31 - Latin@ Literatures in the US
In 1924, the Mexican American political leader Alonso S. Perales gave a speech to encourage his fellow citizens to vote. In the comments, we address the invisibility of Mexican American history obscured by pervasive beliefs such as the Manifest Destiny and the Racial superiority of the Anglo-American race.
#HispanicHeritageMonth, #HispanicHeritage, #HispanicHistoryintheUS, #LatinosHistoryintheUS, #MexicanAmericanHistory, #MexicanAmericanLiterature, #AlonsoPerales, #AmericoParedes, #MexicanAmericanPoetry, #MexicanAmericansegregation, #ManifestDestiny, #MonroeDoctrine, #USForeignPolicy, #Racism, #TexasHistory, #SanAntonioHistory, #CaliforniaHistory, #SouthwestHistory.
In the following interview with Dr. Nicolás Kanellos we learn more about the history of Latinx Literatures in the United States.
“In 1994, when the US Postal Service released a series of stamps that celebrated 20 ‘Legends of the West,’ critics pointed out that not a single stamp portrayed a figure of Mexican ancestry. No one viewing the stamps would understand that Mexicans and Mexican Americans were among the true pioneers in the West's history, that they had a critical role in colonizing, developing, and shaping the culture and history of the region.” (Taken from Mexican American Voices: A Documentary Reader, P.1)
Greetings, dear listeners of Tres Cuentos, the bilingual podcast dedicated to the literary, historical, and traditional narratives of Latin America. I am Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, and today we begin a fascinating journey through the stories of Latinx, in the United States!
About six years ago, when I moved to San Antonio, Texas, I felt I had moved back home to Cali, Colombia. Everything seemed so familiar, so warm, so beautiful. Little I knew that the Latinos in this part of the world had a long history.
One day, while I was participating in an event, I learned a lesson. I was at my table waiting for customers, mostly librarians that were interested in having a bilingual storyteller at their schools. A lady passed by and stopped for the candy I was offering. I looked at her name tag; it was a Hispanic name. I thought she spoke Spanish. After a whole morning speaking English, my brain was exhausted.
So, I tried to engage in conversation and asked her, in Spanish, where she was from De dónde es usted? Her body shook in disapproval of my inquiry; she replied in English: I am from here! My ancestors have been here in Texas for more than 200 hundred years!
I was confused that my innocent question seemed to have opened an old wound. After that incident, I decided to get to the bottom of the issue. So, I began acquiring books, watching documentaries, and learning that people that looked like me had been here in the US, long before these lands became part of the United States.
Like me, many people are still unaware of the richness of Latino literature and history in the United States.
I want to shout out a big thanks to Arte Público Press for their patience and willingness to collaborate with us throughout this season. In this English episode, we are joined with the voices of my partner Don Hymel, Dr.Lorena Gauthereau and Dr.Nicolás Kanellos from Arte Público Press.
We will start with a speech written in 1923 by the civic Mexican-American leader Alonso S. Perales. The text can be found in the fantastic book called Herencia: the anthology of Hispanic literature of the United States, Edited by Nicolás Kanellos, and published by Oxford University Press.
Today's episode reflects on Mexican American history's invisibility in the US and why we must join our voices to other communities and vote!
The Evolution of Mexican-Americans
By Alonso S. Perales
Sixty-six years have passed since Texas came to be part of the American Union and we Mexican Americans still are considered outsiders even today. The problem we have before us, gentlemen, is that of improving our condition, and it is our responsibility to find a way to resolve this. In my humble opinion, the solution to the problem is based on three factors: Education, Unity and Politics. Allow me to consider the first one.
It is a known fact that Education is one of the basic factors in human progress. It is also known that intellectual advancement will bring with it economic progress, and that economic development will result in social evolution. Therefore, it is urgent that we force ourselves to educate our children, so that instead of perpetuating the production of migrant, day-laborers, we shall produce men of duty, destiny, or profession. The other peoples that make up this cosmopolitan nation do this. Why is it that we do not do the same thing? The day that our earning power is equal to that of our compatriots from other nations will be the day that our "standard of living" will be equal to theirs. If even then they insist on seeing us as nothing more than Mexicans, it will not matter at all, for in calling us Mexicans, they honor us, and this should make every enlightened Mexican American proud.
The second issue is Unity. Everyone knowns that unity equals power. We Mexican Americans who live in the United States should organize ourselves. However, for our organization to be a reality, it is absolutely indispensable that we be able to count on a number of leaders born in our country, and should be intelligent, active, sincere and honorable men. They should be people who, for the good of our people and our country, work with genuine faith and enthusiasm. We do no need any more leaders that simply talk and talk.
