“The conflict in Texas was over land” (Anderson)

I argue, however, that the situation in Texas fails to rise to the level of genocide, if genocide is defined as the intentional killing of nearly all of a racial, religious, or cultural group. I seek to draw an important distinction from it. […] Texans would have been pleased had the groups they wanted removed simply left without violence. But these groups did not. The conflict in Texas was over land; indiscriminate killing, while common during the fighting, never became a prolonged, strategic, state policy on either side. […] The ethnic conflict continued in Texas because Anglos wanted it to; ethnic cleansing, not genocide, became state policy.

Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), 7.

“Texans remained in a virtual state of war for nearly fifty years … an Anglo-Texan strategy and a policy … the deliberate ethnic cleansing of … people of color” (Anderson)

Texans remained in a virtual state of war for nearly fifty years, the longest continuous struggle of its kind in American history. Indeed, the fighting subsided only with the defeat of the Comanche and Kiowa during the Red River campaigns of 1874-1875. Although the following statement may seem “presentistic” to some, in hindsight the conflict can be seen for what it was: an Anglo-Texan strategy and a policy (at first haphazard, debated, and even at times abandoned) that gradually led to the deliberate ethnic cleansing of a host of people, especially people of color.[2]

Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), 7.
  1. [2]To those readers who believe that “presentist” arguments are unfair, I would suggest that as an explanatory model, ethnic cleansing sheds much useful light. And it is well understood. For further reading, see Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), and George J. Andreopoulos, Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

1835-45: Development of a “Culture of War” (Anderson)

In retrospect, rather than a fight for liberty, the 1835 Anglo-led revolution was a poorly conceived southern land grab that nearpy failed. Texans had an overwhelming desire to expand slavery (an institution that Mexico had outlawed) and to use slave labor to increase profits made from cotton production.

Many American politicians, particularly those from the North, recognized the conspiratorial nature of the revolt and initially kept Texas from joining the American union. Texas formed a republic in 1836 that remained separate from the United States for nine years. During that time, Texas constantly feuded with Mexico, creating a “culture of war,” or a persisting belief that violence against people was necessary for nation building.

Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), 5.

1936, El Paso: Bureau of Vital Stats reclassifies Mexicans as “colored” population (Foley)

In 1936, in El Paso, Texas, white city officials challenged the traditional classification of Mexicans as whites in the city’s birth and death records. The county health officer, T. J. McCamant, and Alex K. Powell, the city registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, adopted a new policy of registering the births and deaths of Mexican-descent citizens as “colored” rather than “white.”[14] Both McCamant and Powell claimed that they were simply following the regulations established by the Department of Commerce and Bureau of the Census and that officials in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio used the same classification system.[15] McCamant also acknowledged that changing the classification of Mexicans from white to colored automatically lowered the infant mortality rate for whites in a city where Mexicans comprised over sixty percent of the population, most of whom were poor and suffered higher rates of infant mortality than did whites. Because the El Paso Chamber of Commerce had hoped to market El Paso as a health resort for those suffering from tuberculosis and other ailments, it became [131] necessary to disaggregate Mexicans from the white category on birth records and to move them into the colored category, thereby automatically lowering the infant mortality rate for “non-Hispanic whites.”

The Mexican American community of El Paso, as well as Mexicans across the border in neighboring Juarez, became furious over this racial demotion and mobilized to have their whiteness restored. Members of the El Paso council of the League of United Latin American Citizens and other community leaders immediately filed an injunction in the Sixty-fifth district court. Cleofas Calleros, a Mexican American representative of the National Cahtolic Welfare Council of El Paso, wrote to the attorney representing the twenty-six Mexican Americans who had filed the injunction, “Is it a fact that the Bureau [of the Census] has ruled that Mexicans are ‘colored’, meaning the black race?”[16]

