A timely exploration of the political and cultural impact of U.S. naturalization laws on Mexicans in Texas, from early statehood years to contemporary controversies.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a majority of the Mexican immigrant population in the United States resided in Texas, making the state a flashpoint in debates over whether to deny naturalization rights. As Texas federal courts grappled with the issue, policies pertaining to Mexican immigrants came to reflect evolving political ideologies on both sides of the border.
Drawing on unprecedented historical analysis of state archives, U.S. Congressional records, and other sources of overlooked data, Naturalizing Mexican Immigrants provides a rich understanding of the realities and rhetoric that have led to present-day immigration controversies. Martha Menchaca's groundbreaking research examines such facets as U.S.-Mexico relations following the U.S. Civil War and the schisms created by Mexican abolitionists; the anti-immigration stance that marked many suffragist appeals; the effects of the Spanish American War; distinctions made for mestizo, Afromexicano, and Native American populations; the erosion of means for U.S. citizens to legalize their relatives; and the ways in which U.S. corporations have caused the political conditions that stimulated emigration from Mexico.
The first historical study of its kind, Naturalizing Mexican Immigrants delivers a clear-eyed view of provocative issues.
The 2013 NACCS Book Award
- List of Tables
- List of Maps and Figures
- Chapter 1. From the Making of the U.S.–Mexico Border to the U.S. Civil War
- Chapter 2. The Politics of Naturalization Policy in Texas: The Case of Mexican Immigrants
- Chapter 3. Ricardo Rodriguez and the People's Party in the 1890s
- Chapter 4. From the Spanish-American War to the Outbreak of the Mexican Revolution
- Chapter 5. Mexican Women and Naturalization: The Era of the Woman Suffrage Movement
- Chapter 6. Then and Now: The Path Toward Citizenship
- Appendix 1. Texas Naturalization Records and Archives, Pre-1906
- Appendix 2. Persons Naturalized in Texas and by Mexican Origin, 1907–2009
The aim of this book is to examine the naturalization history of Mexican immigrants in Texas. A large body of literature exists on Mexican immigration, yet the study of their incorporation as U.S. citizens has been largely neglected. I seek to understand how Mexican immigrants became incorporated as citizens of the United States and to explore their exodus from one country and entry to another. My work is strategically situated in Texas because of methodological and historical constraints. To conduct a historical analysis of the Mexican's naturalization process it was necessary to focus on one state because most naturalization records prior to 1906 are not centralized. Rather, they are located in county, state, or federal regional archives. In the case of Mexican immigrants, the records are scattered throughout the United States, and I am the first scholar to examine a statewide database. Focusing on Texas was also necessary because during the nineteenth century Texas federal courts resolved the philosophical debates over denying or granting all Mexicans the right to naturalize. Therefore, to unravel how these events unfolded it is imperative that I examine the political action of the Tejanos since they were actively engaged in their struggle for inclusion. Although my study is centered on Texas, it provides an overview of how U.S. naturalization laws impacted Mexican immigrants in the United States. In the concluding chapter I also offer a nationwide analysis of the contemporary obstacles Mexican immigrants face in their pursuit of membership in the U.S. polity. A shift to a nationwide analysis was necessary because Mexican immigrants are now no longer concentrated in Texas, as they were in the past. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century approximately one-half to two-thirds of the Mexican immigrant population of the United States resided in Texas (U.S. Census 1922a: 302–303). By the year 2000, Mexican Tejanos continued to constitute a large percentage of the Mexican immigrant population, numbering 21 percent of the total. The rest are scattered throughout the United States, with 43 percent residing in California (U.S. Census 2003: 7).