As long as men with all of these qualities do not emerge, all efforts toward unity will be in vain. Why do I propose such high standards? Allow me to explain myself. It is necessary for our leaders to be intelligent and sincere people so that they understand profoundly what the phrase "Consistency of Principles" means and, thus, accommodate their conduct to these principals.
Upon returning from Washington, I have had the occasion to observe individuals in Texas who seem to be capable of serving as leaders, but who, despite professing to be enthusiastic fighters in support of the well-being of our Race, once given the opportunity to enter into politics (the most effective weapon that we have to fight for our rights), they have ended up supporting the so-called candidates of an organization extremely hostile to the concerns of Mexican. These same individuals pretend to be our leaders and defenders of our people: they pursue dastardly ends under the guise of pro-Mexican campaign or they misinterpret the phrase consistency of principals.
To prove that the secret organization to which I am referring is an enemy of our people, I am going to take the liberty to quote the following declarations that appeared in the official publication of this organization in San Antonio, Texas, on December 15, 1923:
"Even though the city of San Antonio has always been run by White American men, our officials never have been elected by a majority of White votes. For that reason, the city perennially has been under the influence of foreign voters who pay no attention to who occupies the administrative positions. (The ignorant fools call us foreigners, not understanding that if we vote, clearly, we are as American as they are!)
"As such, San Antonio, supposedly an American city, and one of the largest in the state, has always been dominated by foreign influences, or at least by those who are against the principals upon which our state and national governments are based. We are sure that we say will never be denied, except by those individuals who are more interested in their own personal gains than in the well-being of the state, the county, or the municipality.
"In San Antonio, the Mexican vote is always a deciding factor in every election…and the White man who gets this Mexican vote benefits, of course, and once again the newspaper appear with the news of 'the battle that was just won by White, patriotic Americans…' As you would except, in all of the local elections, every candidate, regardless of his background, receives some American support. Notwithstanding, the man from San Antonio who wins is elevated to his post by the votes of the foreigners (Mexicans!) and the Blacks!
"One of these days, things are going to change in San Antonio, The Battle of the Alamo was a victory and a symbol for its defenders, despite the fact that the heroes of this bloody conflict died in combat. San Antonio was a scratch on the surface, but in the battle of San Jacinto, Sam Houston and his small group of valiant Texans deepened the wound. This famous battle will be repeated in San Antonio, when, for the good of the population and if this district, this city sends the foreign element on a 'Marathon for tall timber.' That day will come. It is as sure as the sky itself. So, let us prepare ourselves for the job and success, though slow in coming, will be ours."
Here we have some of the popular opinions about our people. Despite those declarations, there were many enthusiastic "defenders of our people" who, not satisfied with just contributing their votes to the cause, dedicated themselves during the campaign to openly persuading the Mexican community to vote for the so-called candidates of this organization…perhaps to better ensure our political and social improvement!
There you have it, gentlemen, the reason why it is absolutely indispensable that our leaders be intelligent, patriotic, sincere and honorable men, whose racial pride surpasses their personal ambitions. The man who is proud of his racial origin, almost certainly will never abandon a noble cause, like ours, to join the ranks of the enemy. We should, then, join together. It is urgent that we study and investigate those men who pretend to be our leaders, for the banner of our desperately needed unity should be nothing less than patriotism and justice.
The third factor in the solution of our problem is Political activity. We Mexican-Americans of this nation should take more of an interest in our government. Ours is a Republican government, and, in the words of the great President Lincoln, "a government of the people, by the people and for the people." Accordingly, those of us who are citizens of this country are as American as the best American. Not one person in whose veins flows blood from some other race that makes up this nation has the right-even if he does have the audacity-to tell us that we are not "one hundred percent American." As I have already said, based on ethnicity, history and geography, nobody-except for the pure American Indian-has more right than we, the descendent of Hidalgo and Cuauhtémoc, to call themselves one hundred percent American. I challenge anyone to refute my assertion.
Politics, I repeat, are the most powerful weapon that we have to fight for our rights and to improve our situation I every sense. Accordingly, during elections we should study the candidates for public office, be they municipal, state or national elections, as we are giving the men, we elect the responsibility to govern us. Thus, it is imperative that these men be educated, sincere, fair and honorable. They should be people who, once in power, are ready to demand justice for our Race. We Mexicans, regardless of our citizenship, ask neither for favor nor beg for sympathy-but we do ask for JUSTICE. This is our goal and our dream.
To demonstrate why it is that we should study the candidates for government positions, I am going to mention the case of the ex-Governor, James E. Ferguson. In 1921 this man unjustifiably made some denigrating and inflammatory comments about our Race. These were comments that I did not hesitate to energetically deny from Washington, DC once I found out about them. In my letter, I made him see the injustice in his attacks as well as his ignorance about the real merits of Mexicans as a race. In August of this year, he stated that he stood by his statements from 1921, and added that his wife did not, in the least, need the Mexican vote to win.
