- Catarino Garza’s Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border by Elliott Young
In today’s world of globalization, accelerated by multi-national agreements such as NAFTA, the manner in which people from different parts of the globe communicate with each other has been radically transformed. As I read Elliott Young’s Catarino Garza’s Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border, I could not help but think of the ever-increasing number of communities in Texas comprised of people from all over the world and people who cross the well-known US-Mexican border on a daily basis. Recent scholarship on the US-Mexican border has stressed this transnational notion, which points to the highly permeable nature of this geo-political boundary. Young examines the process of nation-making and its “preeminent symbol, the border,” by focusing on one transnational journalist.
Mexican born Catarino Garza left to Texas and became a journalist committed to the defense of Texas Mexicans. Garza appealed to both Texas Mexicans on the border who felt threatened by Anglo encroachment and Mexicans under the oppressive Porfirio Díaz government. By 1891, Garza had organized a rebellion comprised of Mexicans from both sides of the Rio Grande to overthrow Díaz. Connecting the local with the global, Young contends that the Garza rebellion was part of an extensive project of border and nation-making. It was precisely this process, with its modernization project as its base, which Garza and his followers (Garzistas ) and Mexicans in general strongly resisted. The Garza rebellion revealed the highly racialized atmosphere of the late nineteenth century as it placed the border region at the forefront of bi-national attention. While the Díaz government sought to portray the border region as a pacified place particularly primed for American foreign investment, Garzistas continued engaging the US military and Texas Rangers in battles. Garzistas, numbering in the hundreds by 1892, resisted capitalist modernization, land loss, racism in south Texas, and the displacement of poor Mexicans in Mexico. The Garzistas responded to these changes through proclamations of self-autonomy demanding the return of the Mexican Liberal Constitution of 1857. Garza’s use of the language of liberty, progress, and patriotism within the context of the constitution appealed to a wide variety of supporters on both sides of the river. Garza garnered support from landless farmers, ranch hands, merchants, ranchers, professionals, and several northern Mexican military men. The demands made by Garzistas were rooted in the long history of relative isolation and semi-autonomy of the region, which modernization began to threaten.
The efforts to colonize and civilize south Texas were colored by reports on the region by Anglo Americans such as Captain John Gregory Bourke, paintings by the renowned Remington, and reports from US soldiers and Texas Rangers. As the army and rangers pursued Garza and his followers, they took field notes and described the region. These descriptions, informed by ideas of race, shaped the way in which both the U.S. and Mexican governments perceived the border as inherently contradictory.
Young demonstrates that notions of white superiority, shaped in relation to colonial projects, contributed to the development of south Texas. Individuals pursuing the Garzistas quickly dehumanized them and referred to Garza’s supporters as uncivilized bandits and greasers. These ideas had their roots in the global imperialistic project. Captain Bourke’s descriptions of the border as an “American Congo,” for example, were informed by his experience in the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and his knowledge about foreign interests throughout the world. Nevertheless, Mexicans resisted Anglo views of them and the region. The Mexican struggle manifested itself in the battlefield and cultural arena through actual combat, feeding the Rangers indigestion-provoking food, or writing corridos to memorialize encounters with Rangers. These struggles pointed to the way in which Mexicans defined the terms of modernization and capitalist development.
Young is at his best when analyzing the Garza rebellion as a response to larger global projects of imperialistic and capitalist modernization. However, one is forced to wonder that perhaps what made it possible for...