth from the shadows of coloniality humanity left in the palimpsest of settler subjectivity, whiteness, and settler intimacies manifesting today in and as counter memories and counter narratives (e.g., borderland literature and corridos).
Before Hill’s arrival, we know that over the six entradas (encroachments) and political orders of the colonization of Texas (Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America), indigenous peoples (Nazan, Pintas, Harices, Comecrudas, Tejones, Toreguanos, Pajaritos, Paisano, Cueros, Crudas), Spanish ranchers, and Mexican communities were present. The land was not empty. Historical records, such as the U.S. Census of Texas (1850), for example, indicate over 200 Mexican and Texas Mexican American families owned land in the LRGV (see Cardenas n.p.). However, these communities are unimportant, especially within a narrative that operates in terms of sequence and jussive statements. I am reminded of this when I read “Colonizing the Valley,” where Don Veach describes “Indian tribes” as not important to the story of the LRGV (n.p.), or, when I read “Land of Hearts Delight,” which emphasizes how “The Indian” has gone:
It [Texas] was named in the days of long ago, by the Indians…Today the Indians are gone but it still has its sunny skies, soft south winds, fertile soils and pure sweet water (n.p.; emphasis mine).
Veach argued “The Indian” was not important because they had “no intention of ‘owning’ any property (“Colonizing the Valley”). “The Mexican” was unimportant, too. Civilization, or in the terms of one document, the “coming to life” of the LRGV, did not begin until the Mexican population diminished and the settler population rose (“Harlingen: The City that Citrus Built”). Make no mistake about it, the idea that settlers entered the “sole remnant of the rough, raw, and undeveloped Texas,” empty of people, is a myth — people were present (n.p.). (I am reminded of another settler like Hill, Chas F.C. Ladd, who in “A Prominent Factor” is described as having “keen insight” both for the “feasibility of colonization” and the development of “barren wastes”). Non-settler citizens must vanish so that empire-building can be thought of as a peaceful and philanthropic venture.
It is a matter of historical fact that settlers took land forcefully, called into question Spanish land grants, and/or used the legal system to take over land. Before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, there was hostility in the LRGV. The land was not empty or desolate. I turn to Caballero, written by Jovita Gonzalez (and Eve Raleigh), to complicate this myth and the mythology of settlers. A proclaimed “historical novel,” it is set in the LRGV during the years 1846-1848 against the backdrop of the Texas Revolution (1835), the emergence of the Republic of Texas (1836), and the annexation of Texas into the U.S. (1845). It depicts presence, as well as the encroachment of the U.S. upon the modern-day LRGV. Caballero complicates a peaceful settler narrative and description of desolate lands. In the account, the “blue-eyed strangers” (4) is an assemblage of settlers, Texas Rangers, and Americanos who have killed and who hate Mexicans (17; 260), have taken land and demarcated boundaries (22), view “The Mexican” as savages, barbaric, and greasers (78), and whom have set up military camps for Zachary Taylor’s war against Mexicans (120). They are who remind the conquered, “Mexicans are a conquered race,” and who also suggest to them, “adjustments will have to be made to make you a part of the new Texas” (180). With Caballero, we also learn about the transfer of land to the U.S., the demarcation of the Rio Grande river as the border between Mexico and the U.S., and the emergence of Texas Mexican Americans as a result of the treaty.