Well, when this man was promoted to the position of Governor, how many Mexicans do you think completely ignored his feelings about our Race and supported him? With men like Ferguson in power, there is no doubt that our chances of improving, in any and every sense of the word, are absolutely tremendous. Right? Well, now I wonder how many Mexican-American will support Mrs. Ferguson next month, despite her husband's attacks on our Race?
Here we have, gentlemen, the answer to the question of why it is that we need to study the candidates for government positions. And here we have an opportunity to demonstrate, with facts, that we are proud to have Mexican blood in our veins.
Next month in November, we conscientious Mexican-Americans will have an opportunity to register a protest against the unjustifiable attacks that Mr. Ferguson made against our Race. All Mexican-Americans that are truly proud of their ethnic roots should go to the polls on Novembers 4th and vote against Mrs. Ferguson. That is the best way to fight our enemies!
So then, gentlemen, when we have educated, enlightened and organizes ourselves, and taken more interest in our government, we will have evolved and, furthermore, we will have salvaged the good name of our worthy and noble Mexican Race.
Dear listeners, who is ready to vote for an inclusive and just government? Well, before we talk more about the author of the speech, Alonso S. Perales, and dive into the dramatic history of Mexican Americans in the US, let me introduce today's new voices.
Reading the excerpt within Perales speech, Dr. Lorena Gauthereau, is the Digital Programs Manager for the US Latino Digital Humanities program at the University of Houston's Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. She teaches interdisciplinary courses through UH's Center for Mexican American Studies. Dr. Gauthereau received her PhD in English literature and her MA in Hispanic Studies, both from Rice University. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and grew up on the US-Mexico border.
Reading the last poem is Dr.Nicolás Kanellos professor at the University of Houston since 1980. He is founding publisher of the noted Hispanic literary journal The Americas Review (formerly Revista Chicano-Riqueña) and the nation’s oldest and most esteemed Hispanic publishing house, Arte Público Press. Arte Público Press is the largest, non-profit publisher of literature in the United States. Dr. Kanellos is the director of a major national research program, Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Heritage of the United States, whose objective is to identify, preserve, study and make accessible hundreds of thousands of documents written in the regions that have become part of the United States from the colonial period to 1960.
Now, let us hear more about the oldest and largest publisher of US Hispanic literature: Arte Público Press.
Established in 1979, Arte Público Press is the principal provider of cultural materials on Latino life in the United States for general and educational audiences. The press publishes fiction and non-fiction books for all ages and interests. Piñata Books, its imprint for children's and young adult literature, provides bilingual literary materials that authentically and realistically portray themes, characters and customs unique to US Latino culture. A non-profit press located at the University of Houston, its books are available from your favorite neighborhood or online store and at www.artepublicopress.com.
Well, I am ready to grab the bull by its horns! That means brace yourselves for some useful and enlightening history lesson!
Alonso S. Perales, the author of the text we heard, was a Mexican American leader who got deeply involved in the fights for equality after the First World War. Perales was a founding member of the Order of the Sons of America in 1921 and later in 1929 of The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the oldest organizations to defend the civil rights of Mexican Americans.
The speech "The Evolution of Mexican Americans," given in 1924, was a call for action and showed how divided the opinions were among Mexican Americans despite the increasing violence towards them. So, let us review that painful chapter in the US history! I must warn you that some of the following descriptions are a bit unsettling.
The first source I am pulling to talk about it comes from the website Refusing to Forget. It is a project initiated in February 2013, by a group of professors from the National Association of Chicano Chicana Studies in San Antonio, Texas, to discuss strategies to remind people of the period of widespread anti-Mexican violence on the Texas-Mexico border (1910-20).
From the website Refusing to Forget, we learn that "Some of the worst racial violence in United States history took place along the Mexico-Texas border from 1910 to 1920. The dead included women and men, the aged and the young, long-time residents and recent arrivals. They were killed by strangers, neighbors, by vigilantes and at the hands of local law enforcement officers and the Texas Rangers."
I feel like I am reading news from last week.
The horrifying account does not end there. "Some [of the dead] were summarily executed after being taken captive or shot under the flimsy pretext of trying to escape. Some were left in the open to rot, others desecrated by being burnt, decapitated, or tortured by means such as having beer bottles rammed into their mouths. Extralegal executions became so common that a San Antonio reporter observed that 'finding dead bodies of Mexicans, suspected for various reasons of being connected with the troubles, has reached a point where it creates little or no interest. It is only when a raid is reported, or an American [that is a white person] is killed that the ire of the people is aroused."
In a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, residents of Kingsville pleaded, "One or more of us may have incurred the displeasure of someone, and it seems only necessary for that some one to whisper our names to an officer, to have us imprisoned and killed without an opportunity to prove in a fair trial, the falsity of the charges against us." It was as if the old witch hunt had now set its interest on people of Mexican origin too.
