The Destiny of Mexicans within the U.S. in 1850s – 1900s

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is an interesting and important document, which historical significance should not be underestimated. Instead of arguing about its value and role, it is worth discussing its effectiveness in terms of correlation of de facto and de jure aspects. This paper aims to investigate historical legacies of guarantees granted by the U.S. government to the Mexicans as well as cultural, economic, and political factors that influenced implementation of the Treaty. Despite a variety of rights and guarantees stated in the Treaty, the Mexicans and Mexican Americans of the Southwest remained an inferior race that suffered from different forms of discrimination between the 1850s and 1900s.

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It is worth paying special attention to the article “The Emergence of “Temporary Mexican”” by Alexandra Filindra as it is important from methodological point of view. This article follows the constructivist methodology, viewing public policy as a phenomenon constructed socially via discursive practices, law, power, and language. This paper advocates the social constructivist methodology and states that people’s identity, beliefs about the others, and patterns of thinking are socially constructed by discourse practices that support the dominative class within a particular society. In order to analyze the effectiveness of the Treaty and discuss the factors that shaped the quality of Mexican Americans’ lives, it is necessary to define the key determinants. As power relationships are based on oppressing and oppressed classes as per their economic status, this paper provides an in-depth analysis of Mexican Americans’ participation in labor and their wealth compared to the American population. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that economic factors are determined by cultural and mental features of the image of Mexicans in the Americans’ mind. Economic factors, therefore, are considered both to determine stereotypes, discrimination, and social stratification, and to be determined by patterns of thinking, cultural features, and prejudice. Consequently, economic and cultural factors are tightly connected as they demonstrate the oppressed status of Mexican Americans despite nominal legal guarantees of their rights and liberties within the nominal democracy of America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The implementation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo could be foreseen via the analysis of Americans’ discussion of the most favorable part of Mexico that should have been annexed and of the quantity of Mexicans that should have been brought to the USA. Mark Bernhardt, for example, provides the analysis of the American ruling parties’ decision making process regarding the position of Mexicans in terms of both international and American context. The Democrats supported the extension of the U.S. lands in order to spread the American civilization and give Americans opportunity to become flourishing farmers on the territory of Mexico. However, the Whigs argued this position and disapproved the war with Mexico, claiming that new lands and new people within the USA would lead to disintegration, greed for land, and lawlessness. Therefore, the Treaty met the lack of support by Whigs, which meant that its implementation was put into question before it was held. The majority of the officials were oriented on agricultural expansion, whereas seven million of the non-white Catholic population of Mexico was considered to be waste.

This discussion was manifested via the war coverage in the newspapers like the New York Sun and New York Herald. The matter is that the Mexicans were considered to be an inferior race even before their lands were annexed. The Mexicans were believed to be a mixture of the European, African, and Native American people, while all of the stereotypes concerning the above mentioned races were imposed on the Mexicans. For example, the illustration of New York Herald in 1846 called Specimen of the Mexican Soldier depicted both comic and dangerous Mexicans either as Native Americans or as Africans, while they all were fighting with the American soldiers in the illustration. Bernhardt noticed that print media was used for propaganda: “while Bennett applied stereotypes to Mexicans in an effort to justify taking Mexican territory, the negative depictions of Mexicans provided by Beach confirmed the fears of many Americans that Mexicans would not make desirable residents of the United States”. Taking into account the above mentioned factors, it may be conclude that Mexican lands and population were important for the USA as long as they could satisfy the Americans’ expansionist needs, while the well-being of Mexican people was not taken into consideration completely.

The destinies of people from Mexico, Europe, and the U.S. that immigrated to south Texas during the Mexican War are worth analyzing. Although these immigrants hoped that Texas could become a new beginning of equality, their experience was influenced by host events associated with numerous inequalities. As soon as the immigrants came to Texas, they found that the region was beneficial for keeping cattle and mustangs, although these lands were unfriendly to farmers due to the hot and dry climate. This place became an active center of livestock; that is why Spanish political and social systems became the models of organization there, being able to provide and maintain social order as well as economic and social functions. According to Leon and Stewart, in the 1860s, “the newcomers also held about 95 percent of the assessed real estate value of south Texas, whereas immigrants from Mexico formed the largest number of land owners” (297). It is important to note that Anglo-American immigrants that came to south Texas appropriated the foundation of the economy of the region, including its political and military power between the 1870s and 1880s. However, the major disadvantage of that time was absence of commercialized ranching and farming that took place decades after the 1870s. Crucial economic and political processes of that time were held by the Anglo-American minority that granted many benefits to this group that led to a complex occupational differentiation after the Mexican War. One of the key changes was the division of labor caused by the spread of railroads and commercial farming operations growth. These factors led to mechanization of labor and invention of new technologies, which resulted in job displacement: the proportion of workers in agriculture declined from “30 percent in 1850 to only 17 percent in 1900”.

