Caballero is sometimes described as “the Gone With The Wind of Texas”. It’s rather unfortunate that it shares its name with that goalkeeper City have just signed from Malaga. but that’s beside the point. It’s also not in the same league as GWTW, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it has no value. It tells the story of a Mexican family, of Spanish hidalgo descent, living in southern Texas at the time of the Mexican War. The “caballero” of the title is the patriarch of the family. “Caballero” means gentleman … not a word I’ve ever forgotten since I made a complete prat of myself in a GCSE Spanish lesson by confusing “caballeros” in the sense of “gents’ toilets” (our text books were ridiculously out of date) with “caballos”, which means “horses”. “Caballero”, like chevalier, cavalier, etc, did originally mean someone who rode a horse … anyway, I digress.
I first came across the Mexican War when I was 11, through John Jakes’ North and South, but that told the story from an American military viewpoint. This tells the story largely from the viewpoint of a number of Mexican-Texan women – the “cabellero”‘s two daughters, both of whom end up marrying “Anglo” Americans, his widowed sister (possibly the most fascinating character in the book) and his wife. The book covers not only the interaction between the “Anglos” and the … now, what’s the word? The idea of “Hispanics” or “Latinos” as a separate ethnic or cultural group can be quite hard for a British person to get their head round. Polish-Americans, Italian-Americans, etc, are all grouped along with “Anglo” Americans, but Hispanics are classed as a separate group, and it’s quite a complex issue. In Texas, the word “Tejano/a” is often used, and I think that’s a good word. So, we have the interaction between the “Anglos” (and that word doesn’t really work either, as many of the Americans who settled in Texas after the Mexican War were of German descent) and the Tejanos, and we also have the restrictions imposed by class and tradition on the women of this family, the Mendoza y Sorias.
The book is partly a romance, between Susanita, the “Caballero’s” youngest daughter, and Robert, an American lieutenant, but the romance isn’t the main part of it. It doesn’t even work all that well – some of it’s a bit corny and cheesy, eyes meeting across a crowded room (actually a crowded church) and that’s it kind of thing. What’s more important is the courage of Susanita in going against tradition, not just in her choice of husband but in going to the American soldiers to beg for the life of her brother, and also the advocacy of the integration of the two communities. Interestingly, the book, whilst written in the 1930s and 1940s, wasn rejected by publishers at the time, probably because of concerns about how the promotion of integration would have been received.
It’s not Gone With The Wind, but it’s still a very well-written and intriguing work, with a lot of different aspects thereof.