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Title:Haunted narratives: shadows of the southeastern Caste Wars in Mexican literature, 1841-1958
Author(s):West, Sarah Melinda
Director of Research:Beckman, Ericka
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Beckman, Ericka
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Goldman, Dara; Ledesma, Eduardo; Fallaw, Ben
Department / Program:Spanish and Portuguese
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Yucatán Caste Wars
Abstract:During the nineteenth century, the Mexican southeastern territories experienced a series of indigenous uprisings that targeted creole (white) landowners. These rebellions marked an unprecedented challenge of creole authority, exposing the precarious nature of their position as the ruling class. In fact, the creoles would lose complete control of their territory in the 1840s, resulting in a violent period of rebellion that would span over half a century. It was only in 1902 that the Mexican army would occupy the Southeastern territories to finally end the insurgency, but not before the war had emptied the region of over half its inhabitants, costing the peninsula some 300,000 lives. This rebellion, known as the Caste Wars, marked a sudden and violent disruption of social and racial hierarchies that had long organized life in the Yucatan peninsula. Creoles across the peninsula began attempts to explain the once impossible notion of indigenous hegemony, focusing on the racial component of its rebels while blaming the region’s violent colonial experience. They described the Caste War as a “war against civilization,” and as a demonstration of the Indio’s disdain toward new political systems dictating the political inclusion of indigenous groups. These letrados also condemned the Spanish conquistadores, emphasizing the extreme violence of the colonization period as the historical precursor and motivator of the uprising. Thanks to this legacy, the “barbaric sons of the colonized” waged a vengeful attack against “the sons of the colonizers” in a moment of creole political weakness. My dissertation, Haunted Narratives: Shadows of the Southeastern Caste Wars, 1840-1958, confronts the nineteenth-century racial exegesis of the Caste War, demonstrating how this rhetoric serves to de-emphasize the liberal land reforms and mass expropriation that motivated this uprising. In it, I demonstrate the double role of literature as both a way to access creole fantasy and as a window into the way racial discourses are defined and redefined in tandem with dominant social and economic factors. By tracing the Caste War’s imprint from within a select corpus of Mexican novels, essays, and newspapers from the period between the dawning of the Caste Wars of Yucatán and the Mexican Revolution, I elucidate the submerged unconscious on the discourses of race in Mexico as creoles work through their fantasies, fears, and delusions surrounding the indigenous rebel. In spite of the attention that scholars of history have given to this region over the past few decades, this is the first study that attempts to map out creole responses to indigenous rebellion. Haunted Narratives also focuses on the literature and historical register of the Guerra de Castas that occurred in the highlands of Chiapas between 1868 and 1870. This war, as in Yucatán, was a war defined by race as the Chamula and other Tzotzil communities purportedly schemed the violent extermination of all white Ladinos. These rebels are said to have created their own religion using a collection of rocks and clay idols that fell from the sky as their speaking gods. When their leaders were captured, they attacked the Ladino city Ciudad Real, initiating the violence; to augment their power, they crucified their own Indian Christ, a small boy from Chamula. While present in this dissertation, more time is dedicated to Yucatán’s version of Caste War because of the differences in duration and intensity. Ultimately, this dissertation emphasizes the role of literature in revealing the ideological formations of the ruling classes while simultaneously demonstrating the susceptibility and resiliency of power in (neo)colonial contexts. Furthermore, it elucidates the relationship between race, political economy, and land in the nineteenth and twentieth century and the role literature plays within these concepts. Because the Yucatán peninsula has long been earmarked as peripheral, especially in terms of its participation in the global economy, the focus on histories of dispossession and mapping those histories on liberal land reform and the expropriation of land proves valuable in fleshing out the paradox that regions marked as isolated actually prove closest to the world market.
Issue Date:2017-02-08
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Sarah Melinda West
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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