Arnoldo De León
Coyote Nation: Sexuality, Race, and Conquest in Modernizing New Mexico, 1880-1920by Pablo Mitchell
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With the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in the 1880s came the emergence of a modern and profoundly multicultural New Mexico. Native Americans, working-class Mexicans, elite Hispanos, and black and white newcomers all commingled and interacted in the territory in ways that had not been previously possible. But what did it mean to be white in this multiethnic milieu? And how did ideas of sexuality and racial supremacy shape ideas of citizenry and determine who would govern the region?
Coyote Nation considers these questions as it explores how New Mexicans evaluated and categorized racial identities through bodily practices. Where ethnic groups were numerous and—in the wake of miscegenation—often difficult to discern, the ways one dressed, bathed, spoke, gestured, or even stood were largely instrumental in conveying one's race. Even such practices as cutting one's hair, shopping, drinking alcohol, or embalming a deceased loved one could inextricably link a person to a very specific racial identity.
A fascinating history of an extraordinarily plural and polyglot region, Coyote Nation will be of value to historians of race and ethnicity in American culture.
Pablo Mitchell is assistant professor of history at Oberlin Coll
"Mitchell''s book is the most original work on New Mexico history since the publication of Ramon A. Gutierrez''a award-winning When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away. . . . Mitchell''s study of sexuality and race in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is likely to spark as much controversy as Gutierrez''s study.—Richard Melzer, American Historical Review
"[Mitchell] deserves consideration as a trailblazer in the field of Chicano history, offering new insights on the complexity of race and racism as applied to Mexican-origin residents of New Mexico."
- University of Chicago Press
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- Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, Gender, and Culture
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SEXUALITY, RACE, AND CONQUEST IN MODERNIZING NEW MEXICO 1880-1920
By PABLO MITCHELL THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
Copyright © 2005
The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Chapter One INTRODUCTION BODIES ON BORDERS
In steps both utterly familiar and strangely new, several thousand travelers climbed off the train into the strong sun and thin air and strange accents of New Mexico between 1880 and 1920. At the railroad depot, such settlers-immigrants from Europe and Asia, African Americans from the North and South, and native American white, almost white, and never to be white-met the settled of New Mexico for the first time. Undoubtedly there was much mulling about and mutual gawking and misfired queries. Undoubtedly some Iowans saw their first Indians, and some Indians their first Iowans, and some Iowans their first Hispanos who looked like Indians but were actually Hispanos, and so on.
After days aboard the transcontinental railroad, what else did these travelers discover? What did they see? What did they smell? How did they smell? What prompted these travelers to unload their bags in turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Mexico? What vistas did they leave behind and what dreads and delights did they encounter upon arrival? And what of the settled in New Mexico: the Hispanos and Pueblos and Navajo and Zuni and Apache, the African Americans and Asian Americans and Anglos? What fits and starts shook them when the train whistle blew?
Such were the questions that emerged when the railroad arrived in 1880. New Mexicans, new and old, converged at a time and place of great upheaval. It was in New Mexico where the forces of modernity and imperialism met with a special intensity. The arrival of the railroad in New Mexico brought increased integration into national markets and an unprecedented flow of mostly Anglo immigrants to the territory from throughout the United States and Europe. New Mexico's population jumped from 120,000 in 1880 to nearly 200,000 in 1900 and 360,000 in 1920. While Hispano leading families scrambled to maintain their status, new elites rose to prominence in the growing towns of Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe. These emergent elites, mostly Anglo but with a sprinkling of Hispanos, utilized new techniques and strategies in the consolidation of power. Increasingly, the informal, mostly Hispano-Indian traditions governing interpersonal relationships, land use, and the transfer of property gave way to more formal, rationalized methods of interaction and control. This transition, actually the emergence of a modern New Mexico, appeared in countless guises, from the meticulous surveying and distribution of the land and legal realms, to the explicit regulation of personal behavior through science and medicine, mass consumer culture, gender patterns, and education.
The American railroad and railroad systems also brought together Indian, Hispano, and Anglo peoples for the first time in a modern and modernizing setting. Contemporary accounts echo this unprecedented convergence in New Mexico. Imagine Hopi Indian Polingaysi Qoyawayma's first encounter with a railroad in the early twentieth century. "Trains rumbled and screeched along the rails that bisected the town," she remembered, "accompanied by a clickety-clacking sound, unfamiliar yet interesting." Charles Brown recalled that the train ride into Rincon, in northern New Mexico, inspired flights of "myth and folklore," with images of "tall, spare crosses" and the "ruins of an old church." Ernest Peixotto writes of his first visit to Albuquerque, "The Isleta women sit by the station, and are familiar figures to all transcontinental travelers. And, indeed, they make a brilliant group against the well-planned background of the great depot, whose long procession of grey arcades with their pottery roofs and bell-towers tell vividly against the turquoise sky."
