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Children are the innocence of man and the naivety of life. Children don¶t yet have the

strength of their parents or older siblings, or the quickness of mind; however, they have less

prejudice and hatred and hurt. The things children say and do are a little too honest and often

ironic. However, similar can be said of their adult counterparts: the lies adults feed each other

and themselves make much of what they choose to say ironic. Children often say or do what their

parents wish they could whilst remaining polite and decent, but children know no better. ³The

Hammon and the Beans´ by Americo Paredes reveals irony amongst an entire town, down to a

group of children, and even children singularly. The story takes place in a Mexican town that has

been taken over by the United States during the Mexican-American war, and the military base

that coincides with it. The use of irony throughout the story reveals the inward fight of the town

to retain their culture while slowly sinking into the American way of life.

Because of border troubles, soldiers had returned to Fort Jones, the fort next to town, and

while the town has adjusted to their presence, certain ironies reveal their true feelings and

changes they have gone through. The town awoke in the morning and at ³eight the whistle from

the post laundry sent [the] children off to school. The whole town stopped for lunch with the

noon whistle, and after lunch everybody went back to work when the post laundry said it was

one o¶clock« [t]he post was the town¶s clock, you might have said«´ (383). Ironically, the

town has become adjusted to using the American standard of time as their own. While their

culture is fading away, they are following the base as their time-keeper and following the

routines of the American soldiers, instead of their own and instead of how they did before the

base became reoccupied. They are no longer their own town with their own heritage and ways,

they have become standardized by the American ways. When the soldiers arrived back at the
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fort, the town ³didn¶t hate them for that; [they] admired them even at least sometimes. But when

[they] were thinking about the border troubles instead of Margion the Fox [they] hooted them

and the flag they were lowering, which for the moment was theirs alone´ (383). The town

admired them, and jeered at them at the same time. This irony reflects the town¶s fight to remain

their own during a time they are adjusting to their new lives. The soldiers are normal to them, but

sometimes they stay true to their old ways and don¶t support them. They don¶t accept the

American flag as their own yet, but they show their acceptance of the soldiers¶ presence. The

influence of Fort Jones upon the town reveals the town¶s growing acceptance of their new lives,

and death of their old.

The reader then learns about Chonita, a young girl in the town and the focus narrows to

her own effect upon other children, the base, and the town itself. Chonita is a symbol of the

culture within the town, she is a Mexican child who struggles to learn English. Her feeble ability

reveals itself during her speeches, where she says only ³Give me the hammon and the beans!´

(384). She says ³hammon´ instead of ham, the word she is going for, and is never corrected. The

other children praise her meager attempts at the English language, when she finished her speech

they ³cheered and told her how good it was and how she could talk English better than the

teachers at the grammar school´ (384). Because Chonita is young, she takes these words as

compliments to her own abilities, while the children are actually mocking her poor English and

not impressed by her abilities at all. However, the mocking of the children on the girl is ironic,

for they themselves may have been raised to learn English, but their native language remains

Spanish. While she is brought down, so is her representation of culture within the town.

Chonita is also the only one who goes dares to enter the Fort. She would go ³into the

grounds and mess halls and [press] her nose against the screens and watch the soldiers eat« the
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cooks came out and scolded Chonita, and then they gave her packages with things to eat´ (384).

Chonita is a child and plainly curious about the different culture of the American base, and while

the cooks scold her, ironically they also give her food. At this point the reader expects Chonita to

become a force within the community that can bond together the two cultures in a way that she

can retain both. She is their symbol of their culture, but is accepted within the American

community for that who she is and helped by their people. Chonita dies, and with her dies the

hopes of the town to aspire to more and to retain their culture. When the narrator learns of the

girl¶s death, it ³made [him] feel strange but I did not cry´ (385). While the narrator did not know

the girl very well, it is still instinct for a child to be upset when something like this happens to

someone they know, ironically however the narrator is not immediately upset over the incident,

symbolizing his acceptance of the loss of his culture. Later that night, the narrator thinks ³of

Chonita in Heaven, and [he] saw her in her torn and dirty dress, with a pair of bright wings

attached« [t]hen [he] cried´ (386). Ironically, while the initial loss of the girl, of his

culture, doesn¶t bother the narrator, the thought of her in heaven with the torn up dress

seems to. He realizes that with her death potentially dies the possibility of a future for

him, for the other boys in the town. Her death is the loss of a girl following her dreams,

and the death of that hurts the narrator, for it could be the death of his as well.

By using irony in his story ³The Hammon and the Beans´ Paredes expresses his

negative views on the loss of the Mexican culture in southern towns during the Mexican-

American war. As one adjusts, he can either support his previous beliefs, or accept those

which are new to him. ³The Hammon and the Beans´ reveals that it is difficult to merge

two cultures together without losing much of one of them.

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