The demise of an exilic consciousness on the part of Latin Americans in major Latino centers and Mexican responses to dispossession from the protocols of citizenship resulted in the commonality of Latino expression that scholars in the U.S. academy have only recently begun to chart. The direct engagement with the strictures of Anglo-American political representation was a primary concern for Spanish speakers that found expression organized around two principal fronts: first, the local—that is, the manifestations of homeland concerns at the immediate local level—and second, what has come to be termed the “glocal,” meaning the impact of American policies in the country of origin (even if the country of origin was the United States, newly conceived after 1848, as was the case for Mexicans).

The fundamental generative moment when it became necessary to articulate what today we call a Latino-specific subjectivity and identity was in 1848 and was fashioned by the ensuing polemic that registered the transition from Mexican to Anglo- American territorial dominance. The Latino subject surfaced along that literal and metaphorical divide between Mexico and the United States—a divide that fractured alliances, elided ethnic identities, and disembodied subjects from the protocols of citizenship. The literal divide was a trope of a rising U.S. nationalism, and its complicit metaphorical weight and accompanying truth claims were perpetuated in the public sphere through various print media on both sides of the cultural divide.

The current emphasis and ostensible novelty associated with Latino cultural production and identity is but a recent manifestation of a larger and unresolved cultural conflict that arose after the Mexican-American War. The various conceits associated with American democratic participation and the unfulfilled promise of equality created competing forms of cultural citizenship that vied for legitimacy and human access to cultural capital in the public sphere. These competing forms of “being American” appealed to the ontological status of Latino citizens (the purportedly knowable core of their “being”), where strategic whiteness and claims to a distinctive ethnic identity born of protocolonialism renegotiated the nature of Hispanicity, often to near-collusive ends, as with Ruiz de Burton’s blue-eyed protagonist. The public-sphere resonance of Latino responses to the loss of political influence, like Ruiz de Burton’s novel, resulted in a publicly rendered identity that elided ethnic particularisms in favor of assimilative forms of national belonging. Like most projects marked by strategic essentialism, the politics of nineteenth-century Latino identity positioned itself as racially white for political gain, all the while lamenting the symbolic loss of cultural and ethnic particularisms. Its alternative, the noncritical embrace of a Latino-specific ethnic identity, did not prove to be a worthwhile strategy in the public sphere as civic influence diminished in measure with the singular dependence on Spanish-language accounts of “glocal” and local concerns. Spanish-language prominence and Anglo-American cultural and linguistic discrimination during this period ultimately facilitated the disintegration of a viable bilingual cultural identity for Spanish speakers.

These negotiations surrounding civic identity constituted subject positions that altered the way Spanish speakers understood themselves in relation to the American body politic and the way that they were imagined as a community by the culture writ large.