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They Called Them Greasers

They Called Them Greasers
Anglo Attitudes Toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821-1900

This seminal work in the historical literature of race relations in Texas examines the attitudes of whites toward Mexicans in nineteenth-century Texas.

June 1983
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167 pages | 6 x 9 |

Tension between Anglos and Tejanos has existed in the Lone Star State since the earliest settlements. Such antagonism has produced friction between the two peoples, and whites have expressed their hostility toward Mexican Americans unabashedly and at times violently.

This seminal work in the historical literature of race relations in Texas examines the attitudes of whites toward Mexicans in nineteenth-century Texas. For some, it will be disturbing reading. But its unpleasant revelations are based on extensive and thoughtful research into Texas' past. The result is important reading not merely for historians but for all who are concerned with the history of ethnic relations in our state.

They Called Them Greasers argues forcefully that many who have written about Texas's past—including such luminaries as Walter Prescott Webb, Eugene C. Barker, and Rupert N. Richardson—have exhibited, in fact and interpretation, both deficiencies of research and detectable bias when their work has dealt with Anglo-Mexican relations. De León asserts that these historians overlooled an austere Anglo moral code which saw the morality of Tejanos as "defective" and that they described without censure a society that permitted traditional violence to continue because that violence allowed Anglos to keep ethnic minorities "in their place."

De León's approach is psychohistorical. Many Anglos in nineteenth-century Texas saw Tejanos as lazy, lewd, un-American, subhuman. In De León's view, these attitudes were the product of a conviction that dark-skinned people were racially and culturally inferior, of a desire to see in others qualities that Anglos preferred not to see in themselves, and of a need to associate Mexicans with disorder so as to justify their continued subjugation.

  • Preface
  • A Note on Terminology
  • 1. Initial Contacts: Redeeming Texas from Mexicans, 1821-1836
  • 2. Niggers, Redskins, and Greasers: Tejano Mixed-Bloods in a White Racial State
  • 3. An Indolent People
  • 4. Defective Morality
  • 5. Disloyalty and Subversion
  • 6. Leyendas Negras
  • 7. Frontier "Democracy" and Tejanos—the Antebellum Period
  • 8. Frontier "Democracy" and Tejanos—the Postbellum Period
  • 9. Epilogue: "Not the White Man's Equal
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Most whites who first met Tejanos in the 1820s had never had prior experiences with Mexicans nor encountered them anywhere else. Yet their reaction to them upon contact was contemptuous, many thinking Mexicans abhorrent. What caused pioneers to feel this way? Why were their attitudes bigoted instead of neutral? What did they find in Mexicans that aroused xenophobic behavior, or what was it within themselves that generated that response?

According to one Texas historian, Anglo settlers who entered Texas accepted Mexicans on a basis of equality initially and did not react scornfully toward the native Tejanos until the Texas war for independence of 1836. Relationships before then, according to him, were characterized by a marked tolerance, lack of basic antipathy between the two races, and an almost total lack of friction traceable to racial problems. In the opinion of another student of Anglo attitudes during the period 1821-1845, white feelings toward Mexicans were very complex, at times contradictory, and constantly in flux.

The latest scholarship on the subject of racial and cultural attitudes, however, does not sustain these arguments. Americans moving to the west, recent studies indicate, had much more in mind than settling the land and creating prosperous communities. Cultural heirs to Elizabethans and Puritans, those moving into hinterlands sensed an "errand into the wilderness" and felt a compelling need to control all that was beastly—sexuality, vice, nature, and colored peoples. Order and discipline had to be rescued from the wilds in the name of civilization and Christianity. Moving westward with this mission uppermost in their minds, whites psychologically needed to subdue the external world—forests, beasts, and other peoples-for the rational had to be ever in command. Coming into constant encounter with peoples of color in wilderness settings, these sensitive whites struggled against noncivilization. to allow an inverse order and a concomitant surrender of themselves and their liberties to primitive things was to allow chaos to continue when God's will was to impose Christian order.

