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Border Citizens

Border Citizens
The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona

A detailed and insightful look at one hundred years of political and economic impact on racial identity and culture among diverse ethnic groups in south-central Arizona.

Series: Published in Cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University

February 2008
This book is out of print and no longer available.
342 pages | 6 x 9 | 6 maps, 6 figures |

Borders cut through not just places but also relationships, politics, economics, and cultures. Eric V. Meeks examines how ethno-racial categories and identities such as Indian, Mexican, and Anglo crystallized in Arizona's borderlands between 1880 and 1980. South-central Arizona is home to many ethnic groups, including Mexican Americans, Mexican immigrants, and semi-Hispanicized indigenous groups such as Yaquis and Tohono O'odham. Kinship and cultural ties between these diverse groups were altered and ethnic boundaries were deepened by the influx of Euro-Americans, the development of an industrial economy, and incorporation into the U.S. nation-state.

Old ethnic and interethnic ties changed and became more difficult to sustain when Euro-Americans arrived in the region and imposed ideologies and government policies that constructed starker racial boundaries. As Arizona began to take its place in the national economy of the United States, primarily through mining and industrial agriculture, ethnic Mexican and Native American communities struggled to define their own identities. They sometimes stressed their status as the region's original inhabitants, sometimes as workers, sometimes as U.S. citizens, and sometimes as members of their own separate nations. In the process, they often challenged the racial order imposed on them by the dominant class.

Appealing to broad audiences, this book links the construction of racial categories and ethnic identities to the larger process of nation-state building along the U.S.-Mexico border, and illustrates how ethnicity can both bring people together and drive them apart.


2008 Southwest Book Award
Border Regional Library AssociationFinalist, 2008 National Council on Public History Book Award

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Desert Empire
  • 2. From Noble Savage to Second-Class Citizen
  • 3. Crossing Borders
  • 4. Defining the White Citizen-Worker
  • 5. The Indian New Deal and the Politics of the Tribe
  • 6. Shadows in the Sun Belt
  • 7. The Chicano Movement and Cultural Citizenship
  • 8. Villages, Tribes, and Nations
  • Conclusion. Borders Old and New
  • Notes
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index

Eric V. Meeks is Associate Professor of History at Northern Arizona University.


In the mid-1960s a group of Yaquis in the Tucson barrio called Pascua took the first steps toward seeking federal acknowledgment of their status as American Indians. In part they hoped to obtain access to federal resources and an area of land outside the city. Since World War II, Tucson's warehouse district had enveloped Pascua, and the mechanization of agriculture had dramatically reduced the number of jobs on nearby industrial farms. Pascua residents lived in poverty, with dilapidated housing and worn-out and insufficient infrastructure. Catholic Yaquis also complained about excessive interference by local Protestant missionaries. They hoped that by moving outside the city they might be, as one contemporary ethnographer put it, "left alone with the traditional religious life of the Yaquis." The campaign to establish a new settlement sparked a rancorous debate about what it meant to be Yaqui, Indian, and ethnic Mexican in twentieth-century Arizona.


Anselmo Valencia, a Yaqui war veteran, led the campaign to establish a new settlement after founding the Pascua Yaqui Association in 1963 "to maintain and enhance the Yaqui culture as it is found in the State of Arizona." Membership in the association was limited to "any person who has been ceremonially associated with the Yaqui Indians." Valencia enlisted the help of Anglos living in Tucson, such as ethnographers Edward Spicer and Muriel Thayer Painter, who formed the Pascua Advisory Committee that same year. Finally, declaring himself the chief of the Pascua Yaquis, he wrote to Rep. Morris Udall, explaining that Pascua had long been "the heart of Yaqui life and culture in Arizona" and that resettlement would empower them to protect their way of life. Udall agreed to take up the cause, and he soon presented a bill before Congress to set aside an area of land in trust. He did so because he felt that "the Yaquis of Pascua Village are threatened with extinction as a tribe if a new home is not found for them."


