“Mexicans are different to negroes and are recognized as Americans.” “Money Whitens” (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 84-85:

Landed Mexicans represented the complicating factor in the Mexican-Anglo relations of the frontier period. Even during the worst times of Mexican banditry, the permanent Mexican residents who were landowners were seen as “good citizens” while the large “floating” population temporarily employed on ranches were seen as sympathizers of the raiders.[27] Similar distinctions were made in the less dramatic, daily encounters. For example, in her first trip to Corpus Christi in 1870, Mrs. Susan Miller of Louisiana stopped at the State Hotel and “was horrified to see Mexicans seated at the tables with Americans. I told my husband I had never eaten with Mexicans or negroes, and refused to do so. He said ‘Mexicans are different to negroes and are recognized as Americans. However, I will speak to the manager and see if he will not put a small table in one corner of the room for you. He did so and we enjoyed our meal.”[28] Evidence of inconsistent patterns at times comes from ironic sources. They indicate, nonetheless, that not all Mexicans were seen or treated as inferior. In fact, most pioneers, especially merchants and officials, were quite adept at drawing the distinction between the landed “Castilian” elite and the landless Mexican. Thus, L. E. Daniell, author of Successful Men in Texas (1890), described the physical appearance of prominent “Canary Islander” José Maria Rodríguez as “five feet nine inches in height, complexion dark, but not a drop of Indian blood in his veins.” As if to emphasize this point, Daniell added that Rodríguez had ïn his veins the blood of the most chivalric Knights that made the Olvie of Spain respected wherever a Knightly name was known.”[29]

The well-known aphorism about color and class explains the situation on the Mexican frontier–“money whitens.” The only problem for upper-class Mexicans was that this principle offered neither consistent nor permanent security in the border region. Certainly it did not protect them from the racial opinion of many Anglos. One descendant of this upper class described their reaction as follows: “Now that a new country has been established south of the Rio Grande they call our people Mexicans. They are the same people who were called Spaniards only a short time ago. Some say the word in such a bitter way that it sounds as if it were a crime to be a Mexican. My master says he is one, and is proud to be [85] one. That he is a member of the white race, whether he be called Mexican or not.”[30]

[N.B.: The closing quote is from a 1935 “folk history” of the area told from the perspective of a Mesquite tree.]

 

  1. [27] Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country, p. 69; Graf, “Economic History,” p. 625.
  2. [28] Miller, Sixty Years, pp. 15, 175.
  3. [29] Daniell, Types of Successful Men, p. 340.
  4. [30] Zamora O’Shea, El Mesquite, p. 59.

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