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Mexico and Mexicans Making U.S. History
The lives and rights of Mexicans living and working in the United States have been topics of discussion and debate since the 1840s. Recently, North American integration within an accelerating globalization of production and trade, work and culture has fixed political debates on "illegal" immigration. People from almost everywhere break U.S. border rules in search of work and new chances—for a few months, a few years, or a lifetime. Still, the largest numbers arrive from Mexico.
Political contenders and mainstream media fixate on Mexican migration "problems," Mexican labor "problems," even Mexican border security "problems." The fixation proved especially strong during the economic boom—or bubble—years of 2004–2008. For a time, the bubble burst, the boom gone, public talk about invasive Mexicans faded. Then, as the U.S. economy slowly revived, the 2010 election season saw the state of Arizona pass legislation that brought heated debates about Mexicans and migration back to the center of national attention. One searches in vain for parallel concern about the consequences for Mexican workers and families of the lack of work in the United States, the dearth of dollars in Mexican communities, and the impact of the U.S. crash on Mexicans' lives.
Migration is not the only focus of those who malign Mexico and Mexicans in U.S. public and political culture. The United States sustains an enormous demand for marijuana, cocaine, and other stimulants it defines as illegal drugs. That demand creates a vast market, and illegality makes it a rich, risky, and too often deadly market. A constitutionally protected market for guns in the United States supplies weapons that sustain both Mexican cartels and U.S. distributors in a transnational economy of deadly profitability. Still, U.S. culture proclaims and inflames a "Mexican" drug problem.
The rush to blame Mexico and Mexicans is not limited to migrants hired by U.S. employers and drug cartels that supply U.S. markets. The spring of 2009 brought another wave of worry about Mexican invasion—the H1N1 swine flu. Fortunately, the influenza proved more debilitating than deadly. Mexicans in Mexico suffered most—in disease, death, and daily restrictions. Still, U.S. media regaled a fearful public with visions of a deadly "Mexican" invader poised to kill susceptible "Americans" until it became likely that the virus had jumped from hogs to humans in a Mexican community where a U.S.-owned industrial slaughterhouse operated with few environmental and health safeguards. Then focus on the virus as another Mexican invader faded, giving way to a more constructive emphasis on global health in a globalizing world.
The flu became another episode of U.S. political and public culture constructing Mexico and Mexicans as others, as antagonists, as invaders—or worse. When scholars analyze the historical roles of Mexico and Mexicans in the United States, we too emphasize invasions and problematic migrations: the U.S. invasion of Mexico in the 1840s to claim vast territories, followed by rising waves of Mexican migration into regions of the United States that were once Mexican (and far beyond). Others emphasize exclusions: the denial of rights of property and citizenship to Mexicans in territories taken by the United States, despite the promises of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; later Mexican migrants' exclusion from prosperity and political participation. There can be no doubt that invasions, migrations, and exclusions, historical and contemporary, matter to the linked histories of Mexico and the United States, and to Mexicans in the United States.
But they are not the whole of these histories. This volume aims to depart from established emphases and offer new perspectives on the historical and continuing roles of Mexico and Mexicans in making the United States. We seek to move beyond prevalent perceptions and debates, public and scholarly, grounded in an enduring but limited understanding of history. Most scholars presume that the nineteenth-century U.S. invasion that turned the Mexican North into the U.S. West led to a pervasive Anglo-American political, economic, and cultural dominance that left peoples of Hispanic ancestry a subordinated and often excluded underclass. Later migrations reinforced that subordination, leaving Anglo ways to persist and predominate. In that context, scholarship about Mexicans in the United States focuses on political exclusions, economic exploitations, ethnic differences, and assertions of rights.
There are essential and enduring truths in these understandings. The West was taken in a questionable war of conquest. Mexicans who suddenly became U.S. citizens were denied rights and pressed toward marginal economic roles. Through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, migration from Mexico has remained essential to the settlement and development of the United States—West and East, rural and urban. And upon arrival, most migrants have faced relegation to a culturally alienated underclass. In that context, a struggle for rights has been inevitable and essential. It remains an essential focus of scholarly analysis. How and why Mexican migrants—so desired by so many U.S. employers, from great corporations to families seeking maids and lawn workers—are constructed as alien invaders deserves equally careful study.
To promote a rethinking of current challenges, the chapters here aim to refocus historical understanding to emphasize the participation of Mexico and Mexicans in the foundation and development of the United States. We build upon studies of conquest-incorporation, migration-intrusion, and labor-exclusion (where many of our authors have made key contributions) to ask how early Hispanic foundations, decades of Mexican sovereignty, and their legacies in economic, political, and cultural interactions across sometimes shifting and always permeable borders led to ways arguably "Mexican" becoming incorporated into production and work, life and understanding in the United States. In our view, Mexico is not ultimately "other" to the United States; Mexicans are not "invaders" of the United States. Rather, Mexico and Mexicans have been and remain key participants (among many and diverse peoples) in the construction of the United States—our prosperity, our power in the world, our promise of inclusion, even our ways of segmentation and exclusion. Mexico and Mexicans are essential parts of "us," not an alien "them," despite the persistent insistence of so many of us in imagining an alien and invasive other.
U.S. history is opening to new perspectives. In The Story of American Freedom, Eric Foner brings the participations of women and African Americans and their struggles for equal inclusions to the center of the national narrative. Thomas Bender, in A Nation among Nations, sets the history of the United States in global context; he recognizes the importance of the 1840s war with Mexico in setting the vast boundaries and claiming the unparalleled resources that constituted a continental nation and set it on course to civil war before it could rise to global power. Neither emphasizes the importance of Mexican foundations and Mexican American participation in making the United States. That is the goal of this volume.
We offer chapters that range from colonial times through the twentieth century and call for new appreciation of the constructive participations of Mexicans in shaping the United States. We offer differing emphases and interpretations, some converging, some raising new debates. We have discussed our common vision and our debates; here we share those conversations, hoping that wider discussions will lead to more inclusive understandings of Mexico and Mexicans in the historical formation and contemporary life of the United States.
The rest of the Introduction sketches the vision of Mexican foundations and participations in U.S. history that emerged from our studies. It proceeds by outlining our chapters, linking their themes, and adding discussions that aim to integrate the larger understanding we are approaching: a look at the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846–1848; a long section on migration and labor; a consideration of changing gender relations in the late twentieth century.
Hispanic Foundations and Indigenous Adaptations
Ways of life forged under Spanish rule set legacies that have endured, adapted, and expanded to shape the United States in important ways. We often forget that from the Carolinas to Florida and along the Gulf Coast, from New Orleans up the Mississippi to Saint Louis, and from Texas through New Mexico to California, most early and enduring contacts between Europeans and native peoples occurred under Spanish sovereignty. In 1776, the Spanish Empire ruled more of the current territory of the United States than did the British colonies that proclaimed themselves United States. U.S. history recognizes the expansions that came with the acquisition of Florida from Spain, the purchase from France of vast Louisiana territories long ruled by Spain, and the taking of Texas, New Mexico, California, and more by war in the 1840s. Yet we presume that those acquisitions brought land and few people, opportunities but not legacies that endured.
My chapter, "Capitalist Foundations," explores how the dynamic commercial and expansive ways of Spanish North America shaped the Mexican North and the U.S. West. A colonial society grounded in mining, irrigated cultivation, and commercial grazing; forged by European, African, and Native American immigrants; and marked by ethnic amalgamations began in the sixteenth century around Querétaro and Zacatecas, now in north-central Mexico. By the early 1800s, it had driven north to encompass key regions of Texas, New Mexico, and California. I outline the creation of that colonial society, its pivotal role in early capitalism, its northward expansion, its incorporation into the United States, and how its legacies continue to shape regions once under Spanish and Mexican rule, and others far beyond.
Silver was the most important commodity (and money) in the world in the eighteenth century and New Spain was the world's leading silver producer. From 1700 to 1780, output there increased four times over—and held at historical peak levels to 1810. A century of silver-driven dynamism sent commercial settlement deep into Texas, brought new economic activity into long-settled regions of New Mexico, and drove development up the California coast to San Francisco. Commercial ways and social relations shaped the Spanish Empire; they were especially dynamic as Spanish North America thrust northward in the eighteenth century.
