Celebrating Hispanic Heritage with the Codex Espangliensis

Today we are continuing our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month with a look at a beautifully crafted artist book called Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Patrol. Inspired by pre-Hispanic codices like the Codex Cospi, this collaboration between performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, visual artist Enrique Chagoya, and book artist Felicia Rice features comic-style illustrations on accordion-folded pages that expand out to a total length of over twenty-one feet.

A page from the Codex Espangliensis (2000)

Inspiration for the Codex Espangliensis

Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who supplies much of the text for the piece, explains the vision for the collaboration saying, “We were to produce a ‘post-Columbian’ codex in response to the great Mexican crisis in California.” He goes on to describe this crisis as a period in the 1990s when a series of Californian state legislative propositions attacked the Spanish language and Mexican immigrants at the same time the federal government was making stark changes to immigration policy. Gómez-Peña does not name which Californian propositions he is referring too, but some examples of legislation from the 90s would be Proposition 187, which in 1994 eliminated various social services like public education and nonemergency medical care to undocumented immigrants, and Proposition 227, which limited the ability of public schools to teach students in Spanish in 1998, both of which invoked strong reactions from the Mexican-American community.

A page from the Codex Espangliensis (2000)

About the Artists

Both Gómez-Peña and Chagoya were born and attended university in Mexico, and immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. In their introductions to the codex, they speak of their experiences living in both Mexico and the US and how this experience has influenced their artwork of “cultural hybrids and political collisions.” Because they were born and raised in Mexico, they felt that they were not really Chicano, but they also felt that they were no longer Mexican and not quite American. Their work navigates between two worlds, two languages, and multiple time periods, evoking historical figures and images from popular culture. It also scrutinizes standard maps that want to section off cultural allegiance and national identity behind fixed borders, particularly when these borders work to naturalize unequal power dynamics between the North and South.

A page from the Codex Espangliensis (2000)

Presenting A Complex History Through Art, Performance Texts, and Poetry

The Codex Espangliensis chronicles the complicated and often troubling history of the Americas from colonial conquest by Columbus to the present. It draws connections between past colonial control and more recent trade policies like NAFTA to present a history that is not linear, but told in intertwining and reoccurring fragments. Nearly every page of the Codex Espangliensis highlights the continued violence that has been characteristic of Mexican-American relations. In the page below, for example, the artists question which people and cultures have been made endangered or even extinct, while presenting images of severed limbs served on platters.

A page from the Codex Espangliensis (2000)

Further Reading

For an example of one of the pre-Hispanic Codices that inspired the making of this artist book, please see our previous blog post on the Codex Cospi. For more resources about Hispanic literature, heritage, and culture, you can check out our Chicano Poetry Library Guide and our Latino/a Studies Library Guide.

A page from the Codex Espangliensis (2000)

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.