“What the evolutionary process of economic change did was to force the bulk of Tejanos into making their way as jornaleros: day laborers and other journeyman workers” (de Leon and Stewart)

1850s-1860s: de-specialization of Mexican labor -> jornaleros. Carting, Farming, Crafts -> Day labor. [Labor Compression]

On the eve of the swift Anglo in-migration into south, central, and west Texas beginning at mid-century, Mexicans held their own in terms of economic standing. In the state’s incipient economy of the 1850s, Tejanos had a share of positions in trade, transportation, and agriculture, as well as manufacturing and mechanical enterprises (see Table 3.2). As the economy developed further, however, Anglos monopolized the better positions in those sectors. Mexicanos lost their grip on them, and over time were channeled [34] and heavily concentrated into the marginal “unspecialized” labors.[2]

In 1850, for example, Tejanos dominated the freighting industry with negligible competition from Anglos (see Table 3.2). According to Frederick Law Olmsted, a perceptive observer who toured the state in the mid-1850s, Mexicans seemed to have had no other occupation than carting goods, as the entire transportation of clothes, foods, cotton, and the like between Indianola and the Matagorda Bay area appeared to have been a thoroughly Mexican concern.[3] Obviously, Tejanos earned their living in other ways, but Olmsted was not far off in his guess, for according to the census, 50 percent of Mexican American workers pursued this line of work in central Texas, the region from which Olmsted drew his generalization. By 1860, however, Tejanos still dominated the business, but they rapidly were being displaced and thrown into the pool of “unspecialized” general laborers.

A similar shift in the economic standing of Tejanos occurred in farming and ranching. In the first census, enumerators counted about one-third of Tejano obreros as farmers, but the percentage declined by one-half by 1860 and a downward spiral followed thereafter. The percentage of Anglos in the same enterprise increased sharply before the Civil War and remained a stable line of work for them in the postwar years as more than one-fourth of white workers were listed as “farmers” in 1870 and afterward. Similarly, “stockraising” ranked as one of the most reliable occupations engaging the labor of Anglos.[4]

The changes accompanying the economy’s growth also dislodged Tejanos from certain craft occupations. At mid-century, Mexicans did well as shoemakers and tailors, but they could no longer rely on these pursuits after 1860. The same applied to carpenters and blacksmiths. Moreover, Tejanos were not able to penetrate the white-collar jobs that opened up to Anglos. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, and military [35] personnel (up until the settlement of the frontier) were familiar figures in the Anglo work force, but these types were barely represented among Mexican American workers. In the mercantile trades, Tejanos also found slight chance for employment as less than 1 percent made their living as merchants or clerks. Anglos, on the other hand, consistently turned to these endeavors as promising avenues for advancement.

What the evolutionary process of economic change did was to force the bulk of Tejanos into making their way as jornaleros: day laborers and other journeyman workers. Many others were tied to menial service jobs such as laundering, cooking, and general servant work. In the ranching areas, where Anglos came to dominate the land, Tejanos relied on old ranching skills and found employment as ranch hands with little hope of betterment, and as the railroad spread across the state in the 1880s, Anglos monopolized the skilled tasks (for example, engineers and foremen), while Mexicans were relegated to laying track and performing other less desirable duties.

Arnoldo de León and Kenneth L. Stewart, Tejanos and the Numbers Game: A Socio-Historical Interpretation from the Federal Censuses, 1850-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 33-35.

  1. [2]Anglos did not experience a comparable level of labor concentration into the marginal occupations. By 1900 only 19 percent of Anglo workers were situated in “unspecialized” jobs that appeared in the census records compared to the 54.5 percent of Tejano workers shown in Table 3.2. Specialized agricultural pursuits absorbed the largest plurality of Anglo workers (32.3 percent), and trade and transportation specialties occupied another 20.2 percent of the white labor force.
  2. [3]Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969), p. 160.
  3. [4]Misinterpretation on the part of the census takers regarding the proper terms for different agrarian tasks may have overestimated the number of Tejanos counted as “farmers” and “ranchers,” especially after 1860. Therefore, the shift of Mexicans from farm and ranch ownership to hired labor likely was more pronounced than the statistics indicate.

“Dual wage systems and unequal occupational stratification were the direct outgrowths of these beliefs” (de León and Stewart)

1800s: Labor segregation, “Mexican work” and wage discrimination.

