Forty Acres: Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers
The Life Story of the Mexican Immigrant
Grito!: Reies Tijerina and the New Mexico Land Grant War of 1967
The Mexican-American People, The Nation's Second Largest Minority
So Shall Ye Reap: The Story of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers' Movement
The Chicanos: Mexican American Voices
Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution
North from Mexico: The Spanish-speaking People of the United States
The Chicanos: A History of Mexican Americans
Pain and Promise: The Chicano Today
The Chicano: From Caricature to Self-Portrait
Aztlán: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature
Seventy years ago there were no “Mexican Americans.” There were people in the Southwest who were somehow both from Mexico and natives of the United States. But in the view of the regular Americans who knew them best, the transplanted Easterners, Midwesterners, Southerners, Irish, Italians, Jews, and Chinese busy Americanizing the Southwest, and the Negroes serving them, these people did not belong there as Americans. They were “Spaniards” if they were prosperous and pale, and “greasers” or “spics” or “Mexicans” if they were poor and brown.
In their own view these people did not belong in America either. The “Spaniards” deliberately performed as noble exotics in the most pretentious California cities. The “greasers” only reversed the terms of exoticism. The regular Americans were all anglos or gringos or gabachos to them, except for the negritos. As for themselves, they were tejanos, hispanos, pochos, mexicanos, cholos, la raza. Bunched in little communities scattered throughout the Southwest, Catholics whom regular American Catholics despised, speaking dialects of Spanish no longer if ever heard in Spain, Mexican provincials in their courtesies and food, they were born aliens—a conquered people who could not give in.
Until 1836 the Southwest from Texas to the Pacific had been Mexican territory. By 1848, after American subversion and invasion, it had become US territory, and the 75,000 Mexican citizens there had become US charges. The treaty ending the war had assigned them full title to their property and made all who stayed American citizens. But as regular Americans settled in the newly acquired territory, the ruthless among them freely cheated and killed the newly adopted citizens. After railroads linked the Southwest into national markets in the 1880s, regular Americans flooded into the territory, seized the land they wanted, and drove all the conquered families they needed onto the new cotton plantations and into the new copper mines. Only in New Mexico had the conquering Americans compromised, dealing with a few formidably entrenched native families to exploit the others.
The conquered protested their degradation. Some resorted to the courts, in vain. Others went against the law, like the bandits who had terrorized California in the 1850s and the Lower Rio Grande during the 1860s and 1870s. Others went beyond the law, like the cowboys who had joined the Knights of Labor in Texas in the 1880s or the sheepmen who had organized the Gorras Blancas in New Mexico to fight for the range in the 1890s.
But these protests failed. By the turn of the century, of the 100,000 souls the conquered then numbered, probably only a tenth were in families in town, surviving on little businesses and handiwork and a few years of schooling—enough people to support forty-odd Southwestern newspapers in Spanish, but all confined in every town to the wards the regular Americans called “Mextown.” The rest were not only humiliated, dispossessed, and impoverished, without skills they could sell dear, but isolated out in the sticks—on ranches lost in the South Texas chaparral, on plantations marooned…
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