Land, literature, and power in the southwestern United States: Aldo Leopold's colonialist land ethics and the evolution of a postcolonial Chicana/o environmental politics and poetics
This dissertation draws upon critical race studies, postcolonial studies, and spatial studies as they intersect with interdisciplinary Chicana/o cultural studies to re-examine nineteenth century American conservationist Aldo Leopold's Mexican and Southwest writings, with particular attention to the imperialist, racialized poetics that undergird his conservation paradigm and land ethics philosophy alongside alternative and competing Mexican American and Chicana/o environmentalist poetics and land ethics philosophies from 1848-1998. In the first two chapters of this dissertation, I explicate how Leopold's Mexican and Southwestern writings reflect a hostile racial and racist attitude toward Native Americans, mestizas/os, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans. In the last chapter and coda, I illustrate how Native American and Mexican inhabitants of the Southwest, and subsequent Mexican American and Chicana/o inhabitants descended from them, introduce an alternative and complex--though still contradictory and similarly problematic--history of land and natural resources conservation through the rancho, acequia, and hacienda culture that extends from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, as well as in the corresponding folklore and literature. Thus, alongside my reassessment of Leopold's seminal writings, I plot the complexity of nineteenth-century, twentieth-century, and contemporary Chicana/o environmentalist discourse through critical vi explications of Chicana/o poetry and prose fiction by, among others, Jovita González and Eve Raleigh, Américo Paredes, Tomás Rivera, Helena M. Viramontes, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. In my explications of their canonized as well as lesser-known writings, I show how their competing land ethics and corresponding signifying practices, which I call a spatialized Chicana/o environmental ethics and poetics, span from the U.S. colonization of the Southwest in 1848 to the turn of the twentieth century and ultimately extend in a multiplicity of ideological directions. Above all else, I emphasize how these authors underscore the salience of land in the literary articulations of Chicana/o spatial ontologies. I ultimately propose that the dialectical tensions between Leopold, the white Americans he champions, and Mexican, Mexican American, and Chicana/o conservationists and environmentalists render the southwestern United States a palimpsest of political, social, and cultural desires that continue to be layered with complexities and contradictions that, fundamentally, are grounded in competing claims to land.