- Blood Oranges: Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands by Timothy Paul Bowman
Straddling the American South and U.S.-Mexico borderlands, South Texas is an interestingly unique place in terms of historical context. Timothy Paul Bowman grapples with the region's historical complexity in his new book Blood Oranges: Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands. Since the late nineteenth century, Anglo colonization of communities of ethnic Mexicans on both sides of the border has transformed South Texas into an agricultural powerhouse. The key to Bowman's [End Page 450] interpretation is the "internal colonial model," first popularized in Rodolfo Acuña's landmark book Occupied America: The Chicano's Struggle Toward Liberation (San Francisco, 1972) four decades ago (p. 2). Through agricultural boosters, land speculators, and a dependency on an inexhaustible supply of cheap Mexican labor just across the Rio Grande, Anglos "conquered" the valley in ways that paralleled other colonial conquests in world history. Bowman's voice is unique within North American borderlands and Chicano historiography. He rightfully notes that few historians utilize the now-dated internal colonial model to narrate Chicano history. Blood Oranges in the main, however, is not Chicano history. The main historical actors in early chapters are Anglo colonizers, and Bowman focuses on their associated racial thinking toward a Mexican labor force. The most insightful and original research concerns how Bowman's "Anglo colonizers" manipulated and controlled land and water markets during the transformation of South Texas into an agricultural empire (p. 26). Using archival records related to South Texas boosters and farm agencies, Bowman is particularly effective in making the case for colonization.
By later chapters, however, ethnic Mexicans demonstrate historical agency in challenging South Texas's colonial racial regime. The final chapter of Blood Oranges is structurally important, focusing on the Chicano movement through the lens of farm labor organizing and the intellectual contributions of Chicano nationalists. Bowman focuses on farm labor organizer Antonio Orendain and the struggle to unionize Texas farmworkers. Along with La Raza Unida founder José Ángel Gutiérrez, Orendain presented the greatest challenge to South Texas's colonial regime. The book's teleological arrangement of evidence is important. Anglo colonizers, who command such attention and focus in early chapters, are ultimately challenged and upended by the end of Bowman's narrative.
One wonders, however, how useful the "internal colonial model" framework, which Bowman also supports in an Autumn 2015 Western Historical Quarterly article, may be for exploring other regions of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands historically impacted by agrarian capitalism and a racialized Mexican labor force. New scholarship continues to complicate the history of race relations in Texas, including Max Krochmal's Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill, 2016). The emergence of the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project (crbb.tcu.edu) at Texas Christian University will also provide fresh and untold stories for historians to narrate regarding Texas's diverse postwar civil rights past. Other scholars such as Lauren Araiza have explored the coalition politics engendered by César Chávez and the United Farm Workers. A more explicit statement of how Bowman's narrative fits within larger historiographical debates about the United Farm Workers, particularly the evolution of that organization's position on undocumented labor, would have been welcomed. Both Marc Simon Rodriguez and Mario T. García have authored and edited new scholarship analyzing the historiography of the Chicano movement. Bowman's work correlates to these scholarly debates but unfortunately reinforces artificial divisions between borderlands and Chicano history by failing to frame his research within such scholarship. Blood Oranges nevertheless contributes [End Page 451] significantly to scholarship analyzing the impact of ethnic Mexican populations within the United States and their struggles to combat racialization and colonialism in the twentieth century and beyond.