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Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Short History of the U.S. in Mexico

The ludicrousness of the immigration debate has a long history.  Based on racism, it proves that there is nothing new under the sun...

Map of the United States of Mexico at the time of the Treaty
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848, at the city it was named for, thus officially ending the Mexican-American War that was waged from 1846-1848.  Negotiated on the U.S. side by Nicholas Trist, chief clerk of the State Department, in defiance of orders from President Polk, among the terms of the treaty was Article X, guaranteeing the protection of Mexican land grants.  When the Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of 34 to 14, Article X was deleted.  This was a clear indication of things to come.

Nicholas Trist
Image courtesy of Sons of the South

Mexico ceded to the United States Alta (upper) California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Texas.  (The southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona were annexed under the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.)  The Rio Grande River was acknowledged as the boundary between the two countries.  The U.S. gained more than 500,000 square miles of valuable land for $15,000,000 .  This treaty is the oldest that is still in force between the U.S. and Mexico.  It is also the reason that Mexico has never been a significant player in the world, and a contributing reason for the U.S. becoming a world power.  The loss of land and resources, about half of their country, hurt Mexico economically to the extent that 150 years later Mexico still hasn't recovered.  The U.S., however, prospered, and has assumed a position of moral superiority ever since that still perverts U.S.-Mexican relations.

Cover of the Treaty
Image courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Representatives of the two governments set the boundary between the two countries.  The original treaty called for six markers, but another treaty five years later added 47 more.  Most of these were just piles of stones, and few were made to last and had proper inscriptions.  Over time these markers were moved or destroyed.  Photographers were brought in to record the locations of the markers. Such was the extent of the original concern of keeping Mexicans off their ceded land - simply some stones as a reminder.  Today the borders are the center of much controversy and are patrolled by government and civilian armed squads.

"Rebuilding Monument 40", 1818
Image courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

The Treaty has since been the basis of hundreds of land claims, although few have been successful.  It has also been important in disputes over boundaries, water and mineral rights, as well as civil rights for descendants of the Mexicans living in the ceded areas.  The implications have also served as an important example in international law.  Even though the treaty guaranteed U.S. citizenship to Mexican citizens and Native Americans (who were considered Mexican citizens) in the areas ceded, Native Americans didn't receive full citizenship until the 1930s.  The property rights that the Treaty seemed to promise never came to pass, and within a generation Mexican-Americans became a poor minority and outcasts.  To this day, the descendants of the pre-Treaty Mexicans are looked down on as interlopers, even though they preceded those who would deny them space.

Lands ceded to the U.S.  In red from the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hildaldo; in yellow from the Gadsden purchase.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although the Treaty conferred citizenship on Mexicans living in the ceded areas, this was often refused.  Like African and Native Americans, they were assigned second-class status.  California, for one, in the early twentieth century tried to reclassify Mexican Americans as Native Americans so their legal rights could be denied.  The current national ideology was only whites could be citizens.  The prevailing question was if Mexicans were white.  California also enacted The Greaser Act in 1855, an anti-Mexican law masquerading as an anti-vagrancy statute, which defined vagrants as "all persons who are commonly known as 'Greasers' or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood... and who go armed and are not peaceable and quiet persons."  This allowed law enforcement officers to arrest, deport, and/or send to forced labor any vagrant and resulted in local militias confiscating property and even lynching "vagrants" with immunity.  A few years later it was repealed. Arizona's current immigration laws echo these odious times.

The Avila Adobe, first house in Los Angeles built for the Alcalde (mayor)
in the early 1800s.  Image courtesy www.olvera-street.com.

In 1897, Ricardo Rodriguez, a San Antonio resident for ten years, petitioned the court to grant him naturalization.  In re Rodriguez, as the case was known, became a landmark civil rights case.  The issue was citizenship included the right to vote. After a year of legal maneuvering to try and disenfranchise all Texas Mexicans, Rodriguez was granted citizenship, thereby guaranteeing the right to vote to all Texas Mexicans.  By this time, federal law allowed citizenship only for a white person or a person of African descent.

Table of Land Measures used by the Los Angeles
General Land Office to convert Mexican land
measurements into the U.S. system.

During the year that the case dragged on, one court brief labeled Rodriguez as Asian, under the "Bering Strait" hypothesis, which proposed that Native Americans came from Asia and crossed over via Russia and Alaska into the new world thousands of years ago.  This attempt was made because Asians and Native Americans were barred from naturalization.  The "whiteness" issue became an even more important legal question when a large number of Mexican immigrants began to enter the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. 

A Diseño, used by the Mexican government to document grants of land.

Between 1850 and 1920, the U.S. Census counted Mexican-Americans as whites. (In 1980 the U.S. Census began using the term "Hispanic".)  However, racial discrimination continued.   In 1954, Operation Wetback was begun by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).  Modeled after a program during the Great Depression called the Mexican Repatriation, it was designed to put pressure on Mexicans to return home.  Even those whose "home" had been in the ceded areas for generations.  The effort began in California and Arizona and included police sweeps of Mexican American neighborhood, random stops and ID checks of "Mexican-looking people".  Agricultural areas were targeted.  Over a million people, some American-born, others who looked "Mexican" were taken deep into Mexico to make it harder to come back into the U.S.  (Sound familiar, Arizona?)

Grant #163 given to patentee De Haro on 9/10/1872
of 2,219 acres for Laguna de la Merced.

Controversy over community land grants persists to this day, especially in New Mexico.  Many of the records concerning land grants from the Spanish ended up in Cuba instead of being turned over to the U.S.  Retrieval efforts have been bogged down between the three bureaucracies for over a century.  A couple of decades ago there was progress in microfilming a lot of the original documents.  These grants are an important key to tracing later grants.  The subject is so complicated that researchers have spent their lives tracing ownership.  Part of the problem may lie in the fact that a lot of translations of these grants and other important documents that were made between English and Spanish and vice versa were more idiomatic than literal.  The U.S. has often feigned miscomprehension.

A survey plat, used by the Los Angeles General Land Office
to convert Mexican land measurements into the U.S. system.

The original Mexican residents of the U.S. Southwest have always gotten a raw deal, just like Native Americans throughout the entire country.  Unfortunately, although a lot of progress has been made for Mexican Americans, immigration issues remain.  Mexican Americans whose families go back to before the annexation to the United States are often treated poorly.  Illegal aliens have historically been welcomed, and even brought into the country as cheap labor, but have little rights and are railed against by those who are ignorant of the facts.  It is such a complex problem, that perhaps this should be titled "A Short History of the U.S. Screwing Mexico".

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of www.archives.gov.

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