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Latin American Migrations to the U.S. Heartland
Changing Social Landscapes in Middle America
By LINDA ALLEGRO, ANDREW GRANT WOOD
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS Copyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
Mexicans in the United States
A Longer View
Andrew Grant Wood
Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations.
—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Like the Indians, the Mexicans "were here first."
—Carey McWilliams, North from Mexico
The making of the United States as a modern nation was realized through a creative combination of violence, primitive accumulation, diplomacy, and engineering undertaken by powerful elites headquartered in eastern cities. During the first half of the nineteenth century, those directing the fate of the United States set out to incorporate vast tracts of middle and western North America into its national territory. In this process, areas formerly claimed by French, British, Russian, and Spanish (and then Mexican) authorities gradually gave over to Anglo-American conquest. The year 1845, for example, saw the young nation add the breakaway Republic of Texas as a state. A year later, the United States and Mexico went to war. The resulting Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo caused Mexico to cede approximately half its national possession to the American juggernaut.
War between Europeans and Native American groups over the next three decades brought to a conclusion a long process that cost aboriginal peoples much of their land and way of life. "The Indians were victims not only of American avarice," wrote historian Ray Allen Billington years ago, "but of the age in which they lived [for] with the momentum of expansion well established and, with the nation's 'Manifest Destiny' to control the continent clear, all who stood in the way of white conquest were doomed" (Billington 1974: 578).
Yet this making of "America"—decimation of native peoples notwithstanding—proved perhaps not as dire as Billington suggests. Nevertheless, it was a process realized largely under the aegis of Anglo conquest and neocolonialism such that those "who stood in the way of white[s]" were indeed forced to come to terms with Anglo power and privilege (namely, accept second-class, marginal classification) or face extinction. Then, as today, people of color—including those of Mexican descent—suffered a similar fate at the hands of unsympathetic law enforcement, immigration officials, individuals, and groups ignorant of our highly contested continental history.
In light of our Anglo-dominated media and political power structure, it is an ironic fact that it was the Spanish who proved the first European colonizers who asserted claims (however tenuous) over much of North America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As is well known, their colonizing efforts reached to the southernmost tip of South America and north above the Sonoran Desert and well beyond. For more than one hundred years before any rival European power mounted colonial challenge, the Spanish had staked out their territorial ambitions by establishing presidios (military outposts), towns, ranches, and missions.
Life was rustic at best on the frontier as northernmost New Spain was populated by only a modest number of settlers. In the seventeenth century, the most important settlement was the New Mexican town of Santa Fe, which had been founded in 1610. Then, after much delay, the eighteenth century saw the rise of several new centers, including Albuquerque (1706), Nacogdoches (1716), San Antonio (1718), San Diego (1769), Tucson (1776), San José (1777), and Los Angeles (1781). Still, New Spain's periphery remained underdeveloped for most of the colonial period, and it was not until the late 1770s when the Bourbon Reforms served to intensify commercial relations in the north. Increasingly, those living in the frontier area gained access to foreign trade from the growing French Louisiana territory and points east where Spain's rivals the English had insinuated themselves along the eastern littoral, taken part in a revolutionary war, and gave birth to a new, independent republic. Before long, open contest for control of North America would play out between these three European powers and their social and cultural inheritors.
For their part, Anglo-American expansionism into middle and western North America accelerated significantly with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Ensuing treaties such as the U.S.-Spanish Adams-Otís accord of 1819 ceded Florida to the Americans while at the same time designated a boundary between (rapidly weakening) Spanish and U.S. claims after several years of heated dispute. Two years later, Mexico—after nearly a decade of struggle—finally gained independence from Spain in 1821. Shortly thereafter, U.S. President James Monroe's foreign policy deliberations crystallized into what would eventually become known as the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe's statement made in December 1823 laid out U.S. neocolonial designs in the hemisphere by stating "that the American Continents, by the free and independent position which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power" (quoted in Sellers 1994: 184). In other words, further European incursion into North America—whether by the British, French, Russians, or Spanish—would not be tolerated.
Political ambition went hand in hand with dynamic economic growth. As historian Charles Sellers writes in characterizing the rapid expansion of capitalist economic relations, "by 1815, market revolution was ... dissolving deeply rooted patterns of behavior and belief for competitive effort, it mobilized collective resources through government to fuel growth in countless ways ... [e]stablishing capitalist hegemony over economy, politics, and culture, the market revolution created ourselves and most of the world we know" (Sellers 1994: 5). Fundamental in its force and critical to the success of the young republic, economic liberalism ran concomitant with Anglo notions of "racial" superiority and the young American republic extended westward.