Theoretical and current concerns on citizenship formation inspired me to write this book and to take a historical approach in doing so. Following in the anthropological tradition of Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1995), I concur that history is central to understanding and theorizing how the present is shaped by the past. By employing Trouillot's historical approach I will revisit many national immigration events. I will, however, reexamine them from a critical perspective and explore how international relations between Mexico and the United States influenced the closure and opening of opportunity structures given to Mexicans to become U.S. citizens. Furthermore, in unfolding my narrative I will emplot events that have been ignored or treated as insignificant. I agree with Trouillot that when staging a historical narrative the selection of events influences how one views the actors. By taking this approach, I hope to portray the significant roles ordinary Mexican immigrants played in shaping their political destiny. My intent is to illustrate that Mexicans, notwithstanding the fact that most were from the laboring classes, were people with dignity who were aware that choosing one's citizenship was a political act. My anthropological gaze into this process also follows in the historical tradition of Eric Wolf (1982) and Sidney Mintz (1985), who for generations have influenced anthropologists to historicize the past by examining the political and economic base of the societies under study. Throughout my book I unravel the Mexican immigrants' citizenship incorporation in the United States by exploring the political and economic conditions that forced them to leave their homes. Likewise, I critically examine their reception in Texas by looking at national and state events as well as the racial ideologies of the period, which often made it very difficult for them to be accepted as U.S. citizens.
This project is also highly motivated by personal concerns over U.S.-Mexico relations. As a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent, I am highly concerned with the ongoing portrayal of Mexicans in the news media as parasitic people who invade this nation, take its resources, and feel no moral obligation to give anything in return because allegedly their political allegiance is to Mexico and not to the United States. Television programs like The O'Reilly Factor and, in recent years, Lou Dobbs Tonight and his series "Broken Borders" and the commentator Glenn Beck regularly depict Mexicans in this untruthful way. Although programs like "The O'Reilly Factor" openly state that their critique of Mexicans is limited to "illegals," this disclaimer does not dispel the harmful portrayal of all people of Mexican descent as newcomers and as disloyal people. Moreover, when Bill O'Reilly, the anchor and host of "The O'Reilly Factor," gives airtime to Mexican Americans who disagree with his position on immigration, the facade of fairness becomes a transparent mockery when O'Reilly's closing comments mark them as leftists and dismiss their arguments as misinformed distortions. Generally, only Mexican American guests who agree with O'Reilly are portrayed as balanced and reasonable. Interestingly, they are also praised for their patriotism and bravery in speaking out against "broken borders." In essence, programs like this place Mexican Americans in an iron cage. They must either openly endorse a conservative political agenda against undocumented workers or suffer the consequences and risk being considered part of the problem. "The O'Reilly Factor," however, is not the program that depicts Mexican immigrants in the most unfavorable light. Unlike O'Reilly, who at least attempts to be balanced and open to debate, the radio and former television news anchor Lou Dobbs visibly crusades against the social ills immigrants allegedly introduce to the United States (Hutchinson 2009). Resembling O'Reilly in his statements that his critique is directed only at illegal aliens, Dobbs's transparent disclaimer is an obvious mockery, as he allows his guests to express inflammatory and misleading information. Especially hurtful are the letters Dobbs reads on the air, thereby creating a legitimate space where his viewers can insult people of Mexican descent. By reading these letters, Dobbs strategically is able to disassociate himself from the vicious comments while simultaneously giving airtime to misleading anti-immigration propaganda. Likewise, Dobbs's negative comments about Mexican American civil rights organizations totally destroy his claim of impartiality. His frequent portrayal of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, the National Association of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and on occasion the Latino Congressional Caucus as radical advocates of open borders serves to create the image of Mexican Americans as unpatriotic leftists. If these civil rights organizations are portrayed as un-American and their leadership as villains who promote the illegal invasion of America, how are other Mexican Americans to be viewed if the highly educated officials of these organizations are assumed to be unpatriotic? Are we to assume that Dobbs's critique does not apply to most people of Mexican descent?
