It is lucky most Mexicans will
never read Ignacio Solares’ classic reconstruction of the US invasion
Yankee Invasion, a novel
of Mexico City
Ignacio Solares, translated by Timothy G. Compton
2009, Scarletta Press
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LUCKILY for the Americans, 90 per cent of Mexicans will not read this novel. If they did, it may open their eyes to what really happened when the country lost huge swathes of territory to the brutally expansionist US in 1846-47.
With Yankee Invasion, first published in Spanish by Alfaguara in 2004 , Ignacio Solares manages to skip traps faced by many writers by avoiding the portrayal of a particular historical character and departing from the point of view of a fictional one.
The author’s starting point is the poetic premise of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s ‘La vida es sueño’: the conflict between an individual’s capacity to decide his future and the fate that awaits him.
Abelardo is a journalist plagued by strange lights, visions and weird dreams. His best friend, who also happens to be a physician, is convinced that Abelardo’s insomnia is caused by his not having a job with regular hours. As the book progresses, the reader learns that this insomnia was caused by a real nightmare.
“Imagine this city occupied by Americans”, Abelardo tells his son. “Imagine a Yankee police officer posted on every corner, staring with visible disgust as you go by…”
For a Mexican today, it is hard to imagine, but thanks to Ignacio Solares the long forgotten nightmare becomes reality.
In the opening scene, Abelardo stabs a US soldier to death on 14th September 1847, after invaders raise the Stars and Stripes over Mexico’s National Palace. He regrets causing the death of this man, and his wife encourages him to put this in writing as a way of cleansing his soul. There are also other reasons that have robbed this man of the ability to sleep, namely the despair of a love triangle.
To cap it all, the city is in ruins, and Doctor Urruchúa, Abelardo’s best friend, insists on avoiding politics and opts instead for religion and spiritualism – with all the desperate resignation of a man who contemplates the inevitable coming of Armageddon.
Meanwhile, Father Jarauta, another friend of Abelardo, who the reader later discovers is the bastard son of Morelos, believes in self-sacrifice in the name of fraternity, and heads a revolt against the US invaders.
Abelardo’s ailments began long before 1847 when both his parents – vociferous foes of the government and outraged by General Santa Anna’s excesses (the straw that broke the camel’s back was the pompous state funeral for the president’s severed foot) – head into self-exile in Spain.
Abelardo, a little more conservative, decides to stay and face the music. Later he meets friends at a gentleman’s club and enjoys discussions that range from philosophy and metaphysics to politics. On one occasion, one of them observes that if California is removed from the Mexican map the resulting image is the horn of abundance; another clarifies that the weirdest thing about this thought is that where the “abundance” points to is the United States.
Solares successfully recreates the atmosphere of tension in the late 1840s that Mexicans must have been experiencing at a time in which people, thinkers and politicians alike, aware of an imminent invasion, were trying to delineate the country’s territory, define its peoples, tap its natural riches, and trace its northern border. But within 15 years, as with the Spanish Conquest before it, US expansion will have changed the fate of the world forever.
But fact is more subversive than fiction, and far more nightmarish than any of the events recreated by Solares is the following letter of August 1836 by Sam Houston to Andrew Jackson, then president of the US:
“Mexico is a country possessing enormous natural resources which could be exploited under a responsible and honest government. In its ranks there are first-rate politicians, but they are relegated secondary roles by the insatiable ambition of military leaders. If any one of them manages to bring the country stability, Mexico may have the strength to reclaim by military force the territory of which it has been stripped. We should therefore, foster civil discord by any means we may have, and to this end General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who during the last decade has headed numerous military coups, can be very useful to us. Against conventional wisdom, which would dictate his capture, I recommend that we set the predator free. I would ask you to reconsider your position and allow him to meet with you in Washington. Such a meeting would have no particular benefit other than to serve as an excuse to give him some breathing room and facilitate his return to his country, where he will be our best subversive agent. With his unruly genius agitating the political arena, no government will possibly be able to right the ship of state and Mexico will continue in its chaos, where it is to our advantage that she stays for a long time, so that her weak military will be unable to impede our future annexation of Arizona, Colorado and both Californias.”
Cult of nationalism
Ignacio Solares has spoken about the importance of dismantling the Mexican predilection for teaching a monolithic cult of nationalism, revering historical figures and formally dictating historical dates and events to youth – an experience I had to endure personally and that caused me much slumber in my teenage years.
Instead, advocates Solares, history must be presented in a more lively way – and literature is the perfect companion. If I had read and analyzed the above letter by Houston in my teens, it would definitely have woken me from those slumbers. Just take a look at another letter from the period from Sam Houston to Hon. Mr. Ellsworth et al. (1833), and I am certain you will agree: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/texas/sam-houston-letters-jackson.htm
Yankee Invasion excels at reconstructing traumatic social events and describing personal sentiments: the chaos experienced in society is felt by the individual himself. While men of flesh and soul wander in personal desperation, beggars scavenge a city pillaged by enemy troops. And while this tale refers to the 1840s, the reader may question how much has really changed, and how legitimate is the call of those who claim to defend the “free world”.
Compton’s translation is commendable and readers will also enjoy the ‘Introduction’ by Carlos Fuentes. Yankee Invasion is the latest title in a resurgence of historic literature initiated by Fernando del Paso with his Noticias del Imperio in 1986 and incorporating other writers such as Enrique Serna with Angeles del Abismo and El Seductor de la Patria. For those interested in the development of US politics, this book is also a must.
But it is a matter of great shame that this book may never be read by 90 per cent of Mexicans – a triumph, perhaps, of official history that has put adoration before truth, and so betrayed the sacrifice of those who suffered Abelardo’s nightmare.