- Purchase/rental options available:
Hispanic American Historical Review 83.4 (2003) 741-742
[Access article in PDF]
Recovering History, Constructing Race: The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans. By Martha Menchaca. Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. Photographs. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xi, 375 pp. Cloth, $55.00. Paper, $24.95.
Martha Menchaca has begun an intellectual insurrection by challenging the pristine aboriginal origins of Mexican Americans as historically inaccurate. An anthropologist with broad competence as a historian, Menchaca revisits the process of racial formation in the northern part of Greater Mexico from the Spanish conquest to the present. She analyzes the colonial history and more recent reconfigurations of borderlands racial categories, focusing on the process of mestizaje between blacks, Indians, and Spaniards. This work establishes a dialogue between Chicano/a studies and the so-called borderlands school to discover the history of racialization in the region prior to the Mexican-American War (1846-48) and the Treaty of Hidalgo in February 1848. Before 1848, communities along the borderlands had developed as dynamic multiracial societies, with undeniable influences from Indians, blacks, and whites. In the last two chapters, Menchaca adds an insightful examination of the racialization process in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War.
The result is surprising and controversial: Menchaca reclaims the colonial borderlands as an integral part of Chicano heritage and, more importantly, as a pivotal period when the mestizo foundations of Mexican American identity were established. A book with such an ambitious goal, however, is not free from certain shortcomings, including a lack of attention to Spanish-language colonial studies and to contributions made by colonial Mexicanists on the subject of race and ethnicity in the Americas. A dialogue with scholarship on the process of racialization in colonial and contemporary Mexico is likewise absent.
Criticisms aside, Menchaca's attempt to recover the multiracial roots of Mexican Americans represents an insightful reinterpretation of the historical roots of present-day mexicanos that will generate fruitful debate. Menchaca moves beyond mythical foundations to look for answers on the historical transformations that the Spanish empire unleashed in the borderlands in terms of racial interactions among Indians, blacks, and Spaniards. "Aztlán," after all, may have been in the presidios, [End Page 741] missions,andborder towns, rather than in a chimerical fatherland of nebulous location.
Menchaca's pathbreaking study is destined to become a classic in Chicana/o studies and borderlands history. It will definitely motivate productive discussions in the classroom and will inspire scholars of borderlands history, Latin American studies, and the history of the U.S. Southwest.
Michigan State University