Dobbs's hurtful commentaries are presently limited to his nationally syndicated radio show ("Lou Dobbs, Mr. Independent"), following the cancellation of his "Broken Borders" television series, but he has promised to remain in the public arena and be an advocate against illegal immigration. He is also considering running for the U.S. Senate (Shea 2009). Dobbs was released from his CNN contract after he crossed the line on several occasions. CNN management became alarmed when Hispanic organizations and progressive groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center demanded that Dobbs be fired for untruthfully claiming that undocumented immigrants from Latin America were introducing leprosy into the United States. Dobbs was not fired at this point, but he was asked to apologize (Folkenflik 2009). CNN was finally pressured into asking Dobbs to tone down his advocacy against immigrants or leave CNN if he continued to be a crusader for the birther movement (Folkenflik 2009; Stelter and Carter 2009). Dobbs’s critics alleged that his television program gave legitimacy to birther movement groups, who claimed that many people, including the first African American president, Barack Obama, were not American citizens. This position reflected badly on CNN, and management was eventually pressured to amicably release Dobbs from his contract.
Another reason I chose to write a book about the naturalization history of Mexican immigrants was my desire to address what I perceived to be academic misconceptions expressed by visiting Mexican scholars and government dignitaries who have given presentations at the University of Texas at Austin, where I am a professor of anthropology. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to attend numerous conferences at the university in which Mexican academics and government representatives are invited to speak on U.S-Mexico relations. In general, the presentations of the visitors have been informative and at times spectacular. For example, one year we were honored by the visit of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico, who spoke warmly about Texas-Mexican relations and encouraged further trade and international convivencia (cordial coexistence). Over the years, however, I have observed a common problem in the commentaries of most visitors, namely, their reluctance to address the political factors that lead Mexican people to relocate to the United States. That is, the exodus of Mexican immigrants has been mainly approached from a structural perspective and represented as a mechanical labor process that acts as a safety valve to stabilize the Mexican economy. The Mexican immigrant is portrayed as a mere machine without needs and desires. The visitors are generally interested in discussing issues dealing with commerce, finance, the effects of remittances on sending areas, and other practical issues such as increasing the number of academic exchange scholars from Mexico to the United States. In essence, if Mexican immigration is discussed at all it is reduced to concerns about how immigration impacts the Mexican economy. Mexican workers are depicted as valuable foreign exchange commodities that produce income for the state. The needs, desires, and political longing of the migrants, however, are not issues meriting serious discussion. Furthermore, when members of the audience raise questions about the lives of the migrants, in most cases I have observed the visitors respond politely and intelligently yet generally suggest that the issue is not relevant to their talk. One of the few occasions on which I observed the Mexican scholars and government representatives partly move away from this format was at a conference I attended in the spring of 2008. The subject of the conference was Mexico-U.S. migration and development. I observed that the usual unengaged treatment and structural representation of the Mexican laborer were reproduced by most speakers, yet at the conclusion of the conference, when the keynote speaker asked the audience for comments, a critical dialogue erupted. Many questions were raised about the poverty and the other problems Mexicans experience in the United States.
The aim of the conference was to bring together international scholars and policy makers to exchange ideas on the intersection of migration, rural development, and social policy. The guest speakers addressed matters of migration and trade and how they impact the economies and development of rural communities in Mexico and the United States. The presentations provided valuable information on trade, remittances, and current statistical data on the projected number of undocumented people living in the United States. Overall, the conference was exceptionally well organized and enlightening as the interaction between the audience and the speakers generated new insights and dialogue over how the economies of the Mexican countryside can be improved.
I was glad to learn that at the closing ceremony the keynote speaker planned to address current U.S. immigration reform policies and focus on agricultural laborers. I attended the speech in the hope of learning how the Mexican government interpreted the recently failed U.S. congressional efforts to reform immigration policy (I address this issue in the concluding chapter). Specifically, I wanted to learn about Mexico's reaction to the U.S. Congress's refusal to extend amnesty to undocumented workers. Once again, the presentation was very informative. But it was disappointing. Besides the most recent statistical data on the number of agricultural workers who enter the United States on work permits and the amount of remittances sent to Mexico, the only comments on U.S. immigration policy centered on the Mexican government's disappointment that a new agricultural guest worker program was not agreed upon by the Congress.