The differences between Spanish and British foundations in North America emerged less from distinct European traditions than from Spanish priority in engaging the most densely settled and state-organized Amerindian societies and building an unprecedented silver economy. It was Spanish Americans who first encountered the state-based societies of Mesoamerica and the Andes, found mountains of silver at Potosí and Zacatecas, and connected American silver to Asian markets, in the process stimulating global trade and Spanish imperial power.
British colonists came later, confined to regions of independent and often resistant native peoples, never to find rich lodes of bullion. In New England they found religious and economic independence—and little profit. From the Chesapeake, across the Carolinas, and on Caribbean islands, slave plantations offered profits, always second to those of the silver economy. Priority, economic opportunity, and differing indigenous societies shaped differences between Spanish and British America more than did Catholicism, Puritanism, or other cultural differences.
Spanish North America developed as a region of commercial and increasingly capitalist expansion that shaped the histories of both Mexico and the United States. The discovery of silver at Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and elsewhere north of the states and communities of Mesoamerica accelerated settlement and development from the 1550s. Chapter 1 explores the commercial dynamics, patriarchal hierarchies, and ethnic amalgamations at the center of that development as it drove north in the eighteenth century and after. It details how revolutionary conflicts within Mexico's war for independence, both beginning in 1810, undermined capitalist dynamism and northward expansion just as the nation began. And it outlines how the U.S.-Mexican War of the 1840s turned Mexico's North into the U.S. West, leading to an incorporation of Hispanic capitalism, beginning contests between contending ways of patriarchy and enduring encounters between Mexican ethnic amalgamations and U.S. racial polarities—all shaping the rise of the United States to continental hegemony.
The expansion of commercial ways and capitalist developments across North America, whether by Spanish mining and grazing driving northward or by Anglo-American prospectors and settlers trekking westward, were always shaped by encounters with Amerindians long on the land. Mythic visions emphasize Spanish incorporations of natives in missions and Anglo-American exclusions of Indians, often in wars of extermination. Missions and wars were common enough on frontiers where profit-seeking Europeans met natives struggling to adapt and survive in the face of grasping newcomers and deadly diseases. But mission subordination was but a part of Spanish relations with North American natives, and wars of exclusion ruled Anglo-Indian relations mostly toward the end of a long era of more complex interactions.
In "Between Mexico and the United States," Andrew Isenberg explores the challenges faced by the native peoples who first engaged the northward expansion of Spanish North America and then the westward thrust of the United States. He focuses on the active roles taken by natives during long periods that began when they first encountered Spanish North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and continued as they faced the full force of Anglo-American expansion in the last third of the nineteenth century. He emphasizes the transforming importance of independent peoples' adaptations of European livestock and technologies—and the later emergence of environmental challenges that undermined indigenous independence.
Isenberg details how Navajos dealt with Spanish New Mexico to gain growing herds of sheep, become a pastoral society, and in time find fame as weavers. In the eighteenth century they profited from selling sheep, wool, and cloth south to mining communities in Chihuahua and beyond. He also shows how diverse peoples across the Great Plains between the Rockies and the Mississippi traded and raided to gain horses from New Mexico, becoming more skilled warriors and bison hunters in a Native American world that ruled the middle of the continent through the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. Among independent indigenous peoples, contacts with Spanish North America allowed adaptations as pastoralists who found new strengths and stratifications that lasted more than a century. Adoption of European livestock and weapons brought better sustenance, new independence, and unprecedented political-military power.
Those adaptations enabled Comanches and other pastoral peoples to assert rising power when Mexican independence and the Bajío revolution undermined the economic dynamism of the silver economy and halted the historical expansion of Spanish North America. This was not unprecedented. In the 1680s, an alliance of Pueblos and pastoralists had ousted the Spanish from New Mexico at a time of decline in the silver economy. When the silver economy waned briefly around 1750, Apaches and others became more assertive. And after 1810, as Pekka Hamalainen and Brian DeLay detail, the first beneficiary of the demise of New Spain's power from Arizona through Texas was a newly expansive Comanche Empire. Its warriors raided deep into northern Mexico in the 1830s and 1840s. This time, however, the collapse of silver capitalism as Mexico became a nation and the sharp assertion of indigenous power gave way to U.S. hegemony in a process marked by war against Mexico in the 1840s, a gold boom in California beginning in 1849, and a powerful development of mining, cultivation, and grazing in Colorado from the 1860s.
Isenberg emphasizes that the triumph of the United States was not the result of military power alone. The middle decades of the nineteenth century saw explosive grazing and bison hunting beyond the capacity of herd reproduction in fragile environments, undermining pastoral adaptations just as U.S. expansion energized. Ecological collapse pressed long-independent peoples to new adaptations, culminating not in exclusion but dependence. That transition, too, built on Spanish North American precedents. It began in California, where natives became pastoralists as mission residents while inland people took livestock to sustain independent ways. When Mexican liberals secularized the missions in the 1830s, most land went to commercial rancheros, leaving native neophytes to become dependent vaqueros—cowboys. Later, when gold boomed as the United States took power, ranchers employed native vaqueros to build a grazing economy to supply the mines, sustaining the "westward" expansion that replicated Spanish North America under U.S. rule.
In ways different in particulars but parallel in trajectory, Navajos, Comanches, and other peoples of the Plains saw pastoral adaptations collapse just as they faced a dynamically capitalist and militarized U.S. expansion after the Civil War. They, too, Isenberg emphasizes, were not simply exterminated or excluded. Many died from disease, others in war. But survivors remained and often faced life on reservations—Anglo-American versions of missions—where agents and preachers pressed natives to settle and lead Christian lives as dependent cultivators and workers. On the reservations and off, many found roles as cowboys and shepherds, persisting in pastoral ways, now laboring as dependents in a commercial economy, continuing a long sequence begun in Spanish North America and played out across the U.S. West.
War, Culture, and Commerce
In the 1820s, Mexico emerged from divisive wars for independence and began to face decades of political and social conflict as it struggled to become a nation. In the same years, the United States came out of the era of conflictive nation-making that began in 1776, saw political divisions and local rebellions in the 1780s and 1790s, almost brought dissolution in 1800, fought a war with Britain in 1812, and found resolution in the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The years from the 1820s through the 1840s seem times of trial for Mexico and of triumph for the United States—culminating in the war that transferred vast territories from the former to the latter.
Yet after that decisive contest for continental control, both nations faced deepening divisions that led to simultaneous civil wars in the 1860s. When we recognize the role of the war of the 1840s in making the United States a continental nation and limiting Mexico's potential expansion, and its importance in setting off deep and deadly conflicts in both nations in the 1860s, we begin to see that these were not separate histories of nation-making. In important ways, the United States and Mexico became nations together from the 1820s through the 1860s.
To most U.S. scholars and citizens, the Civil War is the defining conflict of nineteenth-century U.S. history. The great war of North against South, of commercial-industrial prospects against slave traditions, ended slavery and gained national unity. It was a war fought mostly by people of European origins to determine the future of slaves of African ancestry and of relations between people color-coded as "races," black and white. What did Mexico and Mexicans have to do with the Civil War? Much more than is often recognized. Anglo-Americans settled Mexican Texas in the 1820s to gain the coastal plain for cotton and slavery. The bondage that defined the U.S. South had declined to insignificance by 1800 in New Spain, making abolition easy for Mexican nation-makers in 1829. Mexico's 1824 Constitution had emphasized state's rights, allowing Texans to ignore abolition for a time, but in the 1830s, Mexican leaders increasingly pressed Texans to respect national policy. Texans rebelled, claiming political independence to preserve slavery and expand the cotton economy.
Mexico lacked the military power to prevent Texas' secession but would not recognize Texas independence. Struggling to prosper between a nation that would not let it leave and another not ready to defend it, in 1845, Texas sought entry into the United States. It would become a slave state bolstering the southern bloc. The southern border of Texas had always been the Nueces River, emptying into Corpus Christi Bay. But the Texans and their U.S. backers claimed the north bank of the Rio Grande. When Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande to fortify its border at the Nueces, U.S. authorities proclaimed their territory invaded and began a war to confirm the annexation of Texas and take all the land through New Mexico to California.