Like Brown and Peixotto, Americans throughout the period disembarked in newly conquered lands in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After all, the most precious cargo upon the trains heading westward were the soldiers and military personnel who also entered the West aboard the nation's railways. Between 1848 and 1898, American military victories led to the annexation of 1,274,187 square miles of territory. The United States ballooned in size, from 2,463,603 square miles to 3,737,790 square miles. In 1848, in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, the United States annexed 530,000 square miles of Mexican land, territory that would eventually become the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and part of Colorado. After 1848, Americans flooded into the formerly Mexican land. In the next half century, the region was steadily incorporated into developing U.S. political, economic, and legal systems.
Between 1850 and 1900, those of Mexican origin (either born in Mexico or American born of Mexican descent) suffered great losses: in land, in wealth, in status, in political power, even in percentage of the population. By one estimate, in 1900 the Mexican-origin population in California, which had been predominant in the state prior to the Mexican-American War, was 48,579, or 3.2 percent of the state's population. Texas was similar, with Mexican-origin peoples accounting for 198,841, or about 6.5 percent of the total state population. Native Americans throughout the West suffered similar losses. In California the devastation was especially horrific as the Indian population plummeted from approximately 150,000 in 1845 to 16,000 in 1880. By 1910 over 60 percent of the original indigenous tribes had disappeared.
Unkempt and volatile, the American railroad was none other than the ultimate agent of American modernity and imperialism. Modernity is, at its most basic, a collapsing of time and space into new sets of measurable relationships. Modernity differs from earlier periods in several important respects. In a major break from previous eras, the time required to manufacture a broad array of products was dramatically shortened. To take one of a great many available examples, a new cigarette-making machine in the 1880s produced seven thousand cigarettes per hour. Human workers could at the time produce far less, only three thousand cigarettes in a full day. The time required to "disassemble" products was similarly slashed, as meat producers developed new, far more efficient production lines devoted to the processing and packaging of goods. According to one account, the annual production of goods jumped by $2 billon in 1865 to $13 billion in 1900 as the United States came to lead the world in productivity. In modernity, spatial divides proved as outdated as previous notions of time. With the railroad, the local became national, with newly elaborate timetables, schedules, and maps that brought Americans within hours and days rather than weeks and months of each other. Railroads also carried to new lands a stunning variety of consumer goods. Stoves, pianos, watches, and fashionable clothing poured into region after region as railroads incorporated broad swaths of the country into an expanding national market.
In this modern eclipsing of time and space, new relationships emerged between individuals, communities, and institutions. At the forefront were changing gender roles and transforming relationships between men and women, husbands and wives. Suffrage movements, increasing educational opportunities for young women, and widespread female criticism of male behavior ranging from alcohol consumption to sexual promiscuity to political corruption led to new "modern" forms of appropriate femininity and masculinity. New relationships between professionals also emerged as professional organizations of lawyers, doctors, and university professors-complete with bylaws, licensing, and standards of conduct-formed in the modern era. These new affiliations, often national and regional, replaced older local relationships between townspeople. A lawyer from Albany increasingly had more in common with attorneys in Albuquerque than with fellow Albanyites. New modern measurement techniques, based on developing sciences, sought to categorize and classify many of these relationships and were especially noticeable in the new racial and sexual sciences that created elaborate scientific hierarchies of racial groups and sexual types.
The rise of modernity was not alone in transforming the American nation. From the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 to the aftermath of the Spanish-American War in 1898 (where the United States seized the previously Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines), Americans followed military conquest with the establishment of U.S. political and economic institutions. While scholars have traditionally reserved the term "imperialism"-the attempted extension of rule or influence by one government, nation, or society over another-to describe post-1898 American intervention in foreign countries, the notion, as I will demonstrate in the following chapters, applies to the American Southwest as well. So, too, is colonialism, the always-contested political and economic control over an area by an occupying force, an apt description of the American domination of both New Mexico and Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
Indeed, the similarities between New Mexico and other colonial regimes like Puerto Rico are striking. Native New Mexicans proved especially resilient in the face of Anglo incursions. In 1900 New Mexicans of Mexican origin constituted nearly 50 percent of the population (93,356 of 195,310). Moreover, despite the substantial influx of Anglo-Americans, Hispanos continued to hold considerable political power, wealth, and status, and Hispano culture still persisted, if not flourished, in New Mexico as a great many New Mexicans continued to speak Spanish and identify proudly with their Hispano heritage. Indians (Pueblo, Navajo, Ute, and Apache) similarly retained relative power and numbers in New Mexico. More than fifteen thousand Indians lived in New Mexico in 1880, comprising almost 10 percent of the population. By 1920 almost twenty thousand lived in the state. In light of such imposing demographics, the establishment of racial order in New Mexico presented challenges that American colonizers in Puerto Rico and throughout imperial America would have found most familiar. As the subsequent chapters will make clear, the roots of American imperialism are deep in New Mexico.
