Xolo Score 4.25/5
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas is a gothic novel set in 1823 Mexico. It follows Beatriz Hernández Valenzuela, a mestiza woman, who sees her father’s execution just after the Mexican War of Independence. Determined to save herself and her mother from suffering at the hands of her relatives who disdain her mixed racial heritage, Beatriz jumps at the opportunity to marry Rodolfo Solórzano. But once she leaves the city to become the mistress of Hacienda San Isidro, Beatriz realizes that the estate providing her sanctity might be her downfall.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
The Hacienda, in many ways, is your typical haunted house ghost story. The nights aren’t safe, and Beatriz constantly has to look over her shoulder. But Isabel Cañas incorporates the insidiousness of racism and misogyny as important reasons why Beatriz struggles to find haven in her new home. Her husband, Don Rodolfo, and sister-in-law, Juana, are light-skinned criollos from a family who built their fortune from distilling the local maguey into alcohol. Don Rodolfo and Juana quickly paint Beatriz as hysterical for suggesting that Hacienda San Isidro is haunted. Her only ally is Padre Andres, a mestizo priest whose family has an ancestral connection to San Isidro’s land. Quickly Andres realizes the only way to save themselves and the lost souls is to embrace the “damned” and unleash his capabilities as a witch.
The Hacienda excels in digging into one’s fear of the dark and unknown. But in addition to causing chills down your spine, Cañas also does an excellent job of creating complexity between the main characters, Beatriz and Padre Andres. Beatriz has no intentions of being the typical Doña of San Isidro. She wants people to see her for who she is, not as someone outside their casta or an authority figure handed to her with her marriage. And Padres Andres refuses to exist solely within the criollo narrative that he should be grateful to be given a name and a place in the catholic church as a mestizo. Beatriz and Padre Andres understand what it means to persist in a society that is so quick to punish people of their identity for the slightest misstep and having the suppress offhand barns into their flesh. These motivations help Beatriz and Padre Andres survive Hacienda San Isidro and grow from the experience.
After solving the mystery of Hacienda San Isidro and returning it to Andres’s family and its various keepers, Beatriz reflects on how she’s changed since moving to the hacienda – “I had once called the house before us mine. I came to its threshold with the confidence of a conqueror, of a general, ready to put down its rebellions and bend it to my will. I was wrong too.” Beatriz acknowledges that although she was a mestiza woman with no options but to marry into a whiter and wealthier family, she had no right to presume herself the owner of San Isidro’s land and its people. Beatriz experienced marginalization and discrimination, but her almost fatal proximity to whiteness quickly proved a false sense of security.
The Hacienda is a chilling story that melds a fear of the dark with the impacts of colonialism and Catholicism in post-War of Independence, Mexico.
To what extent are there BIPOC leading characters or perspectives?
How well does the author avoid writing BIPOC experiences through the white gaze?
To what extent does the author challenge white-centered beliefs?
How well does the book explore nuances between intersectional identities?