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10. Ethnic Tensions in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to 1860 James L. Evans The term Lower Rio Grande Valley refers to a limited area in the southeastern part of Texas. It has no specific boundaries, but most persons living in that part of Texas restrict the term to the area within counties bordering the Rio Grande and within a hundred miles of the Gulf of Mexico. The term applies only to the land in the United States; residents ofneither the United States nor Mexico use the term to refer to the area on the Mexican side of the river. The area is really a delta, not a valley at all. Today it includes more than a normal portion of well-to-do persons, many of them the owners of fine homes and massive citrus lands that cause the casual tourist to consider the Valley affluent. But many of the residents are of Mexican ancestry and are very poor. In Texas, persons of Mexican ancestry are generally called Mexican Americans, Latin Americans, or Latins, and all others except Negroes are called Anglos. These terms are used merely to distinguish the two groups; they have no connotations of discrimination. The Latins, whether their ancestors came to the locale two hundred years ago or in the early 1900's, usually speak Spanish in their homes today; and perhaps more than half of the ones past middle age can speak only Spanish. At the time ofthe 1960 census, the one Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area in the Lower Valley had the highest fertility ratio of any in the entire United States. The 1970 census shows that the two Standard Metropolitan Statistical areas in the Lower Valley ranked third and fourth among 243 in the entire nation in fertility rate.1 Some Latin Americans are found in almost every profession, but the majority must earn their livelihood by manual labor. Many families are migrant laborers who yearly follow the harvests in other states and then take whatever jobs they can get upon their return to the Valley each autumn. The plight of these Latins repeatedly causes the area to be mentioned as one ofpoverty. When in April of 1968 a Citizens' Board of Inquiry in Washington listed 256 counties in the United States where persons suffered from "chronic hunger," it included all three ofthe most southeastern counties in Texas.2 Conditions in the area, however, have improved considerably since 1968. Writers, whether dime novelists of the 1870's or historians, have often accepted and promoted the myth that the history of the locale is largely one of Mexican bandits lurking somewhere out of sight but ever alert to stab or shoot the innocent, virtuous American and to steal whatever he had. Many writers either state or imply that not only was Juan Cortina the bandit leaderpar excellence, but also that until World War I all or nearly all Mexicans in the United States were bandits eager to attack Americans and to take their property and lives. History does not support this myth, however. As one Texas folklorist has said, just as the white plantation owners forced the Negro women into sexual rela239 tions and then established the myth of the Negro as a sex fiend, so the Anglos, after depriving the Mexicans of their land, cattle, and lives, established the myth of the border Mexican as a bandit.3 The Spaniards were late in settling northeastern Mexico, making no efforts to move into the section until the 1740's. Then, officials in Central Mexico appointed José de Escandón to explore the region on both sides of the Rio Grande. Shortly afterward, they commissioned him to colonize the area; and with a few soldiers who were to become colonists, some other colonists of all social classes, and a caravan of supplies, he started northward for settlement in 1747. Within a decade he had founded numerous towns, several of which are today important towns on the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande.4 In addition to the Indians in the area, there was also one settlement ofperhaps two hundred Negro males who had mated with Indian women.5 Most of the settlers in later years came from Mexico. In the towns first established by Escandón, persons ordinarily held the land in common; within a few years, however, grants of various sizes were often given to leaders of the new communities, and in the next generation these grants were divided among the heirs. Many of the...


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