Expanding communication and transportation infrastructure soon cut across the continent. Headquartered in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other urban centers, the network facilitated capitalist enterprise as it consumed distance and shortened time. Satellite cities such as Albany, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and New Orleans articulated rapid growth (Pred 1966). Ensuing U.S. consolidation over the next century would give rise to one of the most dynamic periods of capitalist economic expansion in history. This political and economic transformation came at great cost, however. As long-standing ecological and social paradigms shifted, many found themselves tragically excluded from an often violent and unforgiving new economic order.
In fateful contrast, Mexican rule in North America meanwhile encouraged the establishment of new east-west land routes. What developed would soon add to earlier access points farther to the south (i.e., from the now U.S.-controlled port of New Orleans) as well as new pathways west farther to the north where—to varying degrees of success—U.S. government-sponsored adventurers such as Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, and others had begun to chart portions of French-controlled Louisiana and Spanish, British, and Russian territories west. Yet if by 1820 official Anglo mapmaking expeditions had left much to be desired, fur traders—especially along the northwest frontier—picked up the slack. By 1840, as one historian has noted, "adventurous frontiersmen [had] penetrated into every nook and corner of the Far West [and in so doing] spied out [its] secrets, plotted the course of its rivers, discovered the passes through its mountains, and prepared the way for settlers by breaking down Indian self-sufficiency" (Billington 1974: 379).
The opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1820–1821 significantly facilitated Anglo-American westward expansion. Settlers of Spanish American heritage living in the far northern provinces of the soon to be Mexican nation had increasingly benefited from trade with Anglos based in the Mississippi Valley. Rather than risk the long and tortuous fifteen-hundred-mile journey to Mexico City, settlers figured they could exchange furs, precious metals, and other items in exchange for Anglo-manufactured goods. Spanish colonial authority, however, thought otherwise and sought to keep trade to a minimum.
With the dawning of the Mexican era, new laws regarding foreign activity allowed for a liberalization of commercial trade. Over the next two decades, annual treks amounting to approximately nine hundred miles each way every spring originated from Independence, Missouri, and made their way through Indian Territory into New Mexico. The resulting exchange proved prosperous for both hispanos and Anglos (Reséndez 2004: 93–123). Although the total volume of trade did not prove especially significant to the budding U.S. national economy, practical knowledge relative to the way in which Anglos could travel and survive passage into Mexican lands proved invaluable (Billington 1974: 388–91).
Settlement schemes offered by the Mexican government reversed previous Spanish mercantile policy and subsequently invited foreigners into the northern provinces of Texas, New Mexico, and California. As long as newcomers paid taxes to the government based in Mexico City, their presence and commercial activity were allowed. During this formative period, a number of Anglos went west. Traders captured mustangs in East Texas and the soon to be Oklahoma territory while also exchanging goods with indigenous peoples. Contraband trade in guns, ammunition, furs, horses, mules, cattle, and other stolen goods between native groups and Anglos, for example, slowly began to undermine Hispanic autonomy. Indian raids on ranchos, according to one observer, "cannot be understood as the idiosyncratic activities of 'hunters and gathers' [but] [r]ather ... an important, and perhaps the major, covert instrument of American expansionist policy and an encroaching capitalist economy" (Vélez-Ibáñez 1997: 61).
In more firmly established Spanish American areas, some Anglos converted to Catholicism and married into existing Tejano and nuevomexicano families. In so doing, they helped cement cross-cultural alliances that proved mutually favorable to nearly everyone involved. As historian Andrés Reséndez writes, "Anglo Americans could make the introductions and pave the way for their Hispanic counterparts with suppliers in Missouri and Louisiana [while] Hispanic [sic] traders could reciprocate [by] helping out their Anglo American colleagues with Mexican customs officers and other authorities" (Reséndez 2004: 104).
Yet despite a relatively small handful of sympathetic forebearers, Anglo-American movement into Mexican territory increasingly tipped the balance of power. The market revolution brought a political-economic realignment tilted in favor of the rapidly growing U.S. economy. This, however, did not mean that Mexicans in the far northern provinces turned against Anglo entrepreneurs. The reality proved to be quite to the contrary. Instead, it was federal officials in Mexico City who most zealously sought to guard the border. Articulating concern about the growing tide of Anglo migration into their territory, Mexican representative to Washington Manuel Zozoya had worried in late 1822 that "the haughtiness of these Republicans, does not permit them to look upon us as equals ... their conceit extends itself in my opinion to believe that their capital will be that of all the Americas" (quoted in Weber 1994: 301).