Beginning in 1846, the U.S. military invaded Mexico by land and sea, taking Mexico City in September of 1847. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, forced on an occupied nation, made the northern half of Mexico the western third of the United States. Before the battles began, Texas became a slave state, rich in cotton. Californians found gold late in 1848—completing the trajectory of Spanish North American development in which mining drove the economy, irrigated agriculture supplied grains and other crops, and commercial grazing provided nearly everything else. California became a free state in 1850. The rest of the lands taken from Mexico reopened questions of the expansion of slavery and the national power of slaveholders. What once seemed settled in the Missouri Compromise of 1820 became unsettled, contentious, and ever more divisive, leading to the Civil War. The settlement of Mexican Texas as an extension of a southern U.S. economy built on cotton and slavery, the independence of Texas, the war with Mexico, and the taking of vast Mexican territories had everything to do with the coming of the U.S. Civil War, the most deadly and destructive conflict in the nineteenth-century Americas.
Decades of conflict linking Mexico and the United States thus shaped—literally—the boundaries, politics, and economic prospects of both nations. During the same era, visions of Mexico, often debated yet always in play, became central to shaping U.S. political and popular cultures. In "Imagining Mexico in War and Romance," Shelley Streeby explores changing portrayals of Mexico and Mexicans in U.S. literary and visual cultures in this formative era. She emphasizes three stages. The first began in the 1820s, when Pres. James Monroe's Doctrine proclaimed the emerging Mexican nation a sister republic, yet a republic that might require U.S. assistance and protection. The literature of the day, still mostly aimed at a literary few, echoed that view—with an emphasis on the importance of manly U.S. tutelage.
In the second stage, the 1830s and 1840s linked the two nations in escalating conflicts as Texas sought independence and then incorporation into the United States, leading to war from 1846 to 1848. Those in the United States opposed to the extension of slavery and territorial expansion, often northerners, pressed visions of Mexico as a sister republic even as they worried about its racially mixed peoples. Those who favored Texas independence and the 1840s war for territorial expansion, often southerners, increasingly saw Mexico as a failed republic, broken by racially mixed citizens and desperate for U.S. instruction—to be offered by manly Anglo men who would marry elite white Mexican women. As Streeby emphasizes, the 1840s saw the print revolution bring an explosion of popular literature just as attention focused on war with Mexico. Tales of battle and romance constructed U.S. superiority and Mexican failure, Yankee manhood and Mexican womanly dependence, Anglo-Saxon racial superiority and a Mexican inferiority rooted in an indigenous majority and excessive "racial" mixing.
Yet just over a decade after war appeared to decisively establish U.S. power and Mexican incapacity, the 1860s brought a third stage as both nations faced deadly civil war. Again, visions of Mexico were key parts of how USAmericans (as Streeby names them) understood themselves, their nation, and their conflicts. Again, portrayals were divided: southerners saw promise in Mexican conservatives and the brief empire of Maximilian of Hapsburg; northerners preferred the liberal Mexican republic led by Benito Juárez, yet they worried that as a Zapotec, he was too Indian to lead a modern nation. Once the North triumphed in the United States and Juárez and the liberals restored republican rule in Mexico, U.S. popular culture, now both literary and visual, increasingly focused on the brutality of the regime led by the "Indian" Juárez, its killing of Maximilian, thus its uncertain fitness to become a true American republic.
Romances continued to regale popular audiences with Mexico's womanly need for manly U.S. leadership. Such assertions of patriarchal superiority were more than metaphorical claims. The capitalist dynamism of Spanish North America had long been organized by patriarchy: powerful men ruled subordinate men, and men at every level ruled women—inevitably and rightfully. The expansive United States was no less patriarchal. To claim superiority over Mexico and Mexicans, U.S. Americans had to assert superior patriarchy. In the United States, that exalted Anglo patriarchy justified Anglo men's political and entrepreneurial power in newly incorporated territories. It also helped prepare the way—at least in Yankee minds—for an era in which U.S. tutelage came to Mexico mostly as capital investment that aimed to take profit while turning Mexican production to serve markets in the United States. The construction of a national culture, political and popular, focused on asserting U.S. manly superiority and the need of others, constructed as women and/or racial inferiors, to gain from U.S. instruction (and capital)—came during a half century of founding interaction with Mexico. The persistence of visions of Anglo manhood and Mexican womanly dependence is documented in José Limón's analysis in American Encounters, which explores literary and cinematic portrayals of Mexico and Mexicans in twentieth-century U.S. culture.
As Streeby emphasizes, the U.S. Civil War was pivotal to U.S. history, U.S. relations with Mexico, and the formation of a U.S. culture shaped in key ways by visions of Mexico and Mexicans. In "Mexican Merchants and Teamsters on the Texas Cotton Road," David Montejano reminds us that Mexicans participated in that conflict in ways beyond serving as imagined others in U.S. popular culture. Mexicans in Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and the city of Monterrey became key actors in the Civil War, enabling the persistence of the cotton economy essential to Confederate independence. There is no hint that Mexican merchants and teamsters sympathized with plantation slavery. They, like many Anglo-Americans who went to once-Mexican lands in the 1850s, saw opportunities for profit and took them.
The war began in 1861, when Lincoln's government refused to accept southern secession (as Mexico had refused to recognize Texas' secession in 1836). To sustain its war for independence and slavery, the Confederacy needed cotton production and exports. But the Union blockaded southern ports, making exports difficult and uncertain. Into the breach stepped the merchants of Monterrey, Mexico. They built a profitable business buying cotton from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas—or "Mexicanizing" it for commission fees—shipping it by Mexican teamsters and carters across Texas and the Rio Grande, and exporting it at Matamoros or Bagdad on the Mexican side. Slave-made cotton reached markets, the Confederacy kept its key economic sector alive, and the fight for independence and slavery continued longer than it would have if the Union blockade had been more successful. (In addition, profits accumulated in Monterrey set that city on course to become the commercial and industrial capital of northern Mexico in the late nineteenth century.) If the Civil War was the quintessential U.S. conflict of the nineteenth century, Mexico and Mexicans were pivotal to its origins and to sustaining the Confederacy (not from idealism, but from purely capitalist goals) in a long fight finally lost.
The war that claimed vast lands from Mexico, the resulting westward expansion into territories first shaped by Spanish North American peoples and traditions, and then the war that ended slavery and set a reunified United States on course to capitalist industrialization combined to shape North American history in the nineteenth century, and beyond. Streeby and Montejano show that Mexico and Mexicans were key participants in the political, cultural, and economic conflicts and constructions that generated U.S. continental power. On a larger level, they show two deeply capitalist and patriarchal societies contesting continental rule—with Anglo-American patriarchs taking ever more power within North American capitalism on both sides of the border.
Labor and Liberation, Nation and Exclusion
The coming of U.S. sovereignty and political institutions along with growing numbers of "Anglo" merchants and settlers to lands once Mexican inevitably set off times of change. Too often we presume that rapid "Americanization" shaped the borderlands, drowning Mexican ways and peoples. Yet every careful analysis shows a more complex, interactive, adaptive history from Texas to California. U.S. political institutions ruled, as did—in time—U.S. racial exclusions. But political leaders and their entrepreneurial allies repeatedly adopted Hispanic North American ways of mining, cultivation, and grazing, often taking over established enterprises by marrying Mexican heiresses, just as U.S. romance novels advised. Anglo-American entrepreneurs often continued profitable Hispanic ways of labor relations: advance payments still drew permanent workers; seasonal hands came from cultivating (and, later, urban) communities. Ethnic mixing persisted, newly challenged by U.S. ways of exclusion. In important ways, the borderlands remained Mexican even as they became important parts of the United States.
Southern Arizona illustrates that process. It remained part of the Mexican state of Sonora after the U.S.-Mexican War, until Mexican financial straits (left by the war) and the U.S. desire for irrigable land and a rail route west led to the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. Katherine Benton-Cohen has detailed a century of history in Cochise County, from the 1840s, when the region mixed Mexican cultivators of mixed ancestry with independent natives, Apaches and others, through the railroad development and mining boom that made Tombstone famous in the 1880s and the labor conflict that put Bisbee at the center of U.S. national attention in 1917, leading to the region's emergence as a land divided between "Americans" and "Mexicans" in the 1930s.
