Early in the twentieth century, amid the myths of progress and modernity that underpinned Mexico’s ruling party, some three hundred Chinese immigrants—close to half of the Cantonese residents of the newly founded city of Torreón—were massacred over the course of three days. It is considered the largest slaughter of Chinese people in the history of the Americas, an attempted extermination that was followed by denial or empty statements of regret. The massacre reverberated briefly before fading from collective memory. More than a century later, the facts continue to be elusive, mistaken, and repressed.
“And what do you know about the Chinese people who were killed here?” Julián Herbert asks anyone who will listen. An exorcism of persistent and discomfiting ghosts, The House of the Pain of Others attempts a reckoning with the 1911 massacre. Blending reportage, personal reflection, essay, and academic treatise, Herbert talks to taxi drivers and historians, travels to the scene of the crime, and digs deep into archives that contain conflicting testimony. Looping, digressive, and cinematic, this crónica vividly portrays the historical context as well as the lives of the perpetrators and victims of the “small genocide.” It is a distinctly twenty-first-century sort of Western, a tremendous literary performance that extends and enlarges the accomplishments of a significant international writer.
House of the Pain of Others: Chronicle of a Small Genocide
Graywolf Press 2019. New paperback; 304 pages