It was not until the question and answer period that the topic of amnesty for undocumented workers was addressed. It was the audience who raised the issue, however, not the keynote speaker, who had ignored the topic altogether. Our guest responded that the Mexican government was extremely disappointed, but it had not expected an amnesty resolution to pass Congress, as a large sector of the American public was outspokenly against it. He added that perhaps the congressional resolution was the best plan of action after all, as Mexican immigrants should remain Mexican citizens. He believed that Mexicans should be able to work in the United States under some labor agreement but eventually return home. Most attendees felt satisfied with the response, but some, including myself, wanted to continue the dialogue. We asked what effect a guest worker agreement would have on the ability of undocumented farmworkers to adjust their status to permanent legal residency. I said, "A guest worker program will ensure that the U.S. agricultural industry has a cheap source of labor. As well, that Mexico will benefit from the remittances, but it will not give laborers the choice to become free agents in determining their destiny. Only policies that allow people to adjust their status to permanent legal residency gives Mexicans the ability to shape their future and choose the country of their political allegiance." Many people agreed with my statement, and they followed with critical questions on Mexico's failure to legislate a fair living wage. The keynote speaker, in posturing tones, responded to all the questions on the agricultural workers' right to choose their political sovereignty. Some of his answers were rather hostile, however, and seemed to be responding to impudent questions. He iterated his position that it is in the best interests of Mexico and the United States for the migrants to return home. He also believed that most Mexican migrants did not want to become U.S. citizens, so the fact that they could not obtain legal residency was not a problem.In reflecting on the dialogue that took place during the closing ceremony, I partly concur with the keynote speaker's remarks. It is true that a circular migration guest worker program benefits both countries. Mexico's economy benefits by the remittances it receives, and a guest worker program reduces unemployment in Mexico. Likewise, the U.S. agribusiness industry acquires cheap labor, and the federal and state governments are absolved of their responsibilities toward labor. For example, the U.S. government does not have to extend unemployment insurance to agricultural workers during the off-harvest season or provide them with medical services for health problems related to occupation that often arise in old age. Economically, both countries benefit, and the U.S. government does not have to be responsible for the reproduction of its agricultural labor force. This arrangement obviously works well for the governments, but I ask, what benefits do the agricultural laborers derive from it? Are they rewarded sufficiently for the service they provide the United States, given that these types of workers perform job functions few Americans want to do? Shouldn't they have the right to choose where they live in exchange for their labor? Obviously, the latter question is rhetorical, as it is a fact that the U.S. federal government makes all immigration decisions, and its current answer to that question is a resounding no. In the 2005–2006 congressional deliberations on immigration, when House Resolution 4437 was debated, the majority in Congress clearly articulated their stance against giving these types of laborers the opportunity to obtain legal residency and start on the path toward citizenship. This position, however, may change, and the Congress installed in 2009 may recognize the value of this occupation. During various periods in the past, the U.S. government has indeed valued this occupation and granted agricultural workers legal residency, thus giving them the opportunity to pursue U.S. citizenship.