The desire to bring fields and Indians under submission did not emanate solely from religious passion but was also a product of the individual compulsion to repress instinctual urges. Within humanity were encased base impulses (e.g., sexuality, savagery) that were just as primitive and animalistic as the things of the forest which demanded domination. Killing, destruction, subordination, and appropriation of lands not only brought the external wilderness under control but also served as a form of release for the animal within. In prevailing over primitive things through violence, whites found regeneration, but their efforts also resulted in the uglier manifestations of racism. Therein lay the seed for the perverse responses toward Mexicanos in the first encounter.

Waves of Anglo settlers first entered Texas when the Mexican government in 1821 granted colonization rights in the province to a Missouri entrepreneur named Moses Austin. Hundreds more followed thereafter, coming to Mexican Texas under the aegis of Moses' son, Stephen, and other empresarios. Most were not radically different from the pre-nineteenth-century pioneers. Like them, they entertained a strong belief in themselves and the superiority of their way of life.

Why, asked the historian Samuel M. Lowrie in his study of culture conflict in Texas, were Americans as narrow and freedom loving as frontiersmen willing to settle in a country as religiously intolerant and undemocratic as Mexico? Perhaps because they felt it their duty to make order of what they perceived as chaos. Certainly they uttered such sentiments many times, though Lowrie did not discern it, given the state of scholarship in the 1930s when he wrote his study. As William H. Wharton, one of the more radical agitators for independence from Mexico, put it in an appeal for American support as the revolution went on in Texas,

The justice and benevolence of God, will forbid that the delightful region of Texas should again become a howling wilderness, trod only by savages, or that it should be permanently benighted by the ignorance and superstition, the anarchy and rapine of Mexican misrule. The Anglo-American race are destined to be for ever the proprietors of this land of promise and fulfilment.Their laws will govern it, their learning will enlighten it, their enterprise will improve it. Their flocks will range its boundless pastures, for them its fertile lands will yield their luxuriant harvests: its beauteous rivers will waft the products of their industry and enterprise, and their latest posterity will here enjoy legacies of "price unspeakable," in the possession of homes fortified by the genius of liberty, and sanctified by the spirit of a beneficent and tolerant religion. This is inevitable, for the wilderness of Texas has been redeemed by Anglo-American blood and enterprise. The colonists have carried with them the language, the habits, and the lofty love of liberty, that has always characterized and distinguished their ancestors. They have identified them indissolubly with the country.

But none was more articulate than Stephen F. Austin, who several times before the war for independence confessed, almost stereotypically, that his intent was "to redeem Texas from the wilderness." In one of his most eloquent expressions, he averred: "My object, the sole and only desire of my ambitions since I first saw Texas, was to redeem it from the wilderness—to settle it with an intelligent honorable and interprising [sic] people."

To Austin, redemption could come by "whitening" Texas—or, phrased differently, by making it a cultural and racial copy of the United States. In August 1835, he wrote that the best interests of the nation required "that Texas should be effectually, and fully, Americanized—that is—settled by a population that will harmonize with their neighbors on the East, in language, political principles, common origin, sympathy, and even interest." It was well known, he continued, that his object had always been to fill up Texas with a North American population. "I wish a great immigration from Kentucky, Tennessee, every where, passports, or no passports, any how. For fourteen years I have had a hard time of it, but nothing shall daunt my courage or abate my exertions to complete the main object of my labors—to Americanize Texas. This fall, and winter, will fix our fate—a great immigration will settle the question."

At the national level, Americans had never been oblivious to the prospects of rescuing Texas from its alleged primitive status. At all times, there had been those in Washington who had similar thoughts and expressed them publicly. Among them was Henry Clay, who asked in 1821: "By what race should Texas be peopled?" Lest it be settled by others who would make it a "place of despotism and slaves, of the Inquisition and superstition," it should be taken over by settlers from the United States who would transplant to it the free institutions of Anglo-Americans. Should Texas then break off from the United States for some reason, Clay affirmed, at least it would have been rescued from a race alien to everything that Americans held dear.

Clay did not stop at rhetoric. While he was Secretary of State, he and President John Quincy Adams instructed Joel R. Poinsett, the United States Minister to Mexico, to attempt to purchase Texas. Mexico, which had never put Texas up for sale, squarely rejected the proposal, only to see it repeated. When Andrew Jackson assumed office in 1829, he urged Poinsett to renew his efforts, authorizing the minister to offer $5 million for whatever amount of Texas Mexico would surrender. Similar futile attempts at negotiating the purchase of Texas continued until the time of the revolution.

