Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Mexican Americans Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: An Underclass Group

[Word Count: 1936]

Following America’s victory of the Mexican-American war, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 which granted the United States over half of Mexico’s territory for a mere $15 million. Later, in 1854, the Gadsden Purchase completed the acquisition of the Southwest by the United States. This was the last territorial acquisition in the contiguous United States to add a large tract of land to the country. Despite the regional differences, the Mexicanos in California, the New Mexico territory and Texas, who lived north of the newly established border were given the choice to become U.S. citizens. Those who agreed were given legal protections, but this was a hollow victory as they lived through extreme racism, saw their rights and properties stripped away and became an underclass group of citizens.

The period of the development of the American Southwest is fraught with socio-political and economic differences in each region. Those who lived in California, New Mexico, and Texas experienced different realties during the period from 1848-1900. These differences were well established among the Mexican communities that had settled in these areas, but the influx of American settlers radically changed the established ways of life.

Anti-Mexican sentiment arose for a variety of reasons in the Southwest in the later part of the nineteenth century. Following the Mexican-American war of conquest, which had created conflicts which persist to this day, Mexicanos were subjugated by their enemies and adopted a persistent resentment which is understandable (Gonzalez, 84). This love-hate relationship with the United States is what Professor Garcia calls a “habit of the heart” (Garcia, Week 4, Lec 4).

Americans began to use a racial slur to refer to Mexicanos, the term “greasers” which was a way to dehumanize and devalue their enemy. This devaluation encouraged their portrayal as an unfriendly element which should be pushed away, south of the border. Conflicts over land ownership fueled this fire, as did anti-Catholic feelings. These religious prejudices were endemic of the large number of Protestant settlers who moved to the west. The last polarizing characteristic was that of race. The lack of acceptance of people with dark skin was by far, the most persistent reason for prejudice felt by Americans for Mexicanos (Gonzalez, 84).

In California, the relationship between Californios and Americans was already strained following the Mexican-American War, however, the situation was made worse by the gold rush. Shortly before the Mexicans signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, gold was discovered in the foothills of northern California. Following the discovery, miners began to trickle into the Sierra foothills, but by the following year, 1849, there were over one hundred thousand fortune seekers who flooded the area. “Among the most successful of the early miners were Latin Americans who arrived from the Andean highlands of South America and the Sonora region of northern Mexico, both areas with rich mining traditions” (Gonzalez, 86). Their success was partly due to their skill, however, their proximity to the gold fields meant that they had the best, earliest chances of success.

Envy, bread by the success of the miners and a latent racism, led an attempt to drive all Spanish speaking people from the gold fields. Native born and immigrants were targeted in the same way. Violence was exacerbated by the rise of vigilante groups in the absence of a law enforcement establishment. These vigilantes operated with impunity – “the burden of proof was on the accused, the punishment rarely fit the crime, and witnesses were often intimidated” – the result was a disproportionately high number of racially motivated lynching’s (Gonzalez, 86).

The law was used in other ways to exclude minorities as well. Mining codes were enacted to exclude Mexicans as well as Chinese from digging sites in the camps. Even though this discrimination was emanating from local citizenry, the California legislation enacted the “Foreign Miners’ License Tax”, requiring miners who were not U.S. citizens to pay a tax of twenty dollars a month for the privilege of mining American gold” (Gonzalez, 87). The fee was not assessed on those of European descent and was clearly driven by a racism and desire to eliminate economic competition. By 1851, when the act was repealed, “over two-thirds of the fifteen thousand Mexican miners in Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties…had been driven away (Gonzalez, 87). Not only immigrant miners were effected, the rights of Californios were also denied despite the protections afforded them on paper in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

As Anglo settlers poured into the region, land ownership became an issue as well. Squatters began encroaching on the land long held by prominent Anglos and the Mexicano majority. Those who had been granted land in California by the Spanish and/or Mexican governments were required to provide title documents to prove their claim in the Federal Land Act of 1851. In the province before 1848, neither the Spanish or Mexican governments had issued titles to the land holders, so this requirement was impossible to meet.

The racially motivated policies enacted surrounding mining and land ownership had profound effects on the Mexican population in California. Mexicanos had maintained their superior numbers until about 1860 when Anglo settlers outnumbered them. And by the 1880’s, their numbers had dwindled even further. Naturally, Mexicanos grew to resent the Anglos who had displaced them. However, there were some families who fared better than others and were able to hold on to the lands granted them. Mariano Vallejo was an example of a successful ranchero who was able to navigate through and gain acceptance by the Anglo society through marriage.

By the end of the nineteenth century, most native-born and new Mexican immigrants in California consigned themselves to ethnic enclaves and Yankee domination.

