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  • Política: Nuevomexicanos and American Political Incorporation, 1821–1910 by Phillip B. Gonzales
  • Cameron L. Saffell
Política: Nuevomexicanos and American Political Incorporation, 1821–1910. By Phillip B. Gonzales. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. Pp. 1080. Photographs, illustrations, maps, tables, notes, appendices, bibliography, index.)

Historical sociologist Phillip B. Gonzales brings us critical new insights about Nuevomexicanos and political identity in mid-nineteenth-century New Mexico. Traditional political histories of this period tend to focus on federally appointed Anglo officials and lawyers, whom Gonzales identifies as the Euroamericans. As he points out, only 28 of 256 territorial officials were Nuevomexicanos, and only one territorial governor had a Spanish surname (28). Yet, as former U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill told us, all politics are local. Through Gonzales’s work we learn how domestic politics in New Mexico both influenced and were shaped by national political identities of both Mexico and the United States. The result is an impressive narrative, which spans more than seven hundred pages, of how traditional political parties came to exist and how Nuevomexicanos related to them.

Gonzales utilizes extensive primary sources, cited in 130 pages of end-notes, including Nuevomexicano writers published in Spanish sections of early territorial newspapers. Almost a dozen commentaries that Gonzales identifies as particularly important are included as appendices, albeit without the translations that he includes in the main narrative. The result of Gonzales’s diligent work is a very different insight into New Mexico politics, introducing us to the perspective of local Nuevomexicano views as opposed to traditional discussions of the territory’s appointed Euroamerican and often nationally focused political views.

The dates in the subtitle (1821–1910) are misleading, however: a more accurate range would be 1840s–1872. Because the Mexican period designated as chapter one is merely a prologue that sets a historical background, historians do not benefit from the methodical analysis Gonzales employs in other sections about Nuevomexicano political or cultural identity, how Nuevomexicanos dealt politically with the nation of Mexico, or with the myriad issues posed by Texan actions and claims in the region. Gonzales makes it evident that Mexican nationalism was significant for many years during (and after) the Mexican period, so an understanding of Nuevomexicano attitudes towards their former homeland prior to the American period would have been helpful.

Similarly, because Gonzales ends his analysis in 1872, readers are deprived of his thorough investigative style regarding the failed 1876 attempt at statehood, the powerful Santa Fe Ring, and the evolution leading to statehood in 1912. We are fortunate, though, to have other recent books to give us insight on this late nineteenth-century period, including Doris Meyer’s Speaking for Themselves: Neomexicano Cultural Identity and [End Page 100] the Spanish-Language Press, 1880–1920 (University of New Mexico Press, 1996); John Nieto-Phillips’s The Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s–1930s (University of New Mexico Press, 2008); and David Holtby’s Forty-Seventh Star: New Mexico’s Struggle for Statehood (University of Oklahoma Press, 2012).

Gonzales describes well how Nuevomexicanos readily adapted to American democracy and political structures, such as how the Mexican ayuntamiento transitioned to the American style of town government. However, having started his analysis at the dawn of the U.S.-Mexico War (mid-1840s), he misses the opportunity to question whether decisions by some influential ricos to send their children east on the Santa Fe Trail to be educated in Jesuit and American schools (rather than south to Chihuahua) played a role in familiarizing young Nuevomexicanos with the American political system—a situation he briefly describes about Territorial Delegate to the U.S. Congress José Francisco Chaves in the 1860s. Were these young leaders predisposed to affiliate with the Euroamericans, particularly during the initial transition? Were they influenced by the economic opportunities and development offered by Americans?

With the knowledge that this book focuses on the first thirty years of the American period of New Mexico history, historians will find Política a detailed and valuable contribution to our understanding of Nuevomexicanos that expands our horizons beyond the previous political histories of Americano leaders in this same...


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