It’s that time of year again, “Hispanic (Latino) Heritage Month.” What better way to celebrate than to learn a little something?
So here it goes: for the next month, I’ll be going out of my way to post some historical primary sources relating to the Chicano experience in the United States.
Of course, it deserves mentioning that the historical experience of Chicanos (Mexican Americans) and “ethnic Mexicans” (which includes both immigrants and US-born people of Mexican descent) should not be seen as the exact equivalent of the historical experience of all “Hispanics” or all “Latinos.” They represent about 70% of the Latin American-descent population of the United States, one that also includes a large number of people with ties to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and, increasingly, Central American nations like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Each “group” not only has a unique historical experience in the US, but they also have a diverse past internal to their own ethnicity.
But there are commonalities, too. And maybe this can be a way for us to explore some of those. So here we go…
Source 1: New York Daily News, October 13, 1845.
This excerpt from an editorial printed in the New York Daily News opines on the recent annexation of Texas by the US, an act agreed to by the “citizens” of the “Republic of Texas” just that month. Texas, which had been part of the Mexican Republic, was seized by a group of US Americans and, in 1836 controlled by them after they defeated the Mexican army. For the better part of the next decade, most of them sought annexation by the US, with the full support of expansionist allies in the Congress and White House. With the election of the expansionist Polk in 1844, their efforts finally came to fruition. Outgoing President Tyler helped assure the passage of a resolution annexing Texas in the spring of 1845.
The author’s perspective here is reflective of the kinds of interpretations common among elites of his day, in particular those who were in favor of expansion. Notice how the “acquisition” of Texas is contrasted with European imperialism. Also notice how the writer views the land into which the US is moving, and by his mind, to which it intends to move. The idea that their spread was destined to be is a powerful feature of expansionist thought, as is the contention that it is conquest for the betterment of mankind.
It is looked upon as aggression, and all the bad and odious features which the habits of thought of Europeans associate with aggressive deeds, are attributed to it. . . But what has Belgium, Silesia, Poland or Bengal in common with Texas? It is surely not necessary to insist that acquisitions of territory in America, even if accomplished by force of arms, are not to be viewed in the same light as the invasions and conquests of the States of the old world. . . our way lies, not over trampled nations, but through desert wastes, to be brought by our industry and energy within the domain of art and civilization. We are contiguous to a vast portion of the globe, untrodden save by the savage and the beast, and we are conscious of our power to render it tributary to man. This is a position which must give existence to a public law, the axioms of which a Pufendorf [Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), German political philosopher] or Vattel [Emer de Vattel (1714-1767, Swiss political philosopher and diplomat] had no occasion to discuss. . .
It has been laid down and acted upon, that the solitudes of America are the property of the immigrant children of Europe and their offspring. Not only has this been said and reiterated, but it is actually, although perhaps, not heretofore dwelt upon with sufficient distinctness, the basis of public law in America. Public sentiment with us repudiates possession without use, and this sentiment is gradually acquiring the force of established public law. It has sent our adventurous pioneers to the plains of Texas, will carry them to the Rio del Norte, and even that boundary, purely nominal and conventional as it is, will not stay them on their march to the Pacific, the limit which nature has provided. In like manner it will come to pass that the confederate democracies of the Anglo American race will give this great continent as an inheritance to man. . . We take from no man; the reverse rather—we give to man.