John Alba Cutler, Northwestern University; Bill Johnson González, DePaul University | Newberry

John Alba Cutler, Northwestern University; Bill Johnson González, DePaul University

Friday, November 21, 2014

3 pm - 5 pm


Center for American History and Culture Programs
Borderlands and Latino/a Studies Seminar

“Gráfico’s Concurso Literario and Latina/o Print Culture’s Forgotten Histories”
John Alba Cutler, Northwestern University

During the latter half of 1929, the New York Spanish-language weekly Gráfico ran an ongoing “concurso literario,” a short story writing competition. The editors of the paper solicited original stories from readers with a strict set of generic guidelines: the stories were to be 2,000 words maximum in length, typewritten, and based on real life experiences. Over the course of six months, the newspaper published entries to the competition weekly and asked readers to vote on their favorites. With 4,520 votes, Ester del Toro’s “La Mujer de la Cabellera Roja” was declared the winner in the January 27, 1930 issue of the newspaper. (The editors of Gráfico noted that the final vote counts proved “las enormes simpatías con que cuenta nuestra semanario y la efectiva circulación” [“the enormous sympathies in favor of our weekly and its effective circulation”].)

This paper argues that Gráfico’s concurso literario provides a view into genre formation and cultural production in an understudied era of Latina/o print culture. A curious dissonance currently exists between period emphases in Latina/o historiography and literary history. With a few notable exceptions, Latina/o literary history has concentrated on two periods: post-1965 literature associated with the Chicano and Nuyorican movements and their aftermaths, and the nineteenth century. Post-1965 literary studies tend to focus on the privileged literary genres of poetry and the novel, while nineteenth-century scholarship has examined transnational print culture more broadly. Latina/o historiography, on the other hand, has built a rich archive of scholarship about the early and mid-twentieth century, with particular emphasis on the racialization of Mexican Americans, and on the solidification of the US’s colonial relationship to Cuba and Puerto Rico and their respective migrant subjects.

Through an analysis of Gráfico, this essay makes the case that Latina/o print culture offers an avenue for putting history and historiography into a more generative relationship. Gráfico’s choice of the short story as its preferred mode of literary production corresponds to movements in Spanish-language and hemispheric print culture from the end of the nineteenth century through the beginning of the twentieth. But the paper also channels those hemispheric forces into the local concerns of the New York Puerto Rican community. Gráfico thus shows lines of continuity between the transnational Latina/o print cultures of the nineteenth century and the formation of nationalist print cultures in the post-1965 period. Perhaps more importantly, Gráfico’s writing competition took place during the stock market crash of 1929 that precipitated the Great Depression. The short stories appear against the backdrop of the crash and its consequent transnational economic disasters played out in the newspaper’s other pages. The literary and the historical are thus inextricably bound up in one another in Gráfico’s pages, a relationship that has sometimes been occluded in Latina/o literary history’s obsessions with the master genres of literature, particularly the novel, and with the book as a material form.

“Braceros and Noir: Controlling Mexican-American Identity in Literature and Film of the 1940s”
Bill Johnson González, DePaul University

Although the mid-twentieth century - the era that comprised World War II, the Zoot Suit Riots, and the Bracero Program - has had enormous historical consequences for the formation of the current Chicano community, it is surprising to learn that literary historians have so far identified few texts from this era that can give us a sense of the lived experiences of Mexican Americans during this period.Hart Stilwell’s Border City is a mostly forgotten, obscure novel published in 1945, but it

provides a valuable, startling, and exceedingly rare literary representation of the actual social inequalities that structured relations between Anglos and Mexicans in Texas in the period of rapid cultural transformation just before and after World War II. Stilwell weaves into his novel ethnographic descriptions of “Jim Crow”-era Texas: its systematic racial segregation and political disenfranchisement of Mexicans, its complex inter- and intra-racial hierarchies, its corrupt political bosses, and the violent means used to control and suppress Mexican labor in order to maintain the region’s economic regime. The historical, documentary dimension of Stilwell’s novel thus provides an alternative, critical perspective on the postwar economic growth of Texas and records the darker origins of modern economic prosperity.

Respondent: Ricky Rodriguez, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.