Paredes, Américo. George Washington Gómez: a Mexicotexan Novel. Houston, Tex.: Arte Publico, 1994. Print.
Americo Paredes wrote George Washington Gomez in the late 1930s; however, the book did not go to print until fifty years later. In the 1994 Arte Publico Press edition of George Washington Gomez, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith describes the book as “a dated work, but not in the pejorative: it is dated authentically, a first draft work set against the Great Depression, the onset of World War II in Europe, and set also against the over 100-year-old conflict of cultures, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas” (6). George Washington Gomez is the only book written from the perspective of a poor Mexican-American on the border between Texas and Mexico during the teens of the 20th century which survives with the authenticity of poverty and discrimination of the time dripping from its pages.
The story opens with the events of the Los Sediciosos of the teens of the 20th century, which will drive Tejanos and Mexicanos to urban centers for protection. The purge to urbanization from rural lands comes at the hands of the Texas Rangers taming of the Nueces strip. David Montejano’s Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas best captures the historical aspects of this period, but Paredes captures the time in a compelling and immensely readable narrative.
To protect his sister from the ravages of the rinches, George Washington Gomez’s Tio Feliciano moves the family to Jonesville-on-the-Grande, which is Brownsville. While in Jonesville, the atmosphere is painted as a violent and desperate place but where George Washington Gomez grows into a young man. Paredes uses the section to highlight the hatred Feliciano has against the Anglos, who he claims grabbed their family lands years ago and attached them to the King Ranch. With the Mexican Revolution raging across the border, Feliciano vows to bring war to the Anglos for their transgressions.
The best picture painted of a young Americo Paredes, which is the Paredes that will have been the author of George Washington Gomez, is the character Pepe in Hart Stilwell’s Border City. Years later, in an interview with student Jose Limon, Paredes claims that Stilwell made him, Pepe, appear to be an angry young man. If one reads George Washington Gomez closely, the vitriol-well deserved because of the inhumane treatment some Texas-Mexicans were dealt at the hands of special Texas Rangers-comes through in the narrative. But in the narrative, the young Paredes also shows his immaturity when he pokes fun at his high school commencement speaker’s address. The keynote in George Washington Gomez is K. Hank Harvey.
Harvey is described as “the Historical Oracle of the State…
George Washington Gomez’s mission in life, the wish made by his dying father in the Los Sediciosos, was for George Washington Gomez to become a leader for the Tejanos and Mexicanos of the Rio Grande Valley. In the end he gets his chance. He becomes an intelligence officer on the eve of World War II. He is sent back to Jonesville-on-the-Grande from Washington DC to investigate German insurgency on the border. He returns with his Anglo wife on his arm, whose father coincidently is a retired Texas Ranger. George Washington Gomez, now with a new name, George G. Gomez, has lost all faith and identity with his culture. He has been Anglicized, and he fails to become a leader for his hispanic counterparts as, instead, he turns his back on them when they ask him to lead. The poignancy, however, of George Washington Gomez does not lie in the violence of racial discrimination, nor does it rest with the cultural conflict of Anglo/Hispanic relations, but in the middle dichotomy that belongs to those displaced in the Anglo world by the color of their skin and the latinization of their surnames and the transcendence of their milieu over poverty and discrimination.
George Washington Gomez is a must read, but we suggest companion reading of Montejano’s Anglos and Mexicans and Arnoldo De Leon’s They Called Them Greasers.