Sadly "the violence was welcomed, celebrated, and even instigated at the highest levels of society and government." It looks to me that a hundred years later, things have not changed much; let us remember the famous phrase of our current president "there were very fine people on both sides."
I remember that not too long ago in 2016, a candidate for Congress from Tennessee, Rick Tyler placed a billboard advertising "Let's make America White Again." It appears that his racist desire echoes the Texas papers from 1910-1920 were the following idea was promoted "a serious surplus population needs to be eliminated."
Last, the website Refusing to Forget reminds us that "As thousands fled to Mexico and decapitated bodies floated down the Rio Grande," politicians proposed concentration camps for those of Mexican descent. Also, killing was the alternative for whoever refused to leave. Thus, coming across skeletons of executed people in the south Texas brush became part of the landscape.
Yet, the big question is how it all got to that? And worse, why are we still stuck in that wheel of hate?
The undetected history of Mexican Americans
To answer at least the first question, we will have to go further back in time, to when Mexican Americans were left out of the picture.
In the book Mexican American Voices: A Documentary Reader, edited by Steven Mintz, we are reminded that "an unconscious ethnocentrism pervades the teaching of American history." Let’s remember that old saying once attributed to Wiston Churchill, but of unknown origin: “History is Written by Victors.” Now, that does not mean that what they are telling the truth or that what they are saying is accurate.
For decades US history was retold from when the English arrived in Virginia in 1607 and with the Pilgrims in Plymouth in 1620—often leaving out that the first European explorations of the US territory began a century earlier when Spanish explorers reached the coasts of Florida in 1513. It is also skipped that Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón established the first European settlement on the coast of Georgia in 1526.
On the other hand, there is the assumption that most migration waves came from Europe, when actually large migrations also came from China, Japan, and Latin America. Steven Mintz makes an interesting observation that it hadn't crossed my mind "The phrase 'Mexican Americans' itself, while convenient, is ethnocentrically Anglo, for as inhabitants of the Americas, Mexicans living south of the Rio Grande are as Americans as citizens of the United States."
On the topic of exclusion, Steven Mintz continues saying, "Settlers from Mexico have been living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas for as long as Europeans have lived on the East Coast. Yet this history is largely unknown to most US citizens. Insofar as it is recognized at all, Mexican American history is treated as a subset of western history."
For the past few years, we have heard so much about how fast the Mexican American population has grown. According to the Pew Research Center, as of July 2020, "The US Hispanic population reached a record 60.6 million… Latinos accounted for about half (52%) of all US population growth over this period. They are the country's second-largest racial or ethnic group, behind white non-Hispanics."
Yet, before you get stuck in the numbers and project how much the country will change in the future, Steven Mintz reminds us that Mexican Americans are not just growing due to births and immigration. They are "among the nation's oldest communities, with a rich and complex history." In other words, they did not magically spring up in the land from dawn to dusk.
Part of that complexity consists of their mestizaje, mixing, being descendants of Spanish, Native Americans, and Africans. Besides, the labels of this population have changed over time from Mexican(o), Tejano, Hispano, Californio, Mexican American, La Raza, Chicano(a), and Latinx(o/a).
But let us go back to the thread of Mexican Americans being omitted from the nation's collective history; Steven Mintz says, "A perspective that privileges the East Coast and the nation's English heritage relegates Mexican American history, mistakenly, to the margins. The history of the United States is commonly told in terms of a westward advance from the original English colonies, a perspective that downplays the Hispanic role in the exploration, settlement, and development of the territory that now comprises the United States."
I think that in the last few years, we have seen increasing attention towards African American history in the US, their heroes, and struggles. Their impact goes as far as music, films, T.V shows, and political leaders. Whereas in the Latino community, except for refugees and undocumented migrants, we have not seen such devoted attention. Or am I watching the wrong tv shows? So, far Latinos are still in the background of mayor tv shows…
Is it because of discrimination or is it us, or both? Is there a another explanation? Have Latinos moved on? Is it possible that when people's economic situation improves, they tend to abandon the fight, since they do not want to compromise the new sense of security and accomplishment? Of course, this does not apply to all, but it still surprises me seeing Latinos in Ads supporting the current president.
I recall hearing that many Latinos had heavily supported Mr. Trump in the past election. I was shocked; why? Wasn’t it obvious that he disregards different cultures and considers them somewhat inferior? The answer to my question oscillates between to paths, but of course, there could be other reasons.
One, some Latino or Hispanic Natives are not aware of their ancestors’ past. That is something that the African American community is good at; their history might not yet be accurately told in schools, but among their families, they do not forget, and they pass it on. Second, once immigrants have lived here for a while, they become more native and feel threatened by newcomers. In other words, those new arrivals come to compete and shake the economic security of those who have been here for a while. At least that is what politicians and Fox News keep telling them.
