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the Tortilla Curtain
 

the Tortilla Curtain

 



Mary Dejewski, "Hispanics Put their Stamp on US"
 
           The backdrop had all the magnificence of the American
           Southwest, with its panorama of blue-grey mountains, sunlit
           desert and ahead, the tree-studded valley of the Rio Grande.
           But the scale of the festivities was akin to a village fete:
05        stalls selling local history and crafts, a town plaza decked
           out in red, white and blue balloons, and a couple of hundred
           people waiting, on damp grass in blistering sunshine, for pro-
           ceedings to begin. The only peculiarities were the bulky
           adobe-style mission church, recently restored, fronting on
10        to the square, and the prominence of the US Postal Service,
           whose double-sized stall was already under siege.
           After a flourish from the brass band, a solemn rendition of the
           US national anthem, the pledge of allegiance (first in Spanish,
           then in English), (...) all was explained. A clutch of dignitaries
 15        - the local mayor and two New Mexico congressmen - to-
           gether tore down a white sheet to reveal a giant mock-up of
           the latest US postage stamp, which commemorates the 400th
           anniversary of the first Spanish settlement in today's United
           States of America.
20        The issuing of the stamp in Espanola, a dust-swept town 30
           miles north of the state capital, Santa Fe, was the US federal
           government's contribution to a series of events marking the
           anniversary - referred to by everyone here as the cuarto
           centenario. (...)
25        Espanola, at the junction of the river Chama and the Rio
           Grande, is the modern-day town closest to the encampment
           of San Gabriel del Yunque, where Don Juan Onate, described
           as the "last of the Conquistadors", brought his 80 settlers
           from the then Spanish colony of Mexico. They had set out in
30        January, 1598, from (...) Durango, crossed the Rio Grande into
           what is now the United States, in April, and arrived at San
           Gabriel on 11 July. Each of these milestones has been
           marked this year, culminating in the Espanola fiesta close to
           the settlement that, four centuries ago, was the end of the
35        road.
           The cuarto centenario, however, has not been the easiest of
           events for the United States to commemorate, as the resort to
           the postage stamp with its highly coloured picture of the
           Espanola mission may suggest; its contribution was at
40        best double-edged.
           On the one hand, as one of New Mexico's US Senators, Pete
           Domenici, put it: "400 years of Hispanic heritage will be
           communicated throughout the United States on these 46
           million stamps." On the other, a postage stamp is an asser-
45        tion of federal authority in a US state. New Mexico, which has
           a population almost 40 per cent Hispanic, is the only state in
           the Union which feels the need to specify on its car licence
           plates that it is New Mexico, United States.
           Obtaining any federal recognition of the anniversary at all,
50        though, is accounted something of an achievement in
           Espanola, given that New Mexico was joined to the United
           States more than two centuries after it was settled by the
           Spanish and the anniversary, arguably, has nothing to do
           with the United States.
55        In April, after the last major anniversary was marked - the
           crossing of the Rio Grande - there were grumblings locally
           that the occasion had been virtually ignored by the main-
           stream (East coast, English-language) US media. "Everyone
           says 'Mayflower this and Mayflower that'," said Gabrielle
60        Palmer, a Santa Fe art historian. "But the English were the
           last to conquer, so they had the history written in their
           language." As Stephen Fosberg, a New Mexico historian
           quipped:"If the Pilgrim Fathers had arrived in New Mexico,
           rather than Jamestown, they could have gone shopping."
65        That this weekend's anniversary is celebrated at all is partly a
           tribute to the efforts of local people like Ms Palmer and Mr
           Fosberg and the increase in historical awareness in the
           American Southwest. But it is also evidence of the growing
           political importance of Hispanic America nationally - and its
70        votes.
           Americans classifying themselves as Hispanic comprise 11
           per cent of the US population. (...) By the year 2050, if not
           before, they will make up 25 per cent of the population and
           help make white Americans a minority in what they still see as
75        "their" country.
           The point was drummed home by Senator Jeff Bingaman near
           the close of a weekend symposium, also near Espanola, on
           the significance of the Camino Real - the 1,800 mile trade and
           supply route that linked Mexico and its new settlements to
80        the north. He told the 100 or so participants, from the US and
           Mexico, that by the time the US celebrates the 400th anniver-
           sary of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, "we need to ensure
           that people understand that people came here in 1598 to
           establish the European heritage here."
 
(about 835 words)

from: The Independent, 13-07-1998




Assignments


1. Comprehension

Give short answers; use your own words as far as possible.

1.1. What was being commemorated in Espanola on 11 July, 1998 and why did the organizers consider this event worth commemorating?
1.2. Why does the author call the federal government's contribution double-edged?

2. Analysis and discussion

2.1. How do the festivities in Espanola and their setting reflect the double heritage, i.e. Anglo-American and Spanish, in New Mexico?
2.2. Explain the meaning of ll. 59-64, paying special attention to the sentence:
"But the English were the last to conquer, so they had the history written in their language."
2.3. Delineate the author's train of thought.
2.4.  In his novel The Tortilla Curtain T.C. Boyle paints a dismal picture of Anglo-Hispanic relations in Southern California.
2.4.1.  Point out the general attitude of Anglo-Americans towards Hispanic immigrants in the novel by examining the white characters' behavior towards the immigrants.
2.4.2. How can their behavior be explained?
2.5. In reaction to the cultural consciousness movement of the 1960s the federal government introduced bilingual education programs, which have become a crucial political issue.
Do you agree with the Californian voters who opted to abandon bilingual education in 1998 or do you think that children of ethnic minority groups should be taught in their native language? Considering the situation of minority groups in Germany might be of help.

 
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