The Places of Modernity in Early Mexican American Literature, 1848–1948


The Places of Modernity in Early Mexican American Literature, 1848–1948

José F. Aranda Jr.

Postwestern Horizons Series

288 pages


February 2022


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February 2022


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February 2022


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About the Book

2023 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

In The Places of Modernity in Early Mexican American Literature, 1848–1948, José F. Aranda Jr. describes the first one hundred years of Mexican American literature. He argues for the importance of interrogating the concept of modernity in light of what has emerged as a canon of earlier pre-1968 Mexican American literature. In order to understand modernity for diverse communities of Mexican Americans, he contends, one must see it as an apprehension, both symbolic and material, of one settler colonial world order giving way to another more powerful colonialist but imperial vision of North America.

Letters, folklore, print culture, and literary production demonstrate how a new Anglo-American political imaginary revised and realigned centuries-old discourses on race, gender, class, religion, citizenship, power, and sovereignty. The “modern,” Aranda argues, makes itself visible in cultural productions being foisted on a “conquered people,” who were themselves beneficiaries of a notion of the modern that began in 1492. For Mexican Americans, modernity is less about any particular angst over global imperial designs or cultures of capitalism and more about becoming the subordinates of a nation-building project that ushers the United States into the twentieth century.

Author Bio

José F. Aranda Jr. is a professor of Chicanx and American literature at Rice University. He is the author of When We Arrive: A Literary History of Mexican America.


"Aranda provides an important lens through which to wrestle with the competing Spanish/Mexican and Anglo-American settler colonialist ideologies in Mexican American cultural production."—Sandra Dahlberg, Western American Literature

"This volume makes a major contribution to Chicanx studies and therefore to American studies. . . . This book will nurture further studies."—B. Almon, Choice

“José F. Aranda Jr. addresses a much-lamented gap in Chicanx literary criticism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century of American literature by Mexican Americans by providing an authoritative, compelling, and creatively challenging interpretive lens. Aranda helps us understand how these texts speak to one another (or why they don’t), how they fit in the larger scope of American literary history, and what they bring to today’s scholarly conversations about coloniality, modernity, identity, class, place, and geopolitics in Chicanx literature and theory.”—Priscilla Solis Ybarra, author of Writing the Goodlife: Mexican American Literature and the Environment

“José F. Aranda Jr. offers an intervention in the literary critical conversation in Chicanx studies that for several decades has been dismissive (or blithely ignorant) of early Mexican American literary cultures from California to Texas, typically mischaracterizing them as complicit with dominant Anglo-American settler colonial projects. This work tirelessly argues for the importance of understanding the entanglements and intersections of ethnoracial, class, and general social categories and factors.”—Stephen Tatum, coauthor of Morta Las Vegas: CSI and the Problem of the West

Table of Contents

Introduction: Recovering Modernity in Early Mexican American Literature
1. Modernity Deferred: “There Never Was a More Peaceful or Happy People”
2. Californio Settler History: Nostalgia as Patrimony
3. Game of Modernities: Coloniality and Racial Loyalty in the U.S. West
4. Me Llaman Mexicana: Gender and Choice under Coloniality
5. Barrio Modernity: Speaking Pocho, Being Chicana/o

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