Part of this dissociation with others of similar origin is that the stories of Latinos in the US have been regarded as regional stories. That is that their impact has not had a wide repercussion on the rest of the country. If we treat their stories as such, then we keep them divided, and docile. In the end, everyone feels alone. Divide and conquer as the Romans well did.
About the matter, Steven Mintz tells us that Mexican American history was mistakenly treated as a subset of Western history. As if they were "latecomers to the United States and as an insular, inward-turning people whose lives were disconnected from the major events and themes of US history."
From this angle, Mexican American history began with the Texas Revolution and not with the first Spanish explorers in the early XVI century. Due to this, "until the early twentieth century, many non-Hispanics cling to the flawed assumption that the role of Mexican Americans in US history was marginal." I supposed some keep thinking that Mexican Americans are still cooking and cleaning tables at restaurants.
Mintz continues saying that "The treatment of Mexican Americans does not shed a positive light on [the US] collective past. It is a history involving the loss of land and natural resources, labor exploitation, discrimination, deportation, and denial of equal citizenship rights." I say it is time to make some movies about it!
If at this point you are eager to hear more about the history of Mexican Americans, find some heroes, and read about epic journeys, I suggest you get your hands on some of the books published by Arte Público Press. You can start with Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States.
In the meantime, we are moving on to the topic of Manifest Destiny and how it led to centuries of oppression, racism, exclusion, and the obliteration of many peoples’ stories.
Manifest Destiny and the Inferior Race
What is the Manifest Destiny, where did it come from, and how has it affected the way the US sees it self?
In 1845, the newspaper editor John O'Sullivan coined the term "manifest destiny" to describe the essence of a mindset that believed that pioneers had a divine obligation to stretch their noble republic's boundaries to the Pacific Ocean. At the core of the manifest was the pervasive belief in white cultural and racial superiority.
Native Americans had long been perceived as inferior, in need to be "civilized." Thus, by association, the same applied to Hispanics who ruled Texas and California's lucrative ports. Simply put, to Anglo-Americans, the Spanish speaking people were "backward."
It is striking that the idea still lingers and spreads in the XXI century, as it was in the XIX century. Like then, today is still used to justify wars.
To explore the old assumption that Mexican Americans are considered an inferior race, we must open the book The Latino Condition, edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic. In chapter 20, you’ll find the article "A Separate and Inferior Race," by José Luis Morín. Here we learn that "Absent from the collective consciousness of the United States are the wars of territorial conquest that took place in the 1800s."
The article explains that by the end of the US-Mexican War in 1848, Mexicans and their lands were absorbed by the United States. "The conquests of the 1800s were rooted in the longstanding and deeply held desire of many founders of the United States to construct an empire…[Twenty years earlier] in the 1780s, Jefferson avowed that the US should take over the Spanish empire piece by piece. These expansionist designs were not simply a whim of Jefferson; they became an integral part of the ambitions of US policymakers who followed."
A strategy to achieve the goal was to resort to slogans such as Manifest Destiny. It was now the divine right of "Anglo-Saxon US citizens to expand their territory based on supposed racial and cultural superiority."
José Luis Morín points out that "The influence of the racist assumptions inherent in the notion of the 'White Man's Burden,' together with 'Manifest Destiny,' provided the requisite justification for Anglo-American territorial conquests and domination."
From then on, according to Morín, a brutal marketing strategy took over, where news and media combined pushed the agenda about the greatness of the race, religion, and culture of the United States. Morín claims that "So deeply held were these beliefs that all non-Anglo Saxons, even those from Europe, were considered threats to the nation. [Even, from] very early in the US history, Latin Americans were singled out as racially inferior to Anglo-Saxon Americans. James Buchanan denounced ''the imbecile and indolent Mexican race."
The foreign policy initiative that bannered the idea of US hegemony across the continent was the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. The policy validated the intervention over the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. Morín assures, "many historians agree [that the Monroe Doctrine] still remains influential in US-Latin American relations."
By reinforcing the belief in the inferiority of the Latin American Race, the US government could justify the numerous interventions throughout the region, including orchestrating unrest followed by supporting dictators indebted to the United States goverment.
Morín reminds us that "Between 1898 and 1934, the United States used its military forces to invade and/or occupy Latin American countries on more than thirty occasions and ''despite high-minded rhetoric and ostensible nobility of purpose, not a single US intervention led to installation of democracy."
An example that comes to mind are the military invasions and occupations of the Dominican Republic in 1903, 1904, 1914, 1916-1924, and 1965. These interventions provided control over the country's economy and lead eventually in 1930 to the dictatorship other than Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. We have mentioned him before, to refresh your memories, go back to episode 19 on Latino Authors: The Beautiful Soul of Don Damian by Juan Bosch.
