“spin-offs from racial attitudes developed and cultivated through repeated interaction with colored people on the western frontier were being bestowed upon another caste in a different setting”; “a race of ‘mongrels'” (de Leon)

De León positions Texas Mexicans as another people of color in the 19th century racial system, projected into coloredness through “spin-offs from racial attitudes developed and cultivated through repeated interaction with colored peoples on the western frontier,” and keyed to Anglo interpretation of mestizaje as forming a “mongrel” or “degraded” racial status. Emory, qtd. here, on “practical amalgamation of races of different color” and unions between the “cleaner race” or the “white” and “his darker partner.” In p. 112 n. 18 we have de León’s take on the 1845 constitutional convention debate (via Crisp), the first place I heard tell of it.

Manifestly, spin-offs from racial attitudes developed and cultivated through repeated interaction with colored peoples on the western frontier were being bestowed upon another caste in a different setting. As Olmsted reported in his notes on Texas society of the 1850s, Mexicans were regarded as “degenerate and degraded Spaniards” or, perhaps, “improved and Christianized Indians.” Generally, their tastes and social instincts were like those of Africans. “There are thousands in respectable social positions [in Mexico] whose color and physiognomy would subject them, in Texas, to be sold by the sheriff as negro-estrays who cannot be allowed at large without detriment to the commonwealth,” he concluded.[18]

In view of the Southern presumption that individuals with any noticeable trace of African blood were blacks and given the contempt whites had for Indian “half-breeds,” it is not surprising that “niggers,” “redskins,” and “greasers” intimately intermingled in the Anglo-Texan mind. Moreover, whites considered racial mixing a violation of austere moralistic codes. According to Joseph Eve, U.S. chargé d’affaires to the Republic, the Texans regarded Mexicans as a race of “mongrels” composed of Spanish, Indian, and African blood.[19] To Francis S. Latham, traveling in Texas in 1842, Mexicanos were nothing more than “the mongrel and illicit descendants of an Indian, Mexican and Spanish, pencilled with a growing feintline of the Anglo Saxon ancestry.”[20] Such feelings about “mongrels” stemmed from the extensive lore American culture had developed concerning [17] the undesirability and supposed peril of miscegenation, especially between whites and blacks. Certainly, the mixed-blood nature of Tejanos concerned Anglo-Americans because of their cultural aversion to interracial passion, a subject upon which whites expressed themselves adeptly, albeit with no scientific basis. According to white beliefs, Mexicans resembled the degenerates from whom they descended. Although they inherited both the faults and the good qualities of their ancestors, unfortunately, the darker traits predominated, so that Mexicans by nature were superstitious, cowardly, treacherous, idle, avaricious, and inveterate gamblers. William H. Emory, surveying the boundary between the United States and Mexico, related this idea in an incidental remark included as part of his report, finished during the Franklin Pierce administration. Attributing the decline and fall of Spanish domination in Texas and the borderlands to a “baneful” cohabitation between whites and Indians, he continued:

Where practical amaglamation of races of different color is carried [out] to any extent, it is from the absence of the women of the cleaner race. The white makes his alliance with his darker partner for no other purpose than to satisfy a law of nature, or to acquire property, and when that is accomplished all affection ceases. Faithless to his vows, he passes from object to object with no other impulse than the gratification arising from novelty, ending at last in emasculation and disease, leaving no progeny at all, or if any, a very inferior and syphilitic race. Such are the favors extended to the white man by the lower and darker colored races, that this must always be the course of events, and the process of absorption can never work any beneficial change. One of the inevitable results of intermarrying between races of different color is infidelity. The offspring have a constant tendency to go back to one or the other of the original stock; that in a large family of children, where the parents are of mixed race but yet the same color, the children will be of every color, from dusky cinnamon to chalky white. This phenomenon, so easily explained without involving the fidelity of either party, nevertheless produces suspicion followed by unhappiness, and ending in open adultery.[21]

This sort of pseudoscience dictated the status of mixed-blood Tejanos in a white state.

Arnoldo de León, They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821-1900. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983., 17-18.