Violence was commonplace. Yet, the Rangers saw and described themselves as a “non-political organization, famed for its efficient non-partisan enforcement of law” (“Sheriff’s Association of Texas Magazine”). The Rangers, as we might recall, were first arranged under the heading of a “common defense” in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin and then carried onward under the identity of a “ranging company” in 1835. They were organized to repel “The Indians” and “The Mexicans.” The argument they did not discriminate — that they were solely interested in law, order, and justice — is preposterous. The LRGV was not an empty landscape. And as settlers arrived, they appropriated land through bloodshed, forced entry onto property, issuance of death threats, and/or or the legal system, with the aid of the Rangers. Many have not forgotten:
1859 para ser preciso…
La tierra se han robado
Más allá del Río Bravo
Gringos contra mexicanos
Leyes y tratados sirven solo
A los Americanos
Corridos are common in the LRGV, a technology of a people who remain on the cusp of invisibility; songs that do memory work by way of remembering triste verdades (sad truths) that affect a people and a place. In the above corrido, “Corrido de Juan Cortina,” the corridista announces a place (“más allá de Río Bravo”), situates the subjects (“Cortina” and “rinches cobardes”), states the problem (“la tierra se han robado”), reveals a haunting (“leyes y tratados sirven solo), and calls forth a politics of memory (“si dicen que soy un bandido por defender mi raza”). Inhabiting bodies vanished/evaporated in the name of modernity, but many keep on remembering, otherwise.
Though not Harlingen related, but definitely LRGV related, there are two pieces regarding the Rangers that hold significance for me in this conversation. The first is a Donna Band Boosters festival brochure (“Texans & Winter Texans International Spring Festival). Paul Martinez, a contributor to the section, “A Look at the Area History,” quotes at length a text that brings forth a darker side of the Ranger’s activities in the LRGV:
Where could the Tejanos turn for protection? The authorities were the sheriffs, judges, and lawyers who coveted our ancestors lands. These terrible injustices, violent situations and excessive crimes committed by vicious Anglo cowboys and bloody Texas Rangers were against the unfortunate Mejicanos who suffered the consequences by having to abandon their own lands and properties.
In the passage above, we learn about “terrible injustices” aimed at Tejanos and the precarious position of Tejanos who could not turn to any form of authority for they were entangled and complicit in the displacement and disenfranchisement of their very community. There is some discussion in the passage too of how Mejicanos were forced to abandon their own lands and properties. The second piece is by Rudolfo Pena of McAllen, Texas, published in The Monitor (McAllen). He is responding to criticism about his description of the Rangers in a previous publication also published by The Monitor. In it, he questions Anglo American justification and superiority, writing:
Superiority in what? In brutality and murder the American way, a la Texas Ranger? In brutality and nuclear and ‘justice’ the Texas way, a la barbarian…if we only had eyes to see, and ears to hear we would contemplate in awe, astounded and bewildered, some of the gruesome and stark panoramas of the darker ages of the past happening all around us…ever since we have had a law enforcement force of butchers and barbarians, like the Texas Rangers, incorporated into our state’s statutes. (“The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas”)
In the passage above, readers are asked to contemplate what justice is and what it means against the backdrop of Rangers as butchers and barbarians. Settlers arrived and settled on preoccupied lands. They formed and continued to acquire the services of the Rangers, who saw themselves as implementing law and order in Texas. But can there be justice, Pena contemplates and asks, if it is at the expense and dispensability of othered bodies? Martinez and Pena both argue no. They force us to acknowledge then how settlers stained the land with the blood of others and how their hands are still stained; then and now, justice only worked and has been in service for a particular type of people — settlers. Before and after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, all was not peaceful. That is a myth, one spoken to at length in George Washington Gomez.