The Hispanic population in New Mexico was better able to preserve its heritage than in other parts of the southwest due to demographic reasons. They had intermarried with the sedentary Pueblo Indians and the two cultures had assimilated. On the northern frontier, New Mexico was the most densely populated frontier and those of Hispanic heritage would maintain numerical superiority until World War II (Gonzalez, 99).

New Mexico had the highest concentration of Native Americans, upwards of forty thousand, at the time of acquisition by the United States. That population was divided into sedentary and nomadic tribes. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, sedentary Indians, Pueblos had been granted land and full rights as citizens, something which was not continued under American rule. Pueblos had adopted Hispanic values and customs and had intermarried to a large degree. They also had united in their opposition to the Plains Indians. Following occupation by the Americans, relations between Native American and Hispanics became strained. Pueblo rights were protected by the federal government, while those of native born or immigrant Mexicans were forced to fight a losing battle to maintain their rights and land grants (Gonzalez, 100).

As part of the Treaty, the United States pledged to pacify the Indians especially the Comanches which plagued the overland trade route, the Santa Fe Trail. Americans routinely went on the offensive with the Comaches eventually forcing them to flee the area. This helped some expand their economic opportunities in the region. Trade in this region contributed to their growing affluence and also to the increasing gulf between those who were able to accumulate some wealth and those who could not. There developed two fairly distinct classes of ricos and pobres (Gonzalez, 99). The expansion of cattle and sheep farming contributed to this growth.

The numerical superiority of Hispanics in New Mexico began to change following the Civil War when large numbers of Anglos, especially ex-soldiers began to flood the area. The completion of the railroad in 1880 increased their numbers even more (Gonzalez, 103). “For some Hispanic residents, this development [the arrival of the railroad] proved to be beneficial; however, for the majority it turned out to be more of a bane than a blessing” (Gonzalez, 104). Trail trade continued to yield huge profits for the rico families, especially stock raising because the markets were now opened to the eastern states. However, the partido system relegated large profits to the owners, while the small herders only received a modest share.

Under the new American government, land grants were contested as they had been in California, and Hispanics lost their title in many cases. The same issues were experienced, grants had been given by the Spanish and Mexican governments with no documentation. When asked to prove ownership, owners were unable to produce the requisite paperwork. “Dispossession occurred much slower than in California, but had equally devastating results. Ultimately, more than 80 percent of the grant holders lost their land” (Gonzalez, 104).

In Texas, relations between Anglos and Mexicans were at their worst. Tensions had built during the Texas Revolt and the era of the Lone Star Republic and had only intensified during the Mexican-American War (Gonzalez, 106). The American forces that had invaded Mexico were largely Anglo Texans, and the Tejanos, Texans of Mexican descent, naturally had sympathy with those in their home land.

In Central Texas, the area around San Antonio, “Anglos came to dominate political and economic life…” (Gonzalez, 107). During this time, Tejanos lost their numerical majority and the rate of intermarriages declined. Many Tejanos lost their land base through “litigation, taxes and outright violence” (Gonzalez, 107). Merchants or traders, called carreteros also lost their edge to Anglo traders who initiated a violent campaign against them.

The Mexicanos in South Texas faired much better at first, but by the end of the nineteenth century, their status had declined and they were seen as second class citizens. As the railroad network expanded, the cattle boom ended and fortunes were lost. Some Tejanos turned to farming and managed to preserve sizable holdings (Gonzalez, 108).

“Racial subjugation in South Texas was accompanied by massive violence, Dispossession of Mexican holdings was often the result of physical attacks on native inhabitants” (Gonzalez, 109). The “greaser” slur was used to dehumanize Mexicanos in Texas as well as in California. Many moved south of the border to seek refuge from the violence, or were consigned to enclave communities, known as barrios in the cities or colonias in the rural areas.

In West Texas, Anglos did not arrive in large numbers until the the railroad was completed near El Paso in 1881. When the Southern Pacific arrived, the town was transformed, almost overnight. This ended Tejano political power in the county.

The most pronounced and violent reaction towards Mexicanos in the Southwest occurred in Texas. The resentments felt by the Anglos towards the Tejanos had deep seated origins in the Battle of the Alamo and the other territorial battles waged. This region also had the largest Mexicano population and in many ways was the most established. The overt racism, stripping of rights and property in Texas resulted in the most pronounced and obvious display of underclass citizenry which persists to this day.

In California, the dispossession of land occurred quickly as compared with New Mexico, however, Mexicanos lost much more profoundly. In all three regions, there were some success stories, Mexicanos who were able to hang onto to their holdings for generations, but this was the exception, rather than the rule.

The racism that was experienced in these regions continues. It is vehemently proclaimed in our presidential campaign, especially in the rhetoric of Donald Trump who talks of building a wall to keep the Mexicans out of the United States. However, the history of these two nations is inextricably linked. One cannot exist without the other as they have developed and grown side by side. One the victor, the other, consigned to underclass status.