Rewriting the West series | Guernica

In early 2019, I launched the Rewriting the West series in partnership with Guernica magazine. After the 2016, the need to understand the west, the symbolism of the border and its mythology became especially urgent. 

I assembled a team of award-winning team of contributors for a series that explores the origins of the American West narrative and mythology and its distorting effect on national identity and politics.

The series was featured in On the Media and two New York Times newsletter, City Lab, among other publications. 

Funding was generously provided by the The Bill Lane Center for the Study of the American West at Stanford University and Open Society Foundations. 

In January, I was a visiting professional at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. During the week-long appointment, we launched the series in an event hosted by Annenberg and Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

From my editor’s note:

This series was originally conceived as a response to our nation’s rigid borders, as evidenced by a presidential campaign that demonized Mexicans and U.S. Latinos, and an administration that has encoded its ideology in a symbolic border wall. But that point of view is a defensive approach, one that cedes a region’s history and people to a political moment, to a westward gaze from Washington, and to borders that hold the American mind hostage. We wanted to look at the issues of the region on other terms.

In this special issue of Guernica, we rewrite the West by relocating it at the center of its own history, looking at the people who live in this region as the protagonists instead of the “others,” revealing a far more expansive image of this place.

My piece, Death of a Dream, takes readers on a tour of the dreamstate, the often unexamined racial social order that powerfully shaped Texas identity and mythology. The piece explores the question: now that whites are the population minority, what does it mean for Latinos to imagine themselves as a majority?

Nearly two centuries after the battle at the Alamo, Texas is confronting another critical moment in its narrative. Whites no longer dominate numerically, and now represent 42 percent of the population, while Latinos, Blacks, Asians and Native Americans together are the majority. In the nation’s second-most-populous state, Latinos are expected to represent the largest demographic group by 2022. The way that Texas responds to this new demographic change will come down to whose perspective is centered: who is included in the definition of “us.” This is not just a philosophical question, not just an abstract idea about belonging. From that center, political priorities are set, the deserving and undeserving are anointed, and the future of Texas is charted.

I also had to reckon with who I imagine as my audience. The dream as it exists in my mind.

I have told you about the dream, its origins and reach, so that one day you will know freedom. I have addressed you directly, because I know you. You are Latinx, millennial, Black, Native American, Asian, and white. Because you, too, are imprisoned in the dream.

But you were not the person I spoke to in my mind as I wrote this. Years of conditioning as a writer has installed in my mind the white observer who sits in judgment, skeptical and often dismissive of hints of anything that exists beyond the dream world. My words were drafted in anticipation of their judgment, their likely evaluation of facts and the strength of my analysis. And I have been torn: struggling between interpreting for the dream world, and imagining setting down the words that open to freedom. I know my freedom, like yours, comes from unshackling myself from the dream.

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