In "Making Mexicans and Americans in the Arizona Borderlands," Benton-Cohen explores three key moments in that history. In the early 1880s, agricultural settlements mixed diverse Mexicans with newcomers from the U.S. East and Europe. Together they built and maintained irrigation systems along rivers. Land, not ancestry or race, set primary social distinctions in early U.S. Arizona: Mexican men and women owned land, married each other and newcomers, and played leading roles in local affairs. Meanwhile, silver boomed at Tombstone, setting in motion violent conflicts over rule, profit, and labor—conflicts in which Mexican men were often desired workers and English-speaking cowboys a source of problematic violence for the mining industry. In all that, southern Arizona in the 1880s continued Spanish North American ways: the economy mixed mining, irrigated cultivation, and commercial grazing; society remained open to ethnic mixing; politics rewarded land and wealth—and patriarchy shaped everything.
Yet in the same decade, important changes were under way. Bisbee began as a copper town; its developers proclaimed it an "American camp," excluding the Chinese and limiting Mexicans to marginal work. U.S. racial exclusions challenged Hispanic amalgamations just as U.S. institutions of political participation might have offered real gains to Mexicans (who under the treaties that made Arizona part of the United States were "white" and citizens—if adult and male). Bisbee flourished economically, becoming a key copper mining center as the United States entered World War I in 1917. Employers there, mostly corporations based in the East, relegated Mexicans (and Italians and Serbs) to secondary labor and structural poverty. When they struck together, demanding equal work and pay as the nation mobilized for war, they faced the military, defeat, and deportation. The repression of that conflict consolidated the copper boomtown as a place for white Americans (managers and their charity-working wives, workers and their patriarchal families). In the early twentieth century, while Jim Crow hardened black-white racial lines in the South and war fueled xenophobic nationalism everywhere, "Mexican" and "American" (presumed to mean white and European) became divisive racial categories in Bisbee and across the Southwest.
In an epilogue, Benton-Cohen shows how New Deal programs consolidated new racial divisions during the depression of the 1930s. Relief programs confirmed the power of corporate mining; while white managers ruled the mines, their white wives ruled relief, entrenching patriarchal presumptions and racial claims that confirmed American rights and Mexican exclusions. In an economic structure in the tradition of Spanish North America, still patriarchal but ruled by U.S. corporations, Anglo-American racial exclusions prejudiced Mexicans' lives. Still, Benton-Cohen reminds us that away from the mines and the corporate power committed to racial division, some Arizonans kept traditions of ethnic fluidity alive.
Benton-Cohen's exploration of one important place, Cochise County, during the century after its incorporation into the United States emphasizes how the rise of U.S. corporate mining and a pivotal 1917 labor conflict led to a powerful racial binary dividing Mexicans from Americans. In "Keeping Community, Challenging Boundaries," Devra Weber explores the decades from 1900 to 1920 across a wider west, focusing on Mexican migrants and their roles in labor organizing. The years around 1900 brought rapid development to the lands that remained the Mexican North and those that had become the U.S. West. Integrated by railroads and booming transnational markets, the borderlands drew migrants north to lay rails, to build cities, and to labor in mines, fields, and workshops—in both nations. Then the decade from 1910 to 1920 saw unprecedented conflicts on both sides of the border: revolution in Mexico; labor conflicts and mobilization for World War I in the United States.
Weber shows that migrants from Mexico were pivotal to building the western United States—and to organizing workers there. While corporate power drew Anglo-Americans and many European immigrants into a polar divide marking Mexicans as a racial other, people pressed to become Mexicans kept diverse identities. Many migrants from Mexico were indigenous—Mayos, Yaquis, and Opatas from as near as Sonora, Purépechas (Tarascans) from as far south as Michoacán. Many spoke native languages, knew Spanish, and learned English. Identities stayed grounded in ancestral communities as men worked in industrial mines; they joined and often led transnational and multicultural political and labor movements. Their lives reveal that diverse Mexicans contributed to building the U.S. West and to demanding fair remuneration and political participation for those who built it, refusing to become the singular other that corporate powers wanted and an emerging U.S. "national" culture asserted.
The ethnic mixing and adaptive identities long characteristic of Hispanic North America helped migrants from Mexico found, lead, and join the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies). In cities and mining camps, along rail lines, and in commercial fields, diverse migrants from Mexico joined equally diverse workers from the U.S. East and Europe to demand fair treatment and better wages. They pressed for the rights of all workers—all men. They built new communities, made local gains, and forged traditions of struggle even while facing difficult, sometimes devastating, defeats, as at Bisbee in 1917. Perhaps reasserting the patriarchal traditions of Hispanic North America, they insisted that all workers were equally men.
Benton-Cohen and Weber focus on key years. As the twentieth century began, the economic ways of Hispanic North America endured across the Mexican North and the U.S. West, mixing mining, irrigated agriculture, and commercial grazing in a dynamic transnational capitalism. By 1900, people of Mexican ancestry were all but excluded from political power and mining entrepreneurship in the regions incorporated into the United States; a few prospered in agriculture and grazing. In that context, U.S. corporate power pressed alliances with Anglo-American and European workers to forge an American-Mexican split to bolster corporate rule, divide workers, and cut costs by paying Mexicans less. Mexicans were pronounced lesser men.
Meanwhile, workers of Mexican ancestry stayed open to ethnic interaction and joined communities of workers—all asserting rights as men. Their vision offered a road to ethnic openness, a road opened by diverse working men and blocked by powerful Anglo men and the women they empowered. After 1917, U.S. war-induced nationalism matched Mexican postrevolutionary nationalism to strengthen Mexican and American identities on both sides of the border. U.S.-style racial polarity appeared to trump Hispanic amalgamations in the 1920s, the depression of the 1930s, and into the wartime era of the 1940s and the Cold War that followed.
Continental Capitalism and Mexican Migration
Throughout the twentieth century, except during the depression of the 1930s, Mexicans came to the United States in rising waves, most to labor, many eventually to live. If from 1847 to 1900 Mexico and Mexicans shaped the United States primarily through enduring legacies of capitalist mining, commercial grazing, irrigated cultivation, and ethnic amalgamation, in the twentieth century those legacies were reinforced and sustained by the thousands, eventually millions, of Mexicans who came to work and live in lands once Mexican and far beyond. Mexican migration and Mexican laborers became pivotal to the North American experience after 1900. For good reasons, their coming has fixed the attention of scholars; for debatable reasons, their presence has elicited cultural controversy and political ire. Our studies suggest that migration and labor should be understood in the context of a North American capitalism increasingly integrated since the 1860s, changing debates about patriarchy, and enduring contests over ethnic amalgamations and racial polarities.
Migration remains the most intensely studied, discussed, and debated aspect of the relationship between Mexico and the United States. During the first half of the twentieth century, two landmark works shaped early conversations. In 1930, as depression hit, Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gamio published The Life Story of the Mexican Immigrant. He asked why so many had come to the United States during and after a Mexican revolution that mobilized nationalist rhetoric to promise social justice and popular welfare. In 1949, U.S journalist and political activist Carey McWilliams offered North from Mexico, exploring the origins and importance of the bracero program negotiated by the U.S. and Mexican governments to bring Mexicans to work in the United States during World War II.
Subsequent scholars brought new complexities to understanding why so many Mexicans came to build and sustain the U.S. economy as it rose to global eminence. In By the Sweat of Their Brow, Mark Reisler details how Mexican migrants built railroads, mined silver and copper, and harvested crops across once-Mexican territories of the Southwest from 1900 to 1940—and how they moved beyond to sustain sugar beet farming and refining on plains from eastern Colorado to the Red River Valley of Minnesota and the Dakotas and settled city enclaves in Chicago and Saint Paul. In Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, David Montejano details how Mexican legacies and Mexican migrants were essential to building the Texas so prominent in the economy and politics of the twentieth-century United States. In Dark Sweat, White Gold, Devra Weber documents how the Mexican residents and migrants essential to California agribusiness struggled for work and rights during the depression. And Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez detail the darker side of Mexicans' experience of the U.S. depression in Decade of Betrayal. While those who could struggled for rights and work, the majority faced welfare systems that made a ticket to the border the only relief available to Mexicans, including many children born U.S. citizens. The expulsions set up a legacy of resentment, leaving the United States little choice but to negotiate the bracero program, offering transport north, set pay, and basic rights to draw reluctant Mexicans north to labor in U.S. fields and factories during World War II.