In conducting my research, I have found that Mexican agricultural workers as well as other types of Mexican immigrants are very concerned about their political destiny. I strongly disagree with the perspective that Mexican immigrants do not want to become U.S. citizens. The Mexican immigrant's naturalization history is exactly a history of a people's struggle to gain political representation. They are people who live their lives in a proactive manner and search for a government that is willing to protect them and provide them with more than the bare essentials of life. I concur with Giorgio Agamben (2000) that people pursue a life of happiness and are not satisfied to live a "naked life"—meaning that they aspire to enjoy resources beyond the basic needs required for biological existence. Mexicans who choose to naturalize are political agents who refuse to be reduced to what Agamben calls "bare life." As working people they search for labor markets that enable them to sell their labor to the highest bidder, and in turn they convert their wages into commodities that allow them to live beyond the existence of "bare life." To escape such an existence, immigrants must emancipate themselves from their sovereign nation and find a way to become voting members of a new country. However, as Agamben argues in regard to the poor, it is difficult to acquire membership in a new polity because it is restricted by the rules of the groups in power. Although I agree with Agamben, my view is not as bleak as his. History has taught me that all societies undergo attitudinal changes in majority group opinion, and hence I choose to support the view of Pierre Bourdieu (1992), who asserts that every generation determines its own ideological outlooks. Agamben, however, is correct that attitudinal positions toward immigrants are highly dependent upon the health and prosperity of the host economy. Wealthy countries, which are most often the sites the poor wish to migrate to, do not want to economically absorb the world's poor. It is insufficient for the immigrant to act as a free agent because the country they try to enter will determine whether they can be emancipated from their sovereign nation. I concur that entry for the poor is very difficult, and, as Aihwa Ong (2007) argues, unlike the wealthy migrants who are global citizens and not bound by borders, the poor do not have the ability to enter and exit the country they wish to visit. Today, the poor must enter with work permits, and if they do not qualify for temporary legal entry they move illegally across borders.
In the United States, immigration policy toward the poor has varied and in most periods has been quit liberal. This was the case, for example, in the nineteenth century, when the country was expanding its frontiers west of the Mississippi and southwest toward the Rio Grande. Since the mid-1960s, however, while U.S. immigration policy toward the professional and wealthy classes has remained very liberal, its policy toward the poor has become highly restrictive. This institutional position, in turn, has determined who can become a U.S. citizen, as in most cases legal entry is necessary to qualify for citizenship.
It is a fact that the majority of Mexican immigrants have come from the laboring classes. But over the years the border crossers have differed economically and socially. Moreover, for various reasons the majority have chosen to live in the U.S. Southwest, that is, in the border region that was acquired from Mexico following the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848. Like Ernesto Galarza (1964), I believe that the large-scale pattern of Mexican migration to the United States commenced with the dictatorial presidency of Porfirio Díaz in the 1870s, not following the Mexican-American War. In the late nineteenth century, Díaz's economic development plan ravaged the nation's resources and dismantled workers' protective labor laws. The idea was to stimulate Mexican capitalism by creating a social space in which U.S. and European investors could find a docile and cheap source of labor (Gilly 1994). An economic dependency structure was established, one which Mexicans did reform, but which they have been unable to completely dismantle or detach themselves from. Over the years, many Mexicans who opposed their country's treatment of labor or have been discontented with the outcome of their nation's governance have chosen to seek a better life by migrating to the United States.
Thus my narrative, besides being a historical recovery project, aims to deal with current issues. I hope to use this account to illustrate that historically Mexican immigrants have chosen to emancipate themselves from the governance of Mexico because they are free agents who recognize that a state must generate opportunities for its citizens to pursue a better life. Political allegiance to a nation is shaped by nativity, but also by a rational calculation that a state must protect and provide for its citizens. Mexican immigrants have shown their political allegiance to the United States in abiding by the laws of the country, working productively, and fulfilling all of the obligations and responsibilities a state demands of a citizen.
Related to the above is my intent to illustrate theoretically how political ideologies facilitate or hinder an immigrant's entry and membership within a new polity. Central to the shaping of my understanding of how ideology and social movements influence governmental policy is Michael Omi’s and Howard Winant's (1994) concept of racial formation, which proposes that in the United States generational shifts in dominant group ideologies are highly influenced by social movements that reconfigure majority groups’ opinions of minority populations. Attitudinal shifts in turn effect changes in daily life, intergroup interaction, and ultimately governmental policies. These attitudinal shifts, however, as I will illustrate, can have adverse or supportive impacts upon immigrants. Social movements differ across time and are not necessarily prompted by humanist ideals.
