WHO, WHEN, WHAT, WHY
As a child growing up in a small mining town in the north of Mexico, I
learned that the Americas were one, that we shared a hemisphere. Many
years later, when I arrived in the United States to do my doctorate, I heard
that ‘‘America’’ meant the United States. There were two hemispheres, north
and south, and although Mexico technically belonged to the northern hemi-
sphere, people usually relegated it to the south—part of ‘‘Latin America.’’
Years later, I observed in my daughter’s Rand McNally Picture Atlas of the
World (1993 edition) that the Americas had been divided in three, and Mexico
and Central America were called ‘‘Middle America,’’ a term that accom-
plished the linguistic distantiation that the land formation refused to jus-
tify. I never accepted this steady attempt at deterritorialization. I claim my
identity as an ‘‘American’’ in the hemispheric sense. That means I have lived
comfortably, or perhaps uncomfortably, in various overlapping worlds.
My academic career began in a one-room schoolhouse in Parral, Chihua-
hua, a dusty little town whose only claim to fame was that the great revo-
lutionary leader Pancho Villa had been shot to death there. This was a poor
little classroom with a corrugated metal roof reserved for the children of
the miners. My father, who ran away from Canada at the age of twenty-one,
was a mining engineer. My mother, a student of Northrop Frye whose life’s
calling was to read who-done-its, would drive me up the crooked dirt road
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