What whites refused to accept was a state of affairs in which chaos presided over them. But what exactly was it that they considered as disorder? Texas was already settled and under the rule of a government, heir to centuries of Spanish civilization. Something else disturbed them, for to them, a connection existed in the new land between the state of civilization and chaos. Thus all the discussion about rescuing Texas from primitivism. The newcomers saw the Tejanos as mongrels, uncivilized, and un-Christian—a part of the wilderness that must be subdued. Living in Mexico and Texas were a sort of people who threatened the march of white civilization.

Incontrovertibly, as far as whites were concerned, order and discipline were missing. For Anglo settlers who arrived in Texas imported certain ideas from the United States, which regarded the native Mexican population as less than civilized. These attitudes ranged from xenophobia against Catholics and Spaniards to racial prejudice against Indians and blacks. Thus Mexicanos were doubly suspect, as heirs to Catholicism and as descendants of Spaniards, Indians, and Africans.

In England, hostile feelings toward the Roman Church originated in the sixteenth century with Henry VIII's religious and political break with the Pope and were hardened by conflict with Catholic Spain. The English mind readily thought in terms of a Catholic-Spanish alliance, conjured by Satan himself, from which nothing less than demonic designs could be expected. Additionally, the English associated the Spanish with cruelty and brutality. Alleged Spanish tyranny in the Netherlands during the latter half of the sixteenth century as well as atrocities toward the Indians in Latin America produced an image of the Spaniard as heartless and genocidal. And, finally, the English saw the Spanish as an embodiment of racial impurity. For hundreds of years, racial mixing or mestizaje had occurred in the Iberian peninsula between Spaniards and Moors. At a time when Elizabethans were becoming more and more sensitive to the significance of color—equating whiteness with purity and Christianity and blackness with baseness and the devil—Spaniards came to be thought of as not much better than light-skinned Moors and Africans.

English immigrants to the North American colonies probably brought those ideas with them and were certainly exposed to them through anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish literature constantly arriving in the new society. Men of letters, ministers, and propagandists helped in disseminating such notions. Military clashes along the Georgia-Florida border in the eighteenth century only intensified the hatred.

As for the Mexican aborigines, the English conceived of them as degenerate creatures—un-Christian, uncivilized, and racially impure. From letters, histories, and travel narratives, English writers put together a portrait that turned the people of Mexico into a degraded humanity. The natives subscribed to heathenism, and witches and other devilish agents permeated their culture. They partook of unholy things like polygamy, sodomy, and incest and rejected Christianity outright. Furthermore, they practiced savage rituals like human sacrifice and cannibalism. Of all the Latin American inhabitants, the Mexican Indians seemed the most beastly, for though they were in many ways the most advanced of all the New World peoples, they exercised the grossest violation of civility by these practices. Stories of Aztec gods like Quetzalcoatl who were half man and half beast and accounts of exotic Aztec rites only convinced the English of the Indians' place on the fringes of humankind, with dubious claims to existence, civilization, and Christian salvation.

While such images of the Mexican natives may not have been as widespread as those held of Spaniards, they were nonetheless familiar to many colonists. In newspapers, recent histories, and re-editions of old propaganda materials, furthermore, colonists were able to read things about the origins of the Mexicans which perpetuated enriched images acquired from the mother country.

In addition to ideas that had been fashioned vicariously, there were those that arose from intimate contact with other peoples whom whites esteemed no more than the Mexican aborigines or the Spaniards. The long history of hostilities against North American Indians on the frontier and the institution of Afro-American slavery molded negative attitudes toward dark skin, "savagery," "vice," and interracial sex. The majority of those who responded to empresario calls most assuredly thought along those lines, for they came from the states west of the Appalachians and south of the Ohio River—Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia, and Kentucky. A significant number were Eastern born, but had been part of the frontier movement before their transplantation into Texas. From the Southern and frontier-oriented culture they had acquired a certain repulsion for dark-skinned people and a distaste for miscegenation. Believing that the mores of their own provincial institutions should apply in the new frontier, they assumed a posture of superiority and condescension toward the natives. By conditioning, they were predisposed to react intolerantly to people they found different from themselves but similar to those they considered as enemies and as inferiors. Along with dislike for Spaniards and the Indians of Latin America, these perceptions produced a mode of thinking that set the contours of the primordial response.