Also related to generational shifts is how dominant group attitudes in the United States have been shaped by international politics between Mexico and the United States, particularly in such matters as race and immigration policy. I do not argue that international policy determines when liberal or conservative immigration or naturalization policies are instated in the United States. Rather, I assert that history opens a window onto understanding how international policy influences the attitudes of dominant groups when it comes to offering or withholding opportunities for Mexicans to become permanent legal residents and eventually be invited to apply for U.S. citizenship. Examining international policy also allows me to explore why the economy of Mexico has historically been dependent on U.S. capitalism and how this economic relationship has stimulated Mexican immigration to the United States.
Organization of the Book
My book is divided into four major periods and concludes with a chapter focusing on naturalization history from the 1940s to the present. The historical periods include (a) the aftermath of the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846–1848, (b) international policy during the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction, (c) the Populist movement of the 1890s, (d) the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, and (e) the end of the bracero program to the present. As I articulate this history, I offer an analysis of the naturalization process Mexicans underwent and examine the success of their applications in numerical terms. I pay extensive attention to events occurring between 1848 to 1924 because many policies involving race, class, and language were instituted at this time and thus determined naturalization policy until the early 1960s.
In the first chapter I examine the U.S. citizenship laws that affected the Mexican population after the Mexican-American War. I focus on the naturalization laws of the period and examine why naturalization was restricted to white immigrants (Nat. Act 1790). This chapter deals with the developments leading up to the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War and examines the liberalization of naturalization law with respect to racial ideology. After the U.S. Civil War ended President Abraham Lincoln and President Benito Juárez of Mexico initiated a period of stable and friendly relations, a period which came to benefit the Mexican population of the United States. Mexico and the United States brought closure to the bad sentiments caused by the Mexican-American War and began a new era in which diplomacy was employed to regulate trade and bring order to the movement of people across the border. As part of these friendly relations the first naturalization law specific to Mexicans was passed in 1868. The Naturalization Treaty of 1868 became the legal foundation of the philosophical principle that Mexicans should be extended citizenship on the basis of nation rather than of race. The white only naturalization prerequisite thus did not apply to Mexicans.
Chapter 2 focuses on the first Mexican immigrants to obtain citizenship in Texas. As I narrate this history, I examine the events that led to a surge in Mexicans' naturalization applications from 1862 to 1870. At this time Mexican immigrants were naturalized at an astonishing rate, and nearly everyone who applied was given citizenship. I associate these events with Civil War politics in South Texas and with "good neighbor policies" between Mexico and the United States following Reconstruction. As part of this analysis I discuss why it was politically expedient for the Texas Legislature to allow Mexican immigrants to vote even if they had not finalized their naturalization papers. I also begin here my argument that voting is the main reason Mexicans have chosen to naturalize, an analysis I develop throughout the book.
This chapter closes with an analysis of President Porfirio Díaz's administration. I examine political transitions in Mexico, particularly the country's transformation into a political dictatorship that became oppressive and stimulated immigration to the United States. During this period U.S. businessmen gained political power in Mexico through their investments. As I will illustrate, the capitalist development of Mexico during the Porfirian dictatorship became the impetus for the growth of large-scale Mexican immigration. As the Mexican capitalist economy changed, the working conditions of the laboring classes worsened, and many sought to emancipate themselves from the governance of Mexico by seeking refuge in the United States.
Chapter 3 examines how politics in Texas during the late 1880s to early 1900s affected the experiences of Mexican immigrants. The political and economic problems that developed in Mexico during President Diaz's administration caused a surge in Mexican immigration, and although the U.S. federal government favored open borders, I illustrate that in Texas many people resented the ongoing immigration of Mexicans into their state. Texans welcomed commerce with Mexico, but not the immigrants who arrived as part of the negotiations between both countries. The resulting growth of anti-Mexican social movements culminated in several legal battles to exclude Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans from U.S. citizenship (i.e., In re Rodriguez 1897). The period is illustrative of Agamben’s thesis that immigrants can change their national affiliation only when members of the host country permit them to do so.
