Monday, September 17, 2012

U.S./Mexico histories are intermingled, no matter how much ideologues might like to think otherwise

I’m never quite sure what to think of that unique breed of individual who spends their spare time participating in historic interpretations of past events – usually war and combat.
VILLA: Reenactors of his soldiers exist

The history buff in me admires their interest and dedication. But I also can’t wonder if they focus so much on the minutia that they miss the greater point – why something happened.

PLUS, THERE’S ALSO the whole idea that such events can devolve into a group of middle-aged men playing “dress-up” like they're nine years old and playing "war" in mommy's back yard.

My reason for expressing this belief is that I have to admit it was challenged on Sunday when I encountered Jose Gonzalez – a man who for the past seven years has developed assorted characters he portrays at historic re-enactments.

He is of Mexican ethnic origins, and his point is to show how thoroughly people of Mexican descent are tied into events of U.S. history that I’m sure the ideologues would prefer to think of as Anglo-oriented.

When I saw Gonzalez, he was in the South Chicago neighborhood for a Mexico Independence Day parade. He wasn’t in the parade proper. But he performed at an event that fed off the parade crowd.

HIS SUNDAY PERFORMANCE was that of  a “Mexican-American” from Texas who was so offended by the Mexico government officials who tried to carry on the tyrannical ways of President Porfirio Diaz after his death in 1915 that he went south of the Rio Bravo del Norte to fight with Pancho Villa’s revolutionary movement.

That movement we now refer to as the Mexican Revolution (as opposed to the movement of a century earlier when Mexico declared its independence from Spain).

But Gonzalez also has an assortment of characters he portrays at Civil War re-enactments, all of whom have a Mexican ethnic overtone to them.

“They don’t know anything,” he said, when asked about how well people comprehend their history, admitting that when he first showed up at a Civil War re-enactment in 2005, he had to do some swift talking to get himself included as a medic.

BUT HE HAS followed the lead of many re-enactors, who develop certain characters they portray and go out of their way to nail down to the most minute of details.

In his case, his characters are Mexicans who fought in support of President Benito Juarez when the government of France tried to impose its own emperor (the infamous Maximillian) to restore a colonial presence in the Americas, were wounded, and came to Texas to recuperate physically.

The only problem is that the French intervention occurred simultaneously with the U.S. Civil War, which means his character became caught up in the fighting.

Gonzalez portrays a Confederate soldier, which he says shouldn’t strike anyone as unusual.

“PEOPLE SAY THERE were no Mexicans in the Civil War. Who do they think was living out in Texas and in the Southwest,” he said. “There were Mexicans on both sides.”

Texans (actually, Tejanos, if we want to be proper) crossing over into a Mexican fight. Mexicans working their way over into U.S. military brawls. It sounds like a confusing entanglement without clear-cut sides.

Which means it is history, which rarely is as simple-minded and straight-forward as elementary school history classes try to portray it.

And that entanglement between the two nations is not something of the past.

OUR OWN SOUTHWESTERN states and the northernmost states of Mexico truly are a common region – despite the fact that some people want to think of the Rio Grande as some sort of impenetrable barrier that can be reinforced with concrete walls and some razor wire on top.

Aside from the ugly image it would create (particularly when covered with graffiti), it just isn’t true to the reality of the people who are there. Perhaps we’d have an easier time of getting along if we all came to that realization, and quit trying to think of ourselves in such rigid terms.

A lesson that one re-enactor helped reinforce – in my mind at least.

  -30-

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