The three biographies address many difficulties the three men had in dealing with English-speaking Americans. Each life story reflects its subject’s feeling that his people have been deeply wronged by English-speaking Americans. In that way, the book meets an important criterion for evaluating a collective biography: that the book has a unifying theme or focus. A characteristic that all three had in common is also revealed: They were willing to fight and even risk death for the ideas in which they believed—that church contributions should be voluntary, that the law should be enforced equally for all people, and that the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo should be honored, including the provision that property belonging to Mexicans would be respected.
Bernard’s favorable attitude toward the three Hispanic Americans is evident; Martínez, Baca, and Tijerina are portrayed positively. Yet general approval does not mean that these are one-sided biographies. Occasional mention of the subjects’ negative qualities shows the three men to be real human beings.
A notable flaw, however, is that the book presents as facts some legends, tall tales, and unverified reports about the three characters. For example, by Tijerina’s own account, he was born on a stack of cotton sacks in a field where his mother was a migrant worker. The story may well be true, but it has not been verified as fact. Yet Bernard writes: “He was born on a cotton...
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A valuable contribution of Voices from the Southwest to young adult literature is its introduction to the historical context in which its biographical characters fit. The conflict of cultures and customs in the Southwest is far from being unexplored territory. Yet Bernard provides illuminating perspectives on the differing concepts of land ownership and of relations between church and state of the Hispanic settlers (who arrived as early as the 1500’s) and the English-speaking colonists (who came later). The French are minor characters in this book, and Native Americans are nearly invisible.
The broad span of nearly two hundred years and three lives, which overlapped slightly (although the men did not know one another), creates a unique vista. Other biographical works, such as Clarke Newlon’s Famous Mexician-Americans (1972) and Janet Morey and Wendy Dunn’s Famous Mexican Americans (1989), both feature contemporary Mexican Americans and much shorter timespans.
Despite the shortcomings noted, Voices from the Southwest is a worthwhile addition to the canon of biography for young readers. It will continue to be useful and illuminating for students of southwestern United States history.