In chapter 4, I demonstrate that after 1898 very few Mexicans applied for U.S. citizenship. I associate this decline with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War and the emergence of a nativistic ideology among Americans that negatively affected their treatment of Mexicans following the war. I also associate the decline in Mexican naturalization application rates to voting law reforms in Texas. Within a few years of the Spanish-American War, poll taxes were required of voters in Texas. I argue that poll taxes impacted many Texans but led particularly to the disenfranchisement of a larger percentage of voters of Mexican and African descent. For Mexican immigrants, whose primary reason to naturalize was to gain the ability to vote, the institution of poll taxes made voting expensive and unaffordable. They not only had to pay expensive fees to naturalize, but now they had to pay poll taxes.
In chapter 5 I focus on the end of the Porfirian dictatorship and the mass migration triggered by the Mexican Revolution. Here I examine how changes in federal naturalization law and Texas voting laws made it very difficult for Mexican immigrants to naturalize and to vote. This period coincides with political changes in Mexico. After the Mexican Revolution, when President Díaz was forced to resign and the new government passed foreign investment policies to protect Mexican resources, the U.S. government was displeased and no longer treated Mexico as a friendly neighbor. What ensued were the passage of hostile policies toward Mexico and the ill treatment of Mexican immigrants.
In Texas an anti-immigrant social movement spearheaded by white suffragists expressed this hostility. Upper-class white women used the national resentment harbored by many Americans against Mexico to initiate a social movement to end immigrant voting in Texas. The chapter includes an overview of the naturalization history specific to Mexican women, as this is the era when women, including those who had naturalized, were given the right to vote. Although the main discussion of this chapter ends in 1924, I survey the main immigration and naturalization events that followed in the 1930s and delve into their impact on Mexicans. I offer only a general view of this decade because the main reforms in naturalization law affecting Mexicans are covered in the succeeding chapter in relation to the bracero generation.
Chapter 6 deals with contemporary issues and draws parallelisms with the past. My analysis of Mexican naturalization patterns focuses on congressional policy and its general impact on the Mexican and Mexican-American population. My account is not solely about Texas, given that the bracero program (1942–1964) transformed Mexican immigration, and by the 1960s very large numbers of Mexican immigrants were residing in every part of the country. My main argument in this chapter is that since 1965 immigration reforms have made it very difficult for working-class people to qualify for legal entry, and this has affected who can become a U.S. citizen. I conclude my analysis by interrogating the Mexican government's response to current congressional immigration reform proposals and exploring the mean-spirited birther movement in Texas and the United States. This social movement advocates the redefinition of citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment and proposes denying U.S. citizenship to children born in the United States of parents who are undocumented aliens or temporary legal residents. Under this proposal people who lose their citizenship could regain it only by applying for naturalization.
Location of Study and Primary Sources
In reconstructing the naturalization history of Mexican immigrants in Texas I reviewed naturalization records from the Lorenzo de Zavala State Library and Archives in Austin and from the National Archives Southwest Region at Fort Worth (see appendix 1). These records include the naturalization declarations from 1836 to 1939, minutes for district and county civil court naturalization cases, and the naturalization indexes of people naturalized in county, district, state, and federal courts. My aim was to identify how many Mexicans had applied for U.S. citizenship and the location where the applications were filed as well as to determine the percentage of the applicants granted citizenship.
Of particular importance were the naturalization declarations, as these records allowed me to determine the periods of high and low naturalization application rates for Mexicans on a county basis. This information also allowed me to situate the naturalization application flows within a historical timeline and determine where the Mexican immigrants lived in Texas.
