Date of Award

5-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Michael Handelsman

Committee Members

Oscar Rivera-Rodas, Luis Cano, Euridice Silva, Jana Morgan Kelly

Abstract

Until recently, Mexican identity at Mexico’s northern border had been viewed as a marginal manifestation of Mexican culture. This characterization resulted from centrist ideologies that were rooted in a homogeneous concept of mexicanness. Furthermore, the belief that the border was a peripheral culture was influenced by the border’s proximity to the United States. Over time, border identity has evolved to one which affirms and defines itself through its diversity. Such a concept has been captured in a view of the Mexican nation that has been increasingly contested from different vantage points which are both convergent and divergent.

This dissertation analyzes the formation of Mexico’s northern border identity from two perspectives: that of writers from Mexico’s northern border and that of writers from Mexico’s presumed center, Mexico City. The works analyzed here by writers from México’s Northern Border consist of Luis Humberto Crosthwaite’s El gran pretender (1994) Victor Espinoza Valle’s Don Crispín (1995) Federico Campbell’s Todo lo de las focas (1990) Ricardo Aguilar- Melantzón’s Que es un soplo la vida (2003) and Norma Elia Cantú’s Canícula (1995). This representative body of narrative works is characterized by an appropriation and resignification of its multiple influences and geographical location.

Unlike the cultural fluidity that characterizes the writers from the northern border; many intellectuals from Mexico City view the nation as a homogenous whole. Yet, this tradition is being challenged in light of the growing influence of the border communities. This change in perception is certainly evident in the writers from Mexico City examined in this dissertation who question the premise of a single center. This new cultural pluralism characterizes in Ignacio Solares’ Columbus (1995) Elena Poniatowska’s Las mil y una (2000) Carlos Monsiváis’ “La frontera y el centro:Encuentro de mitologías” (1998) and Carlos Fuentes La frontera de cristal (1995). The present study examines the extent to which these works challenge the established social and literary institutions. In other words, we argue that they deconstruct the notion of center versus periphery, and in the process, they effectively decenter the traditional notion of a homogenous Mexican nation.

The authors studied here illustrate a public discourse that depicts many of the debates that seek to define Mexico’s cultural identity—a discourse which clearly shows the formation of a contested heterogeneous culture. Clearly, border identities are an ongoing negotiation of their multiple influences. In that regard, the present study seeks to add to the understanding of those processes of transculturation that place emphasis on border identity as a fluid and multiple manifestation of Mexican culture. In addition, this dissertation seeks to contribute to further dialogue about the ways in which process of identity construction and appropriation at Mexico’s Northern Border are re-signifying Mexico’s national imaginary.

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