And what particularly provoked this reaction? Most Tejanos were descendants of Tlascalan Indians and mestizo soldiers from Coahuila. Additionally, a few in Nacogdoches were the offspring of people from Louisiana and reflected that area's racial amalgam, including Indians and blacks. Throughout the province, Tejanos had intermarried among themselves and with Christianized Indian women from local missions so that the colonists continued as a mixed-blood population. Their contrast to "white" and salient kindred to "black" and "red" made Mexicans subject to treatment commensurate with the odious connotations whites attached to colors, races, and cultures dissimilar to their own.

Manifestly, Americans who immigrated to Texas confronted the native Mexicans with certain preconceptions about their character. Whites believed that the inhabitants of the province had descended from a tradition of paganism, depravity, and primitivism. Mexicans were a type of folk that Americans should avoid becoming.

The fact of the matter was that whites had little contact with Tejanos up to 1836, for most of the Mexican population was concentrated in the San Antonio and La Bahia areas, quite a distance from the Anglo colonies. But whites knew what they would find in Texas before contact confirmed their convictions. They encountered biologically decadent and inferior people because their thoughts had been shaped by the aforementioned circumstances. Thus, Mexicans lived in ways that Anglos equated with an opprobrious condition. They inhabited primitive shelters. William F. Gray, a land agent from Virginia, comparing Mexicans with the black American culture he knew, pronounced some of the Mexican homes "miserable shabby jacales" scarcely equal in appearance to the Afro-American houses in the suburbs of his state. Mexicans adhered to a different religion: they were completely the "slaves of Popish superstitions and despotism" and religion was understood not as an affection of the heart and soul but as one requiring personal mortification in such superficialities as penances and other rituals. If Anglos and Mexicans were not inherently different peoples, editorialized the Texian and Emigrant's Guide in 1835, habit, education, and religion had made them essentially so.

Additionally, Texians thought that Mexicans' cultural habits clashed with American values, such as the work ethic. Mexicanos appeared a traditional, backward aggregate, an irresponsibly passive people dedicated to the present and resigned not to probe the universe about them. An American arriving in Nacogdoches in 1833 found the citizens there the most "lazy indolent poor Starved set of people as ever the Sun Shined upon." He could not comprehend their lethargy by day, nor their inclination to play the violin and dance the entire night. J. C. Clopper of Ohio reasoned in 1828 that Mexicanos were "too ignorant and indolent for enterprises and too poor and dependent were they otherwise capacitated." Mexicanos habitually succumbed to indolence and ease and indulged themselves in smoking, music, dancing, horse-racing, and other sports, noted David Woodman, a promoter for a New York and Boston land company, while activity, industry, and frugality marched on in the new American settlements. "The vigor of the descendents of the sturdy north will never mix with the phlegm of the indolent Mexicans," Sam Houston (the future hero of the war for independence) argued in January 1835 in an address to the citizens of Texas, "no matter how long we may live among them." In contrast to the newcomers, Tejanos were chained by custom to complacency, and instead of committing themselves to progress, they preferred fun and frolic. Some three years after Mexico opened Texas to Anglo-American settlement, Anthony R. Clark complained that Spaniards in the District of Nacogdoches, "generally of the lower sort and illitterate [sic]," would rather "spend days in gambling to gain a few bits than to make a living by honest industry." William B. Dewees, who lived in San Antonio in the late 1820s found Bexareños totally hedonistic. "Their whole study seems to be for enjoyment. Mirth and amusement occupy their whole time. If one is fond of balls and theatres, he can here have an opportunity of attending one every evening. Almost every species of dissipation is indulged in, except drinking." In Goliad, the Mexicans had such a strong predisposition for gaming that almost all the inhabitants in 1833 were gamblers and smugglers, said empresario Dr. John Charles Beales. And Alexander McCrae, touring Texas in 1835 under the auspices of the Wilmington Emigrating Society, remarked in astonishment: "I for the first time saw females betting at a public gambling table; I do not suppose they were of respectable standing in society, from the company they kept; but I am told that it is not all uncommon for Mexican ladies to be seen gambling in public. "