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 130-131.
  1. [14]Herald-Post, Oct. 6 and 7, 1936; La Prensa (San Antonio), Oct. 10, 1936; and New York Times, Oct. 21, 1936, in Cleofas Calleros Collection, University of Texas at El Paso, hereafter cited as CCC. All references from this collection are from box 28, folder 1 (“Color Classification of Mexicans”). See also Mario García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship: The Case of El Paso, 1936,” New Mexico Historical Review 59 (Apr., 1984): 187-204. García, who based his article on the same file from the Calleros collection, argues that Mexican American leaders used the controversy over racial classification of Mexicans “to show Anglo leaders that Mexicans would not accept second-class citizenship.” (p. 201). While that is no doubt true, García mistakenly argues that Mexican Americans used the politics of citizenship rather than race in forging racial identities as whites. As Caucasians, Mexican Americans asserted their own racial superiority over African Americans and other “people of color.”
  2. [15]Mr. Calleros to Mr. Mohler, memo, Oct. 9, 1936, p. 1, CCC.
  3. [16]Ibid., p. 2.

1930: U.S. Census guidelines on counting “Mexicans” as “not definitely white, negro, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese” (Foley)

Third, the U.S. Census had always counted persons of Mexican descent as whites, except in 1930, when a special category was created for “Mexicans.” The question of Mexican racial identity became especially acute during the immigration restriction debates of the 1920s. This broad exemption from immigration quotas led to the historic congressional debates in the 1920s by restrictionists determined to close the door to Mexicans. The Bureau of the Census decided that beginning with 1930 it would establish a new category to determine how many persons of Mexican descent resided in the United States, legally or illegally. Before 1930 all Mexican-descent people were counted simply as white persons, because the racial categories at that time included Negro, White, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. The 1930 census [130] created, for the first time in U.S. history, the separate category of “Mexican,” which stipulated that “all persons born in Mexico, or having parents born in Mexico, who are not definitely white, negro, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese, should be returned as Mexican.” This meant that census workers determined whether to record a particular Mexican household as “white” or “Mexican.” About ninety-six percent of Mexican-descent people were counted under this new category of mexican; only four percent were counted as white.[13] Mexicans had, for the first time in U.S. history, been counted as a nonwhite group. The government of Mexico as well as numerous Mexican Americans protested this new classification. Bowing to pressure, the U.S. government abandoned the category of Mexican in the 1940 census but sought other means of identifying the Latino population, by identifying those with Spanish surnames or households whose dominant language was Spanish.

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 129-130.
  1. [13]

“Such a conflation created a two-race system–whites and ‘others.'” (Deutsch)

When Harjo and his fellow Snakes returned gunfire, two men, including the son of the sheriff, died in the battle. The white newspapers had a field day, vastly inflating the numbers killed and declaring “WAR WITH SNAKES.” Posses roamed the countryside arresting Indians and blacks. They burned Harjo’s house and looted others, under the guise of putting down a rebellion. White papers demanded “protection and Indian suppression”; the mayor of Henryetta declared, “The Snake Indians and the negroes affiliated with them are a menace to the country and should be captured.”[46] The local federal Indian agent maintained that Harjo would have to admit that “this was going to be a white man’s country.”[47]

The white posse and its allies had strategically conflated freedmen from everywhere, blacks of all sorts, and Creek resisters. Such a conflation created a two-race system–whites and “others.” In this case, “blacks” (unlike in the state’s constitution) became “Indians.” Engaging the script of the Anglo western conquest allowed these whites to pose the eradication of a black settlement as a final Indian engagement, a legitimized whitening of the West against a known external enemy.

Sarah Deutsch, "Being American in Boley, Oklahoma," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 97-122 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204) Deutsch, Sarah. “Being American in Boley, Oklahoma,” in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 97-122. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004., 113.
  1. [46]Quoted in Littlefield and Underhill, “The ‘Crazy Snake Uprising,'” pp. 323-24.
  2. [47]Kelsey quoted in Kenneth Waldo McIntosh, “Chitto Harjo, The Crazy Snakes and the Birth of Indian Political Activism in the Twentieth Century” (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Christian University, 1993), p. 136. The troops never found Harjo, who had sought refuge among the Choctaw Snakes and died in 1911.

