Growing up in Austin, Texas, Diez y Seis — Mexican Independence Day — always seemed to hold an official, albeit minor, status in the state capitol. This was not a holiday that we observed in my family in any formal capacity. Much like Cinco de Mayo we might find ourselves at a Mexican restaurant that night just by happenstance. After all we ate Mexican all the time! As we waited for our enchiladas I would proclaim, “Today is Deiz y Seis,” as if realizing that the Longhorns were on TV. Unlike the Fourth of July, it never warranted parades of children on decorated bicycles and riding lawnmowers. More than likely it would be a human interest story at the end of the local nightly news.
While a student, and at the encouragement of my mother, I recruited my grandmother to help me collect ghost stories from her oldest sister, Julia, the most renowned storyteller and tamale maker in my family. In addition to learning a little bit about linguistics and a lot about transcribing interviews I also heard for the first time the tale of how her family came to Texas from Torreón, Coahuila. In honor of Diez y Seis and with all due respect to the still precarious status of immigrants and refugees in the United States I am retelling it to you today.
Special thanks are due to my mom Janis, Grandma Pauline, and Aunt Julia who guided me to that kitchen in south central Austin, January 1997, where I first heard this tale. I had to exercise a little poetic license to weave that conversation into a single narrative but its really Julia’s story. Believe me, when its family holding you to account you’re going to do your best to tell the tale right!
More so than any other person in my mother’s extended family, Julia was a person who was truly loved. She helped to raise her mother’s children, then her own children, her many nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Everyone from my mother’s family thinks of her as a caregiver and an essential part of their upbringing. She was my great-aunt, my grandmother’s sister, and in January 1997 we met so that I might collect some of her famous ghost stories.
Julia was born in 1911 on a hacienda in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, the fourth child and second girl of eleven. Fleeing the Mexican revolution her family settled in Austin, Texas, in 1918. Julia never attended school, but instead as one of the older children was in charge of the house and it was here that her skills as a cook and storyteller emerged.
Many in my family would single out her tales of the supernatural as her most memorable stories. I think Halloween makes for a fine occasion to share them and I hope you enjoy!
The first two take place when the family lived on a dairy near Deep Eddy in the 1920s, this house and all the land around it was haunted. Julia attributed these unexplained events to the remains of old barracks built by the soldiers of General Santa Anna. The second two stories take place in a haunted house on East 6th Street that the family lived in from the 1940s until sometime in the 1950s.
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger IRMA MCCLAURIN
I have been a practitioner of the literary arts since the ripe young age of eight—both a poet and a voracious reader. Fortunately for me, I had elementary school teachers who introduced me to Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Yet it was not until I was in graduate school (for the first time, completing a Masters of Fine Arts in English) that I encountered the writings of Zora Neale Hurston. I learned who she was through reading her short stories, novels and plays. I also caught glimpses of the rural Black southern culture that my parents had escaped when they left rural Mississippi and Alabama for the city lights of Chicago where I was born.
As I developed into a literary critic and delved into the history of the Harlem Renaissance, I was left with the distinct impression that most of the modern-day Black critics (mostly men) writing about the Harlem Renaissance cared little about (or for) Zora. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that with minor exception, most have described her with disdain and tolerance and not admiration, despite her note-worthy contributions and the “color” she added to the culture being created at that time.
Many viewed Zora as a person of considerable literary talent during the Renaissance; she was also noted for her distinctive personality and a flair for drama that sometimes grated on her Black compatriots. Whites found her amusing, much to the chagrin of some Blacks. Richard Bruce Nugent, a Black writer and painter, and Zora’s contemporary during the Renaissance once remarked: “Zora would have been Zora even if she were an Eskimo.”
What made Zora unique during this period was the way much of her writing was deeply rooted in rural southern Black culture; her literary outpouring reflected a preoccupation with the life ways and folklore of Black rural people. This fascination with “de folk” and rural Black culture was largely fueled by Zora’s experiences growing up in Eatonville, the oldest incorporated Black township in the United States, not to be mistaken for, as Zora flaunted in her autobiography, Dust Tracks, “the Black side of a white town.” In Eatonville Zora had grown up listening to culture in the making—people swapping lies on Joe’s porch, symbolic and metaphoric improvization and the creation of new meaning with language through storytelling and music.
In my last post on Bauman and Briggs Voices of Modernity I explored their argument that Boas’s notion of culture makes it seem like a prison house from which only the trained anthropologist is capable of escaping. In doing so, however, I only really presented half of their argument. The book has two interrelated themes: One is a Foucauldian genealogy of the concepts of science, culture, race, language, and nation (as seen through the rise of folklore studies). The other is a Latourian exploration of the construction of folklore as a science. This is done by exploring how oral traditions were turned into texts, and thus evidence of traditional culture (however that was defined). Aubrey, Blair, the Grimm brothers, and Schoolcraft were each faced with hybrid oral texts whose own modernity (as contemporary documents) belied their perceived scientific value as authentic remnants of ancient cultures. For this reason the texts underwent tremendous alterations, if not outright fabrication, by these scholars in order to make them suitable for their own purposes. The book traces how these processes of entextualization were shaped by each scholar’s concepts of science, culture, race, language, and nation.
So where does Boas fit into all of this? Continue reading
The question is not that Boas was wrong about culture. It is rather that he told anthropologists that they are the only ones who are right.
This quote is from the conclusion to the penultimate chapter of Bauman and Briggs’ award-winning book Voices of Modernity. The book employs a Foucauldian genealogical approach to trace the development of folklore studies from its roots in the Scottish Enlightenment, through its development under German Romanticism, ending up with Boas and the birth of anthropology. In doing so the book focuses on a number of interrelated ideas about culture, language, and modernity as well as methodological issues in the creation of texts from oral traditions. When they awarded the book with the Edward Sapir Book Prize the Society for Linguistic Anthropology wrote:
Bauman and Briggs argue that contemporary efforts to make schemes of social inequality based on race, gender, class and nationality seem compelling and legitimate, rely on deeply rooted ideas about language and tradition. Showing how critics of modernity unwittingly reproduce these foundational fictions, they suggest new strategies for challenging the undemocratic influence of these voices of modernity.
While these themes run throughout their book, they sometimes seem to have only historical importance. After all, scholars like Herder or the Grimm brothers are associated with the rise of nationalism and so there doesn’t seem much that is “unwitting” in their reproduction of these ideologies. It is only in the penultimate chapter on Boas, a scholar known for his critiques of racism and nationalism, that the relevance of these earlier scholars (and the importance of the genealogical method) really becomes clear to the reader. In this genealogy Boas is “ego,” but before this chapter he has been absent from the story.