Medieval Culture and the Mexican American Borderlands
Mexican American Studies
6.125 x 9.25, 256 pp.
Pub Date: 11/30/2001
Rio Grande/Río Bravo: Borderlands Culture and Traditions
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Medieval Culture and the Mexican American Borderlands

By Milo Kearney and Manuel Medrano

The land along the U.S.-Mexican border is often portrayed as the place where two separate cultures meet—or indeed collide. Yet this is not the first meeting of the two cultures, not their first collision, and not their first confluence. Their respective ancestral cultures in England and Spain, argue scholars Milo Kearney and Manuel Medrano, had common roots in medieval Europe, and both their conflicts and the shared understandings that may form the basis for their cooperation trace back to those days.

Kearney and Medrano explore three interlinking themes. First, they assert that Mexican American Borderlands culture cannot be fully understood without knowledge of its medieval underpinnings in both Castile (and pre-Castilian Spain) and England. Second, they argue that certain parallels in the medieval evolution of Hispanic and Anglo societies make the two cultures much more closely related than is often realized and in many ways set them apart from the cultures of other European societies. Finally, the authors show how, despite these similarities, the origins of Anglo-Hispanic tensions trace back to the Middle Ages, predating Bartolomé de las Casas and the “Black Legend.” Although they demonstrate the Borderlands expression of these cultural phenomena, the emphasis is on their pre-modern European sources.

The authors conclude that many of the foundations for the interaction of Hispanic and Anglo societies were laid by the year 1500. From science and learning through literature and music to art and architecture, medieval culture has defined many elements of Borderlands creativity.

While the hostilities and negative stereotypes generated by the Hispanic-Anglo warfare of the Middle Ages passed on prejudices and problems that are still not entirely overcome, a recognition of the interlinked past can draw Hispanic and Anglo subcultures in the Borderlands together.

Milo Kearney is a professor of early European history at the University of Texas at Brownsville. A Piper Professor, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Kearney has published Border Cuates: A History of the U.S.-Mexican Twin Cities and Boom and Bust: The Historical Cycles of Matamoros and Brownsville, among other books.Manuel Medrano, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Brownsville, earned his Ed.D. at the University of Houston. He has specialized in Mexican American studies.

What Readers Are Saying:

“The authors’ interdisciplinary approach gives historical resonance to many contemporary Borderlands customs, signs, and symbols: the ex-voto offering, pinata breaking, and the scallop shell design found on a college escutcheon, to name a few. This approach generates examples that not only support the authors’ theses, but also substantiate their vision of the Borderlands culture as a unique blend of complementary traditions.” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“An especially notable chapter focuses on linguistics, a defining characteristic of multi-lingual Borderlands culture. Here Kearney and Medrano examine in depth the etymological meaning of speech and words commonly used on the Mexico-U. S. boundary. Their intensive manuscript research discloses the root meanings of contemporary customs, speech, sayings and names originating on the Iberian Peninsula before and during the Moorish conquest and in the British Isles throughout the Viking intrusions and into the period of High and Late medieval society . Subsequent chapters on creative influences in self expression, and on the economic and social classes, the religious influences and the appearance of political kingdoms in Castile and England, all are linked to the Borderlands through serious, critical scholarship. Indeed, Borderland historians might well reexamine their conclusions after reading the penetrating views in this volume.” --Gilbert R. Cruz


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