- Chicanx History as U.S. History:Pushing the Boundaries of the Field
Chicanx history emerged from the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the new social history of the decades that followed. While it often sought to document the lives and history of Mexican-ancestry people from Los Angeles to Michigan and beyond, it sometimes failed to place Chicanx history within the main contours of U.S. history. In the past twenty years, this has changed as many historians writing in Chicanx history have written with an eye to the larger themes and questions of U.S. history and intentionally sought to place their work within the broader historiography of U.S. national and transnational history. For those writing about U.S. history from the colonial era to the present, the history of Chicanx people can no longer be ignored, and the work that is being produced increasingly seeks to weave itself into the tapestry of American historiography. This background sets the stage for the four recent books that are the subject of this review. [End Page 297]
In An American Language, Rosina Lozano adeptly places the Spanish language in its proper place in North American and United States history. In this nicely written and edited book, we see how Spanish came to be what is today the United States. Lozano details the way Spanish began as a language of imperial conquest carried to the modern day U.S. Southwest by Spanish and Mexican colonizers, soldiers, and priests, many of whom were mestizo (mixed ancestry people). For a brief time, as Lozano details, Spanish maintained its importance in New Mexico and California after the U.S.-Mexico War ended (Texas is excluded due to her focus on "Treaty Citizens" as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848), then fell into rapid decline as a language of government affairs in California, then more slowly in New Mexico. The perspective of Native Americans who directly confronted Spanish as a language of conquest and dispossession is neglected in this study. Spanish, in this telling, is what we would today call a "heritage" language.
By looking mainly to New Mexico and California elites, or "Treaty Citizens," Lozano details the efforts of these elites to maintain the Spanish language and their own status on a frontier being rapidly incorporated into the United States. The history of decline and the loss of status among the Mexican colonial elite in California has been well documented in the works of leading historians and in the increasingly available writings of the elites themselves, so this book offers a new perspective on a well-known story. The exclusion of Texas is a striking feature given its place as origin point for the U.S.-Mexico War and more generally in Mexican-American history. Nonetheless, the exploration of the loss experienced by "Treaty Citizens" is a useful framework.
In a revelatory section (pp. 69–74), the children of Californio elder statesman Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo are educated in English following the incorporation of California into the United States. The letters of the Vallejo family are used to show how subsequent generations of this storied California family quickly and increasingly gained fluency in English and lost Spanish fluency. The Vallejo children, apparently guided by their father, acculturated in a California that was now a U.S. state. More exploration of how these elite Californios became...