Jose A. Olivera
Chicano Studies 138
29 May 2008
“How the Border Lies: Some Historical Reflections”
By Patricia Penn-Hilden
In “How the Border Lies: Some Historical Reflections”, Patricia Penn-Hilden contends
that “We the People” does not include all the people. In arguing this she hits on two key points
throughout her writing. The first is violence by both the Anglos and Spanish and the second is
exclusion through omission, or “Amnesia” of certain events from history books; both of which
she argues characterized the conquest and colonization of North America (153).
Hilden begins with, “We, the People’ were born in the 1620s”, then goes on to tell an
account of a violent massacre by a group of Pilgrims (led by John Mason) on a Pequot village.
These Pilgrims surrounded a village of Pequot Indians, set it on fire and as men, women, and
children tried to escape a fiery death, they met a volley of musket fire. Those that were not killed
were captured and enslaved. She also alludes to other accounts of U.S. history that contained the
very practices and subscribed to the very ideology that underlined this massacre, such as the
Native American “Relocation” and slavery. These practices led Hilden to conclude that “We the
People” did not include the Pequot Indians or any of these “others”. The violence was only part
of the conquest however. Along with the violence came a desire for separation and the need for
borders both physical mental. However, the most blatant exclusion that Hilden discuses are the
omissions of certain events from history books.
According to Hilden the rewriting and omitting of historical events from history books
has been instrumental to the exclusion and the lack of cultural identity of the “others” in
America. For instance, in 1599 Juán de Oñate sent an expeditionary force to attack the Acoma
people who had killed his nephew and “twelve of his soldiers” after his soldiers had raped an
Acoma girl” and robbed booty from the tribe (156). This force killed eight hundred people and
every male over the age of 25 “had one of their feet severed”, yet this account is hardly
remembered even by those with ties to Acoma Indians (156). Simon Ortiz who grew up on an
Acoma reservation, stated that he did not recall ever hearing an accurate account of these
atrocities until he was in college which he believes “diminished” the Acoma to “an indigenous
people” (157). Omission is not the only part of the exclusion that Hilden refers to; she also
references the skewed historical accounts that exclude the “others”. Carey McWilliams states in
her book “North From Mexico” that before the conquistadores came “Pueblo Indians had for
many years been fighting a losing battle against their hereditary enemies, the nomadic tribes”
(160). She then explains that “It is altogether probable that the Spaniards rescued and to a degree
revitalized the culture of the Pueblo Indians” (160). The same people who massacred, raped, and
mutilated the Pueblo Indians, had now with the benefit of “Amnesia” become their saviors.
Throughout her writing Hilden focuses on the violence and exclusion that were practiced by
Anglos and the Spanish and demonstrates that “We, the People” was not all inclusive, thus
creating “others”. More than violence though, by omitting the struggles and battles of a people
from history, the “others” referred to in her writing were effectively stripped of their past, which
in turn makes it at best difficult to identify and define who and what one is in the present.
1.) Why is it so important for “others” to remember events that have been omitted from most
2.) What effect have borders had on “others” within the United States?