The story of a highly sanguinary, “revealing but buried episode of the Mexican Revolution.”
Mexico-based writer, musician, and teacher Herbert (Tomb Song, 2018, etc.) uses a kind of patchwork-quilt approach to composition in this account of the horrifying episode—in May 1911, “some three hundred Chinese immigrants were murdered, their corpses mutilated, their clothes removed, and their belongings looted. Their bodies were dumped in a mass grave”—that consumed him for a number of years. There are some passages of traditional historiography, but the author also includes several interviews with residents of Torreón, where the slaughter occurred (none could tell him much about the events of 1911), and first-person accounts of his research and other related activities. Some sections about the intricacies of local and international politics—and long block quotations from others’ accounts of the slaughter—will require patience from readers, but the stories of the preludes to the violence, and of the horrors themselves, are simultaneously gripping and depressing. Murder, post-mortem brutality, the blood of children running in the streets, and xenophobia out of control: These and other aspects of the narrative will simultaneously propel readers through the pages and frequently disgust them. As the author points out in a number of places, in this particular region, there is historical amnesia about the event, an unwillingness, even, to want to know what happened. And although there were negotiations between Mexican and Chinese diplomats concerning a financial settlement, no money ever changed hands. The strengths of Herbert’s writing are patent throughout: his vast, comprehensive research; his often elegant phrases and sentences (“the surreptitious legalization of chaos”); his empathy; and his determination to be accurate and fair. The author closes with a “selected chronology” of parallel events in Torreón, Mexico as a whole, Europe/Mexico/USA/China, and China.
A grim, complex, and admonitory account of a deeply racist episode that many would rather forget—or ignore.