At the time, most Arizonans knew little or nothing about the Yaquis. Few were aware, for example, that thousands had first arrived in Arizona in the late nineteenth century, crossing the border to escape a war of attrition by the Mexican military to usurp and divide their lands in southwestern Sonora for private ownership and capitalist development. By the second half of the twentieth century, Yaqui families were settled throughout Arizona's borderlands. Because Yaquis were the descendants of immigrants who lived mostly in barrios or ethnically mixed rural towns rather than reservations, tended to speak Spanish as well as Yaqui, and shared many cultural traits and kinship ties with Mexicans and Mexican Americans, many Anglos assumed that they were Mexicans, and thought it incomprehensible that they could be American Indians.


Opponents of Udall's bill sometimes expressed their opposition in explicitly racist and nationalist terms. Turney Smith, a rancher who lived near land sought by the Yaquis, explained his objections in a letter to Udall in 1964. "These so-called Indians," Smith argued, "are not Indians in the proper sense of the word. They are a mixture of several breeds—they have no nationality—no home and are not citizens of any country." To Smith the Yaquis defied the requisite characteristics of proper Indians, who were supposed to be indigenous to territory within the United States and culturally and racially pure. The bill also challenged his assumptions about Mexicans, since in Arizona the term Mexican had been imbued with derogatory meanings, implying a dangerous blending of races and alien status. How could a group of people from Mexico now claim to be pure Indians, let alone citizens of the United States?


To complicate matters further, many Yaquis themselves showed little interest in the bill. Yaquis in the town of Guadalupe, in Maricopa County, were especially suspicious of intentions to seek benefits from the government based upon their status as Indians. One Guadalupano feared that the government would "tattoo a number on us and put us on a reservation." Others had simply never identified as American Indians but had developed strong ties to ethnic Mexicans, sharing a legacy of immigration, similar cultural practices, kinship ties, and a similar place within the socioeconomic order. These ties became the basis for a collective identity that defied simple categories like Mexican and Indian. Gabe Alvarez, a Yaqui who had married a Mexican-American woman, put it this way: "I'm not an American, I'm a Mexican. I'm from Mexico.... I speak Spanish, and I like Mexican music, so how can I be Native American?"


In the end, Congress settled on an imperfect solution that left the official status of the Yaquis ambiguous. A revised version of Udall's bill (Public Law 88-350) passed Congress in 1965, placing 202 acres of land in trust as New Pascua, near the San Xavier Tohono O'odham reservation. The new law, however, fell short of recognizing Yaquis as equivalent to other American Indians. According to the law, "Nothing in this Act shall make such Yaqui Indians eligible for any services performed by the United States for Indians because of their status as Indians." The bill thus recognized the Yaquis as Indians while refusing to endorse the idea that their Indianness entitled them to federal resources.


As this brief account suggests, the debate over Yaqui federal recognition raised fundamental questions about race, identity, and national belonging in twentieth-century Arizona. How could the descendents of immigrants from Mexico, many of whom spoke Spanish and shared many cultural traditions with ethnic Mexicans, be American Indians? The Yaquis were one of several indigenous groups in the region—the Tohono O'odham, Pimas, and Maricopas among them—who had experienced long histories of intercultural exchanges with Spaniards and Mexicans before the United States conquered the region in the mid-nineteenth century, and who continued to have economic, cultural, and kinship ties on both sides of the border. At a fundamental level, the debate over Yaqui federal recognition reveals the inadequacy of the standard terms of ethno-racial classification, such as Mexican, Indian, and Anglo, to capture the complex reality of people's experiences and identities. A central goal of this book is to interrogate how and why these ethno-racial categories and boundaries developed historically in the way they did, and to examine their evolving meanings.


In the past several years, scholars from a variety of disciplines have begun to explore similar questions in different contexts. Historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and others have come to a rough consensus that the meaning of categories such as Anglo, Mexican, and Indian change over time. They are not static, and they often hide more than they reveal about complex identities and intercultural relationships. Instead, it is now widely argued that both ethnic and racial categories are socially constructed, relational, and historically contingent. Still, many scholars use such categories as a convenient way to identify different groups of people. While I, too, often find it necessary to resort to those terms in this book, I try to take more seriously the idea that we must question monolithic classifications and in the process, as two historians have recently put it, "give voice to silenced mestizo identities." Arizona, with its diverse population of ethnic Mexicans and semi-Hispanicized indigenous peoples, provides an ideal arena in which to do so.