The Tejanos of the nineteenth century held a subordinate position within the state’s economy. Several factors contributed to this condition, with the most obvious one being the disparaging attitude of Anglos who stereotyped Mexicans as suitable for a certain range of low-level occupations. From the viewpoint of white society, “Mexican work” involved the restriction of Tejano laborers to sundry types of servant work plus grubbing and cotton picking in farm lands. Anglo lore even held that the Creator had meant the Mexican for certain ranch tasks, particularly sheepherding. Dual wage systems and unequal occupational stratification were the direct outgrowths of these beliefs.[1]

Arnoldo de León and Kenneth L. Stewart, Tejanos and the Numbers Game: A Socio-Historical Interpretation from the Federal Censuses, 1850-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 31.

  1. [1]Mario Berrera, Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), pp. 43-45.

“In this context, consider the pull of antidiscrimination laws in moving people to frame their identities in terms of the racial categories recognized by law” (Haney Lopez)

Civil rights law as logic now governing racial categories / WBL p.101, pp. 125-126.

The pull of antidiscrimination laws:

In both the strong and weak sense, contemporary laws continue to legitimate races. This is most evident in the continued legal reliance on rigid racial categories. Racial classification remains legally permissible and in fact necessary to efforts aimed at remedying the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. … Vindicating the rights of minorities has required maintaining a legal system that distinguishes between Whites and non-Whites.[19] The necessary persistence of racial categories in law lends legitimacy to the notion that races exist in fact, leading people to think not only of others but of themselves in racial terms. In this context, consider the pull of antidiscrimination laws in moving people to frame their identities in terms of the racial categories recognized by law. At the level of both individuals and groups, people must conform their identities to these rigid categories if they seek legal protection from discrimination. Thus, some legal scholars [126] have tried to frame Mexican American identity as a specifically racial, rather than ethnic or cultural, identity for the purposes of securing constitutional or statutory protection against discrimination.[20] It is not unreasonable to argue that “races may be defined in America in some significant part by their relationship to antidiscrimination law in addition to constituting an independent influence on that body of law.”[21] The necessary persistence of legal classifications of race gives law a continuing role in the construction of racial identities by legitimating the practice of categorization and by limiting possible conceptions of who we are.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 125-126.

DOMINGUEZ = DOMINGUEZ, VIRGINIA, WHITE BY DEFINITION: SOCIAL CLASSIFICATION IN CREOLE LOUISIANA (1986)

KELMAN = KELMAN, MARK. A GUIDE TO CRITICAL LEGAL STUDIES (1987).

Cf. on the contrary pull of naturalistic conceptions in law, but also the development of St. Francis College v. Al-Khazraji:

Naturalistic understandings of race persist as well, [101] though again not surprisingly, in law and common knowledge. Few in this society seem prepared, at the beginning of this century or now, fully to relinquish their subscription to biological notions of race. This is particularly true of Congress and the Supreme Court. Congress makes clear its anachronistic understanding of race in a recent statute that defines “the term ‘racial group’ [as] a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of physical characteristics or biological descent.”[64] The Court, although purporting in its recent discussions to sever race from biology, also seems incapable of completely doing so. In a 1987 case, Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, the Court addressed whether a U.S. citizen of Iraqi descent could recover damages for racial discrimination.[65] Answering in the affirmative for a unanimous Court, Justice Byron White seemed initially to abandon biological notions of race in favor of a sociopolitical conception. “The particular traits which have generally been chosen to characterize races have been criticized as having little biological significance,” he wrote. “These observations have led some, but not all, scientists to conclude that racial classifications are for the most part sociopolitical, rather than biological in nature.”[66] Despite this initial rejection of biological race, however, Justice White continued, “The Court of Appeals was thus quite right in holding that [the law] reaches discrimination against an individual ‘because he or she is genetically part of an ethnically and physiognomically distinctive subgrouping of homo sapiens.'”[67] Justice White’s use of the lower court’s talk of genetics and distinctive subgroupings demonstrates a continued reliance on biological notions of race.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 100-101.
  1. [19]DOMINGUEZ, supra., at 5.
  2. [20]See, e.g., Richard Delgado and Vicky Palacios, Mexican Americans as a Legally Cognizable Class Under Rule 23 and the Equal Protection Clause, 50 NOTRE DAME LAW. 393 (1975); Gary A. Greenfield and Don B. Kates, Jr., Mexican Americans, Racial Discrimination, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 63 CAL. L. REV. 662 (1975).
  3. [21]KELMAN, supra., 255. See also Martha Minow, Identities, 3 YALE J. L. & HUMAN. 97, 111 (1991) Minow writes: “The use of a specific notion of identity to resolve a legal dispute can obscure the complexity of lived experiences while imposing the force of the state behind the selected notion of identity.
  4. [64]Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987, 18 U.S.C. § 1093 (1988).
  5. [65]Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604 (1987).
  6. [66]Id. at 610, n. 4
  7. [67]Id. at 613.