Much of that migration has been explained by the changing particulars of Mexican history: an economic boom that concentrated land and minimized pay during the decades before 1910; the disruptive revolution of 1910–1920; the limits of reforms during the 1920s; the violence of the Cristero revolt in western Mexico after 1926. Even the repatriations of the depression years, pressed by local officials across the United States, are linked to the reforms of Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas in the 1930s. His distribution of land to rural villagers and his protection of labor rights in emerging industries helped accommodate repatriated migrants. Was his expropriation of U.S. oil companies in 1938 in some small part a statement that if Mexicans could be pushed home, the Mexican nation could still assert its rights in Mexico?
In that context, the apparently sudden shift from nationalizing oil in 1938 to mobilizing Mexican production and Mexican workers to sustain the United States in World War II seems diagnostic of the postrevolutionary regime's turn to the right in 1940. Yet when we recognize that the "radical" Cárdenas, who distributed land, favored labor, and nationalized oil, chose his "rightist" successor as president and remained in the cabinet as the minister of defense who coordinated support for the United States during the war, we begin to see that underlying continuities in Mexican politics, policies, and economic trajectories helped send Mexican migrants to the United States through the twentieth century. We should not be surprised, then, that the bracero program continued to deliver Mexicans to U.S. employers into the 1960s, and that when U.S. labor-rights advocates led a drive to end the program (insisting, rightly, that it exploited Mexicans and depressed U.S. wages), Mexicans kept coming.
And they have kept coming, now to every region of the United States, to every aspect of our economy, through every era of politics in the United States and Mexico—in accelerating waves in times of boom, in lesser flows in years of decline. Much of this is detailed and analyzed in Return to Aztlán, the landmark study of Mexican migrants and migration in the later twentieth century by Douglas Massey and his binational team. Cycles of politics and production, war and rebellion on both sides of the border helped time labor migration; they do not explain the underlying, enduring relationship that shaped life and migration in both nations from the 1860s.
Three intersecting and reinforcing historical processes ground the enduring role of Mexican migration in sustaining the United States and its economy. First, since the sixteenth century, European, Mesoamerican, and African migrants have moved north from regions around Mexico City and the Bajío seeking profit and work in an economy driven by silver and sustained by irrigated farming and commercial grazing. When the border moved south in 1848 (with a minor adjustment, also south, in 1853), neither the northward drive of Hispanic capitalism nor the migration of Mexicans stopped. The search for mines, grazing lands, and irrigable fields continued, as did the movement of peoples from regions of greater density (and limited resources) in central Mexico to zones of lesser density and vast resources (now in the United States). People moving north became immigrants by crossing a relocated border into a recently expanded United States.
In a second linked process, beginning in the late 1860s, that foundational northward expansion was reshaped by an accelerating integration of the U.S. and Mexican economies under the sway of U.S. capital. As the North won the Civil War and turned to westward expansion to build a national economy, Mexican liberals led by Benito Juárez emerged from wars against conservative foes, French occupation, and Maximilian's imagined empire to face debt, economic crisis, and limited territory for expansion. The great mining strikes of the nineteenth century that fueled and funded so much of the U.S. drive to the West were in California, Colorado, Arizona, and other lands taken from Mexico. Capital and economic stimulus concentrated in the United States; U.S. capitalists looked to "aid" Mexico by investing there. What else could a manly Yankee do?
To consolidate a national liberal regime, Juárez, his allies, and successors welcomed U.S. financiers to build railroads, revive mines, and stimulate trade, reenergizing Mexican economic growth and northward expansion. Profit concentrated among U.S. investors and allied Mexican elites; Mexico was drawn into a model of development that stimulated capitalist concentrations by emphasizing labor-saving technology. Such technology promoted profit and broadly (if imperfectly) shared welfare in a United States with ample resources (many taken from Mexico) and a limited population. In a Mexico left with unhealthful tropical lowlands, dense settlements, and limited resources in a rugged mountainous center, and a dry north constrained after 1848 by U.S. expansion, the same labor-saving ways promoted economic growth and capitalist concentration while they constrained opportunities for a struggling majority.
The nineteenth-century origins of the integration of the Mexican and U.S. economies under U.S. capital were documented long ago by David Pletcher in Rails, Mines, and Progress. John Hart details that integration's persistence and expansion in Empire and Revolution. Those who might let nationalist rhetoric convince them that the Revolution of 1910 derailed U.S. economic power in Mexico need only read the analysis of the Mexican economy from 1870 to 1929 by Stephen Haber and his colleagues. They demonstrate that the economic trajectory of Mexico toward a capitalism shaped by U.S. investment and U.S. markets held strong from the 1880s to the crash of 1929. And what the depression slowed for a decade, World War II reaccelerated. From the 1940s to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s, U.S. capital, markets, and labor-saving technologies have ruled an ever more integrated economy linking the United States and Mexico.
In the third key process, the integrated North American economy entered a new phase after World War II. Mexicans began to face explosive population growth, rapid urbanization, and a turn to industrial "green revolution" agriculture. None of those transformations were simply Mexican; all emerged from deepening North American integrations. Of course, the Mexican population explosion was essentially a Mexican process. Or was it? Growth began to accelerate in the 1930s and 1940s, when land and labor reforms gave rural and urban Mexicans incentives to have more children and better ways to feed them. But the explosive growth that fueled uncontained urbanization came as the U.S. pharmaceutical industry delivered to Mexicans in the 1950s the penicillin and other antibiotics invented in World War II. For more than a generation, Mexicans had more children and more children lived, an unquestioned good in families that brought unprecedented social challenges to the nation. Meanwhile, in a little-recognized pharmaceutical exchange, the same industry developed in Mexico—from Mexican folk remedies based on roots and herbs—the birth control pills that enabled more comfortable U.S. middle-class families to control reproduction. The Mexican population soared while U.S. growth slowed.
Meanwhile, international capital kept increasing its role in Mexico; both national and international firms knew that labor-saving technologies were the only way to compete and profit. During decades of national industrial development from the 1940s to the 1960s, the Mexican state promoted and Mexican entrepreneurs adopted labor-saving techniques; they celebrated times of "miracle" growth in production—and repeatedly lamented that growth failed to generate employment sufficient to sustain a rapidly growing population. In agriculture, rural communities that in the 1930s and 1940s gained just enough land for sustenance, in the 1950s saw population growth drive intense cropping that led to soil exhaustion and erosion. Mexico's revolutionary agrarian reform could not feed burgeoning cities.
In response, the green revolution promoted in Mexico by the U.S. government and the Rockefeller Foundation enabled commercial growers to expand production of wheat and vegetables using tractors and hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides—saving labor while feeding prosperous urban consumers. Early on, the new agriculture paid little heed to the majority of maize farmers and consumers, who continued to struggle while growing numbers migrated to Mexican cities and U.S. fields and factories.
The scientific revolution in Mexican agriculture increased production of crops that fed urban Mexicans, especially the growing middle class. But it, too, was labor saving. As a result, both in the decades of the "Mexican Miracle," when economic growth was fabled, and after 1970, when crises mounted, Mexicans' participation in the integrated North American economy generated population growth (finally slowing in the 1990s) and mass poverty marked by unemployment, informality, marginal lives—and continuing migration to the United States. Then in the 1990s, NAFTA opened Mexico to maize and wheat raised by subsidized farmers in the United States, shifting cultivation on Mexico's green revolution fields (with irrigation and industrial inputs) to tomatoes, strawberries, and other vegetables and fruits for comfortable U.S. consumers. As the twenty-first century began, rural Mexico ceased to produce sustenance or labor for Mexicans. It became instead a domain of migrant labor recruitment for transnational agribusiness.
While Mexico adopted the capital-intensive, labor-saving ways promoted by the prophets of development, Mexicans faced population explosion, proliferating unemployment, marginal lives, and incentives to migrate to the United States, from which most advice and capital came to Mexico, to which so much profit, produce, and labor made in Mexico went. During the first half of the twentieth century most migrants came from Guanajuato, Michoacán, Jalisco, and regions north, continuing flows that have marked Hispanic North America for centuries. With the collapse of community agriculture in the Mesoamerican heartland from Mexico City southward beginning in the 1970s, migration began to accelerate from indigenous communities there. In the United States, this seemed a new development. The numbers of indigenous migrants did grow, and indigenous identities held strong in U.S. cities from Los Angeles to New York. Still, as Devra Weber shows, there were always indigenous people among migrants.