But let us fly back from the beautiful Caribbean island to the topic of the supposed inferiority of the Latin American Race. Morín points out that "In the 1800s, political cartoons in leading newspapers around the country were rife with demeaning and racist stereotypes of the peoples of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines."
One cartoon showed Uncle Sam representing the US as the teacher in a classroom with a bunch of dark-skinned, ugly, and unruly children that represented the people of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
Now we must ask, why were the US media and the US government engaged in such a despicable campaign of dividing the world’s population into Superior and Inferior? Into first world country and third world country? Simple, if their Anglo-Saxon population was convinced of their superiority, if would be so easy to get them to support whatever imperialistic action the US wanted to take towards others.
At this moment, my partner Don Hymel, tells me that there were people that did question that despicable campaign. However, the government ignored their claims. Morín writes, "These powerful [cartoon] images offered a vision of a government carrying out a benign mission among inherently inept peoples." Then, Anglo-Saxon Americans would be at ease if the suffering of other races was due to their racial weakness rather than from imperialistic greed for wealth and power.
Contrary to the long assumption that Mexican Americans were mostly illegal immigrants, the truth is that by the end of the US-Mexican war in 1848, "approximately 75,000 Mexicans living on the lands [of what would become the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming now] acquired by the US through the war, were forced to decide whether to become US citizens."
Then, how did the US ended up absorbing all these extensive territories that had been in Spanish hands for the last two centuries? But that before had being in Native Americans’ hands. History tells us that President James K. Polk stationed troops at the Mexican border in 1845, to stir the hornet's nest. He was seeking the annexation of Texas, and in the end, as we saw, he got much more.
It worked; eventually, the war began in 1846, and in 1848 peace was signed under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Little the Mexicans know that although citizenship was offered to them for inhabitanting the US newly acquired lands, the offer was just a diversion.
Morín indicates that "Mexicans within the territories acquired by the United States were reduced to second-class citizenship, subjected to the loss of their lands despite pre-existing land grants [given by Spain before Mexico’s independence], and denied the right to vote and political representation."
The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was modified over time to accommodate the concerns of certain congress members over the racial threat that Mexicans constituted. I will read the Article IX of the treaty:
"The Mexicans who, in the territories aforesaid, shall not preserve the character of citizens of the Mexican Republic, conformably with what is stipulated in the preceding article, shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States and be admitted, at the proper time (to be judged of by the Congress of the United States) to the enjoyment of all rights of citizens of the United States…"
In sum, Mexican Americans were left with no lands and no rights; they did not belong to Mexico or the United States, at least until further notice.
A similar issue occurred to Puerto Ricans when in 1917, they were made US citizens with the adoption of the Jones Act by the US Congress. But the adoption did not grant jury trial and similar rights to Puerto Ricans.
Senator Foraker said, "We considered very carefully what status in a political sense we would give to the people of [Puerto Rico], and we reported that provision not thoughtlessly…We concluded…that the inhabitants of that island must be either citizens or subjects or aliens. We did not want to treat our own as aliens, and we do not propose to have any subjects. Therefore, we adopted the term "citizens." In adopting the term 'citizen', we did not understand, however, that we were giving to those people any rights that the American people do not want them to have."
In other words, yes, you can be citizens, but no, you cannot have the same rights as our citizens. You cannot vote, but we can send you to war to fight and die for our freedom!
I still remember the senseless image of Mr. Trump tossing paper towels at Puerto Ricans after the horrible hurricane Maria had hit them. It was as if he were throwing t-shirts to a mob of imaginary fans.
And this is how we arrived at the subject of Americanization. As I mentioned before, after the annexation of several western territories to the United States, Mexican inhabitants realized that joining the party was accompanied by being left out of it. That is that they were subjected to discrimination and loss of political representation, lands, and resources, but they remained here.
Steven Mintz, editor of the book Mexican American Voices, tells us that the battles of the Alamo and Goliad were used to fuel the anti-Mexican sentiment. "By 1850, Anglos outnumbered Mexican Americans in Texas by 20 to 1… [From then on] violent intimidation kept Mexican Americans from the polls. In south Texas, large landowners and political bosses used their economic power to manipulate the votes of Mexican American cowboys and laborers."
We can only wish that nothing keeps any citizens from the polls in the next election.
It was only a matter of time, for most of the lands owned before by Mexican Americans, stretching from California to New Mexico and Texas to fall in Anglo hands. Why? Mintz says that "Mexican landowners were required to validate their land claims in the American legal system using English-speaking attorneys. They also carried the burden of proof. Legal proceedings dragged on for years, and many landowners were forced to sell their land to pay their legal bills." It was all part of the plan, to own the territory and impose the English language.