Soon concerning themselves with "the Texas question," a Mexican law forbidding further Anglo-American immigration into that province took effect on April 6, 1830. Anglo settlers continued to come anyway, figuring they could avoid confrontation with Mexican authorities. Ensuing conflict over control of the frontier eventually proved that the Mexican government could not turn back the tide of northern regional development, which had, by and large, created new economic opportunities for Indians, Hispanics, and Anglos. Anglo incursions into Texas so discouraged some, including longtime loyal Mexican observer and important advisor to the central government on Texas affairs, General Manuel de Mier y Terán, that he decided to commit suicide. On July 3, 1832, he dramatically took his life by falling on his sword on the grounds of San Antonio Church in Padilla, Tamaulipas.
The emerging situation in Texas and elsewhere in the trans-Mississippi west largely favored U.S. interests. Northern Mexican provincials found themselves torn between the lure of advancing commercial forces from the east and Mexican government admonitions coming from Mexico City. For their part, those in the Mexican capital had come to view their northern cousins who associated with the gringo economy as not merely lacking in patriotic allegiance but even potentially "secessionist" (Reséndez 2004: 123).
Pursuant to these concerns, in 1835 the Mexican government significantly limited states' rights and centralized power in Mexico City. A number of regional revolts soon erupted in response in Yucatán, Zacatecas, California, and, perhaps most notably, Texas, where on December 12, 1835, Sam Houston declared a rebellion against Mexico. Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna responded quickly and led troops to confront the rebel Texans. War ensued, and the Mexicans were defeated. The breakaway Republic of Texas was subsequently established.
In the wake of the Texas rebellion, elaborate rationalizations of Anglo "racial" superiority—many of them still employed today—were increasingly employed to justify the young nation's expansionism and ensuing wars of conquest. In the early 1840s, U.S. expansionism continued apace, and soon conflict with Mexico was considered inevitable despite the fact that the fate of North America still clearly lay in the balance.
President James K. Polk's four years in office would see the United States grow by an amazing two-thirds. Elected in 1844, his relations with the Mexican government turned cold when they refused to sell California and New Mexico. Upon taking office, Polk put U.S. Navy personnel stationed in the Pacific on alert if war broke out between the two republics. Through the U.S. consul in Monterey, California, Polk encouraged anti-Mexican sentiment among Anglo settlers in fall 1845. Taking the message to heart, U.S. Army Capt. John C. Frémont soon organized an uprising in the Sacramento area and subsequently proclaimed an independent ("bear flag") republic in mid-1846.
To provoke outright conflict to the south, Polk had meantime sent U.S. troops headed by Gen. Zachary Taylor in September 1845 to occupy an area near Corpus Christi. The following January 1846, the army moved to an area along the Rio Grande just across from the thriving Mexican port of Matamoros. Conflict became immanent, and in early May 1846 the U.S. Congress declared war. Military victory followed military victory as U.S. forces took Santa Fe, New Mexico, in August 1846 and then quieted Mexican resistance in California by the end of January 1847. Over the next few months, U.S. troops coming from the north and east eventually converged on Mexico City and forced the Mexicans to surrender. Ensuing diplomatic and political negotiations produced the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which was approved by the U.S. Senate in February 1848 and set the new international boundary at the Rio Grande and designated New Mexico and Upper California (present-day California, Nevada, Utah, much of New Mexico, Arizona, and one-third of Texas as well as parts of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Wyoming) as part of the United States. In return, Mexicans received payment of $15 million and the taking over of Mexican debts owed to U.S. citizens (McPherson 1988: 47–50).
For the approximately 80,000 Mexicans living in the uppermost reaches of northern Mexico, the aftermath of the war abruptly brought them under U.S. control. Elaborate promises were made to those of Spanish/Mexican heritage in the ceded territories: namely that land claims and individual rights would be respected. This proved not to be the case, by and large, as Anglo merchants, lawyers, and settlers collaborated to gradually gain control of Hispanic claims (Limerick 1987: 235–43; Montejano 1987: 42–47, 50–53).
In Texas, "Mexicans ... lost considerable land through outright confiscation and fraud [so that] by 1900 the Mexican upper class would become nonexistent except in a few border enclaves" (Montejano 1987: 50). Where extralegal measures did not come into play, sheer economic advantage generally favored Anglos through their better connections to external markets and access to credit. Some Mexicans took to the more aggressive economic approach favored by incoming U.S. business and government agents. Many did not, however, and were pushed aside by the economic revolution steadily moving across the continent.
Excerpted from Latin American Migrations to the U.S. Heartland by LINDA ALLEGRO. Copyright © 2013 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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