Acting further to stimulate negative attitudes was the racial composition of Tejanos, who, in the white mind, were closely identified with other colored peoples. For two hundred years, ideas that black men lusted for white women and notions that slaves were of a heathen or "savage" condition had played upon Americans' fantasies; the result had been the institutional debasement of blacks because of their race. Images of the Indian as fierce, hostile, and barbaric similarly affixed themselves in the thoughts of white settlers, and the constant confrontation over land led more to the reaffirmation of these images than to their dissolution. Consequently, when whites arrived in Texas, they unconsciously transferred onto the new "colored" folk they encountered a pseudo-scientific lore acquired from generations of interaction with blacks and Indians.

Travelers, who frequently came in contact with Tejanos, plainly discerned the Mexicans' relation to the black and red peoples. At no time did Americans hold up Frenchmen, or Germans, or themselves for that matter, as a people who physically resembled Mexicans—comparison invariably was with Indians and blacks. Several factors steered discussion in that direction: Anglos were not about to elevate Mexicans to the level of European whiteness; their own sense of superiority turned Tejanos into a people lesser than themselves; and obviously, in any comparison, Mexicans were going to resemble their progenitors. Thus, whites often likened Mexicans to Africans and Native Americans. When Clopper mentioned the complexion of the Tejanos, he thought it "a shade brighter than that of the aborigines of the country." On the other hand, the land agent Gray stamped Tejanos as a "swarthy looking people much resembling our mulattos, some of them nearly black. " Sam Houston asked his compatriots (in the aforementioned address) if they "would bow under the yoke of these half-Indians, " while abolitionist Benjamin Lundy, in Laredo in 1834, remarked that the Mexicans in the town looked like mulattoes. Even when commentators omitted drawing comparisons about color, they nonetheless made reference to the Mexicans' dark complexion. One traveler asserted that because of it they were "readily designated at first Sight."

The same association with Indians and Africans was also apparent in caustic comments about the Mexicans' ancestors. A Texan identifying himself as "H. H." in a letter to the New Orleans Bee in 1834 pronounced the people of Mexico the most "degraded and vile; the unfortunate race of Spaniard, Indian and African, is so blended that the worst qualities of each predominate." Two years later, when the Texans were locked in a fateful struggle with the Mexican nation, leaders of the rebellion appealed to their comrades by re minding them that Mexicans were "the adulterate and degenerate brood of the once high-spirited Castilian."

In addition to all their other discoveries about Mexicans, whites in the period between 1821 and 1836 thought Tejanos lax in virtue. A number of aspects of Mexican morality bothered them, including the native fandango, a dance of a sinuous sort with sexually suggestive moves. George W. Smyth from Tennessee witnessed it in Nacogdoches upon his arrival in 1830, and was surprised "that the priest and all participated, so contrary to all my pre-conceived notions of propriety." Asahel Langworthy, a New York lawyer and land speculator, found the dance somewhat uncivilized, identifying it with lack of culture and refinement. "I witnessed one afternoon," he wrote, "a Spanish fandango danced in the open air by a party of these people, evidently of a low class."

Because of the apparent revelry of such recreational forms, whites began early on to assume Mexicans had a defective morality, and Mexican attitudes toward sexuality strengthened the white image of Mexicans as sensuous and voluptuous. Despite the close supervision given unmarried girls to prevent intercourse with their male counterparts, Clopper alleged, "soon as married they are scarcely the same creatures—giving the freest indulgence to their naturally gay and enthusiastic dispositions, as if liberated from all moral restraints." To the Ohioan, Mexicans were not cut from the same moral fabric as Americans.

