Radio Readers BookByte: Where was Mexico?

Aug 23, 2019

Land Transfers Created U S Southwest. The facts illustrated in this map are not always accurately delineated in literature.
Credit www.nationalatlas.gov

Hi, I’m Valerie Mendoza, a relatively new radio reader, here to talk to you about News of the World by Paulette Jiles.

The things that struck me the most about the book were seemingly inconsequential details laced throughout the book about the main character’s back story. For me, these details added to the rich dimensions of the time period and thick flavor of the book.

I’ll point out two.

First, as part of the back story of the main character, Captain Kidd, a former Civil War officer from Georgia, we learn that he is a widower and that he ran a printing press in San Antonio. He lived there with is now-deceased wife who was of Mexican descent. We also learn that his wife’s ancestral lands, purchased from a Spanish mission by her grandfather, was taken away after Anglo American settlers arrived.

It’s so rare to find this story mentioned in novels. When one reads a story set in Texas, it’s as if the state had never been part of Mexico or was never a piece of the Spanish empire. Its history is erased. If Mexicans are present in a novel where the main characters are white, they are stereotypical lazy, poor, and ignorant or worse. In this book we also learn that a white man married a Mexican woman and that he adopted her culture including learning to speak Spanish.

So, the first thing that I noticed was that Mexican characters were part of this story. The second thing was the historically accurate depiction of stolen land.

Captain Kidd describes the land dilemma in a letter to his daughters on pages 84-85. Some of the more complicated aspects read in part, “The Spanish crown said that all titles had to be registered in Mexico City, a journey of two months. . .so it was never registered there and so there are problems with a clear title.” He goes on to describe how the title then fell under Mexican jurisdiction (which he describes as notoriously corrupt) after 1821, then Texan then the US then the Confederacy, and then the US again.

While the land is only briefly mentioned on these pages and in a couple of other pages (where Kidd notes that the land recovery is nearly hopeless), it provides a sense of place, especially San Antonio, and made a major impression on me as a historian and as someone of Mexican descent.

In what ways did this novel speak to you? Go to the radio readers Facebook page—HPPR Radio Readers to let me know.

This is Valerie Mendoza for the Radio Readers Book Club.