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Writing on the Edge: Impressions of a U.S.-Mexico Border in Rolando Hinojosa's Estampas del Valle


This dissertation engages in a critical reading of Rolando Hinojosa's early fiction in Estampas del Valle as an example of a unique border literature that highlights the multiplicity of elements that exist along the Rio Grande. By using the work of an author that has direct experience with life along the U.S.-Mexico border the aim of this study is to look at how the border region and its cultural and spatial manifestations impact on writings concerned with memory, the personal and the self. Authors such as Rolando Hinojosa live within the blessing and terrors of multiplicity; a culture that splinters and fragments into multiple perspectives, identities, voices and discourses. This analysis attempts to locate the place of the border and its people as a vital locus of enunciation in contemporary cultural and literary studies and simultaneously show how Hinojosa forged new ground in this literary publication by creating an idiosyncratic form of fragmentary writing. The unifying elements which render Hinojosa's Estampas del Valle as a novel are a particular historical period, a geographical stage, and the collective characterization of a distinct brand of Mexicans: the gente del Valle de Rio Grande.

This work also examines the way in which this regional border area covering South Texas and Northern Mexico shapes his writing. My focus on Estampas del Valle, is to demonstrate the importance of this work as an individual novel, standing on its own, apart from the Klail City Death Trip Series. Estampas del Valle has been overlooked and overshadowed by the large composition of work that has become the Klail City Death Trip Series for which Hinojosa claims international recognition as a Mexican-American writer. Returning to his early writing we will explore elements of an ingrained multifarious border identity and how his early work is representative of his close ties to Mexico, Mexican literature and other Latin American forms of writing. In this study I will analyze how Hinojosa incorporates Mexican cultural and historical elements covering an array of topics from religious folk tales to the Mexican Revolution along the Rio Grande border. My aim is to provide the reader with the sense that although Hinojosa's identity and writing are dialogic, he does not choose to be Mexican or American, but internally lives his Rio Grande Valley identity. This identity consists of a border culture with close cultural and linguistic ties to northern Mexico.

Hispanic theoreticians and literary critics of the border like Héctor Calderón and José David Saldívar have reconfigured previous conceptualizations of the borderlands by discovering in the fluid hybridity characteristic of border population and culture an archetype with which to interpret America and even the world. Using space as a constant metaphor and agency for his writing, Rolando Hinojosa constructs an original framework for the Mexican American novel within the perspective of American regionalism and within the Mexican norteño space and imaginary. Rolando Hinojosa, who won the Quinto Sol Prize in 1972 was representative of the Quinto Sol writers who often rejected Anglo-American literary models and instead did what writers of Mexican heritage in the Southwest had done traditionally: they turned southward and did their literary apprenticeships in the works of authors such as Rulfo, Borges, and García-Márquez. In "The Evolution of Chicano Literature", Raymond Paredes writes that the new school of Chicano writers not only reaffirmed its cultural ties to the cultures of contemporary Mexico and Latin America but also rediscovered, as Mexican artists had earlier in the century, their aboriginal heritage. Just as literary and cultural critics have raised the issues of multiculturalism and identity politics, these minority writers have embraced the perplexing question of identity - of how group identities contribute to the self an essential quality, a crucial part of self-definition. Rolando Hinojosa tells the history of a community intermingled with his own.

In Estampas del Valle, Rolando Hinojosa confirms that the wall or border is not the impenetrable ring of protection that creates a metaphysics of the pure, but a site of a constant crossing, of conjunction and disjunction. The threshold of unpredictable dynamics, as actual crossings collide with maps as spatial and national demarcations, demarcation becomes, in Hinojosa's work, part of a dialectics, not of confrontation, but of interaction. The crossing of one culture to another, of one language to the other and of one way of living to the next, is only possible if the boundary ceases to be so and behaves more like a permeable membrane in a living organism such as the Rio Grande Valley Border that Hinojosa highlights in this oeuvre. My analysis considers contacts and crossings across the lines and within the lines as crucial sites to investigate and generate identities and the different manners of living and leaving, of rooting and routing. As a site of representation, the Rio Grande Valley is a palimpsest of routes, histories, and images distinctly traced in Hinojosa's novel. Finally, there is the basic principle: that for many Chicanos, the political boundary between the United States and Mexico has no real significance, that it is an impertinence arbitrarily separating people of a common cultural heritage. The point is simply that the Chicano in no sense lives in isolation; culturally and physically, he receives constant reinforcement from Mexico.

In this dissertation I will show how Hinojosa has mastered the vernacular of the people of the lower Rio Grande Valley that his text sounds like a metrical litany of colloquial expressions and local oral traditions. In this respect, it is not significant whether a sketch is rendered as monologue or dialogue. That Hinojosa has a keen and sensitive ear for the cadences of spoken language is illustrated by the fact that the majority of selections are recorded in the first person. But the fact is that even those selections recounted by nameless narrators share this remarkable oral quality. Once more, the importance of this study lies in calling attention to Hinojosa's earliest novel, Estampas del Valley and its contributions to border literature simultaneously breaking away from concepts that generalize border crossings.

Significantly, Hinojosa demonstrates how, border location, specifically the Rio Grande Valley, becomes an intimate feature of identity and thus of the similitude between and among neighboring things; for, as Foucault explains in The Order of Things, "their edges touch, their fringes intermingle, the extremity of the one also denotes the beginning of the other. In this way, movement, influences, passions, and properties too, are communicated. So that in this hinge between two things a resemblance appears" (Foucault, 106). Estampas del Valle, Hinojosa proves, is a prime example of this composite multifaceted resemblance along the border's physical national boundaries. In addition to what has already been mentioned, my dissertation aims to examine the multiple voices and identities of the Rio Grande Valley in Estampas del Valle and their direct relationship to Mexican history, culture and heritage. The author's linguistic and literary techniques function to give this work a social realism in order to attack the political, social and economic problems of the Chicano on the border.

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