But even if Mexicans as a race were sexually degenerate, some exception might be made for the females, especially by those men wandering into areas like Béxar where white women were scarce, and thus where Mexican women might be attractive, even if they were of mixed blood. Among those venturing into San Antonio at this early date was Clopper, who considered the local women handsome of person and regular in feature, with black, sparkling eyes and "a brighter hue" than the men. Like others of this era, he had a preference for those who came close to the American ideal of female beauty and purity. Becoming friendly with one of the Castilian señoritas, Clopper wrote a meticulous description of his acquaintance. "She was of the middle size, her person of the finest symmetry," he noted, "moving through the mazes of the fandango with all the graces that distinguished superiority of person of mind and of soul. Her features were beautiful forming in their combination an expression that fixed the eye of the observer as with a spell, her complexion was of the loveliest, the snowy brightness of her well turned forehead beautifully contrasting with the carnation tints of her cheeks. A succession of smiles were continually sporting around her mouth," he elaborated, "her pouting cherry lips were irresistible and even when closed seemed to have utterance—her eye—but I have no such language as seemed to be spoken by it else might I tell how dangerous was it to meet its lustre and feel its quick thrilling scrutiny of the heart as tho' the very fire of its expression was conveyed with its beamings." The admirer admitted in closing: "I felt lonely and sad as a stranger in that place and a vision so lovely coming so unexpectedly before me could not fail to awaken tender recollections and altogether make an impression not to be forgotten."

Though not much else was said on the issue of interracial sex, at least one Texan brought up a theme that would preoccupy white males after 1836. Mexican women, he thought, manifested a "decided preference" for foreigners, and would willingly consent to marriage should they be approached. "Where a Mexican woman becomes attached there are few who can love more warmly," he added. And it would probably be safe to conjecture that at least some of those women that the future hero of the Alamo, William Barrett Travis, "chingó," were Mexicans.

Despite their comments about passionate Mexican women, whites did not say much about sexually virile males. During the revolution, however, hysterical Texians did inject a sexual dimension into the war—crying out that Mexican soldiers were sexual threats to white women. "What can be expected for the fair Daughters of chaste white women when their own country women are prostituted, by a licensed soldiery, as an inducement to push forward into the Colonies, where they may find fairer game!" feared James W. Fannin, who later was killed in the Goliad massacre. John W. Hall, a spirited mover of independence, asked the public to imagine what would happen if Mexican soldiers gained a foothold in Texas soil? Beloved wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, and helpless innocent children would be given up to the dire pollution and massacre of the barbarians, he claimed. And from the Alamo, Travis also raised the spectre of "the pollution of [the Texans'] wives and daughters" by the Mexican soldiers of General Antonio López de Santa Anna.

The vision of Mexican rapists seemingly reflected white men's state of mind as of 1836. Probably, they saw in Mexicans the same threat that horrified them in black males, and it was too early then for them to have formulated other perceptions. As it turned out, no violations were reported and the rape theme practically disappeared, rarely to crop up again, even though in subsequent times Texans faced other threats of Mexican violence. After the episode, Anglos seldom saw Mexicans as a danger to white women.

The events of 1836 brought forth charges of Mexican depravity and violence, a theme which became pervasive once Anglos made closer contact with the state's Hispanic population following the war. In the crisis of the moment, firebrands spoke alarmingly of savage, degenerate, half-civilized, and barbarous Mexicans committing massacres and atrocities at Goliad and the Alamo. Even worse, whites conjured up ideas of slave uprisings and possible alliances between slave rebels and Mexicans whom whites considered to be infused with African blood anyway. Entrepreneur James Morgan reported that slaves high upon the Trinity were daringly seeking to enlist the Coshatti [Coushatta] Indians and come down and murder the inhabitants in the Galveston region and join the Mexicans. A resolution adopted by citizens meeting in Brazoria in March 1836 warned in consternation: "We have moreover been appraised of the horrid purpose of our treacherous and bloody enemy, to unite in his ranks, and as instruments of his unholy and savage work, the Negroes, whether slave or free, thus lighting the torch of war, in the bosoms of our domestic circles."

Such talk may have been part of the hysteria that ordinarily accompanies war propaganda anywhere. But in any case, some whites were already regarding Mexicans as cruel enough to be considered less than human, and thus dispensable, like Indians, Africans, and animals. Reminiscing about his role in the struggle between Texas and Mexico, Creed Taylor recalled: "I thought I could shoot Mexicans as well as I could shoot Indians, or deer, or turkey; and so I rode away to a war." Similarly, eighty-year-old Sion R. Bostick of San Saba County reminisced in 1900 that, although he did not know the real causes of the conflict, he joined it as "I thought I could kill Mexicans as easily as I could deer and turkeys."