This book tells the story of Arizona's economic and political incorporation into the U.S. nation-state and of the ways in which race and ethnicity shaped labor markets, defined citizenship criteria, and inscribed national boundaries. This story is told from two interrelated perspectives. First, I explore how government officials, regional and national elites, and Euro-Americans attempted to comprehend and impose order on the indigenous and ethnic Mexican population beginning in the late nineteenth century by drawing boundaries of race, class, and citizenship. Before Arizona became a state, government officials struggled to integrate these populations into the developing industrial and extractive economy primarily as wageworkers. They would regulate their mobility and cultural development, promote assimilation or build and maintain hierarchical racial boundaries, and delineate who would or would not have access to full and equal citizenship.


Second, I examine how people of indigenous and Mexican descent struggled to maintain control of their own cultures and daily lives. As they interacted with one another, with the developing capitalist economy, and with the state, they created new institutions and practices that became the basis for challenging their exclusion from as well as their absorption into a monolithic national culture. These responses are best understood not as wholesale assimilation or resistance, but rather as resistant adaptation. As recent scholars have used the term, resistant adaptation refers to the unanticipated, resilient, and sometimes defiant ways in which people adapt to impositions by those in power.


These two processes—classification by the Euro-American majority and resistant adaptation by subordinated peoples—were inextricably linked. Over time, ethnic identity took shape according to internal cultural factors such as language and religion and according to the differential relationships that various groups formed with one another, with the national economy, and with the nation-state. What made someone Mexican rather than Indian or white/Anglo, rather than nonwhite, evolved out of cross-ethnic interaction and stratification within the same, developing political and economic contexts.


To clarify this argument, it is necessary to define more precisely some of the key concepts and terms used in this book, beginning with race. Michael Omi and Howard Winant's definition is particularly salient: "Race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies. Although the concept invokes biologically based human characteristics (so-called 'phenotypes'), selection of these particular human features for purposes of racial signification is always and necessarily a social and historical process" (emphasis added). Omi and Winant refer to this process as "racial formation." As Stuart Hall has argued, racial formation is also a hegemonic process in which, over time, racial categories become ingrained as "common sense" among those who use them—even those who have been racially classified. Still, such categories are always susceptible to challenges from below, so they are always unstable. They continually emerge, are redefined, or erode through historical processes of classification, oppression, resistant adaptation, and negotiation.


Like race, ethnicity should be understood as a product of history, not simply as the static remnant of a primordial past. This is not to suggest, however, that ethnicity has no real content or that it is merely a "nexus of relations and transactions actively engaging a subject," as James Clifford has claimed. Rather, ethnicity must also be understood as a "mode of consciousness." This conception of ethnicity is strongly influenced by the work of Jean and John Comaroff. They argue that while ethnicity "has its origins in the asymmetric incorporation of structurally dissimilar groupings into a single political economy," it is also deeply felt. Ethnic identity is never static, but rather changes through time in a "dialectical relationship with the structures that underlie it: once ethnicity impinges upon experience as an (apparently) independent principle of social classification and organization, it provides a powerful motivation for collective activity." Ethnicity is different from race in that it is not necessarily linked to phenotype and it generally develops as a way for groups to define themselves in relation to those around them, rather than primarily as a way to impose control over others through the restriction of rights and privileges.


As the Comaroffs' definition of ethnicity suggests, examining the process of racial and ethnic identity formation requires an understanding of the broader workings of political economy. Throughout this book political economy refers to the intersection between the forces of economy and government; more precisely, it is the economic milieu constructed largely by political processes, state institutions, and policies. It is a crucial concept because it implies that the economy does not simply develop naturally over time but through the explicit interventions of political actors and the state.


