Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Las Hijas de Juan and A Land So Strange

By Guest Writer John Saunders

Las hijas de Juan: Daughters Betrayed by Josie Mendez-Negrete. Duke University Press, 2006. 200 plus pages.

Josie Mendez-Negrete tells the story of her mother and her sisters as well as her own story. She tells her story in a straightforward and deep fashion. Total and complete sincerity. She hates her father for what he has done. Josie's mother married at fifteen and came to live in the United States. Josie's father was a tyrant. He was also a drunk. He was a figure who wanted total and complete control over the women in his family. He was repeatedly guilty of incest with his daughters. One of the daughters became pregnant and gave birth to her father's child. Josie's mother seems to have been in a state of denial. For Josie school was a place where she could escape from her father. A family friend alerted the authorities as to what was going on in the family and the authorities got involved. The facts came out at the trial. How Josie and her sisters managed to survive in this abusive incestuous situation is beyond my comprehension. The fact that Mendez-Negrete was able to share her story is a service to all of us. If there are other incest stories out there as sincere and believable as this one ---- I would like to read them. Mendez-Negrete's writing skills are excellent. The story flows! It really does. This book is one that alerts us to what goes on in all cultures, I would suppose. It is a story that deals with one Hispanic family. Yet the story has a universal dimension to it. For some reason ---- Holocaust stories come to mind. Josie and her sisters suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of their father. Everything in the book rings true -- in my opinion. I recommend this book for teachers and for the general public (adult public, that is). A story well told. A topic that all of us need to be aware of ---- no matter who we are. Josie Mendez-Negrete is Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies in the Division of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas, San Antonio.

A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca by Andres Resendez

This is an amazing book that is packed with information and told in a manner that would interest the general public. It tells the reader much about the resilience of four Spaniards and one Moorish slave who wound up on the west coast of Florida when they had expected to settle in Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca and the slave Estebanico are the two principal characters in the narrative. What amazes is the fact that Cabeza de Vaca had respect for the Indian tribes and wanted all Spaniards to live in harmony with the Indians --- and not see them only as slaves. Of course Cabeza de Vaca was never able to convince the political powers to see the potential benefit of equality for Indian tribes. Cabeza de Vaca comes across as an admirable individual with englightened views. The three Spaniards and Estebanico survived years among the Indian tribes because they were seen by the Indians as healers. As the fine historian that he is ---- Resendez is able to flesh out the viewpoint of Indians as well as those of the three Spaniards and their Moorish companion. What amazes me is the economy of the book. Resendez sticks to basics. He places this saga in perspective. This is one of the finest books I have read concerning a neglected episode in the history of North America. Resendez is such an amazing teller of stories. Throughout the two hundred pages of this book I felt that I was right there living this story with the three Spaniards and Estebanico. I highly recommend this book. My guess is that if you read it ---- you will continue until you reach the final page. Many helpful footnotes as well as recommended reading. Andres Resendez is truly a master at his craft. He has a degree from El Colegio de Mexico and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. He is a member of the faculty at History Department, University of California at Davis.

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