Josephina Niggli - Mexican Village

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

20 Pages, Grade: 2- (B-)



Chicano/a Movement & Chicano/a Literature
"Mexican Village"
Josephina Niggli
Mexico vs. USA

Mexican Village
The Quarry: Bob Webster
The River Road
Women's Status: María vs. Evita
The Mexican Revolution
The Street of the Forgotten Angel
The Castillo Family
Roberto Ortega Menéndez y Castillo, formerly known as "Bob Webster"


Appendix: Family Tree



Chicano/a Movement & Chicano/a Literature

As there are some people who have never heard the term Chicano/a, it is of utmost importance to start out with a definition. Chicanos are people of Mexican descent who live in the United States. They were either born there or immigrated with their families. Therefore a Chicano may seem like a Mexican-American. The difference is that the first term implies cultural awareness, whereas the other is rather neutral.

In Chicano/a writing the essence not only is that the author is a Chicano/a, he or she even plants Chicano characters into a Chicano environment who use Chicano speech patterns. The first pieces of Chicano literature were produced after the Mexican War (1848), so that this is actually a rather young field of research. The origins, however, already lie in the late 16th century, when the Spaniards spread their language and religion, etc. From that background folktales and legends evolved, among them La Llorona, the weeping woman. In fact, many Chicano works of fiction revolve around her.

Historically important here is the Treaty of Guadelupe-Hidalgo from 1848. After the so-called Mexican War (1846-1848), Mexico had to cede large parts of its land, much of the Mexican Southwest (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California), to the U.S., and in the short run those Mexicans who lived there had to choose between either Mexican or American citizenship. It is their descendants who later developed poetry, narratives and corridos. Corridos are ballads in Spanish, altogether forming a cultural history. Up to the present day, they have not ceased to exist.

By 1900, Chicano literature played a role in the United States. Since many Mexican-Americans spoke Spanish and were catholic, those two were its first features. Around the same time also the first novels and stories were published. Things changed in 1945 at the latest, with the appearance of Josephina Niggli's Mexican Village. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s (also the time of the so-called Chicano Movement [1965-1975]), Chicano publishing houses were founded. Only then could the literary field spread its wings and make way for movies and plays. A more recent development is the emergence of strong Chicana writing, aiming at voices of Mexican or Mexican-American women finally being heard and thus among others dealing with Mexican icons such as La Malinché, the Virgin of Guadelupe and the aforementioned La Llorona.[1]

Along with the Chicano Movement came Chicano ideology, the concept of Aztlán. Aztlán was not only the mythical homeland of the Aztecs. After overcoming several stages, it also made Chicanos "indigenous to the Southwest. The notion of Aztlán as the Chicano homeland was a successful unifying metaphor that promoted a sense of ethnic pride in the indigenous ancestors."[2] Unfortunately, Chicanos and Chicanas have not found their place in society yet, but hope remains that one day they will have.[3]

"Mexican Village"

Josephina Niggli's Mexican Village has been mentioned once before, and it is this novel this paper wants to focus on as an example of Chicana writing. The book contains ten stories, all of which play in and around Hidalgo and revolve around its inhabitants from 1920 to 1930. Its particularity lies in the fact "that Niggli clearly intended to convey to American readers an authentic sense of Mexican culture."[4] To reach her aim, and by the way she did reach it, Josephina included Mexican tales and folkloric material. She introduces each story with a proverb or folksong related to the main theme, for instance, but not only that, she also occasionally uses Spanish syntax in her English writing.

When reading the book, the landscape can easily be pictured. This comes to no surprise, for, Josephina Niggli was born in Mexico, even lived in Hidalgo for several years. From the beginning it becomes clear that distinctions have to be made between an average Hidalgo person, to whom the mining quarry is of vital importance, as indeed it was in reality, and the rulers of the Sabinas Valley, who are all men.

However, this does not mean the women had no say or power at all. Tia Magdalena, for example, who will appear again later on and who is an eagle witch, is treated with the utmost respect. She knows how to use natural gifts as well as magic properly, which might show the reader "that witchcraft, superstition and spirits are alive and active in the Mexican cultural heritage."[5] María (see The River Road), on the contrary, exemplifies an extraordinary power of love.

The novel is written in English, and in the traditional third person. Together, the first and the last story build a frame. As has been mentioned already, too, Spanish words occur and some phrases are marked by a word by word translation. For an outsider this may seem odd but besides being considered romantic, Spanish also was a more personal language, plus, Chicanos indeed switched languages in everyday speech.[6]

Josephina Niggli


Before gaining a deeper impression of the novel, a few details about the author might be helpful to understand it better. Josephina María Niggli was born on the 13th of July, 1910, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. Her parents were Frederick Ferdinand Niggli and Goldie Morgan Niggli. Whereas he was of Swiss and Alsatian descent, she was of French, German and Irish descent. From 1913 to 1920 the family moved to different places in the American Southwest, before finally deciding to return to Mexico.

