The Shade of the Saguaro / La sombra del saguaro

From Firenze University Press Book

Edited by:

Gaetano Prampolini, University of Florence, Italy

Annamaria Pinazzi, University of Florence, Italy

“The Southwest,” wrote an eminent regional geographer over forty years
ago, “is a distinctive place to the American mind but a somewhat blurred
place on American maps, which is to say that everyone knows that there
is a Southwest but there is little agreement as to just where it is.” A no less
eminent regional historian had already written: “There are regions in the
United States — New England, the South, and the Great Plains, for example — which have fixed and obvious boundaries and therefore exactness
of meaning. But the term Southwest … is by contrast a variable which has
meant almost all things to all men … And, although there is a Southwest to
and for which Nature does certain things differently than for other parts of
the United States, its geographical boundaries are blurred rather than sharp,
and ordinary maps do not make it clear.” We find both passages quoted at the
beginning of James W. Byrkit’s thorough and thought-stirring essay, “Land,
Sky, and People: The Southwest Defined,” which took up a whole 1992 issue
of Journal of the Southwest.

While the debate may go on ad infinitum as to whether it would make
more sense to conceive the Southwest as a sort of “Greater Southwest,” spreading from the Sabine to the Pacific shore, or, more modestly, as the land circumscribed by the Pecos on the east, the Mexican Border on the south, the
South Californian sierras on the west, and the Grand Canyon and the Mesa Verde on the north, it appears reasonable to think that the Southwest as
we see it today is essentially the result of the last five hundred years of history. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Native American
peoples who had lived in the land for such a long time that even the relatively late comers among them could indicate some place on their territory
as the sacred place of their origin, had their first contact with those Europeans who had been apportioned the invasion and conquest of that part of
the Americas. The introduction of the horse changed their locomotion, that
of the sheep their diet, but they had to submit to Spanish rule (not without
fierce outbursts of resistance) and to forced Christianization (without ever
renouncing their traditional rituals and beliefs). As long as the Southwest
(not yet called “the Southwest” but el Norte) was the northernmost huge
portion of the Spanish colonial Empire and then of Mexico, it remained
a still vastly unknown and faraway periphery, where the Hispanic presence did not leave, for the moment, more than skin-deep and rather sparse traces. It was, in fact, only long after the American-Mexican war (the first
practical application of the Manifest Destiny ideology) had implanted in the
Southwest the Anglo-American cultural component, that Hispanic culture
began to massively exert its influence in the region — an influence so impressive and ever-growing today. Tricultural, at least, and multi-lingual,
the Southwest presents therefore a complex stratification and coexistence
of different cultures, the equal of which would be hard to find elsewhere in
the United States.
The Southwest is the common horizon, when not the specific subject, of
the writings collected in this volume, whose bilingual title winks at a story in
the oral tradition of one of the Native American peoples of the region. While
the majority of these writings are concerned with aspects and authors of the
literatures of the Southwest, still a good third of them fall into the fields of
history, art history, ethnography, sociology or cultural studies. Our partition
of the matter intends, with the first three sections, to reflect the chronology
of the stratification of the three major cultures; with the fourth, to highlight
one of the most sensitive topics in and about contemporary Southwest: the
border/la frontera. But, of course, as is always the case in like undertakings,
a number of alternative partitions might be deemed shrewder and more elegant than this one.

Revised and, when needed, updated by their authors, the contributions
to this volume originate all from papers presented at the Forum for the Study
of the Literary Cultures of the Southwest, a project hatched in the course
of a conversation which, on a bright April morning in 1999, took place in
the cloistered courtyard of the Faculty of Arts of the Università di Firenze,
among teachers of this university and visiting colleagues from the University of Arizona. As it turned out that the Southwest — obviously of prime
importance as an object of study and research at Arizona — had also a
prominent place in the scholarly concerns of many of the Florentine Americanists, everybody saw immediately how mutually beneficial and stimulating conferences on the topic of common interest, to be held on a regular basis, could prove.

DOI: 10.36253/978–88–6655–393–9

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