Cultural Differences New Mexican History: Book Report
Excerpt from Book Report :
Before Anglos came to dominate the land, Cabeza de Baca portrays a kind of paradise-like environment, where even the sheepherders were like "musicians and poets" and "the troubadours of old," and every person had a story (Cabeza de Baca 11). This has been called a method of "preserving the culture" against the dominant discourse of Anglos: Cabeza de Baca, along with other writers of her generation are portrayed as trying to "get it [their culture] right" in an effort to transcend the overwhelming discourse of the Anglo "other" (Cabeza de Baca xx). Using Hispanic phrases and names, blurring historiography and biography, and the view of the past as a kind of lost "Eden" are all aspects of the authors 'agenda' (Cabeza de Baca xx). Cabeza de Baca deliberately uses English as a way of communicating with the Anglo reader and 'setting the record straight.'
Yet while Cabeza de Baca strives to paint a picture of a lost world, her tone is respectful as much as it is nostalgic. Learning from the storytellers around her was clearly a critical aspect of her development as a writer. Furthermore, although she speaks from a Hispanic vantage point, Cabeza de Baca was noted for paying great deal of homage to native foods and practices, and when she became a teacher was dismayed at the fact that native history and culture was not a part of student's education: "one sentence and perhaps a paragraph told about the Indians" she marveled (Cabeza de Baca 159). She was fluent in several native tongues and was one of the first educators and health workers to stress preserving the native diet through a return to traditional practices, rather than imposing a white diet upon native peoples. The fact that her own work is in English has been called an attempt to "dominate the language" of the colonizer and to show her
fluency in various languages and cultures, and not simply in her own Hispanic heritage (Cabeza de Baca xx).
Unlike Anglos, Cabeza de Baca suggests she is able to see the world from a variety of cultural perspectives: as someone who is a settler yet who is not one of the privileged castes of Anglo professional farmers, she can thus view natives and common laborers with compassion. Unlike the Anglo farmers who came to dominate the land in later decades, she was able to establish a connection with the land that transcended a need to profit from it. She had respect for the people who first grew things upon the land, just as much as she had respect for the land itself: this is not simply evident in her writing but in her life: Cabeza de Baca went on to teach in a rural bilingual school after graduating from high school and after graduating from New Mexico University and worked as an extension agent for many years where she used the knowledge she had gained growing up in the area to work for all nonwhite persons (Cabeza de Baca xx).
While Cabeza de Baca does not engage in long periods of introspection, overall the book suggests that living in harmony with the land toughened her. Periods of punishing droughts alternate with heavy rain on the Llano: "Money in our lives was not important, rain was important" (Cabeza de Baca 11). But unlike the Anglos, Cabeza de Barca and her family respected their dependence upon that rain -- and the soil in general. Ultimately, living in a world with bandits and ranchers, and living in harmony with the land was better than the types of practices adopted by the Anglos, where no respect for the land was shown, and drought ravaged the lives of all the Great Plains' residents.
Cabeza de Baca, Fabiola. We…
Sources Used in Documents:
Cabeza de Baca, Fabiola. We fed them cactus. UNM Press, 1954.
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