In Arizona the state played an enormous role in shaping the regional economy and in determining how certain groups would fit within it (i.e., as employers, property holders, wageworkers, or wards). I trace the evolution of Arizona's political economy over the course of a century, during which several state interventions stand out. In the 1870s and 1880s, government land grants to the railroads and subsidies to miners facilitated the first phase of modern industrial development, primarily in mining and agriculture. Simultaneously, the federal government helped to determine patterns of landholding through the reservation system, the Homestead Act, the Desert Lands Act, and the Dawes General Allotment Act.


In the twentieth century, the state continued to influence the character of the political economy. Most important for south-central Arizona was the Newlands Reclamation Act passed by Congress in 1902. It provided federal financing and a set of regulations for the construction of massive reclamation projects that fundamentally transformed south-central Arizona's desert ecology, economy, and social structure. During the Great Depression, federal New Deal programs dramatically impacted the economy, organizing the labor of thousands of Arizona residents—Anglo, indigenous, and ethnic Mexican alike—to further alter the region's infrastructure, ecology, and social structure. During and after World War II, government contracts attracted high-tech manufacturing firms to the region, resulting in unprecedented demographic and urban growth and laying the groundwork for the manufacturing and service economy to supersede the old extractive economy. Even as this new economy developed, however, agricultural production peaked in the 1950s, while the federal government continued to fuel its growth by recruiting Indians and importing thousands of Mexican braceros to work in the fields.


This book focuses on four contiguous counties that collectively experienced Arizona's most dramatic economic development and population growth from 1880 to 1980: Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, and Santa Cruz. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, copper was the backbone of Arizona's regional economy. By 1929, in fact, Arizona provided more than half of all copper purchased within the United States. What truly differentiated the south-central Arizona counties from the rest of the state, however, was industrial agriculture. Indeed, it was the demand for farmworkers that drew the most immigrants from Mexico to settle in Arizona after 1910. In 1911 the completion of the Roosevelt Dam—among the first major reclamation projects built under the Reclamation Act—spurred the growth of a vast agricultural industry. By 1920 the yearly harvest of Pima cotton, an extralong staple hybrid designed to be grown in the desert Southwest, reached about two hundred thousand acres, covering 70 percent of all irrigated lands. Growers also planted everything from short-staple cotton to alfalfa, citrus, and melons. With the completion of numerous other dams, a second major reclamation project in 1928 on the Gila River (the San Carlos Project/Coolidge Dam), and the installment of hundreds of groundwater pumps, Arizona's industrialized agricultural region eventually stretched from the Salt River valley (Maricopa County), into the Casa Grande valley (Pinal County), and along the Santa Cruz River into the vicinity of Tucson (Pima and Santa Cruz counties).


South-central Arizona, because it is adjacent to Mexico, is also a fertile site for exploring the production of racial, ethnic, and national boundaries. In many respects the boundaries of the nation-state are the most tangible and the most contested at its territorial borders. Physically, the U.S.-Mexico border has been marked by fences and enforcement mechanisms such as the Border Patrol. In a broader sense it has been an especially important site of cultural conflict through, for example, battles over immigration, language, and education. Throughout Arizona's history, this process would remain contested and incomplete, as a transborder regional community defied the efforts of the United States to promote a homogeneous national culture and enforce strict territorial and racial boundaries.


Because ethnic and racial boundaries were so intricately linked to the construction of the nation, it is important to clarify the meaning of the term nation. Throughout this book the word refers to a cultural body that is, to quote two recent theorists, "in a perpetual condition of becoming." While I use state to refer to the tangible institutions and bureaucracies that make up the federal and state governments, I view the nation as much more diffuse. It is, to use Benedict Anderson's classic formulation, an "imagined community" constructed both by state officials and the citizenry. The nation's power consists in its ability to rule, regulate, and enforce, and to delineate cultural and social borders. Anderson is concerned with how elites and state officials construct the nation through printed media. I focus on how the meaning of the nation and the power of the state are contested by subordinated and marginalized peoples, often at the level of personal and community identity.