When population growth and land erosion undermined village cultivation across central and southern Mexico after 1970, men turned to migrant labor, often in Mexico City, increasingly in fields across northwest Mexico and in the United States. They sought cash earnings to supplement or replace cultivation, to sustain family and community life. Mixing cultivation and day labor was an old response to land shortages and falling yields in Mexico. But, historically, men labored seasonally at nearby commercial estates, holding their roles—patriarchal roles—in family and community life. In the second half of the twentieth century, access to seasonal labor and cash required long treks north; the search for earnings to sustain patriarchy, family, and community took men out of families and communities for months, often years. Families and communities might be sustained, but patriarchal ways faced new strains. Mesoamerican villages became places of women and children for most of every year, then home to assertive men in annual visits during winter holidays. Family and community sustenance became transnational; patriarchy became transnational, in difficult, dependent, and insecure ways.
While villagers struggled to adapt, North American agribusiness and other sectors gained minimally paid, insecure, and temporary workers—easily hired and easily fired. Over the course of the twentieth century, Mexico generated a growing population, provided for its upbringing and education (within its limited means), and sent waves of desperate hands to labor for low wages in fields and factories, public works and private enterprise, family homes and neighborhood restaurants across the United States. Then, when age inhibited labor or a downturn cut employment, many Mexicans (who often have paid into U.S. Social Security, but who, as "illegals," cannot collect it) returned home to families and communities that struggled to sustain them. Businesses in the United States gain low-cost workers available to labor when necessary, providing a "flexible" work force that helps drive all incomes "racing to the bottom." Mexican communities struggle to survive—and to negotiate new ways of community, family, and patriarchy.
Over decades (and despite downturns) the U.S. economy has prospered and profited, the U.S. majority has struggled to hang on to middle-class ways, a favored minority of Mexicans in Mexico has also prospered, a larger minority there has struggled to claim and hold middle-class lives—and the Mexican majority has grappled with widening insecurity and deepening poverty on both sides of the border. In a self-reinforcing relationship, North American businesses continue to find advantage in hiring desperate Mexicans, and Mexicans continue to see migration as one of the few opportunities open to them in lives shaped by declining opportunities and desperate insecurity. The result is transnational symbiotic exploitation. The U.S. economy is dependent on Mexican workers to maximize profit in a globalizing world; Mexicans live dependent on minimally paid and structurally insecure labor that sustains the U.S. economy, and subsidizes the prosperity of its beneficiaries. That mutual dependence has become a symbiosis; the deep inequality between those who prosper and those who struggle to sustain families and communities makes that symbiosis exploitative. It has set in as an enduring relationship of structural inequity. In that, too, Mexicans have made—and continue to make—the United States and North America.
While migrant flows and symbiotic exploitations expanded through the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first, debates about Mexican migration and labor in the United States persist and periodically escalate. Defenders of U.S. labor fought to end the bracero program in 1964, yet migrants kept coming. César Chavez led a fight for decent wages and lives for California farmworkers, mostly Mexican Americans—and migrants kept coming. After much debate, the late 1980s brought openings to citizenship for migrants already in the United States and aimed to limit new arrivals—and migrants kept coming. NAFTA promised development in Mexico that would hold Mexicans at home, but industry went to China—and Mexicans kept coming north. After 2000, migrants still welcomed by U.S. employers were denounced as illegal aliens; they were harassed and maligned in every way—and they have kept coming.
A pattern emerges: U.S employers, large and small, seek Mexican migrants for work that is seasonal or insecure, poorly paid, and without benefits. U.S. political culture, left and right, constructs the same migrants as a problem: exploited workers in the 1960s, illegal invaders after 2000. The mix is close to perfect for U.S. employers. They gain essential workers for little cost, workers always constrained, often threatened, and normally unable to press for rights or fair pay. It is a relationship we debate and lament, for some because it exploits Mexicans, for others because it threatens Americans. Yet it is a relationship that remains fundamental to the profitable prosperity of the U.S. economy and to the survival, however marginal, of growing numbers of Mexicans. It is a relationship that will continue, drawing Mexican migrants to harvest crops, build cities and suburbs, making and remaking the United States.
Can their work become less exploitative? Might a guest worker program bring labor to U.S. employers and limit exploitation of Mexicans? Or would it just solidify an underclass of Mexicans, essential to the United States, but denied any opening to the promise of American life? In the face of continuing challenges, many Mexicans drawn north to work have stayed; many of their children have built middle-class lives. Despite obstacles, they contribute to U.S. politics and to the American promise of inclusion.
Middle-Class Integrations, Ethnic Amalgamations
While Mexican migration continues to sustain U.S. production, profits, and middle-class lives, Mexican migrants and their Mexican American descendants contribute more than labor. José Limón's chapter, "Transnational Triangulation," reminds us that while scholarly studies and political debates about Mexicans in the United States have focused on migration and labor—most scholars in analytical celebration, many political voices in adamant condemnation—Mexican Americans have been joining the U.S. middle class. Given problems of definition and counting, certainty is impossible, but Limón argues plausibly that a majority of U.S.-born Mexican Americans claimed such roles and identities by the 1990s. And the rise of the Mexican American middle class, like the reacceleration of migration to labor, began during World War II.
Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans fought in the U.S. military, facing combat and dying in record numbers. Limón adds that important numbers who did not (or could not) enlist worked at the military bases that proliferated along the border. For those who joined, fought, and lived, their service sustained expectations of equal citizenship; the GI Bill promised postwar opportunities. For many who worked at the bases, the Cold War offered jobs that opened middle-class horizons. Meanwhile, Héctor García, a Mexican American veteran and physician from Corpus Christi, Texas, took the lead in demanding rights (starting with a soldier's burial), founding the American GI Forum, an organization that built on wartime roles and mobilized middle-class leadership to promote Mexican American political rights and economic opportunities, facilitating the ascent to middle-class lives.
As Limón details, by the late twentieth century, while so many Anglos worried about Mexican immigrant invasions, growing numbers of U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry joined the U.S. middle class. They found roles in the military and as base workers, as teachers, lawyers, and medical providers, as professionals in national, state, and local governments, as middle managers and skilled workers in diverse businesses, and as middling merchants and insurance agents. In all that, the long history of Mexican migration led to a classically celebrated outcome: ascent into a middle class claimed as the essence of "America." In that, too, Mexicans made the United States.
Limón also probes relations between migrants who still come in large numbers (and seem threatening to so many) and the children and grandchildren of their predecessors now settled in a middle-class life. For other immigrant groups, notably, the also-Catholic Irish, Italians, and Quebecois, the rise to middle-class life came mostly after the end of strong migration flows (due to restrictions set in 1924). Mexicans have sustained the longest and strongest migration to the United States during the twentieth century, thanks to exemption from the 1924 restrictions and continuing strong demand for their labor. Only in the case of Mexicans and Mexican Americans has the rise of a middle class come while migration held strong—and faced escalating debates.
Some analysts have worried that Mexican American rights organizations have been too middle class, as Limón notes. After a time of radicalism in the 1960s, they have not been as strident as some critics had hoped. Limón concludes that the Mexican American middle class has not only attended to its own interests in diverse political ways, but has worked, and will continue to work, against the attacks on immigrants that have too often come as blunt assaults on Mexican origins, culture, and character. He argues that a growing Mexican American middle class will remain a progressive force, defending immigrants (if not every opening to immigration), keeping Mexicans and Mexican Americans linked as constructive participants in North American society as they become the core of the Hispanic majority within an emerging "minority-majority."
While Limón focuses here on the rise of the Mexican American middle class, his earlier exploration in American Encounters emphasized that patriarchal gender relations were key to the understandings and misunderstandings that linked Mexicans and Anglo-Americans throughout the twentieth century. In recent decades, while Mexican Americans have claimed middle-class lives, they have also lived debates about patriarchal privileges and women's rights. Our historical studies show both Mexican and Anglo-American ways as deeply patriarchal. In nineteenth-century cultural debates, U.S. writers and readers asserted a superior Yankee patriarchy to justify war in the 1840s, postwar rule in newly acquired lands, and investment in Mexico after 1867. In early-twentieth-century labor conflicts managers imagined and aimed to implement a superior white patriarchy. Through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, Mexican and U.S. social relations and cultural constructions shared presumptions of patriarchy, contesting power by debating patriarchal superiority.