George Washington Gomez, written by Americo Paredes, is set in fictional Jonesville (city in the LRGV) during the early 1900s and against the backdrop of the Americanization movement (1910), the Mexican Revolution (1910), the Tejano Revolt and Plan of San Diego (1915), La Matanza (1915-1919), the Bandit Wars (1915), and the 1919 Joint Committee of the Senate and the House in the Investigation of the Texas State Ranger Force where 19 charges were brought against the Texas Rangers by J.T. Canales. It introduces a different kind of story that disrupts the settler image, narrative, and rhetoric from smoothly trafficking in the normative. In the account, los rinches, or the Texas Rangers, are those who monitor and surveille the land (12), who kill unarmed brown men and children (68; 103), and who tell the non-white community to “go back to your own country” (101). And the settlers, not innocent at all, are those who ensured segregation in schools (116), who invented the “The Mexican” as a “symbol of hatred” (118), and who forever transformed the landscape into a “Gringoland” (25). Paredes’ work affords us a definition of settler colonialism or coloniality before it was named as such, particularly when he writes:
A few English-speaking adventurers moved in…Then came the railroad early in the 20th century, and with it arrived the first real-estate men and the land-and-title companies, and a Chamber of Commerce, of course, which renamed the little town “Jonesville-on the-Grande” and advertised it to suckers from up North as a paradise on earth: California and Florida rolled up into one. Mexicans labored with axe and spade to clear away the brush where the cattle of their ancestors once had roamed. To make room for truck farming and citrus groves. And the settlers poured in from the U.S. heartland, while Mexicans were pushed out of cattle raising into hard manual labor. It was then also that Jonesville-on-the-Grande came to have a Mexican section of town. (36)
The above haunting passage, echoing the rhetoric of Hill earlier, illustrates how settler colonialism is the pursuit of the management and control of land, resources, and people vis-à-vis the appropriation of land (land grabbing, squatting, calling titles into question), the exploitation of resources, and the idea and imposition of race expressed in the racial classification of people and racial distribution of labor. The two images below depict Mexican laborers and ranchers together working the citrus groves. But they stand there neither on equal grounds nor as equal beings. This was a photo op taken for the purposes of advertisement. And the message remained consistent: settlers managed and controlled land, resources, and people, while the other was cheap labor to be managed and controlled.
Mexicans were viewed as “ideal” for manual labor. And so, as the passage above hints at, “The Mexican” was exploited. They were not viewed as human beings, but rather, as objects serving a particular purpose for settlers: re-sowing, re-tilling, and re-harvesting a disease responsible both for their objectivization and exploitation. The latter, for me, is evidenced further in “The American Rio Grande Land and Irrigation Company” (1923), in which “Mexican” men are described as “cheap and dependable labor” whose hands are “ideal” (n.p.). Today, this viewpoint persists and is enforced by the settler; today, settler colonialism affects the “The Mexican” across all domains: economic, political, civic, and epistemic. History is the burden all Mexican and Mexican Americans must bear in the U.S. as they remain forced to reside in a nation’s imaginary space of death (GWG 31; 149).
The viewpoint, of the nature of “The Mexican,” is an extension of the management and control of people. An extension of that project was the creation of “Mexican Schools” and the pedagogical practice of stamping out “The Mexican” identity. And in this context, I cannot help but observe how Hill emulated Stephen F. Austin sentiments. In an 1835 letter to his cousin Mary Austin Holley, Austin informs her of the situation in Texas and makes several arguments: (1) Texas should be fully Americanized and “settled by a population that will harmonize with their neighbors on the East, in [language], political principles, [common origin], sympathy, and even interest,” (2) The “cause and philanthropy and liberty” will be “promoted by Americanizing Texas,” and (3) The “Mexican” people are a “strange people” and “must be studied to be managed” (n.p.). Hill carried out the projects listed above. In addition, he created the first school for white children in Harlingen. Recognizing “The Mexican” would not leave, settler citizens created Mexican ward schools. This allowed for a strange people to be segregated and managed.
What is a ward? In this context, of segregation between American and perceived non-American children, as a noun a ward is defined as a separate room/space allocated to a particular type of individual. A ward admits an other, protects an other from itself and from harming society. As a verb, ward means to “guard” or to “protect” in the name of something or someone. Ward effectively, thus, locates a place for “The Mexican,” reflecting both the capacity to “study,” surveille, and “manage” a people; a place to administer the work of a modern(/colonial) nation-state. We know as a matter of historical fact that as the brown population entered institutions of education, segregation and pedagogy were means to disciplining the brown(ed) body. All this, once more, is justified in the name of modernity.