In general, this agricultural transition reduced the degree of specialization that was necessary to the majority of workers; and consequently, the level of skills of these people reduced accordingly. For example, the Mexican immigrants faced ethnic division of labor, which destroyed their hope for a better life. In 1850, Mexican immigrants and the native Tejanos served as the backbone of labor force. Only half of them were involved in agricultural activities, while commercial activities were the help for the Anglo-American population. Taking all of these factors into consideration, it is worth agreeing with Leon and Stewart who claimed that “such an ethnically stratified occupational structure obviously affected the personal and collective lives of Mexicanos in the lower strata” (303). Essentially, both the loss of jobs and transition to new activities considerably affected their personal well-being and standards of living. Apart from occupational status, Mexican immigrants suffered due to unequal wealth benefits: the standards of living between 1850 and 1870 differentiated between immigrants from Mexico and the Anglo-American immigrants. It is worth supporting the point about wealth inequality with statistics: the proportion of Mexicans who reported possession of personal wealth was about 2.6% in 1850, 16.4% in 1860, and 10% by 1870. At the same time, Anglo-American immigrants possessed not less than 16% every year. However, it is necessary to consider that Mexican population comprised only 31% of regional population in 1850 and around 50% in 1870, while Anglo-American immigrants took about 9% of regional population and 31% of personal wealth.

In other words, although the immigrants’ participation in labor increased considerably, their living standards were unstable. One may summarize that the U.S. policymakers were attempting to Americanize Mexican population, while this idea rested on a dubious prejudice regarding the Mexican culture. For example, the Mexicans were believed to be ‘badly-mixed’ with the American culture because Mexicans “were not permanent…but remained nomadic and outside of American civilization,” which was explained by the natural migratory character of Mexicans.

Reisler states that the Mexicans always were a cheap labor for Anglos: a Mexican laborer “is docile, patient, usually orderly in camp, fairly intelligent under competent supervision, obedient, and cheap” (234). If Mexicans were more ambitious and active, they would not be so attractive for the employers because they do not want to pay more for Mexican’s leadership skills and activeness. It is based on cultural factors that shape Americans’ perceptions of the Mexicans: a Mexican is believed to be a child who lacks mental development to have a well-paid job and respectable position within the enterprise of the Whites

Monroy confirms the significance of labor to understand the experience of Mexicans in the U.S., including their adaptation to political and economic subordination. The century of discrimination and unacceptance resulted in Mexican-American migration from the southwest to the midwest in the early 1900s. Mellinger agrees that Mexicans’ and Mexican Americans’ participation in the U.S. copper industry begins with the widespread of railroads, where unskilled and cheap workers were needed. Moreover, Mellinger states that “Mexican and Mexican American workers in Arizona were performing difficult and dangerous tasks in the mines, mills, and smelters, often for inadequate wages”. However, it is not worth seeking for metaphysics of Mexicans’ agreement to work for inadequate wage throughout the centuries: things change, and oppressed people sooner or later demonstrate disapproval of unequal policies toward them. For example, Barajas states that the Betabelero Strike of 1993 was the illustration of Mexicans’ desire to fight with economic and cultural subordination that has formed since the 1900s: “it is a specific response to the increasing commercialization of agriculture on the Oxnard Plain –  is part of a longer tradition of resistance to injustice. This strike, similar to a seminal conflict thirty years prior, established the foundation upon which subsequent labor battles were built”.

After economic factors that affected Mexicans’ lives and representations of Mexicans in the American culture, it is worth focusing on cultural aspects of alienation. Further analysis is conducted with consideration of mutual dependence of economic and mental or cultural factors, keeping in mind that it is impossible to put aside the economic status and customs. The destinies of Mexicans and Mexican Americans of the 1850s and 1900s should be viewed as unity of economic factors and beliefs, stereotypes and prejudice based or racial discrimination.