After World War II, patriarchy faced challenges. In the United States and Mexico, women found openings in education and opportunities to take on middle-class professions and other employment. Yet patriarchy has been slow to recede at the heights of corporate and government power while many powerful, middling, working, and marginalized men have resented and resisted erosions of patriarchal prerogatives and presumptions. Simultaneously, U.S. public culture has imagined Mexican and Mexican American ways as uniquely patriarchal, marked by a deep and destructive machismo. It has proven an easy cultural slide from portraying Mexican men on both sides of the border as failed patriarchs to reimagining them as exceptionally, often violently, patriarchal. Studies that challenge such portrayals, such as Matthew Gutmann's The Meanings of Macho and Robert Smith's Mexican New York, do not shake public constructions.
As its long-pivotal role in orchestrating capitalist social relations faces new challenges, patriarchy remains at the center of transnational cultural constructions and debates. In American Encounters, Limón saw a new openness to Mexico and Mexicans in the 1950s—within unchallenged patriarchal visions. He showed how influential Mexican analysts sustained a view of Mexican men as dangerously patriarchal into the 1960s. In a work written in the 1930s but available in English only in the 1960s, Samuel Ramos portrayed Mexicans as living by a culture of inferiority that generated explosive violence. Ramos surely meant and U.S. readers easily read that Mexican men were too often violent. Octavio Paz, in his classic The Labyrinth of Solitude, also published in English in the 1960s, transposed the portrayal of the threateningly violent Mexican male across the border into the United States in his much-debated and often-lamented vision of the pachuco.
Such offerings from Mexican intellectuals eased U.S. adoption of a view of Mexican and Mexican American men as destructively macho. Limón saw that African American men also faced construction in white America as threateningly patriarchal. A preliminary conclusion suggests that as women challenged patriarchy by demanding equal rights and opportunities, and as globalizing capitalism welcomed women to labor, middle management, and diverse professions, public portrayals of patriarchy found negative hues and shifted to malign racially or ethnically "other" men locked near the bottom of the social scale.
The cultural reconstruction of patriarchy reflected and reinforced social changes linked to the accelerating integration of the North American economy in a globalizing world. For decades, young Mexican men migrated to labor in the United States, seasonally, temporarily, or permanently, in large part because they lacked economic opportunities in home communities. Neither cultivation nor available employment allowed growing numbers in Mexican villages and urban barrios to claim traditional roles as patriarchal providers. Often, men took on migrant labor in attempts to reclaim the patriarchy undermined at home. Yet migration took them far from family and community, opening new roles for women and limiting patriarchy—unless and until the young man came home with the dollars to buy a truck or a taxi, set up a store, gain a piece of land, and reclaim patriarchal ways. Mexican communities lived cycles of departure and return—departure stimulated by economic challenges to patriarchy; absence creating new spaces for women; return bringing reassertions of patriarchy and uncertain negotiations.
Parallel challenges emerged among many who migrated, stayed in the United States, formed Mexican American families, and joined the middle class. In El dilemma del retorno (The uncertainty of going home),Víctor Espinosa details the history of a family that migrated from a town in Guanajuato to Los Angeles, California. The father led the way, becoming a skilled craftsman in a furniture factory, always aiming to hold the role of patriarchal provider. He dreamed of returning to Guanajuato, building a house on the plaza, and becoming a leader of civic, religious, and family life. His wife, from the same community, took advantage of openings allowed women in late-twentieth-century Los Angeles to start a taquería; their son joined the business, and they developed a small chain of restaurants. A daughter found success in school and in ice skating competitions, even competing in Europe. Was this the Mexican American middle-class dream? In many ways, yes, yet the father longed to live out his last years as a patriarch in Mexico. For him, that would define and demonstrate success as a migrant—as a Mexican man. Mother and daughter resisted; they aimed to retain the openings allowed by U.S. middle-class ways. The son was torn. In the end, the father built his house on the plaza and claimed local office; most of the family spent most of every year in Los Angeles, allowing the aging patriarch to imagine himself patriarch while the family lived middle class in California.
Have some Mexican and Mexican American men facing poverty, insecurity at work, and challenges to patriarchy at home and in the larger societies of North America become assertively, sometimes violently, patriarchal? Yes. So have others facing such displacement. Among working men, fated to labor in subordination, their only compensation low wages and presumptions of patriarchy, threats to patriarchy have led to violent assertions. Parallel challenges to patriarchy led to rising violence within families and communities around 1900, and then turned outward in revolutionary assertions, driving Mexico's social conflagrations of 1910.
The key point is that violence in defense of patriarchy is not Mexican; it is a socially structured and culturally constructed response of men, Mexican and others, to threats to ways of life long laborious, increasingly insecure, and newly threatening to patriarchal prerogatives—the only advantage in lives of laboring subordination. We need to see diverse men's reassertions of patriarchy in the context of the rapidly changing world of globalizing North American capitalism. We need to explore Anglo-American constructions of Mexican patriarchy, of machismo, in the same context.
North American women, including Mexicans and Mexican Americans, increasingly seek middle-class lives and the openings of education, profession, and political participation they enable; Mexican and Mexican American men seek similar lives and openings and often cling to patriarchal presumptions. Their resistance is too often "explained" by a machismo rooted in Mexico. Yet resistance to the limits of patriarchy inherent in openings to middle-class and working women can be found across a broader "Anglo-American" society that is creating new opportunities for women in times of shrinking opportunities for all. Limón's emphasis on the rise of the Mexican American middle class, in the context of his earlier exploration of changing gender constructions, points to a need to explore debates about patriarchy among transnational and multicultural middle (and other) classes on both sides of the border. If patriarchy was pivotal to organizing the capitalist ways of Hispanic North America and to the cultural visions that justified its incorporation into an integrated North America under Anglo-American hegemony, we must analyze carefully the challenges to patriarchy now debated in families and communities across neighboring nations as they fuse in a globalizing world.
In our concluding chapter, Ramón Gutiérrez explores an important aspect of that fusion: the historical Mexican and Mexican American openness to ethnic amalgamation, to mestizaje. Ethnic mixing was a key and enduring characteristic of Spanish and Mexican North America. Shelley Streeby reveals early Anglo-American literary condemnation of such amalgamations. Katherine Benton-Cohen and Devra Weber show how ethnic/racial integrations were both challenged and reshaped by escalating racial polarizations in the early twentieth century and found ways to endure in families and communities (if unrecognized by mainstream Anglo-American culture). Were Mexican American mobilizations during World War II facilitated by that openness? Did the readiness to mix help the emergence of the Mexican American middle class and promote the search for rights to join the U.S. "mainstream" after the war?
Gutiérrez argues in Chapter 8 that an enduring Mexican American openness to amalgamations, rooted in New Mexico and other borderlands regions, remains an important and viable alternative to powerful Anglo-American traditions of racially constructed polarities. He identifies and characterizes three "transnations" with distinct social and racial tendencies that define a North America no longer contained by national boundaries. An Atlantic-Caribbean transnation was shaped historically within the United States by a sharp black-white divide; it has been challenged by the inclusion of Caribbean peoples accustomed to more graded characterizations, but polarities hold strong. In contrast, a MexAmerican transnation developed deep and enduring traditions of amalgamation, of mestizaje, even as it faced pressures toward polarizing dualities that made Mexican a racial other within the United States. A third transnation, a northwestern Ecotopia, extending into Canada with links to Asia, grapples with polarities of white and black coming from the Atlantic Seaboard as polarities meet the diverse racial-ethnic practices of Asian immigrants.
Integrating historical, anthropological, and survey information, Gutiérrez explores the deep roots and enduring persistence of racial dualities along the Atlantic-Caribbean Seaboard. He focuses in depth on MexAmerica, documenting the tradition of mestizaje and the recent imposition of polarizing visions that aims to make Mexican not white and akin to black, a racial other shaped by racial mixing. And he emphasizes the need for comparative study of how the coming of Asians with distinct ways of national-ethnic-racial definition may reinforce or alter the powerful polarities that shape life across the United States.
