To his contemporaries in Gilded Age Manhattan, Guillermo Eliseo was a fantastically wealthy Mexican, the proud owner of a luxury apartment overlooking Central Park, a busy Wall Street office, and scores of mines and haciendas in Mexico. But for all his obvious riches and his elegant appearance, Eliseo was also the possessor of a devastating secret: He was not, in fact, from Mexico at all. Rather, he had begun life as a slave named William Ellis, born on a cotton plantation in Texas during the waning years of King Cotton. After emancipation, Ellis, capitalizing on the Spanish he learned during his childhood along the Mexican border and his ambiguous appearance, engaged in a virtuoso act of reinvention. He crafted an alter ego, the Mexican Guillermo Eliseo, who was able to access many of the privileges denied to African Americans at the time.
The Strange Career of William Ellis offers fresh insights on the history of the Reconstruction era, the US-Mexico border, and the abiding riddle of race. At a time when the United States is deepening its connections with Latin America and recognizing that race is more than simply black or white, Ellis' story could not be more timely or important.
©2016 Karl Jacoby (P)2016 Tantor
"Readers will gain fresh insight into life during Reconstruction as well as the riddle of racial identities." (Library Journal)
I thoroughly enjoyed this true story of William Ellis. Ellis was a raconteur, part con man, sharp businessman, and adventurer..
Since Ellis had business interests in both Mexico and the U.S, the author gives a good background on the history of Mexico during this period, and Texas from it's Mexican origins to its becoming part of the U.S. The author has written several books on the border region so he is well versed on the subject. Having traveled to Mexico several times I share the author's love and fascination with Mexico.
.The author engaged in what appeared to be a lengthy postscript about the subject of racial passing, (light skinned Negroes passing as white) I found that chapter to be unnecessary, and cut it short for these reasons: - Ellis was born into a racist, and unjust system and found a way to bypass that system by posing as Hispanic, and white.(good for him) He suffered the consequences of losing his identity, but flourished as a successful businessman. He was also a bit of a rascal. The story stands on it's own, with it's rewards and consequences, so no modern postscript is necessary.-Frankly, I'm bored with lectures about race The story is what it is, so my suggestion is to skip the postscript.
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