The Metalanguage of Border Crossing: The Deconstruction of Myth in Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World

Abstract: This paper argues that Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World subverts US-centric discourses on border crossing by exposing them as artificial myths. Suspending said myths by superimposing an alternative mythical dimension rooted in Aztec cosmology and narratives about the descent into the underworld, the novel instead fosters a form of ‘alternative knowledge’ in which the liminal state of border-crossing bodies becomes detached from the negative stigma of hegemonic US-centric discourse. The ensuing study’s main analysis aims to detail how the novel’s narrative structure of descent reimagines the experiences of unauthorized border crossing as a mythical and transformative journey of self-discovery.

Mythical renditions and notions of ‘the border’ have undoubtedly played a decisive role in shaping a distinct US American identity by stimulating a shared sense of self and Other. Arguing accordingly, Pete Mitchell speculates that since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the US-Mexican border might very well be the “most mythologized in the world.” Scholars of US history will find that imaginations of the western border region as a site of conflict between ‘civilization’ and an ostensibly ever-encroaching ‘wilderness’ have not only nourished a sustained interest in Western fictions but also helped to legitimize national myths such as ‘Manifest Destiny’ and the ‘American Frontier’—the latter of which is designated by Frederick Jackson Turner in his 1893 ‘Frontier thesis’ as the cradle of American democracy. Many of these mythical renditions seem to share a common understanding of ‘the American’ as the force of good within a hostile environment of savage Otherness. Characterizations of the ethnic Other—a designated role discursively forced upon Native Americans and Mexican people—not only served as a foil for American exceptionalism but also proliferated the stigmatization of Native American and Mexican identities.

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