What whites found in the Texas experience during these first fifteen years was that Mexicans were primitive beings who during a century of residence in Texas had failed to improve their status and environment. Mexicans were religious pagans, purposelessly indolent and carefree, sexually remiss, degenerate, depraved, and questionably human. The haunting prospect of being ruled by such people indefinitely explains in part the Texian movement for independence in 1836.

Historians, however, have not paid due attention to these attitudes as factors in the movement for independence, for to do so is to come close to labeling the first generation of Texans as racists. White racism toward the indigenous Mexican population, some would maintain, did not develop until after an extended period of interaction between Texans and Mexicans. Not until decades later, others contend, did science postulate the biological inferiority of certain peoples, thereby begetting racist practices. Yet such arguments have ignored the baneful ubiquity of race in the forging of the American national character, have neglected the psychological implications of its presence, and are unattentive to the deep-seated resentment whites felt toward darker-skinned people whenever they came in contact with them. They have overlooked the motivating force of white supremacy and the compelling need of white America to press ahead with the task of "civilizing" colored peoples and what they stood for.

Dismissing racial prejudice means not taking account of Americans' psychic character as they came to interact with Mexicans in Texas. Admittedly, racism was not the cause of the Texas Revolution, but very certainly, it was very prominent as a promoting and underlying cause. Its roots were planted in the unique psychohistorical experience of the white Texas pioneers and settlers.

And indeed, in the heat of the crisis, leaders of the revolution revealed feelings about race that surely contributed to their strike for independence. Stephen F. Austin, despite his capacity to under stand a culture "different" from his and assimilate into that culture with versatility, nevertheless revealed latent racist feelings as the combat raged. It was, he said, one of barbarism waged by a "mongrel Spanish-Indian and negro race, against civilization and the Anglo American race." David G. Burnet, president of the ad interim revolutionary government, wrote to Senator Henry Clay: "The causes which have led to this momentous act are too numerous to be detailed in a single letter; but one general fact may account for all; the utter dissimilarity of character between the two people, the Texians and the Mexicans. The first are principally Anglo Americans; the others a mongrel race of degenerate Spaniards and Indians more depraved than they." Much later, it was admitted that among the main reasons for the origins of the conflict was the "insuperable aversion" to social amalgamation between whites and Mexicans: "the colonists from the North were somewhat homogeneous in blood and color; the Mexicans, a mongrel breed of negroes, Indians and Spaniards of the baser sort."

Thus, beneath the talk of oppression lingered the underpinnings of white supremacy and racial antipathy. In truth, the Texans never experienced oppression like that of others who have risen in rebellion. The Mexican government was thousands of miles away, afflicted with internal problems, and unable to pay proper attention to what was transpiring in Texas. Culturally, the Americans got along well with the criollo elite. In fact, after the revolution, the criollos, who closely resembled Anglos in racial makeup, were comfortably fitted into white society. Moreover, wherever Anglos went individually, and found themselves in a minority, they adjusted adequately to Mexican culture (despite harboring racist feelings). This was the case in the next decades in El Paso, Santa Fe, and Los Angeles.

But in Coahuila y Tejas, Anglos were dealing primarily not with criollos, but with mixed-blood (or "mongrel") Mexicans. And, by 1836, Texas was very different from later Southwestern settings. Though Texas was not legally American, it might as well have been. It was "white" spiritually, attitudinally, politically, socially, economically, and demographically—an American entity all to itself. These circumstances, in which Texians of diverse social standing thought of themselves as "white people" instead of individuals, incited the daring and massive quest for supremacy over barren wastes and Mexicanos.Which is to say that the Texas Revolution was one of racial adjustment. For Anglo-Texans to have accepted anything other than "white supremacy and civilization" was to submit to Mexican domination and to admit that Americans were willing to become like Mexicans. The prospect of being dominated by such untamed, uncivil, and disorderly creatures made a contest for racial hegemony almost inevitable.


“This well-written, comprehensive account of Anglo-American stereotypes of Mexicans in nineteenth-century Texas makes for interesting reading. . . . As the author notes, the heritage of the past still persists. Mexican Americans in Texas are no longer lynched, but they continue to be 'victims of psychological violence in the more subtle form of discrimination.'”
American Studies


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