Josephina spent her school years in San Antonio, Texas, where she got homesick and where she thus wrote her first poetry. In 1931 she graduated. Her major was philosophy, her minor history. The young woman moved on to the University of North Carolina, where she graduated six years later with a Master's Degree in drama. A period of working and teaching followed: first as a script writer in Hollywood and then as a teacher of radio script writing and production. From 1956 until 1975 she was the director of drama and journalism instructor at the Western Carolina University faculty. Her death was recorded on December 17, 1983, at her home in Cullowhee.

Among other honors, she received "the Mayflower Association of North Carolina's award for the best book written during previous years by a North Carolinian"[7] for Mexican Village one year after its publication. The very first publication of Josephina Niggli was called Mexican Silhouettes, a collection of poems financed by her father. It appeared in Hidalgo in 1928, obviously in Spanish since the publication of the American edition in San Antonio is said to have taken place in 1931. Poems and short stories in magazines followed. In the late 1930s, from 1935 to 1938 to be exact, she wrote a few historical plays about Mexico and the Mexican Revolution. Mexican Village was her first novel, followed by Step Down Elder Brother in 1947, and A Miracle for Mexico in 1964.[8]

As one of the first Chicana writers, her work was published by U.S. presses. Regarded

"as one of the most influential Mexican-American authors of the 20th century [, her] work can be seen as a landmark in Mexican-American writing since she on the one hand tried to capture Mexican traditions, life and customs for a general American audience but also to point the way to the contemporary Chicano literary awareness and sensibility."[9]

Mexico vs. USA

Since Josephina Niggli grew up in a bicultural surrounding, she looked at everything from a Mexican and an American perspective. This can be traced in her works, with which she not only wanted to address her fellow countrymen, but also, or particularly, Americans, and that is why both points of view can be found in her writings. She wanted to change the Americans' picture of Mexico, presenting the country and its people as nobody had ever done it before.

For her, Mexico was "an increasingly democratic and civic-minded society."[10] Niggli emphasizes the role of the Chicano in Mexican society pointing at his being integrated. Everybody who has heard of American policies towards race issues will confirm that this makes Mexico somehow superior to the United States. Thus, just like the American students pledge their allegiance to the flag at school in the morning, Niggli obviously supports both countries.

Opinions varied about whether or not it was a good idea to write in English rather than Spanish. Mrs. Niggli may not have seen the point in a discussion like this, especially since she was to address Americans, many of which "really thought there was nothing more to Latin American life than the stereotypes they saw at the movies"[11] in the 1920 and 1930s. Had she not had these goals and intentions, U.S. publishing houses maybe would not have paid attention to her. What she wrote, and the way she wrote it, just sounded authentic. Well, is it not the case that she first grew up in Mexico and later left the country for the Unites States? Consequently, she had the ability

"to act as a translator of Mexican culture for U.S. readers. Thus, while Mexican Village gives a detailed portrait of Mexican customs and folk culture, it also tries to undo the banana republic view of Mexico by representing village life in a mode that would be legible to a U.S. audience as an indication of progress. It does so by tempering the folk culture it portrays with glimpses of an increasingly civic-minded society that values hard work over aristocratic blood."[12]


[1] see: Paredes, Raymund, Teaching Chicano Literature: An [sic] Historical Approach. (Jan. / Febr. 2002.)

[2] Sánchez, María Ruth Noriega, Myth and Ideology in Contemporary Chicana Writing. (Jan. / Febr. 2002.)

[3] see: María Ruth Noriega Sánchez, Myth and Ideology.

[4] Leipert, Janette, The Quarry. (Dresden: Presentation [10-22-2001], WS 2001 / 2002.), p. 2.

[5] Janette Leipert, The Quarry, 2001, p. 3.

[6] see: ibid, pp. 2-3.

[7] ibid, pp. 1-2.

[8] see: The Texas State Historical Association (1997-2001), The Handbook of Texas Online: Niggli, Josefina María. (Jan. / Febr. 2002.)

[9] see: Janette Leipert, The Quarry, 2001, p. 2.

[10] Yolanda Padilla, Nation, Mestizaje, 2001.

[11] ibid.

[12] Yolanda Padilla, Nation, Mestizaje, 2001. & see: Yolanda Padilla, Nation, Mestizaje, 2001.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Josephina Niggli - Mexican Village
Dresden Technical University  (Institute for Anglistics/American Studies)
Chicano/a Presences
2- (B-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
524 KB
Chicano, Chicana, Mexican American, Josephina Niggli, Mexican Village
Quote paper
Silke-Katrin Kunze (Author), 2002, Josephina Niggli - Mexican Village, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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