In order to explore the social location and status of Mexicans within the U.S. after the Treaty, it is necessary to discuss the issue of Mexican racial identity. It was determined by the Mexicans’ class status, which was in turn determined by the belief in purity of blood. Anglos were believed to be the ruling class due to their blood’s quality, which made them superior over the majority of Mexican laborers. In contrast to the white-skin Mexican elite that maintained a variety of social advantages, lower class Mexicans were considered to be an inferior and distinct racial order. Alhough these people were judicially classified as white, poverty made them the object of antipathy for the Anglos. As a result, Mexicans dispossessed their land, and the urban economy in the late 19th century offered them few opportunities. For example, they were poorly paid for manual labor, which eventually led to diseases, poverty, and crime among the Mexican minority. Therefore, the Mexicans within the U.S. after the Treaty came through racial prejudice and economic discrimination that have taken place despite the nominal rights of Mexicans declared by the Treaty. Historically, Anglos and Mexicans became confronting cultures who spoke different languages and practiced different forms of religion. 

Filindra confirms that the Americans’ image of the Mexicans was based on the myth of racial purity combined with the dominative groups’ need in cheap labor (86). The processes that determined this state of things lasted since 1848, until they were articulated during the public policy debates between 1910 and 1920. Rosales stands on the similar position: based on The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 that is full of limitations in terms of gender, race, and sexuality, this author demonstrates how public policy influences the emerging identity (597).

The historians report cases of violence against the Mexican population, although these cases remain unknown to the public. For example, Carrigan and Webb state that at least 597 Mexicans were lynched between 1848 and 1928 (413). However, this statistics is imprecise for it is impossible to make sure how many Mexicans were lynched. In this context, lynching is defined as a retributive act of murder, in which the murderers claim to be serving the interests of justice and community. Alhough the number of Mexicans was much lower than the number of African Americans, the chances of Mexican people to be murdered by a mob were very high. Therefore, Mexican Americans who were an ethnic, religious, and political minority in the U.S. lived with the threat of being lynched for one hundred years, which obviously prevented them from assimilation with the American people, from integration of Mexicans within the U.S., as well as from Americanization. The fact of lynching of Mexican people emphasizes the centrality of race and class during the American colonization despite the nominal peace established by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Other manifestations of violence against the Mexicans were expressed via ritualized tortures and sadism acts that accompanied lynching. For example, some Mexicans suffered from physical mutilations, including shooting and burning of the hung bodies of the Mexicans. Furthermore, although Anglos suffered from lynch mobs as well, they turned the lynching of Mexicans into a public spectacle, claiming that they would not tolerate any challenges to their political and cultural hegemony.

Current scholars tend to believe that segregation of Mexican Americans in the southwest was de facto set by custom and local administration, while the government never sanctioned segregation on the state level. However, Donato and Hanson state the need for challenging this assertion because de jure segregation was conducted by American schools in the 19th century (204). This segregation was expressed via the intentions to keep Mexican and Mexican American children apart from White children despite the absence of the state laws that promoted segregation. Unfortunately, due to long-term consequences of discrimination and subordination, the researchers of the educational programs of the 20th century face the influence of Mexican American subordination. The effects of segregation are evident even in the second part of the 20th century when the policies of court-ordered desegregation were required.

The policies and attitudes directed toward the Mexicans and American Mexicans in the U.S. correspond to the theory of social Darwinism, when social laws are mistakenly viewed as natural laws. For example, in the 1880s, Anglos did not feel that they oppressed the Mexican population because they wanted to get Mexicans’ money and power. Instead of it, oppressions of Mexicans were believed to be naturally determined as Mexicans had no pure blood and sufficient mental development, which could help them be equal with the White.

In conclusion, despite the legal end of war signed by both parties, the real battle of the Americans with the Mexicans kept going. The battle transformed into domination of Americans over the Mexican population based on racial discrimination. Discrimination was rooted in belief impurity of Mexicans and Mexican Americans compared to the Anglos. This policy reminds the social Darwinism theory, which becomes evident when Mexican children were denied equal access to education with White children. Furthermore, these Mexican children were considered to lack mental development, which was believed to justify the animal nature of Mexicans and their intellectual disability. Intellectual disability served as a basis for employment inequality, when Mexicans took the worst-paid dangerous positions in labor. As Mexicans were denied equal access to public wealth, they were believed to be the poor servants of more capable White people. Although the issue of Mexican assimilation with the Americans was frequently discussed by the policymakers between the 1850s and 1900s, the policy of discrimination should be considered to be aimed at supporting the power system of the American society, where White rich people rule. The consequences of the Mexican-American War demonstrate that the policies directed to oppress and discriminate are damned to stop social progress and economic growth of the entire multinational community. 


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