The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1980, Volume 26, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Book Review

Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

Hispanic Culture in the Southwest. By Arthur L. Campa. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979. Bibliograhy. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 316 pages. $25.00.

Reviewed by David J. Weber, Professor of History and Chairman of the Department, Southern Methodist University, whose most recent book is New Spain’s Far Northern Frontier: Essays on Spain in the American West, 1540-1821 (University of New Mexico Press, 1979).

In this generously illustrated, large-format volume, the late Arthur Campa, who died in 1978, attempted to survey all aspects of “Hispanic Culture” in what we today call the American Southwest. Operating on the premise that “cultural development is implicit in … history” (vii), Campa devoted over half of his study to the historical evolution of Hispanic peoples in the Southwest, from Coronado to the present. He approached this subject with the familiar state-by-state examination of events in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas, and gave special attention to cultural variations in each state. Following his lengthy historical accounts, Campa devoted separate chapters to cultural manifestations such as arts and crafts, music, dance, foods, religious beliefs, and values. The breadth of this study constitutes its great strength, and is also the source of its weakness.

Although he was an accomplished folklorist, Campa did not have all the tools of the variety of disciplines represented in this volume. His historical narrative, for example, is poorly organized and his periodization ill-conceived, with the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries slighted in favor of the colonial period. Latin American historians will wince at his assertion that “race consciousness was not very significant during Spanish colonial days” (p. 3). Anthropologists may shudder at the idea that the life of an Indian enslaved by Spaniards was preferable to “the precarious existence led by the roaming tribes to which most slaves had belonged” (p. 43). Even the most hardened geographical determinist could hardly swallow Campa’s assertion that the “westering” instinct of Anglo Americans on the East Coast provided a dynamism lacking among the Californios who “were already in the West, and so they were more relaxed” (p. 39). Few modern sociologists would feel comfortable with the generalization that “Hispanos, with a deeply ingrained sense of realism, cultivate the present to the exclusion of the future” (p. 211), or that “Anglo-Americans do not trust their feelings and try to repress them, because they may not be as familiar with them as Hispanos, who are guided by them” (p. 284).

Hispanic Culture in the Southwest contains so many dubious generalizations and errors of fact that it cannot be recommended as a suitable introduction to the subject—the purpose for which it was apparently intended. Its chapters are so lightly documented that Campa’s sources usually are not clear and his bibliography does not demonstrate acquaintance with significant scholarship of the 1970s. The publication of this book by a university press suggests a quality of research and level of sophistication which simply is not present.

Readers with special interests, who examine this book critically, will find some remarkable nuggets of information, such as Campa’s story of the Hispanic origin of the name of Canada, and some provocative interpretations. I found especially intriguing Campa’s iconoclastic assessment of the artistic merit of the carved wooden santos of New Mexico. In contrast to critics who praise the santeros of New Mexico as artists who deliberately overlooked precision of detail, dimension, and fidelity to anatomy in order to express piety and emotion, Campa suggests that santeros carved crude images because they lacked the skill to make finer ones. Campa’s comments on the current state of Hispanic culture are of special interest. Like many Mexican-Americans of his generation, he had little use for the Chicano movement and predicted, probably correctly, that the word Chicano will be replaced by a term that more Hispanics find acceptable. For Campa, the preferable term is Hispano, which has enjoyed popularity in New Mexico through much of this century, and which Campa would clearly like to export.