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Recovering History, Constructing Race

The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans

By Martha Menchaca

Publication Year: 2001

The history of Mexican Americans is a history of the intermingling of races—Indian, White, and Black. This racial history underlies a legacy of racial discrimination against Mexican Americans and their Mexican ancestors that stretches from the Spanish conquest to current battles over ending affirmative action and other assistance programs for ethnic minorities. Asserting the centrality of race in Mexican American history, Martha Menchaca here offers the first interpretive racial history of Mexican Americans, focusing on racial foundations and race relations from prehispanic times to the present. Menchaca uses the concept of racialization to describe the process through which Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. authorities constructed racial status hierarchies that marginalized Mexicans of color and restricted their rights of land ownership. She traces this process from the Spanish colonial period and the introduction of slavery through racial laws affecting Mexican Americans into the late twentieth-century. This re-viewing of familiar history through the lens of race recovers Blacks as important historical actors, links Indians and the mission system in the Southwest to the Mexican American present, and reveals the legal and illegal means by which Mexican Americans lost their land grants.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture


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p. vii


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pp. ix-x


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p. xi

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pp. 1-13

In this book it is my intent to write about the Mexican American people's Indian, White, and Black racial history. In doing so, I offer an interpretive historical analysis of the experiences of the Mexican Americans' ancestors in Mexico and the United States. This analysis begins with the Mexican Americans' prehistoric foundations and continues into the late twentieth century. My focus, however, is on exploring the legacy of racial discrimination that was established in the aftermath of the Spanish...

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Chapter 1: Racial Foundations

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pp. 14-48

I begin the Mexican Americans' racial history with an overview of their racial foundations. First, however, I offer a critique on why academics have dismissed this theme as a significant area of research. My aim is to illustrate the textual politics of neglect. The recovery of the Mexican Americans' prehistory has largely been neglected due to lack of interest on the part of mainstream archaeologists and anthropologists. In 1988, when Dr. Fred Valdez and I began...

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Chapter 2: Racial Formation: SPAIN'S RACIAL ORDER

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pp. 49-66

In the aftermath of the conquest, the Spanish military strategy of ''divide and conquer'' effectively created disunity among the Indians of central Mexico and opened the path to a new social order. At first, the Spanish left the indigenous economy and lifestyle relatively undisturbed, allowing elites who pledged allegiance to the crown of Spain to continue governing their peoples (Díaz del Castillo 1963). About twenty-five million Indians inhabited central Mexico at that time (Borah 1983:26; Meyer and...

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pp. 67-96

For Mexican Americans the Spanish settlement of the territories that would become the U.S. Southwest was a singular event of monumental consequence. Many of the peoples inhabiting these territories were conquered and came to have a direct influence on the racial history and heritage of the Mexican Americans. In 1598 Spaniards, mestizos, Indians, and afromestizos moved north toward Mexico's frontier (Hammond 1953:17). Thousands of people left central Mexico in search of land and wealth; for...

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Chapter 4: The Spanish Settlement of Texas and Arizona

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pp. 97-126

During the late seventeenth century, Spain initiated its next colonization phase, identifying Texas and Arizona as the preferred sites (Polzer 1976:36 &mdash 37; Weber 1992:154). The entradas were launched by the military and the church. Franciscan fathers were in charge of the missions in Texas, while the Jesuits founded the missions in Arizona (Engelhardt 1929:14; Polzer 1976:34; Weber 1992:95).1 Before colonies could be established, however, Indian alliances had to be forged and places for future...

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Chapter 5: The Settlement of California and the Twilight of the Spanish Period

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pp. 127-160

In this chapter I examine the expansion of the Spanish Empire into California and identify the indigenous groups who were incorporated within the mission system. In unfolding this history, I illustrate the racial diversity of the colonial population and show that while the church and royal government were entrenching their imperial power in the Southwest, the masses and criollo elite in the interior of Mexico revolted against Spain's racial order. The changing ideological stance on race culminated...

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Chapter 6: Liberal Racial Legislation during the Mexican Period, 1821 &mdash 1848

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pp. 161-186

In this chapter I examine how the people of the Southwest were affected by the racial legislation passed in Mexico following the Mexican War of Independence. After independence Spain's racial order was dismantled, and socioeconomic policies were adopted to redress the effects of the casta system. Racial distinctions became increasingly blurred during the Mexican period, and people in the Southwest were often referred to in government and church documents in cultural rather than racial terms. ...

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Chapter 7: Land, Race, and War, 1821 &mdash 1848

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pp. 187-214

This chapter examines the aftermath of the land reorganization laws instituted in the Southwest following Mexican independence. Under the 1824 General Colonization Law the federal government decreed that all heads of households in the Southwest who were citizens of or immigrants to Mexico were eligible to claim land (cited in Laws of Texas, Vol. 1, pp. 97 &mdash 98; Engstrand 1978:329). This legislation differed from previous Spanish decrees, as people were to be given patent to the land they claimed and...

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Chapter 8: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Racialization of the Mexican Population

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pp. 215-276

In 1848 the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican American War (Menchaca 1993:584). The United States government stipulated in the treaty that Mexicans who lived within the newly annexed territory of the Southwest would be "incorporated into the Union of the United States" with the "enjoyment of all the rights of citizens" (Nine Statutes at Large and Treaties of the United States of America, 1845 &mdash 1851, Article 9, p. 930). The treaty thus...

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Chapter 9: Racial Segregation and Liberal Policies Then and Now

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pp. 277-296

In this historical narrative I have outlined the racial history of the Mexican Americans, identified and explored significant events influencing their racial heritage, and offered a critical analysis of the relations that evolved between Mexicans of different racial backgrounds. Under Spain's rule, Mexicans who were White enjoyed social and economic privileges not extended to Mexicans of color. However, as I have illustrated, due to a legacy of racial mixture under Spanish rule mestizos and afromestizos...

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Epilogue: Auto/ethnographic Observations of Race and History

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pp. 297-309

Auto/ethnography is a method that has been used in anthropology since the mid-1970s (Reed-Donahay 1997), combining autobiography or biography with ethnography. In a traditional ethnography an anthropologist interviews people, conducts observations, collects documents, and often reviews newspapers. When autobiography or biography is interjected in an ethnographic study, the field research becomes more personal and the anthropologist also becomes a subject of study. In writing the conclusion....


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pp. 311-329


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pp. 331-365


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pp. 367-375

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798779
E-ISBN-10: 0292798776
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292752535
Print-ISBN-10: 0292752539

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 50 b&w illus., 4 maps
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 55670450
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Recovering History, Constructing Race

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Race identity.
  • Mexican Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • Mexican Americans -- History.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
  • United States -- Relations -- Mexico.
  • Racially mixed people -- United States -- History.
  • Mexico -- Relations -- United States.
  • Racism -- United States -- History.
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