1893: “The statute defined colored as ‘all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry. Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law…” (Foley)

1893: state segregation law for schools still defines “colored” as “Negro ancestry” / BB&W, 129

Second, Plessy v. Ferguson did not apply to Mexicans, inasmuch as they were officially recognized as “white.” In Texas, for example, the legislature passed a law in 1893, six years before the Supreme Court mandated “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, that required separate schools for the state’s white and “colored” children. The statute defined colored as “all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry.”[11] Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law, and school districts defended the practice on the grounds that Mexican children did not speak English and spent part of the school year with their families as migrant agricultural workers. When Mexican American civil rights activists were able to show that Mexican children were arbitrarily segregated, regardless of English-language facility, the courts generally ruled in favor of the plaintiff Mexican Americans.[12]

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 129.

 

  1. [11]C. H. Jenkins, The Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, Annotated, (Austin: H. P. N. Gammel Book Co., 1925), vol. 1, p. 1036.
  2. [12]See Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “The Origins, Development, and Consequences of the Educational Segregation of Mexicans in the Southwest,” in Chicano Studies: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. by Eugene E. García, Francisco Lomeli, and Isidro Ortiz (New York: Teachers College Press, 1984), pp. 195-208.

Spanglish creole legal culture: Slave Law and Marriage Law in Anglo-Hispanic Texas

In the close of his chapter on antebellum Texas law, Campbell notes that race and slave law “drew its inspiration and precedents from practices in the southern United States, not from Hispanic America” (114). That might not seem like much of a surprise in Anglo governed antebellum Texas. If Texas lawmakers were predominantly Anglo white Southerners, then why wouldn’t the laws they made follow Anglo-American Southern models? But it wasn’t always the case in antebellum Texas, in areas of the law other than slavery. Texas laws often drew on Spanish colonial and Mexican precedents. In antebellum Texas, for example, community property marriage laws discarded Anglo-American traditions of coverture in favor of an existing Spanish model. Range law for livestock drew from English common law precedents, but innovated to adapt to open-range conditions. Anglo Texans preserved Mexican homestead exemptions in debt laws and Spanish law on water rights. Revolutionizing slave law according to the model of the Deep South U.S. was not a foregone conclusion but a political choice within the context of a Spanglish creole legal culture.

(As I wrote in a note to HOP # 5: “Republic of Texas lawmakers tended to be very emphatic about remaking Texas law along Anglo-American lines when it came to, for example, slave law, but Texas courts tended to be very flexible towards incorporating Spanish and Mexican precedent in the law of marriage; see for example Smith v. Smith, 1 Tex. 621 (1846), in which the judge’s opinion rejects an appeal based on Anglo-American law regarding bigamy and incorporates the Spanish Las siete partidas marriage code as binding.”)

 

Race and slave law “drew its inspiration and precedents from practices in the southern United States, not from Hispanic America” (Campbell)

Constitutional conventions, legislatures, and courts thus developed the body of law necessary to protect and regulate slavery in antebellum Texas. This slave code, written and interpreted largely by Anglo-Americans, drew its inspiration and precedents from practices in the southern United States, not from Hispanic America.

Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press., 114.

“The American community has no social technique for handling partly colored races” (Handman, 1930, qtd. in Foley)

Most Anglos in the Southwest did not regard Mexicans as white, but they also did not consider them to be in the same category as “Negro.” Before 1930s many Mexicans themselves simply thought of themselves as “Mexicanos”–neither black nor white. In 1930 a sociologist, Max Handman, commented: “The American community has no social technique for handling partly colored races. We have a place for the Negro and a place for the white man: the Mexican is not a Negro, and the white man refuses him an equal status.”[6] As Handman explained, “The Mexican presents shades of color ranging from that of the Negro, although with no Negro features, to that of the white. The result is confusion.” No one has been more confused than whites themselves over the racial status of Mexicans, because some Mexicans look undeniably “white,” while others look almost as dark as–and sometimes darker than–many blacks. “Such a situation cannot last for long,” wrote Handman, “because the temptation of the white group is to push him down into the Negro group, while the efforts of the Mexican will be directed toward raising himself up to the level of the white group.” Mexicans, according to Handman, would not accept the subordinate status of blacks and instead would form a separate group “on the border line between the Negro and the white man.”

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 127.
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