Just as it is necessary to distinguish between the state and the nation, it is helpful to differentiate between two forms of citizenship—one legal, one cultural. At one level, citizenship is a legal relationship between individuals and the state. The Anglo, ethnic Mexican, and indigenous populations of south-central Arizona each had a distinct and evolving legal status. Throughout the twentieth century, for example, unnaturalized Mexican nationals had no citizenship rights. They could not vote or sit on juries and could be physically removed from the country at the will of the U.S. government (as they were en masse in the 1930s and 1950s). Before 1924 most Arizona Indians were not citizens but had a special status as wards of the state. In that year the Indian Citizenship Act altered this relationship by recognizing all American Indians as citizens. Congress, however, left the specifics up to the states, permitting other restrictions on full membership in the body politic to remain in force. In Arizona the 1912 state constitution specified that "no person under guardianship shall be qualified to vote in any election." Arizona's courts consistently applied this restriction to the indigenous population, although the line between who was and who was not Indian was not always clear. Until the Supreme Court struck it down in 1948, the Arizona law enforced the notion that Indians, as long as they remained dependent on the state, were not yet ready for full and equal citizenship.


The residents of south-central Arizona also had changing cultural relationships with the United States. Recently, some scholars have begun to refer to these relationships as cultural citizenship. Renato Rosaldo and William V. Flores have offered the simplest definition, writing that it refers to "distinctions in senses of belonging, entitlement, and influence that vary in distinct situations and in different local communities." In a sense, cultural citizenship is to the nation what legal citizenship is to the state. For example, while ethnic Mexicans and Indians have had distinct sets of political and civil rights as legal citizens (voting, serving on juries, etc.), they have also had distinct social and cultural relationships to the nation. Euro-Americans have variously regarded these groups as "savages" and/or foils to U.S. expansion, as aliens, as marginal to mainstream American culture, as wards or, more recently, as members of a diverse, culturally inclusive nation. And yet these groups have also struggled to define their own relationship to the nation, sometimes stressing their status as the original inhabitants of the region, sometimes as American citizens, and sometimes as members of their own, separate nations.


Cultural citizenship thus changes as people struggle to maintain, as Rosaldo and Flores have put it, their "right to be different (in terms of race, ethnicity, or native language) with respect to the norms of the dominant national community, without compromising [their] right to belong, in the sense of participating in the nation-state's democratic processes." The concept of cultural citizenship thus permits an examination of how different groups of people participated in the construction of their own identities while defining what it meant to belong to the nation in cultural terms. It also permits an exploration of how the meaning of citizenship evolved over time, and how it varied for different groups.


In Arizona's borderlands, the project of nation building—incorporating the region economically and politically into the United States while defining the cultural and racial boundaries of full citizenship—became problematic just as the region entered a stage of rapid capitalist development through mining and reclamation and of political maturation through statehood in 1912. While expanding extractive industries demanded foreign labor, Euro-Americans in Arizona struggled to project an image of themselves as progressive, educated, and fully American—which usually meant being fully white—to the rest of the nation.


This image was particularly important around the turn of the century, when regional elites engaged in a protracted struggle to shed Arizona's territorial status and gain admission as a state. One possible resolution to the problem presented by a large nonwhite population was to regulate immigration. Anglo employers and state officials did not want to shut off immigration entirely, since foreign labor was necessary for economic development. Instead, they attempted to manage immigration through legislation that was often contradictory. During debates over statehood, some sectors of Arizona's population pressed for a variety of anti-immigrant measures, including laws that would limit the number of immigrants who could work in hazardous occupations such as mining. Repeatedly, however, business interests—the cotton growers in Arizona were among the most vocal—defeated such legislation and secured exemptions from immigration restrictions for Latinos.


Regulating immigration did nothing to address the problem of how to incorporate naturalized immigrants or indigenous peoples into the nation-state. In these cases, government officials and much of the Euro-American citizenry tried to ensure that the limits of full citizenship were maintained along lines of race and culture. Those who were perceived to have the potential to become fully assimilated were often coerced, particularly in the decades around the turn of the century. State and religious officials pursued this goal through, for example, Americanization programs and forced assimilation, boarding schools, and the banning of certain cultural practices. Legislation and legal interpretations denied full citizenship to Arizona's indigenous population indefinitely.