Segregation was deemed unconstitutional thanks in part to efforts by organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). But as white and non-white students began attending schools together, other measures were implemented, rationalized along the lines of language acquisition and ideal employment for “The Mexican” (“Mexican tracks”). When this was not enough, Mexican and Mexican American students were disciplined. Borderlands/La Frontera, written by Gloria Anzaldúa, provides a brief glimpse into such disciplining and linguistic terrorism. It is set in the LRGV and against the backdrop of the history of the landscape (six phases of colonization) and the creation of a borderland. In the account, it was the settler who created a border culture, “una herida abierta” (25), who carried out Anglo terrorism in the name of white superiority (29), and who spoke of white rationality in the study and management and control (humanitas) of othered bodies (anthropoi) such as “The Mexican” (58). According to Anzaldúa, the settler is responsible for creating dichotomies that eventually would be expressed in and by pedagogical praxis:
I remember being caught speaking Spanish at recess—that was good for three licks on the knuckles with a sharp ruler. I remember being sent to the corner of the classroom for talking back to the Anglo teacher when all I was trying to do was tell her how to pronounce my name. If you want to be American, speak American. If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong. (75)
The above passage offers a lesson in the operationality of cultural logics that function under the heading of linguistic terrorism. The first depiction observed is Anzaldúa being disciplined for speaking Spanish. This is followed by a classroom scene where she is disciplined in a different way. The following are the cultural logics in play: (1) Anglo teacher : American, (2) American identity : American language, (3) brown body : Mexico (birth of origins), and (4) Spanish language : Mexican. Anzaldúa is viewed as transgressive, and thus disciplined for correcting the pronunciation of her name. This act alone led the Anglo teacher to announce, “If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong” (75). What Borderlands/La Frontera teaches us is that historically schools have attempted to stamp out the identity and language of and/or discipline brown(ed) students.
The above borderland literature and corridos are examples of a particular community practice I speak from. I want to conclude this section on a final claim, which informs partially why I write today from this practice: settlers are interested in the permanency of their image, invoking a rhetoric of modernity to cloak the darker side of settlement and modernity. In a 1935 publication by The Valley Morning Star, Hill’s settler spirit is celebrated, and his image is used as a marker for progress. The publication propagates the settler image the same way K. Hank Harvey (George Washington Gomez) did when he encouraged graduating seniors to not forget the names of settlers and the Alamo (274). It is written:
If the question is asked, why is America great, why has it progressed more rapidly than any other nation in the world’s history, the answer must be: because of the Lon Hills. And if America fails it will be because the spirit of the Lon Hills has died out. (“Man of Action–Man of Dreams”)
But when I think of progress, I also think of violence. I think of the fear instilled in those not considered settler citizens. In 1921, the Ku Klux Klan walked the streets of Harlingen, in the range of 200, during a “civic occasion” the citizens called “white way” (“San Benito Light”). Spectators or onlookers are noted expressing “their complete satisfaction” with the Klan. I am reminded of a haunting passage by Ashraf Rushdy, thus, who in his discussion of lynching’s implicates the spectator:
The spectators, in other words, are not just guilty of looking but also of feeling, smelling, touching, and creating a sound for the full spectacle. And that very spectacle…is a ceremony…It is a complete process in which all are involved…all guilty of participating… (57)
A lynching did not take place in Harlingen that day, but a spectacle did, with spectators “applauding the slogans carried,” which included signages that read “White Supremacy” and “100 Percent Americanism” (“San Benito Light”). As it is noted, no “protest or opposition” took place against Harlingen Klan No. 85, I cannot help but think that perhaps this was so because there was some agreement with their proclamation: “We believe in 100 percent Americanism…the unquestioned and unqualified supremacy of the White Race…We were here yesterday; here today, here tomorrow; here forever” (n.p.). A lynching did not take place, but a sound was reverberated, then and today.
Settler archives, such as the Harlingen box, function as technological sites of memory work, as “inventional sites,” Charles Morris would argue, “of rhetorical pasts” that contain rhetorical power (113; 115). Settler archives are forms of literacy and rhetorical work that take and make place in the image, narrative, and rhetoric of the settler. They are rhetorically performative in that way. But what I hope has become clear is that there is an ongoing effort to remember differently and to story a darker side of settlement and modernity. It is on that note that I offer one more corrido, to “return the dead to the living and to the politics of the present” (Limón 73).
