- True Women and Westward Expansion, and: Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850
As Anglo-American settlers migrated to the area that encompasses present-day Texas and New Mexico during the early nineteenth century, they came into contact with Hispanics, Tejanos, and Native Americans. These encounters led many Americans, New Mexicans, Native Americans, and Tejanos to redefine their respective national or ethnic identities in an effort to serve their respective interests. In Andrés Reséndez's Changing National Identities at the Frontier, the author maintains that anticolonial movements, civil wars, intertribal alliances, and land ventures molded the national and ethnic character of the inhabitants of Mexico's northern territories over a fifty-year period prior to the outbreak of the Mexican-American War. By the early 1800s, Reséndez argues that frontier residents did not act merely as Mexicans, Indians, Americans, or Texans, but rather represented themselves as independent individuals who did not conform to a specific nation or ethnic group. Thus, Texas and New Mexico was a region of fluid identities during the nineteenth century.
One of the main themes of Reséndez's work is how the pull of the American market economy conditioned the identity choices of Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, and Indians. During the early nineteenth century, the market economy not only provided for the establishment of frontier interethnic alliances in Mexico's northern territories but also made these ventures between the various groups highly desirable. By the 1820s, Hispanics, Americans, and Indians gravitated toward the United States in an effort to capitalize on its economic opportunities. The market revolution [End Page 483] in the United States not only changed how Anglo-Americans, Hispanics, and Indians procured items such as medicine and alcohol, it transformed gender, race, class, and ethnic relations in the Mexican borderlands, as frontier turned away from the stagnant Mexico economy to trade in the thriving American markets.
Another interesting aspect of Reséndez's book is how land opportunities in Texas caused some Anglo-Americans to embrace Mexican citizenship. For example, Stephen F. Austin relinquished his American citizenship to become a Mexican national in order to validate a colonization contract that was awarded to his father, Moses Austin. As an empresario, Austin encouraged thousands of American settlers from Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana to emigrate to Texas, urging them to pledge allegiance to the Mexican constitution and accept the Catholic faith. A majority of American settlers, most of whom were Protestant, complied with this latter demand because Mexican law required that one had to be a member of the Catholic Church in order to purchase land or conduct other transactions. By redefining their national and religious identities, Anglo-American settlers were able to establish communities along the Texas coast and the Nacogdoches area during the late 1820s. While these foreign-born residents appeared loyal to the Mexican government, Reséndez notes that they were still inextricably connected to the United States.
Intermarriages between Anglo-Americans and Mexicans also contributed to frontier residents remolding their national identities during the nineteenth century. Reséndez asserts that these intermarriages provided numerous advantages for both Anglo-American settlers and Mexican families in Texas and New Mexico. For instance, the marriages enabled foreign-born residents to bypass Mexican laws that restricted their economic activities, which included purchasing property and participating in the retail trade of the Santa Fe Trail. The unions with Mexican women also improved Anglo-Americans' social standings in the frontier environment by providing ready-made alliances through their in-laws. For their part, Mexican women and their families also stood to benefit from intermarriages as well. While Mexican women viewed foreign-born settlers as dependable providers and protectors, they also regarded their spouses as means to American goods, suppliers, credit, and markets, increasing the economic and political fortunes of their families...