The combined weight of restrictive immigration policy, racial segregation, and limits on citizenship relegated much of south-central Arizona's population to a second-class status. Groups such as the Yaquis, Tohono O'odham, and ethnic Mexicans became "border citizens"—people whose rights of belonging were in question, leaving them on the margins of the national territory and of American society and culture. Throughout the twentieth century, however, these groups would challenge the economic, political, and cultural boundaries that were being constructed around them, sometimes in cooperation with and sometimes in conflict with each other. They were "border citizens" both because of restrictions imposed on them and because they were redefining what it meant to belong to the U.S. nation-state from its borderlands. In the process they helped to redefine what it meant to be Mexican, Indian, and Anglo.


The relationships that these groups formed with one other and with the political economy substantially influenced how they identified themselves over time. Yaquis came to inhabit a liminal cultural and political space between two nations and between their status as Mexican and Indian. They lived and worked alongside ethnic Mexicans, shared their precarious legal status, and often spoke Spanish, while they shared close cultural and economic connections to indigenous groups in the region and were viewed as American Indians by Anglo-Americans. Over decades these circumstances spawned tensions among the Yaquis themselves, especially between those who hoped to gain official legal status as American Indians and those who felt such a status would mean a loss of cultural independence and self-determination. Many of the latter built upon their interethnic ties and transnational culture to challenge existing ethnic boundaries and the cultural definitions of U.S. citizenship.


The Tohono O'odham also skirted national, racial, and ethnic boundaries, but in their own way. In 1854 the Tohono O'odham territory was split in half by the Gadsden Purchase/Mesilla treaty, the purchase by the United States of the territory that is now southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. By the turn of the century, the vast majority of Tohono O'odham lived north of the border. Like the Yaquis, many spoke Spanish, worked together with ethnic Mexicans, and married across ethnic lines. The U.S. government, however, defined the Tohono O'odham, unlike the Yaquis, as American Indians, recognizing part of their homeland with reservations and subjecting them to distinct government policies. Over time, entanglement with federal bureaucracies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs seriously affected their sense of themselves as a people.


Yet, Tohono O'odham fortunes were not solely determined from without. The Tohono O'odham found ways to manipulate their unique situation, building upon emerging tribal institutions to confront the hegemony of a monolithic U.S. nation-state, assert their rights as citizens and indigenous people, defend their economic interests, and express their cultural and political identities. In the process, old forms of village government by patriarchal consensus broke down, and women began to take an expanding role in government. They eventually challenged the validity of the geopolitical border itself, demanding that O'odham on both sides of the border be recognized, first and foremost, as citizens of the Tohono O'odham nation.


Like "Mexican" and "Indian", "whiteness" was a fuzzy concept in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century. As historians such as Matthew Frye Jacobson, Linda Gordon, David Roediger, and Neil Foley have shown, the boundaries of whiteness were under constant negotiation, especially as immigrants from Mexico and Europe flooded into the United States. Italian, Spanish, and Slavic immigrants in Arizona fought to ensure that they would be counted as respectable white citizens in part by joining Anglo-Americans in their struggle to define Mexican immigrants as nonwhite aliens. In the 1930s the presence of a new class of Anglo migrants from the southern plains again challenged established boundaries between white and nonwhite. Since the so-called Okies often worked the same jobs and lived in the same labor camps as ethnic Mexican and indigenous workers, many Arizonans perceived them to be naturally inferior and not quite fully white. The concept of whiteness, then, was not monolithic. Its boundaries were periodically challenged or solidified in relation to evolving definitions of national citizenship.


To reflect these shifts, I use several terms to refer to people of European descent. In the first four chapters, covering the period up to the 1930s, I use Anglo or white to refer only to those people who had adopted such an identity and whom others generally referred to with such terms. I use Euro-American to refer to people of European descent (excluding Mexicans), some of whom had been accepted as fully white, and others—like Italians and Slavs—who had not. For the post-World War II era, when sharp distinctions between different groups of European Americans subsided, I use Anglo and white to refer to a broader group of people, reflecting the fact that southern and eastern Europeans had generally been accepted as white.