Los rinches que son cobardes
En los pueblitos del norte
Siempre ha corrido la sangre…
Desde aquí se les recuerda
Cantándoles sus corridos
Murieron por que eran hombres
No porque fueran bandidos.
In the above corrido, “Pistoleros Famosos,” the corridista announces a place (“Por las márgenes del Río), situates the subjects, (“pistoleros” and “rinches”), states the problem (“En los pueblitos del Norte…siempre ha corrido la sangre”), reveals a haunting (“Los Rinches que son cobardes”), and calls forth a politics of memory (“Murieron porque eran hombres…no porque fueran bandidos”) (n.p.). Settler narrativize bandidos as killers and threats. But “bandidos,” fought against settler colonialism, like others who took on this fight in different forms: El Primer Congreso Mexicanista (1911), Harlingen Convention (1927), and LULAC (1929). They fought back against laws and treaties that served one type of people — settlers. And “bandidos” died because they were human in a world that conceived of them as non-human and/or half-dead.
The LRGV — A Death Space and a Wound(ed/ing) Place
The U.S. continues to slowly recognize its racist past. Yet, in its desire to claim a past as the past, to heal an open wound (una herida abierta), predictably in the name of modernity, there is a failure to grapple with how the past (death spaces; colonial legacies) shaped the present (coloniality of power, knowledge, and being) and how the future will reflect the past and present (the maintenance of spaces of death, geographically and imaginatively). I’d like to return, for a moment, to community listening and another memory. Grandma and I, as I have spoken about in other publication spaces, use to walk the neighborhoods; this was her time to story to me, to teach me how to listen and to be-with others, otherwise. One memory comes to mind. We are visiting the old neighborhood and she asks me to see (rather than look) and listen (rather than merely hear) to the absence and silence before me. I was reaffirmed in the moment, once more, of the importance of seeking out the traces left behind. As was customary of her, she’d conclude our walk by saying to me, te digo esto para que sepas y aprendas. As I seek out the traces left behind in settler stories, I see and listen to settler archives, borders, and checkpoints in ways to know and to learn.
I turn to community listening because in the difficult process of carefully reckoning with how my brown(ed) body, past to present, is monitored, surveilled, and interpreted, community is essential. In the early 1900s, Robert Kleberg once proposed that every person should be required to “give an account of his comings and goings,” and that those found to be suspicious should be gathered in “concentration camps along the river from Rio Grande City” (qtd. in Johnson 123). Today, there are internal checkpoints that run parallel to the northern outskirts of the LRGV and brown(ed) individuals are asked beyond the normal question (U.S. citizen?) a set of accusatory questions: ¿De dónde eres…a dónde vas…y tus papeles? Denizens of the LRGV are recursively contained, monitored, surveilled, interpreted, and checked — they live in a border(ed)land, a geography of exclusion (Peters 666).
The border(ed)land depicted in the image above throws and forces the racialized and minoritized denizens of the LRGV into fixed categories (otros; out of place), a palimpsest of segregation (Mexican Colony’s : Mexican Schools : Mexican Labor Markets : “The Mexican” Zone). We must think of this border(ed)land, a permanent fixture in a modern nation-state (of settler and modern/colonial technologies), as a topography of power — a historical, and yet, a space-time specific project that perpetually rewrites the geography and inhabiting bodies in colonial ways. Today, camps can be found across the LRGV, separating families and caging humanity, a haunting reminder of how the present reflects the past. These are the invisible histories (for society writ large) largely visible and embodied in the everyday lives of the racialized and minoritized denizens of the LRGV.
In Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, Stephen Toulmin makes an argument for a humanizing view of modernity that departs from a standard account of a philosophical problem: abstract universals. Writing, “we can neither cling to Modernity in its historic form, nor reject it totally—least of all despite it,” and arguing that the task instead is “to reform, and even reclaim, our inherited modernity, by humanizing it” (185), Toulmin sets out to restore the humanist half of modernity. Toulmin’s frame of thinking, however, is already constituted by and restricted to a particular discourse. In his departure from the legacy marked by ego cogito, ego conquiro is overlooked. This oversight is significant, Nelson Maldonado-Torres would argue, because an imperial attitude gave definition to a modern imperial man:
The imperial attitude promotes a fundamentally genocidal attitude in respect to colonized and racialized people. Through it colonial and racial subjects are marked as dispensable (246)…He (Descartes) could imagine an evil demon who deceives people about their apparent certainties, but could not observe an ego conquiro at work in the consciousness of the European and how it made everyone take for granted the inhumanity of colonized peoples. (252)
I am not against modernity per se, only against imperial modernity that has and continues to support the mutation and dissemination of settler and modern/colonial technologies responsible for establishing a particular way of relating to people: being/human/humanitas | non-being/less human/anthropoi/half dead; responsible for justifying both the violence towards and the dispensability of othered bodies. The point Maldonado-Torres is making above, the one I have been echoing throughout, is that because imperial attitude was already festering within ego conquiro, and because ego conquiro was responsible for establishing a distinction between those who think/those who are and those who do not think/those who are not, there can be no attempt, then and now, to restore the humanist side of modernity in the context of settlers and conquest. Thus, we must continue to amend.
In concluding, I’d like to echo Michel de Certeau: settler archives, like historiography, “has become our myth” (45). His work is compelling to me here, particularly as he speaks about the practice of marking a past both “to make a place for the dead” and to establish “a place for the living” (100). Derrida comes to mind too, though, who would remind us that “the dead can often be more powerful than the living” (60; emphasis mine). How? Well, the West cannot avoid the secret movement, the surreptitious return, of what it effaces nor the form this movement and return takes in the living bodies of the racialized and minoritized who today can haunt back (see Certeau 96-97). Reverberating in the words of Cherokee scholar and poet Qwo-Li Driskill: here I am, present, a brown(ed) body emerging from the shadows of coloniality, in and with the traces of humanity left in the palimpsest of settler subjectivity, whiteness, and settler intimacies looking, thinking, writing, and haunting back. Perhaps the greatest significance of a decolonial praxis project is the opportunity to look back as the perceived object. Perhaps the greatest amendment I can offer here above all then is to be present, to say, We Are Here, Elsewhere and Otherwise!
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. In our discipline rhetoric matters because it “demands engagement with the living” (Eberly 296). Rhetoric matters in my community because it demands an exchange amongst the living and non-living.
. The term settler archives is informed by a process of settler arrival into and settlement of preoccupied lands, as well as Patrick Wolfe’s definition of settler colonialism: “settler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event (388).
. Victor Villanueva and Malea Powell speak to being thrown into colonial legacies and being forced to learn how to address oneself to hauntings (and ghosts). Pondering Villanueva’s question — “What does one do when one becomes fully conscious of the alienation…of knowing something ain’t right…” (84) —the only recourse of the archivist and composer of histories, haunted by imperial archives, would be to look back, as the “objectified…making knowledge about the process that led to…objectification” (Powell 117, emphasis mine).
. See Sharon Holland (4).
. In this context, Nelson Maldonado-Torres reintroduces the damné and writes, “The damné exists in the mode of not-being there, which hints at the nearness of death, at the company of death” (257; emphasis mine).
. See Anibal Quijano “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality” for how a macro-historical subject is endowed with a historical rationality and sense of direction (176).
. See Enrique Dussel for insight into how the colonizer assumed a managerial position (11).
. See Ann Stoler for a conversation on the colonial order of things vis-à-vis archival productions (87) and Ellen Cushman for more insight on the ways in which archives reaffirm the law of the present and the dead (120). Both speak, to an extent, on how archives give a nation-state temporal and teleological grounding.
 . Coloniality and a modern/colonial world system, it is important to note, are not synonyms, but part of the same historical complex. In “Delinking,” Mignolo differentiates: modern/colonial is a statement that coloniality is constitutive of modernity (464), while “The ‘colonial matrix of power’ is the specification of what the term ‘colonial world’ means both in its logical structure and its historical transformation” (477).