Gutiérrez documents the enduring openness to amalgamations among Hispanic peoples in New Mexico and elsewhere. He wonders if their practices and perceptions will ground a mode of resistant adaptation to dominant polarities—or perhaps reshape North America as it globalizes, incorporates diverse new immigrants, and sees Mexicans and other Hispanic peoples move from the old Southwest and urban enclaves elsewhere to populate ever more of the continent. Could mestizaje, broadly defined, be America's future? A good historian, Gutiérrez asks the question—and leaves us to ponder the answer.33
Our chapters suggest that the option of Anglo-Mexican mestizaje has always been open. After all, from the formative decades of the nineteenth century, U.S. literary and popular culture imagined manly Yankees marrying Mexican women—unions promoted as a way to liberate Mexico and Mexicans. When in the twentieth century, Anglo-Americans pressed Mexicans to live as a racial other, José Limón shows that visions of manly Anglos in sexual relations with Mexican women held strong. He emphasizes that in cinematic portrayals of Texas, ranging from Giant in the 1950s to Lone Star in the 1990s, openings to mixing persisted.34 Notably, the racial othering of Mexicans came simultaneously with the deepening of Jim Crow impositions on African Americans in the early twentieth century. The new opening to ethnic mixing (within an enduring patriarchy) evidenced by Giant, came with the rise of the African American civil rights movement. And the construction of visions of assaultive patriarchy to characterize both Mexican American and African American men in the 1960s and after came as both communities pressed economic and civil rights—and as the movement for women's rights challenged patriarchy. Reflecting on that history, it is worth asking why mainstream U.S. culture so long constructed sexual relations between blacks and whites as taboo, while sex between Anglo men and Mexican women was seen as inevitable, a sign of Anglo superiority.
It is essential to emphasize that mestizaje has rarely challenged structural inequalities. It has worked historically to integrate enduring differences, opening power to people of diverse origins, constructing the less favored as equally mixed. In contrast, U.S. polarities sharpen divisions structured in power, illuminating inequities, sometimes facilitating challenges.35 An inclusive Mexican tradition of "ethnic" mestizaje thus contests a divisive U.S. commitment to racial polarities as ways to organize inequalities and political participations in an ever more diverse U.S. society facing rapid incorporation into a globalizing world. Can mestizaje migrate from being a core part of Mexican society and a debated aspect of Anglo-Mexican relations to shaping a more inclusive, less polarizing North America? The proliferation of marriages and other relationships crossing black/white boundaries and their rising social and cultural acceptance suggest that a historically "Mexican" opening to mestizaje increasingly characterizes U.S. ways.
We need only look at the White House to see the potential. A second thought reminds us that mestizaje will be contested. To a scholar of Mexico based in Washington, D.C., yet with long experience in Mexico and Texas (and Massachusetts and Minnesota), it was easy for me to conclude that Barack Obama ran for president as an American mestizo—son of a Kenyan father and a white midwestern mother, raised by white midwestern grandparents, educated in Indonesia and Hawaii and at Harvard. His marriage to an African American woman added to the mix. He campaigned as a mestizo, emphasizing white and African ancestries, aiming to broaden his appeal to whites and blacks—and perhaps to Mexicans for whom mixing has been a norm. Is Barack Obama the first mestizo president of the United States?
Perhaps, but on inauguration day, the media, many African Americans, and many others exploded in celebration of the first black president of the United States. He has quipped that "I was black before I was elected president." He announced that he checked off African American, and only African American, on the 2010 census form. Is he being drawn into eastern Atlantic polarities and away from his mestizo roots? Loud and sometimes angry voices contest Obama's presidency, even his right to be president. Some perceive that resistance as inflamed by opposition to a black serving as president. Could it equally reflect discomfort with the mestizaje that shaped his life? For the moment, the Obama presidency and the resistance to it confirm that the tension between amalgamation and polarity holds strong.
Mexicans continue to come and mix; blacks and whites and Asians and others also mix. The future of North American ethnic-racial-national identities and relations remains open and uncertain. Culminating in Gutiérrez' chapter, our studies suggest that the Mexican North American tradition of amalgamation, of mestizaje, holds strong. It remains a contender, an alternative to racial polarities, ready to help shape the future of North America.
This volume offers chapters by scholars with diverse visions to emphasize that New Spain, Mexico, and Mexicans have been involved in every aspect of making the United States: capitalist foundations, Indian relations, literary and cultural traditions, the Civil War, southwestern settlements, migration and labor, the rise of the middle class, and the enduring challenge of "race" relations. Three themes dominate. The first is that the early commercial ways of Spanish and Mexican North America set foundations in mining, irrigated agriculture, and commercial grazing that were fundamentally capitalist before they were incorporated into the United States—and they were incorporated into the United States, shaping not only regions once Mexican but lands far beyond. Hispanic capitalism is the great unrecognized Mexican legacy shaping U.S. history. It remains unrecognized because Hispanic ways of mining, irrigated farming, and commercial grazing, and the labor relations embedded in them, were taken over by "Anglo-Americans"—by marriage, by purchase, by legislation, by theft—who were committed to their own superiority and loathe to recognize the deeply Mexican ways that sustained their power.
The second legacy, equally rooted in the ways of Spanish and Mexican North America, also compatible with prevailing Anglo-American ways, is patriarchy. Hispanic North American capitalism was structured and integrated by patriarchy. So were southern U.S. plantation ways and the commercial society of the U.S. North. When they met to dispute continental power in the nineteenth century, Anglo-Americans eagerly adopted Hispanic capitalism and justified it by proclaiming a superior Yankee patriarchy, a patriarchy mobilized to marginalize Mexicans in an economy they labored to sustain. Then after World War II Anglo-Americans reimagined patriarchy as a negative characteristic of Mexicans, as machismo—after Mexicans fought in World War II, demanded civil rights, and joined the U.S. middle class. Throughout, patriarchy remains a pivotal, debated, and changing aspect of Mexicans' participations in making the United States.
The third legacy of Hispanic North America developed within the history shaped by capitalism and patriarchy: ethnic amalgamation, mestizaje, forged diverse identities that changed over generations, reflected wealth and power more than ancestry, and shaped the commercial-patriarchal ways of Spanish and Mexican North America from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Yet while Anglo-Americans were quick to adopt Hispanic capitalism and to engage patriarchy by arguing they were better and stronger patriarchs, they resisted and often denigrated Mexicans' social amalgamation. When lands once Mexican were taken into the United States, their Hispanic Mexican and indigenous residents faced the polarizing assertions of powerful Anglo-Americans who imagined themselves white and privileged whiteness. In an enduring contradiction, Anglo-Americans worked to adopt the economic ways of Hispanic capitalism, to assert themselves as more patriarchal than Mexican patriarchs, while resisting the amalgamations that defined Hispanic ways.
Through the first half of the twentieth century, Anglo corporate and political power ruled the economy of the Southwest and built a polar culture in which white Americans ruled and constructed Mexicans as a racial other. Yet among Mexicans, diversities and amalgamations continued—if rarely recognized outside their families and communities. As Mexicans have continued to come to labor and to live in larger numbers, to settle across regions never under Mexican rule, and to become by far the largest part of the largest "minority" in the United States, their children have become middle class. They seek to prosper in a capitalist world, they join in continuing debates about old patriarchal ways and emerging women's rights and opportunities—and they remain open to amalgamations. By their lives and in their politics, Mexican Americans offer an example in contrast to the racializing polarities that have long challenged the American dream.
The North American capitalism rooted in important part in Hispanic traditions holds entrenched in a trajectory of globalization that will surely endure—and inevitably change. The challenge of constructing a postpatriarchal society persists. And the Mexican alternative of ethnic amalgamation remains a potentially liberating alternative to the polarizing ways of Anglo-American racial dualities. That people who brought the United States key ways to capitalist power, who continue to come to labor within that capitalist economy, who work to forge families and communities on routes toward middle-class lives, who join in the challenges of addressing patriarchal inequities, and who offer a liberating option of ethnic mixing—that such Mexican peoples are marked and maligned as alien others in a society they built and continue to build would be mystifying if it were not so divisive, debilitating, and destructive.