Monday, October 17, 2022

Bernadine Hernández's "Border Bodies"

Bernadine Marie Hernández is associate professor of English at the University of New Mexico.

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Border Bodies: Racialized Sexuality, Sexual Capital, and Violence in the Nineteenth-Century Borderlands, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the beginning of a summary. The summary is of an opera titled Chipita Rodríguez written by Lawrence Weiner. The summary begins to tell the reader how the opera describes Rodríguez, who is the focus of the chapter (Chapter 3) and argues that the opera only allows Rodríguez to be visible through death and violence. The page goes into a close reading of the first part of the opera and suggests that it is connected to the folktale La Llorona and further alienates Rodríguez from her earthly body because she becomes a martyr. The chapter reads:
A bilingual opera, the narrative does not focus on Rodriguez’s life before or during the trial and hanging, but instead focuses on her unverified granddaughter Rosita’s journey “to clear [Rodríguez’s] soul” through the patriarchal Catholic Church. (Weiner, Chipita Rodríguez, 8). When Rosita asks the Catholic priest, “Where are the records [that speak to my grandmother’s execution]?,” the father replies, “The few that are left are in the care of the county clerk.” (Weiner, Chipita Rodríguez, 7). Here again we witness the clear and present absence of Rodríguez. When Rosita goes to visit Father Murphy to see if he can do anything to acquit her grandmother, the play reads, “The old priest did not permit a Christian burial, and some say the ghost of Chipita still weeps as she walks the banks of the river.” (Weiner, Chipita Rodríguez, 4). This reference to La Llorona makes it clear that Rodríguez is being constructed through a Mexican maternal trope. La Llorona is a folktale that has many iterations. However, in the most common tale of La Llorona (who is mostly named María in legends), she marries a rich man, and he cheats on her constantly, so she drowns the two children that she has with him. She continues to roam the riverbanks where she drowns her own children and weeps until her death.
Page 99 does not give a good example of what the entire book is about, which is about sexual and gender violence on the border in the nineteenth-century and how that violence is interweaved with capitalism. This page is a close reading of the archives that I explore in the book, but this chapter is really a bridge between the discursive construct of racialized sexuality in the nineteenth-century borderlands and the material consequence of that discourse.

The purpose of this study is not to understand how poor Mexicanas in the borderlands are connected to capital but how they are connected through capital. By through capital, I argue that women’s bodies in the borderlands are lynchpins in the capitalist transformation of the West and Southwest. I argue that racialized sex, gender, and sexuality are very much tied to the ways capital is able to function through what I call sexual capital.
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--Marshal Zeringue