. “The coexistence of diverse ways of producing and transmitting knowledge is eliminated because now all forms of human knowledge are ordered on an epistemological scale…By way of this strategy, scientific thought positions itself as the only valid form of producing knowledge, and Europe acquires an epistemological hegemony over all cultures of the world” (Castro-Gomez 433).
. See Appendix A.
. His family migrated from Tennessee to Texas in 1854 with a “large number of slaves” (“Lon Hill Sr., Had Vision to Found Empire in Valley”).
. “Cameron Once Called.”
. “Story of Lon Hill”.
. The task of Company A (Texas Rangers) was to “take up the job of making the ‘Valley’ a safe place in which to live and rear families” (n.p.).
. Another similar settler document notes: “No section of the United States is undergoing more solid development than the Lower Rio Grande Valley” (“The Missionite”).
. As one settler document puts it, “The development of the Lower Rio Grande Valley is perhaps unparalleled in the history of the nation” (“Sharyland As a Place to Live”).
. Scholars such as Margo Tamez have brought to light the ways in which settler colonialism impacts indigenous communities in Texas. Herein out I predominantly offer a discussion that focuses on “The Mexican” problem. This is reflective of my area of research. It is the limitation of this essay.
. In “Cam’n History,” a genealogy of the creation of Cameron County, which includes modern-day Harlingen, is provided. In all the expeditions of the lands–Alonso Alvarez’ (1520), Nuno de Guzman (1528), Jose de Escandon (1747)–each was met by an encounter with indigenous and Mexican people. In “Sharyland As a Place to Live,” it is noted, “a few thousand people, mostly Mexicans,” lived in the LRGV in and around 1921, however, they perhaps were overlooked because they lived in “clusters’ of “jacals” (n.p.). The land was not empty. Historical records, such as the U.S. Census of Texas (1850), suggest that over 200 Mexican and Texas Mexican American families owned land in the LRGV (see Cardenas n.p.).
. A similar rhetoric can be found with John Shary, who also writes about his colonization projects: “During my extensive colonization career I have converted approximately a quarter million acres of wild land…” (“To Prospective Investors”; also see Appendix C).
. I reminded of a haunting passage that directly connects: “the colonial mother protects her child from itself, from its ego, from its physiology, its biology, and its own unhappiness, which is its very essence” (Fanon 37).
. The other is the anthropoi, while those who possess and produce knowledge are the humanitas (Osamu 260; 269).
. Dussel writes, “Modernity elaborated a myth of its own goodness, rationalized its violence as civilizing, and finally declared itself innocent of the assassination of the Other” (50). Pointing to how the myth of modernity “declares the Other the culpable” (64), he argues, “The myth [of modernity] propagates a sacrificial paradigm which calls for the sacrifice of the victim of violence for human progress (66-67).
. “The archival project was not created for Indians. It was created to consolidate knowledge about Indians. And yet, here I am, an Indian in the archive” (qtd. in Powell 117).
About the Author:
Romeo García is Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies at the University of Utah. He teaches and publishes in the areas of decolonial studies, composition studies, and writing center studies. García is co-editor (with Damián Baca) of Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise (SWR). He has also published in the Community Literacy Journal, Reflections, and The Writing Center Journal.
I would like to thank my reading group at the University of Utah (Christie Toth, Jon Stone, and LuMing Mao), the University of Louisville graduate students enrolled in “Key Issues in Rhetoric and Writing Studies,” Gesa Kirsch and Steve Parks, the folks in the Special Collections and Archives at UTRGV (Shannon Pensa and Adela Cadena), the anonymous reviewers, and both constellations managing editor Candace Epps-Robertson and editor-in-chief Alexandra Hidalgo for engaging with and supporting my work, providing critical and generative feedback.
Copyeditor: Sophie Schmidt
Editorial Assistant(s): Lauren Brentnell, Catheryn Jennings
Reviewer(s): José Cortez, Sonia Arellano