And how the loss of lands affected the Mexican Americans? Mintz points out that "Mexican American men were forced to support themselves as migratory unskilled laborers in mines and on farms, ranches, and railroads, and servants, laundresses, and farm laborers. Children were required to attend separate schools or were barred from education altogether." Because if you keep them ignorant, they will not revolt, or so they thought.
There is evidence that in many schools, racial etiquette defined proper demeanor and behavior for Mexicans. Some teachers demanded that in the presence of Anglos, Mexicans should assume a deferential body posture and a respectful tone of voice. Anglo culture was educating a new generation of obedient servants. In consequence, the curriculum for Mexican students emphasized domestic science and manual training.
My partner Don Hymel tells that as late as the 1950’s, Texas had laws prohibiting the speaking of Spanish on state government property. He remembers this because as he was growing up in El Paso, he got the Spanish he knows outside the house, not at home, and not at school.
On the subject, the Texas State Historical Association indicates that “On June 3, 1973, Governor Dolph Briscoe signed into law the Bilingual Education and Training Act (S.B. 121) enacted by the Sixty-third Texas Legislature. This event marked a historic turning point in the education of Mexican American students in the state. The bilingual-education aspects of the law were new and unprecedented. The centerpiece was the mandate that all Texas elementary public schools enrolling twenty or more children of limited English ability in a given grade level must provide bilingual instruction. That a language other than English could be used in the instruction was especially significant because it abolished the English-only teaching requirement imposed by state laws dating as far back as 1918.”
However, for the time that bilingual education was not in place, that is the first part of the XX century, just like African Americans, and other communities, Mexican Americans became a "marginalized population, forced to live in segregated neighborhoods," called barrios and colonias.
Curiously, another phenomenon happened parallel to the ethnic prejudice towards Mexican Americans. The Spanish southwest heritage became romanticized but always making a clear distinction that Spanish people were not Mexican people. The old tactic of divide and conquer.
As of today, among specific latino communities, there is still a feeling of resentment towards that Spanish heritage. Whereas among other communities, there is a proud claim of just Spanish blood, no Indian, no African. People do not get it, heritage is a social construct that makes you feel special but can become an obstacle when it comes to developing empathy for other people's struggles.
In 1850, the prominent Mexican American Pablo de la Guerra, a Delegate to the California Constitutional Convention, member of the State Senate, while speaking about injustice to the California Senate, said:
"Well, sir, the war took place, and we, after doing our duty as citizens of Mexico, were sold like sheep–abandoned by our nation, and as it were, awoke from a dream, strangers on the very soil on which we were native and to the manor born. We passed from the hands of Mexico to that of the United States, but we had the consolation of believing that the United States, as a nation, was more liberal than our own. We had the greatest respect for an American. Every American who came to our country was held in higher estimation than even one of our countrymen. And I call upon every American who visited us to bear testimony to this fact. And after being abandoned by our own country and annexed to the United States, we thought that we belonged to a nation the most civilized, the most humane a nation that was the foremost in planting the banner of liberty on every portion of its dominions - a nation that was the most careful in protecting the just rights of its citizens…but now the Mexicans have become 'foreigners in their own land."
On the subject of homelessness, in the book The Latino Condition, we find the article "Occupied Mexico" by Ronald Takaki, where he recounts that "In California, for example, while Mexicans were granted suffrage, they found that democracy was essentially for Anglos only…Dominant in the state legislature, Anglos enacted laws aimed at Mexicans. An antivagrancy act, described as the 'Greaser Act,' defined vagrants [that is, homeless people] as 'all persons who [were] commonly known as 'Greasers' or the issue of Spanish or Indian blood…and who [went] armed and were not peaceable and quiet persons."
Of course, Texas did not hesitate to impose a similar villainy. Takaki says, "Compared to California, the political proscription of Mexicans in Texas was more direct. There, Mexicans were granted suffrage, but only in principle[…] A traveler observed that the Mexicans in San Antonio could elect a government of their own if they voted but added: 'Such a step would be followed, however, by a summary revolution." And it did.
In 1863, after a contested election, a regional newspaper declared, "We are opposed to allowing an ignorant crowd of Mexicans to determine the political questions in this country, where a man is supposed to vote knowingly and thoughtfully."
Well, to that, I say more than a hundred and fifty years have passed, and it is time for Mexican Americans and Latinx Americans to let the US government hear our voices. To claim for equality and justice for each one of the inhabitants of this country, regardless of their status, gender, ethnicity, and heritage.
Mexican American civic movement
However, do not think that Mexican Americans have settled for their lot and decided to watch life pass them by. Since as early 1929, The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) began defending the civil rights of Mexican Americans.