Additional primary sources include the Matías Romero Archives, records of the Texas federal courts, election registrars, Jane Y. McCallum Archives, alien entry rolls, Immigration and Naturalization Bureau correspondence, and immigration and naturalization statistics compiled by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Homeland Security. To fully understand the significance of these records, I also studied the evolution of the Texas judicial system and voting laws. This enabled my understanding of who was in control of granting or denying citizenship to immigrants and my further comprehending of Texas politics from the county to the state level. I have also reviewed nineteenth- and early twentieth-century newspapers concerning the Populist movement, legislative debates over immigration and naturalization, the Civil War, and the Texas Woman Suffrage Movement. Of great value to my study was the Spanish-language newspaper El Regidor, the San Antonio Express, and the Austin American Statesman. The editorials written by Pablo Cruz in El Regidor were especially useful in that his commentaries often discussed philosophical issues on naturalization and provided detailed information of how naturalization and voting laws affected Mexican immigrants. Furthermore, as a means of understanding Texas records and their relation to federal and state policy, I turned to the Texas House and Senate journals, the congressional records, speeches of Texas governors and senators, and to the U.S. Statutes at Large. I found that by placing my key findings of the naturalization data within this policy context I was able to uncover how Mexican immigrants were affected by political events taking place within the U.S. Congress and the Texas State Legislature.
My study is based on Texas. The core area of the book, however, centers on South Texas and Bexar County, given that nearly 90 percent of naturalized Mexicans resided in these two regions. Because the boundaries of Bexar County and South Texas counties changed over time, I indicate in my discussion how demographic shifts produced changes in the political boundaries of the counties. I am well aware that authors disagree on the territorial boundaries of South Texas. The historian Neil Foley (1997) defines South Texas by its land use specialization and draws boundaries between central, east, and south Texas based on the regions' mode of production, while the geographer David Arreola (2002) and the archeologist Tamra Lynn Walter (2007) define South Texas as a cultural region where the Spanish missions and ranches were founded. The folklorist Américo Paredes (1958) and the legal scholars Richard Jones and Albert Kauffman (1994) define South Texas as a region culturally attached to the border and populated mainly by people of Mexican descent. The main reasons for the differences in their assessments of which counties comprise South Texas, as I see it, are, first, that some of the counties along Texas's eastern coast that were originally part of the Spanish Empire and were associated with the mission societies became populated by a large number of African Americans owing to the growth of the slave trade during the period in which Texas was an independent republic (i.e., Refugio, Victoria, and Gonzales counties). After Texas independence the eastern coastal region therefore developed characteristics that set it apart from the rest of the southern region, which was primarily populated by Mexicans. A second reason for the differences in opinion over what constitutes South Texas is that scholars disagree as to the inclusion or exclusion of Val Verde County. Val Verde County, which is located along the border near west Texas, became populated by a large number of Anglo-Americans during the late nineteenth century, and this demographic shift led the county to develop closer ties to west Texas. Thus Val Verde is part of both South and west Texas. In this book I refer to South Texas as a cultural region primarily populated by Mexicans and located near the Mexico-U.S. border. As new counties were organized and carved out of older counties, I identify which ones I propose to include as part of South Texas.
“Menchaca’s research breadth is instructive she consulted naturalization records and indexes, voting laws, newspaper commentators’ views of naturalization, and Congressional records and speeches. They helped her understand how policy changes affected naturalization. This book will especially interest readers concerned with the role of political history in shaping naturalization policies.”
National Genealogical Society Quarterly
“Martha Menchaca gives us a superbly researched and intensely detailed account of how the naturalization process has affected Mexicans throughout the history of Texas…. In this way we should treat Menchaca’s extensively researched history of the naturalization of Mexicans in Texas as a sounding board to current debates being presented in Congress and the media, many of which seek actively to limit the political rights of Latinos, and gloss over the complex histories that have shaped their presence and contributions to American society.”
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute