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Radical History Review 89 (2004) 135-164

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"Wavering on the Horizon of Social Being":

The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the Legacy of Its Racial Character in Ámerico Paredes's George Washington Gómez

Which Century Is It Anyway?

In 1891, José Martí issued the following warning to his fellow panamericanistas (Pan-Americanists) about U.S. expansionist designs in his now famous essay "Nuestra América" ("Our America"):

But there is yet another danger which does not come from within, but from the difference in origins, methods and interests between the two halves of the continent. The hour is fast approaching when our America will be confronted by an enterprising and energetic nation seeking close relations, but with indifference and scorn for us and our ways. And since strong countries, self-made by the rifle and the law, love, and only love, strong countries; since the hour of reckless ambition, of which North America may be freed if that which is purest in her blood predominates, or on which she may be launched by her vengefull [sic] and sordid masses, her tradition of expansion or the ambition of some powerful leaders, is not so near at hand, even to the most timorous eye, that there is not time to show the self-possessed and unwavering pride that would confront and dissuade her.1 [End Page 135]

The hour of U.S. "reckless ambition" seems once again on us, spurred, in part, by vengeful masses and rapacious leaders who refuse to mourn the victims of 9/11 or the passing of imperial power, and instead melancholically reenact both. The cold war that embroiled Latin America in the U.S. bloody quest for ideological hegemony may well be over; U.S.-backed dictatorships and death squads appear to have receded temporarily behind the indifference of democracy. The world is now more polarized economically than at any point in the previous half century as the imposition of "free trade" policies and treaties spreads across the hemisphere, indeed across the entire Third World. And the United States is clearly the victor here, the center of economic power in the discrete, urbane neocolonialism of the post-Cold War world. Yet the current Bush administration is intent on returning us to a crass (by contrast) geopolitics of empire reminiscent of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This nation, "self-made by the rifle and the law," revises or refuses international law as it simultaneously pursues military ventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Colombia under the cover of counterterrorist protective measures. George Bush Sr. promised us a new world order, and yet his son seems intent on returning us to an old world order of imperialist design—old, at least, for Latin America. History, indeed, seems intent on repeating itself.

Thus recent institutional calls for a transnational American and ethnic studies continue to be as timely as when Martí issued his call for a hemispheric knowledge production of the ties binding "our America" as a counterforce to the ambitions of one lone country from its northern hemisphere. In this essay, then, I answer such calls by returning us to the scene of the Mexico-United States war, perhaps the earliest expression of U.S. imperialism in nuestra América. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo not only ended the conflict between Mexico and the United States; it initiated the racialization of "Mexican Americans" in relation to Anglo-Americans, but also in relation to indigenous populations who suddenly found themselves under the jurisdiction of a new imperial power. The racial logic enacted by the treaty served the purposes of future expansionist ambition in Latin America; however, it also established a tenuous border between Indian identity and Mexican American identity, one that continues to trouble Chicano nationalism.

While the larger aim of this essay is to contribute to an analysis of the evolving racial logic undergirding U.S. imperialism, its more discrete aim is to trace the...


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pp. 135-164
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Archived 2004
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