Then, around 1960 the voices of many Mexican Americans were heard again; they called themselves Chicanos and Chicanas. Steven Mintz tells us that the "term comes from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs," meaning "the poorest of the poor."
The Hispanic civil rights movement that began in the '60s inherited a legacy of resistance against colonialism, segregation, and exploitation. This legacy had its roots in the writings of syndicalists, editorials, and defenders of the culture. Specifically, the chronicles of Nicasio and Jovita Idar tried to raise the critical thinking skills of their readers.
If you are curious about the Mexican American movement, I will suggest some links. So, all you got to do is check the transcript.
- Grassroots Leadership: https://grassrootsleadership.org/
- Voto Latino: https://votolatino.org/
- Unidos US: https://www.unidosus.org/
- United we dream: https://unitedwedream.org/
- Chicanos por la causa: https://www.cplc.org/
- Hispanic Scholarship: https://www.hsf.net/
- Latino Victory: https://latinovictory.us/
- Hispanic Heritage: https://hispanicheritage.org/
- National Alliance for Hispanic Health: https://www.healthyamericas.org/
- NALEO: https://naleo.org/
- The Hispanic Institute: https://naleo.org/
In the meantime, dear listener, I am going to leave you with a poem by Américo Paredes, who in the 1930’s wrote in English and Spanish, articulating the cultural and economic devastation of his generation. Dr.Nicólas Kanellos, director of Arte Público Press, is reading the poem that you can find in the book: Herencia, published by Oxford University Press.
The Mexico-Texan 
by Américo Paredes (1915-1999)
The Mexico-Texan he's one fonny man
Who leeves in the region that's north of the Gran',
Of Mexican father he born in these part,
And sometimes he rues it dip down in he's heart.
For the Mexico-Texan he no gota lan',
He stomped on the neck on both sides of the Gran',
The dam gringo lingo he no cannot spik,
It twisters the tong and it make you fill sick.
A cit'zen of Texas they say that he ees,
Bu then, why they call him the Mexican Grease?
Soft talk and hard action, he can't understan',
The Mexico-Texan he no gotta lan'.
If he cross the reever, eet ees just as bad,
On high poleeshed Spanish he break up his had,
American customs those people no like,
They hate that Miguel they should call him El Mike,
And Mexican-born, why they jeer and they hoot,
"Go back to the gringo! Go lick at hees boot!"
In Texas he's Jonny, in Mexico Juan,
But the Mexico-Texan he no gotta lan'.
Elactions come round and the gringos are loud.
They pat on he's back and they make him so proud,
They give him mezcal and the barbecue meat,
They tell him, "Amigo, we can't be defeat."
But efter elaction he no gotta lan'.
Expect for a few with their cunning and craft
He count just as much as a nought to the laft,
And they say everywhere, "He's a burden and drag,
He no gotta country, he no gotta flag."
He no gotta voice, all he got is the han'
To work like the burro; he no gotta lan".
And only one way can his sorrows all drown,
He'll get drank as hell when next payday come roun',
For he has one advantage of all other man,
Through the Mexico-Texan he no gotta lan',
He can get him so drank that he think he will fly
Both September the Sixteen and Fourth of July.
And that's it for today, we will return in two weeks with more Latinx Literatures in the US. Until the next cuento, adios, adios!
En Otra Voz: Antología de la literatura hispana en los Estados Unidos. Editor general Nicólas Kanellos. Co-editores Kenya Dworkin y Méndez, José B. Fernández, Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, Agnes Lugo-Ortiz y Charles Tatum. Coordinadora Alejandra Balestra. Publicado por Arte Público Press, Houston, Texas. 2002.
Herencia: the anthology of Hispanic literatura of the United States. Editor Nicólas Kanellos. Co-editors Kenya Dworkin y Méndez, José B. Fernández, Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, Agnes Lugo-Ortiz and Charles Tatum. Published by Oxford University Press, New York, 2002.
Mexican American Voices: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Steven Mintiz. First published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
The Latino/a Condition: critical reader. Edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic. Published New York University Press, 2011.
Article: “The History of Racial Violence on the Mexico-Texas Border.” Website Refusing to Forget: https://refusingtoforget.org/the-history/
Article: “US Hispanic population surpassed 60 million in 2019, but growth has slowed.” By Luis Noe-Bustamante, Mark Hugo Lopez, and Jens Manuel Krogstad. July 7, 2020. URL: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/07/07/u-s-hispanic-population-surpassed-60-million-in-2019-but-growth-has-slowed/
Article: “Pablo de la Guerra Speaks Out Against Injustice. Changing History with Words.” By Indy Staff. Thu Aug 02, 2007 | 6:00am. URL:
Article: “Bilingual Education.” By Rodolfo Rodríguez. URL: https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bilingual-education