Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington DC: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

Herewith a few photos of the launch event for my new novel the other day in the beautiful music room at the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington DC (Instituto de Mexico). It was an honor indeed to be introduced by the Institute's Director, the Mexican Embassy's Cultural Attache, Alejandra De La Paz, and then by Professor John Tutino, Chair of the History Department at Georgetown University. After his very kind introduction (and some amusing thoughts about how confoundingly complicated 19th century Mexican history is--- and its essentially transnational nature), I read a few sections from The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire--- in particular, the opening, set in Rosedale; the scene with Ambassador General Almonte in the White House levee; and the "high noon" of the Mexican Empire (to quote journalist William Wells), an 1865 ball in Mexico's Imperial Palace. I also talked about how The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is, for several reasons, a very Washingtonian story and at the same time, a story that goes into a very deep vein--- in fact, if tangentially, it is a story about what it means to be Mexican. Some excerpts from my talk:

The Second Empire was an assertion by the French, by the Catholic Church, and a large number of Mexican conservatives, that Mexicans were properly subjects of a crown. The Jaurista, Republican response--- ultimately victorious--- was that, no, Mexicans are citizens. Citizens of a Republic.

The prince as a person is not the main character; rather, it is the prince as the living symbol of an idea--- the idea that the Mexican Empire could continue into the future.

And yet, it is a very Washingtonian story on many levels, for it begins in Washington, with the prince's mother... What all of the histories of the Second Empire have missed is that she was not only a Washingtonian but she was from a very prominent Washington family. She was not an ordinary person. This explains a lot about what happened--- the arrangement she and her husband and his family made with Maximilian and later, when she wanted her little boy back, the wherewithal she had to get up what was truly an international scandal. She took the matter to General Bazaine, Supreme Commander of the French forces in Mexico, then, after her arrest and expulsion from Mexico, all the way to U.S. Secretary of State Seward, then to Paris, to U.S. Minister John Bigelow, who was in constant contact with the highest levels of the French Imperial Government! She even got the matter on the front page of the New York Times-- claiming Maximilian had "kidnapped an American child."

What an honor indeed to see the wife of Mexico's ambassador in the front row! And so many Mexican friends and Mexico buffs and Mexico experts, Barbara Tenenbaum, Andrew Selee, and also the gals from my writers group-- Kathleen Currie, Kate Blackwell (You Won't Remember This), Mary Kay Zuravleff (The Bowl is Already Broken)--- translator of Mexican poetry and amazing poet herself, Brandel France de Bravo (Provenance), travel writer L. Peat O'Neil, visionary librarian Jane Kinney Meyers, novelists Fred Reuss, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Joyce Hackett, Mexican award-winning short story writer Luis Felipe Lomeli, DC's own Poetry Goddess, Kim Roberts, and Dan Vera--- and thanks so much Dan, for sharing these photos of the event. It was also such an honor to see my editor, Greg Michalson, and his partner at Unbridled Books, Fred Ramey--- and last, but most importantly, my husband, to whom the book is dedicated.

The venerable Politics & Prose handled the booksales, and I was very sorry to disappoint friends that they ran out of books!! I understand they have more in the bookstore. (Click here for general information about ordering.)

P.S. All photos are courtesy of Dan Vera.

And for those of you in Washington DC area who don't know the Mexican Cultural Institute, be sure to visit their website and get on their mailing list--- it's such a beautiful venue, close to the metro, and always busy with cornucopia of concerts, shows, readings, cooking demonstrations, and screenings. It is a jewel on the cultural scene here in Washington.

I'll be reading this Sunday at 2 pm at the Writers Center in Bethesda MD--- and more info and more events are listed here. More anon.