Sunday, April 25, 2010

Joaquín Murrieta, social bandit

I've written a little bit before about the "corrido" song form for the U.S./Mexico border but in some reading recently I uncovered an interesting argument over the nationality Joaquín Murrieta, a historical figure from Gold Rush era California who ostensibly fought the racism, greed, and violence Anglo prospectors. This figure is lionized here:

in his own corrido. Apparently, Murrieta was eventually caught by Captain Love and his Anglo Rangers, in 1853, who proceeded to decapitate this folk hero only to soak the dismembered head in alcohol for future public display. History attests to the importance of this figure who is taken up during the Chicano Civil rights struggle by Corky Gonzalez in his famous agit-prop poem "I am Joaquín." But Murrieta is also a figure that turns up as the central subject of a play of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, and in a novel by Chilean-American Isabel Allende, both who claim or at least infer that Murrieta was Chilean.

According to scholar Silvio Torres-Saillant (from whose article in a 2007 issue of Latino Studies I poached most of this information), "Ironically, the greater the emphasis on affirming the Mexican ancestry of Joaquin [by the corrido and subsequent cultural returns to his legacy], the more his Chilean origins become plausible" (500). Although Torres-Saillant's point in this article is rather minor, that South and Central American immigrants have a much longer legacy in the United States than scholars have afforded them before, it strikes me as uniquely interesting the repository Pan-Americanism that this figure seems to participate in--a revolutionary anti-imperialist doctrine fostered by important figures in Latin America, including Fidel Castro, Jose Martí, Che Guevarra, Bernardo Vegas, and the list goes on. Or at the very least Murrieta functions as a kind of transnational figure for the liberatory aspirations of Latinos both within and without the United States.

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