“The Third Enlargement of American Whiteness,” post-1945 (Painter)

“The Third Enlargement of American Whiteness,” post-1945. “Included now were Mexicans and Mexican Americans … Since the mid-1930s, federal and Texas state laws had defined Mexicans as white and allowed them to vote in Texas’s white primary.”

The Second World War rearranged Americans by the millions. […] Louis Adamic had dreamed of a second, more homogenized immigrant generation, and one had already started in the Civilian Conservation Corps, fruit of the New Deal’s earliest days. Now, a decade later, millions rather than tens of thousands left home.

Let us remember that this mixing occurred with several notable exceptions. Black Americans–who numbered some 13.3 million in 1940–were, of course, largely excluded. Their time would come much later, and with revolutionary urgency. But also excluded were Asian Americans. Even so, other Americans–provided they qualified as white for federal purposes–experienced a revolution of their own. Indeed, the white category itself had expanded enormously, well beyond European immigrants and their children. Included now were Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

[360] The handsome Julio Martinez from San Antonio plays a leading role in the multicultural Army squad of Norman Mailer’s best-selling war novel The Naked and the Dead (1948). […] Since the mid-1930s, federal and Texas state laws had defined Mexicans as white and allowed them to vote in Texas’s white primary.[4] While Asian American and African American service personnel were routinely segregated and mistreated, Mexican Americans fought in white units and appeared in the media of war, witness the boom in popular war movies like Bataan (1944), staring the Cuban Desi Arnaz (who in the 1950s would become a television star as Lucille Ball’s husband in the long-running I Love Lucy series).

Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 359-360.

(N.B.: this account is largely wrong, and symptomatic of an all-too-frequent mistake in the historical studies of expanding constructions of whiteness)

  1. [4]Thomas A. Guglielmo, “Fighting for Caucasian Rights: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and the Transnational Struggle for Civil Rights in World War II Texas,” Journal of American History 92, no. 4 (March 2006): 1215-16. After 1945, Native American Indians were included with Caucasians (1232).

Agricultural transformation: the cotton labor economy and the White Man’s Primary Association (de Leon)

For common folks, the cotton-based agricultural order produced newer labor situations. By the 1920s, the majority of Tejano farm workers made their living in one of two ways: as various types of sharecroppers, or, most commonly, as migrant seasonal workers on commercial farms.[5] Tejanos picked cotton in South and Central Texas (in 1910, for wages of 50 cents per hundred pounds; this increased to $1.00 after World War I)[6] but began heading “pal wes” (para el west, or to West Texas) where new farms lured them in unprecedented numbers. Tejanos traveling in family units were staying after the cotton-picking season and taking up residence in towns such as Sweetwater, Lamesa, Rotan, Tahoka, Littlefield, Muleshoe, Lubbock, and Plainview. In this early period, however, most remained migrants and returned to South or Central Texas.

The agricultural transformation of the age also affected Tejanos politically, especially in the rural communities of South Texas where the new Anglo farmers, through reform groups and alliances, sought to dislodge the old Tejano Democratic bosses. The recent arrivals worked specifically to deprive Mexicans of the vote, through the establishment of poll taxes (which many Tejanos could not afford) or the new practice adopted by the White Man’s Primary Association that required those wishing to vote in primary elections to go before a committee and declare, “I am a white person and a Democrat.” By the late 1910s, much of the Mexican-American population in the farm ocunties of South Texas had been disfranchised by whites-only primaries, threats of firings from their jobs or of bodily harm, and various methods that might include not informing Tejanos about scheduled elections. Exception again must be made of the ranch counties in the region, where Mexican officeholders remained active in politics.[7]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 82.


  1. [5]David Montejano, Race, Labor, Repression, and Capitalist Agriculture: Notes From South Texas, 1920-1930 (Berkeley: Institute for the Study of Social Change, 1977), pp. 11, 12; Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, p. 173.
  2. [6]Nelson Cisneros, “La Clase Trabajadora,” pp. 241, 244.
  3. [7]Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, pp. 129-130, 143, 148, 253; Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), pp. 90-91.