In this exceptional land, where modernity and imperialism met in an unprecedented manner, Anglo newcomers faced a peculiar dilemma. In order to achieve statehood and the rights of full citizenship (until 1912, when New Mexico became a state, even the most elite Anglo man in New Mexico, no matter the purity of his lineage or the excellence of his ability, was barred from voting for president or running for governor), Anglos would have to prove to the rest of the country that New Mexico was worthy of full membership in the American political system. Principally, Anglos would have to demonstrate that social order in New Mexico had been established, and that New Mexicans, especially Hispanos and Indians, could be transformed into Americans. This, of course, was a demanding task, turning what a great many outside New Mexico considered "mongrel land" into a true American state. I will argue that central to this project of re-creating New Mexico's social structure, and transforming New Mexicans into Americans, was the human body. As I will demonstrate, the human body's entrances and exits, protrusions and blemishes, incapacities, shames, triumphs, failures, and desires together constituted an overlooked, yet absolutely critical, component of the creation of American colonial order in New Mexico.
Bodily comportment was an integral piece of Anglo efforts to claim that Indians and Hispanos were socially inferior and not white. This racialization process (which I will describe more precisely later in the chapter) proceeded along many fronts. In chapters 2 and 3, I will concentrate on two sites of particular interest, U.S. Indian schools and trials for sexual assault, where the racially different status of Indians and Hispanos was articulated. Wealthy Hispanos, like colonial elites throughout the world, however, posed a significant challenge to this racialization project. As chapters 4 and 5 will explain, the continuing political and economic power of Hispanos forced Anglos to abandon wholesale denunciations of "native" New Mexicans and focus instead on bodily comportment as an index of social status. To claim whiteness, however, Anglos in New Mexico could not simply racialize Indians and Hispanos as nonwhite; they would have to assert their own whiteness as well, in effect racialize themselves as white. Chapters 6 and 7 will describe precisely this process of the creation of whiteness, focusing on the bodily comportment of Anglos in medicine and consumer space.
Before elaborating on my argument, two terms deserve some clarification: whiteness and citizenship. Far more than light skin or blue eyes, whiteness is the historically specific melding of physical characteristics (which could include, based on historical context, hair length, body composition-as in fatness or skinniness-skin tone and texture, volume and quality of speech, practices of consumption of food and liquid, and elimination, as well as light skin) with economic and political power. David Roediger and George Lipsitz have described the economic benefits accruing to those managing to claim whiteness. The "cash value" (Lipsitz) or "wages" (Roediger) of whiteness vary based on historical context, but are nonetheless substantial. The political power of whiteness similarly shifts depending on context, but generally equates the physical characteristics of being "white" with voting rights, civic leadership, and legal protections.
While citizenship is similarly complicated, it is, at its base, about belonging. National citizenship designates citizens in a political sense, as those individuals who have rights, like voting, and obligations, like jury duty or military service. Other definitions of citizenship, beyond a strictly legalistic interpretation, are broader, encompassing a more full membership in a society. This understanding of citizenship can vary based on the setting and historical context, but at its core views citizens as those members of a society who command respectful and dignified treatment in the most basic aspects of their lives: choice of occupation, residence, choice of spouse or sexual partner, style of noncoercive personal pleasure. Those with power and authority in certain settings-like police officers, school principals, government officials, store clerks, and librarians-treat such individuals, such citizens, with care, rather than suspicion and alarm. Citizenship, according to this broader understanding, describes those individuals that society values and protects. Citizenship, to offer some specific examples, includes those who control material resources; whose ideas receive attention and respect; who walk the streets and enter businesses without special scrutiny; whose economic and political activities find favor in the courts, banks, and newspapers; whose births, marriages, and deaths are reported in the press; whose ailments find speedy and dignified treatment; whose children's peccadilloes amuse rather than enrage the judiciary; whose labor is acknowledged and well rewarded; whose tragedies are made not the stuff of jokes, but of sympathy; whose sex lives remain discreetly hidden. In this book, I will rely upon this latter, broader definition of citizenship.
Excerpted from COYOTE NATION by PABLO MITCHELL Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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Pablo Mitchell is assistant professor of history at Oberlin College.
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