Many Mexican Americans also made claims to whiteness. Armed with provisions in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that guaranteed their access to U.S. citizenship and the weapon of legal (if not social or cultural) classification as white, Mexican Americans often challenged segregation and political and economic discrimination by struggling to gain acceptance as patriotic American citizens. At the same time, many Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals, the latter lacking legal citizenship, struggled to hold onto their own cultural traditions, joining mutualistas (mutual aid societies), labor unions, or other organizations to resist their subordination. In the 1960s and '70s, many Mexican Americans would assert an emerging ethnic identity as Chicano and embrace their indigenous heritage as a basis for empowerment rather than racial degradation. At different times and in different circumstances, then, they manipulated, sought inclusion within, or confronted existing standards of national belonging.


To reflect the differing identities and legal statuses of people of Mexican descent, I reserve Mexican American for those with U.S. citizenship and Mexican for Mexican nationals. I use ethnic Mexican to refer to both groups collectively. At times I also use mestizo to emphasize the difference between those who identified with a specific indigenous group and those, most of them of mixed European and indigenous heritage, who no longer did so. I employ the term Hispanic only when making reference to external classification systems like the U.S. census, and Spanish American only when discussing either immigrants from Spain or individuals of Mexican descent who claimed to be Spanish largely as a means to claim whiteness. While even these terms do not adequately capture the diversity of the population, they at least provide a way to analyze the complexity of ethnic Mexican identity, and to distinguish between people lumped together too often by the national and racial designation of Mexican.


The diverse border citizens of south-central Arizona actively struggled to define their own identities. But the process of self-identification was deeply entangled with racial ideologies and government policies designed to construct their identities and their place in the nation for them. Ethnic and national identities were never autonomous; they were relational and historically contingent. The racial, economic, and political boundaries these groups faced, and the network of relations they formed with one another, played an extremely important role in shaping both their identities and their belonging to the nation-state. As they struggled to protect their own interests, their actions altered the blueprint drawn up by government officials and members of the Anglo majority for their assimilation and/or exclusion. Building upon a century of resistant adaptation, they would eventually alter the cultural meaning of citizenship, and the meaning of national belonging. By examining this process holistically we can begin to understand how and why certain groups were seen or came to see themselves as Mexican, Indian, or Anglo, or as having some other identity altogether.



“...[T]he book is a most welcome addition and deserves wide readership among American historians as well as ethnic studies specialists.”
Journal of American History

“Border Citizens serves as a model for future borderlands scholarship... This text will serve as a doorway for students in courses on the West, Chicano/a history, and Native American history to engage each other's respective themes by looking at the way they affect, relate, and respond to other groups.”
Pacific Historical Review

“Border Citizens is an exceptional work... While making a significant contribution to the historiography of Arizona and the Southwest, this book will appeal to anyone interested in Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies, Mexican American Studies, and Border Studies.”
Journal of Arizona History

“Meeks has produced perhaps the definitive account of Southern Arizona's economic and political development while making a strong case for the absolute centrality of race in determining who benefited from these processes.”
American Indian Culture and Research Journal

“[Meeks] uses an impressive array of sources and skillfully covers a wide range of issues within eight tightly woven chapters. He is most adept not only in describing Anglo stereotypes of Mexican Americans and Native Americans but also in carefully conveying ethnic Mexican and indigenous viewpoints… [Border Citizens] broadens the historically narrow black-and-white lens scholars have previously utilized to examine the condition of race relations and social inequity.”
Journal of American Ethnic History

“This impressive and thoroughly researched study provides a timely intervention, probing the history of the Arizona/Sonora borderlands and the interconnection between peoples and cultures of the region. Significantly, it reveals how changing conceptions of citizenship and race were central to the formation of the state and offers insight into why they continue to matter in the present.”
The Western Historical Quarterly

“By not giving primacy to any ethnic/racial group and by utilizing the scholarship of Native American, Borderlands, Chicana/o, labor, and race studies, Meeks reveals how complex cultural citizenship and nation building have been in Arizona’s past, and from this remarkable work we can only surmise that it will continue to be so in the future.”
American Historical Review

“Eric Meeks’s first book is one of the most interesting and insightful works in either American Indian or Latino history I have seen for some time.”
Southwestern Historical Quarterly


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