 

  1. [18]Olmsted, Journey Through Texas, p. 454.  In 1845, serious debate dealing with the Mexicans’ color arose at the state constitutional convention. Some of the delegates protested that limiting citizenship and franchise to free “white” males might exclude Tejanos (Crisp, “Anglo-Texan Attitudes toward the Mexican,” pp. 413-416). For another example in which whites questioned Mexicans’ right to citizenship because of their color, see Texas State Gazette, April 21, 1855, p. 4.
  2. [19]Joseph Eve, “A Letter Book of Joseph Eve, United States Chargé d’Affaires to Texas,” ed. Joseph Nance, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 43 (October 1939): 218, (April 1940), 494, 506, 510.
  3. [20]Francis S. Latham, Travels in Texas, 1840, or the Emigrant’s Guide to the New Republic, p. 227; Roemer, Texas, p. 11; [Wright and Wright?], Recollections of Western Texas, p. 32; McIntyre, Federals on the Frontier, p. 254. Miscegenation produced curious side effects in Mexicans, according to popular lore. According to border resident Jane Cazneau, “the stoic Mexican, true to his Indian nature, endures suffering himself in silent, passive fortitude, and has no tenderness or sympathy for suffering or anything else” (Eagle Pass: Or, Life on the Border, p. 68; see also pp. 53, 70), while the German Ferdinand Roemer believed the Mexicans had somehow inherited the same inclination and skill for stealing horses as their Indian ancestors (Texas, p. 150).
  4. [21]House Exec. Doc. No. 135, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. (Ser. 861), I: 68-70. For a similar discourse on ethnology, see Vielé, “Following the Drum,” p. 158.

“In Texas, unlike in other parts of the South, whiteness meant not only not black but also not Mexican” (Foley)

In rupturing the black-white polarity of southern race relations, the presence of Mexicans in central Texas raises some interesting questions about the way in which “whiteness” itself fissured along race and class lines. White Texans had a long history of invoking the color line in their social, economic, and political interactions with African Americans, but they had little experience in plantation society with what one contemporary sociologist called “partly colored races.”[12] Were partly colored Mexicans, in other words, white or nonwhite? As a racially mixed group, Mexicans, like Indians or Asians, lived in a black-and-white nation that regarded them neither as black nor as white. Although small numbers of Mexicans–usually light-skinned, middle-class Mexican Americans–claimed to be Spanish and therefore white, the overwhelming majority of Texas whites regarded Mexicans as a “mongrelized” race of Indian, African, and Spanish ancestry. In Texas, unlike in other parts of the South, whiteness meant not only not black but also not Mexican.[13]

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 5.

 

  1. [12]Mnax Sylvius Hindman, “Economic Reasons for the Coming of the Mexican Immigrant,” American Journal of Sociology 35 (January 1930): 609-10; and idem, “The Mexican Immigrant in Texas,” Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 7 (June 1926): 37.
  2. [13]For the growing literature on working-class constructions of whiteness, see David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London and New York: Verso, 1991); idem, Towards the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working-Class History (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, vol. 1, Racial Oppression and Social Control (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York and London: Routledge, 1995); and Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (London and New york: Verso, 1990). On the legal construction of whiteness, see Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996); and Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106 (June 1993): 1709-91. On racial formation and the gendered construction of racial ideologies, see Howard Winant, Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs 17 (Winter 1992): 251-74; Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83 (June 1996): 44-69; Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); and Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History (London and New York: Verso, 1992). See also Barbara J. Fields, “Ideology and Race in America,” in Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, ed. J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 143-77; Thomas C. Holt, “Marking: Race, Race-Making, and the Writing of History,” American Historical Review 100 (February 1995), 1-20; and Ronald Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979).

“Neither black nor white, Mexicans were usually regarded as a degraded ‘mongrel’ race, a mixture…” (Foley)

The dyadic racial thinking of white southerners and northerners encountered some challenges in the mid-nineteenth century as European whites began their westward march across the continent. In the trans-Mississippi West whites encountered Mexicans in the present-day states of Texas, New Mexico, and California. From their first encounters, Anglos (the term used by Mexicans for white Americans) did not regard Mexicans as [125] blacks, but they also did not regard them as white. Neither black nor white, Mexicans were usually regarded as a degraded “mongrel” race, a mixture of Indian, Spanish, and African ancestry, only different from Indians and Africans in the degree of their inferiority to whites. Indeed, many whites considered Mexicans inferior to Indians and Africans because Mexicans were racially mixed, a hybrid race that represented the worst nightmare of what might become of the white race if it let down its racial guard. Where whites encountered groups who were neither black nor white, they simply created other racial binaries (Anglo Mexican; white Chinese, and so forth) to maintain racial hierarchies, while the quality that made whites superior–their “whiteness”–assumed a kind of racelessness, or invisibility, as they went about reaping the spoils of racial domination.

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), 124-125.