Recovering History, Constructing Race: The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs, Texas, United States on 2012-01-10 03:01Z by Steven

Recovering History, Constructing Race: The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans

University of Texas Press
389 pages
6 x 9 in., 50 b&w illus., 4 maps
Paperback ISBN: ISBN: 978-0-292-75254-2

Martha Menchaca, Professor of Anthropolgy
University of Texas, Austin

The history of Mexican Americans is a history of the intermingling of races—Indian, White, and Black. This racial history underlies a legacy of racial discrimination against Mexican Americans and their Mexican ancestors that stretches from the Spanish conquest to current battles over ending affirmative action and other assistance programs for ethnic minorities. Asserting the centrality of race in Mexican American history, Martha Menchaca here offers the first interpretive racial history of Mexican Americans, focusing on racial foundations and race relations from prehispanic times to the present.

Menchaca uses the concept of racialization to describe the process through which Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. authorities constructed racial status hierarchies that marginalized Mexicans of color and restricted their rights of land ownership. She traces this process from the Spanish colonial period and the introduction of slavery through racial laws affecting Mexican Americans into the late twentieth-century. This re-viewing of familiar history through the lens of race recovers Blacks as important historical actors, links Indians and the mission system in the Southwest to the Mexican American present, and reveals the legal and illegal means by which Mexican Americans lost their land grants.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Racial Foundations
  • 2. Racial Formation: Spain’s Racial Order
  • 3. The Move North: The Gran Chichimeca and New Mexico
  • 4. The Spanish Settlement of Texas and Arizona
  • 5. The Settlement of California and the Twilight of the Spanish Period
  • 6. Liberal Racial Legislation during the Mexican Period, 1821-1848
  • 7. Land, Race, and War, 1821-1848
  • 8. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Racialization of the Mexican Population
  • 9. Racial Segregation and Liberal Policies Then and Now
  • Epilogue: Auto/ethnographic Observations of Race and History
  • Notes
  • Bibliography


In this book it is my intent to write about the Mexican American people’s Indian, White, and Black racial history. In doing so, I offer an interpretive historical analysis of the experiences of the Mexican Americans’ancestors in Mexico and the United States. This analysis begins with the Mexican Americans’prehistoric foundations and continues into the late twentieth century. My focus, however, is on exploring the legacy of racial discrimination that was established in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest and was later intensified by the United States government when, in 1848, it conquered northern Mexico (presently the U.S. Southwest) and annexed it to the United States (Menchaca 1999:3). The central period of study ranges from 1570 to 1898.

Though my interpretive history revisits many well-known events, it differs from previous histories on Mexican Americans and on the American Southwest because the central thread of my analysis is race relations, an area of study that is often accorded only secondary significance and generally subsumed under economic or nation-based interpretations. It also differs because I include Blacks as important historical actors, rather than denying their presence in the history of the Mexican Americans. Finally, as part of this analysis I demonstrate that racial status hierarchies are often structured upon the ability of one racial group to deny those who are racially different access to owning land. This process leads to the low social prestige and impoverishment of the marginalized. I close my analysis with commentaries on contemporary United States race relations and auto/ethnographic observations of Mexican American indigenism. Auto/ethnography is used as a method to illustrate how historical events influence racial identity.

This form of intellectual inquiry emerged from my conversations with archaeologist Fred Valdez. In 1986 Fred and I were both hired as assistant professors in the Anthropology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. It was the first time that I had met a Mexican American archaeologist. We were both fascinated by the ethnohistory of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and shared the unconventional view that Mexican Americans were part of the indigenous peoples of the American Southwest. Following endless conversations on the indigenous heritage of the Mexican Americans, we decided to study the indigenous groups of the Southwest that had been conquered by Spain and Mexico. Our objective was to identify the groups that had become subjects of Spain and, later, citizens of Mexico. This research was used to prepare an undergraduate class on the “Indigenous Heritage of the Mexican Americans.” We were pleasantly surprised that our class became very popular, as evidenced by the large enrollments. In general, students were interested in knowing about their heritage, while many others were interested in seeking specific information about the mission Indians from whom they were descended.

For me, this academic endeavor converged with the publication of Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s classic book Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s (1986). Their work influenced me to reassess the significance of studying the racial heritage of the Mexican Americans, given that my interest until that point had been solely to outline their indigenous ancestry. According to Omi and Winant, the significance of studying race is not to analyze the biological aspect of a people’s heritage, but rather to understand the politics and processes of racial categorization. They urgently call upon social scientists to study race as a central source of societal organization, because in multiracial societies race has been used historically by those in power to share social and economic privileges with only those people who are racially similar to themselves. Omi and Winant do not urge scholars to explore the origins or psychology of this inclusive-exclusive behavior, but rather to provide a historical context, showing how those in power use race to rationalize the distribution of wealth…

Read the entire Introduction here.

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The Anti-Miscegenation History of the American Southwest, 1837 To 1970: Transforming Racial Ideology into Law

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, Texas, United States on 2011-03-06 20:50Z by Steven

The Anti-Miscegenation History of the American Southwest, 1837 To 1970: Transforming Racial Ideology into Law

Cultural Dynamics
Volume 20, Number 3 (November 2008)
pages 279-318
DOI: 10.1177/0921374008096312

Martha Menchaca, Professor of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin

This article proposes that a historical analysis of court cases and state statutes can be used to illustrate how racist ideologies were transformed into practice and used to legalize racism. To exemplify this argument, marriage prohibition laws in the United States Southwest from 1837 to 1970 are examined.  This analysis demonstrates that African Americans and Anglo Americans were not the only groups affected by anti-miscegenation legislation.  Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans were also profoundly affected and their respective histories contribute to a more indepth understanding of the policies and practices used by state governments and the courts to discriminate against people of color.  This article also reveals that most legal cases reaching state supreme courts in the Southwest involved Mexican Americans because their mixed racial heritage placed them in a legally ambiguous position.

…Afromestizos and the First Anti-Miscegenation Law in the American Southwest

The history of anti-miscegenation law in the American Southwest began after Texas obtained independence from Mexico in 1836. One year later, on 5 June 1837, the newly formed Republic became the first nation in the Southwest to prohibit people of different races from marrying freely (Marital Rights, art. 4670, 2466, in Paschal, 1878: 783). People of European blood and their descendants were prohibited from marrying Africans and their descendants. A racially mixed person could marry a White person if they had no African ancestors in the last three generations. If the law was broken, the White person was sentenced to two to five years in prison. Texan congressmen justified imprisonment by the seriousness of ‘the offense against public morals, decency, and chastity’ (Tex. Penal Code 386, in Paschal, 1878: 429).

Texas’s anti-miscegenation codes were part of the Republic’s larger body of racially discriminatory laws passed after independence. In 1836, Mexico’s liberal racial legislation was rescinded. Citizenship was no longer extended to all people and Mexico’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1829 was nullified. Only Anglo Americans and Mexicans who were not of African heritage were given citizenship (Cx. of the Repu. of Tex. 1836, art. 6, s. 6, in Laws of Tex., vol. 2, p. 1079). Slavery was also reinstated and freed Blacks who had been emancipated under Mexican law were returned to bondage…

Read or purchase the article here.

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