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Mexico



     WAIS welcomes James Whelan, who now lives in Saltillo, Mexico. He is an authority on Latin America, having written the following books: Allende: Death of a Marxist Dream, 1981; Catastrophe in the Caribbean, 1984; Out of the Ashes, 1988; The Soviet Assault on America's Southern Flank, 1988. The issue he brings up is extremely important, since it affects Mexicans' habit of viewing Texas and California as terra irredenta. For this reason we quote his comments at length:
     Jaqui White writes: "Since this area used to be Mexico, we are ninety-five percent 'Hispanic.´ Hispanic means a person of Mexican descent born in the United States...Obviously, after the Mexican-American War most of the Mexicans could not leave their homes, jobs, and lives and cross the river and begin life all over again, so they just remained where they had been for generations, which was now another country..." While I rather suspect that tens of hundreds of thousands -- or more -- persons, from one end of Latin America to another (and beyond) would reject Ms. White's definition of "Hispanic," I would move, instead, to the nub of the matter.
     "...used to be Mexico." Good grief, it "used to be Mexico" from 1823 to 1835, in other words, from Mexican independence to the onset of the war for Texas' independence (proclaimed in 1846). For 300 years before that, those lands "used to be" Spanish, and, indeed, most of the handful of non-Americans who inhabited that area in 1835 had been born under the Spanish flag, and not that of Mexico.
     It was, in fact, Spanish (and then Mexican) neglect of the vast territory north of the Rio Grande (along with much of northern Mexico itself) which set the stage for the Texas independence movement. As T.S. Fehrenback pointed out in his splendid, "Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico" (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973), fewer than 100,000 persons inhabited the entire area from Louisiana to San Francisco at the time of U.S. annexation (1848), and most of them were Indians.
     In 1821, it was estimated that the non-Indian population of all of what we now know as Texas totalled 4,000, many of them American settlers. Under the grants, first Moses, and then son Stephen Austin negotiated with Mexico in the period 1821-1823, the territory was opened to American immigration. Over the next 12 years, almost 28,000 Americans poured into Texas. So, at the time of "Texian" independence, the population was already overwhelmingly "Texian" (i.e., American).
     Furthermore, some few "Hispanics" (i.e., former Spaniards, now Mexicans), did, in fact, "cross the river." A few, led principally by Don Carlos de la Garza of La Bahia (now Goliad, Texas), chose to stand and fight alongside the Mexican Dictator, Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón, organizing a company he called the "Victorian Guards." Most "Tejanos" -- as the Spanish-descended called themselves -- chose, however, to stand with the Texians. (This, it should be remembered, was 11 years before the Mexican-American War, 13 years before American annexation (including the accession of the Republic of Texas into the U.S.; by that time, 1848, the population of the territory had skyrocketed to 212,000 -- including somewhere around 1,500 "Hispanics.")
     The syllogism, "Since this area used to be Mexico, we are ninety-five percent Hispanic," and its sequel, "so they just remained where they had been for generaitons," collapse for want of a factual base.
     A footnote: Although the pressures for independence obviously grew as more and more Americans flooded into the territory, efforts to keep Texas as a semi-autonomous region of Mexico continued right up until April 1833. It was Santa Anna's own bizarre and ruthless behavior which buried that pro-Mexico movement, culminating in his 1835 imprisonment of Austin himself.
     As a young lieutenant, Santa Anna had initially fought on the Spanish side in the 1821 War of Independence, switching sides when the final outcome was clear. Known to his countrymen as Don Demonio, he was -- in the words of one author, "corrupt, ruthless, a thief, compulsive gambler, opium addict and liar" -- but he also was charismatic. He consolidated his power in 1829 by defeating a half-hearted Spanish attempt to reconquer Mexico at the battle of Tampico. He also was a megalomaniac -- he once declared "Were I made God, I should wish to be something more" -- and obsessed with power. In 1833, he had himself proclaimed President -- for the first of eleven times over 22 years. Not only "Texians" wanted to have nothing to do with such a "leader," neither did many in Mexico: In 1835, Santa Anna also had to crush revolts in the Mexican states of Zacatecas and Coahuila.
     Today, "Hispanics" -- almost all of Mexican descent -- make up nearly a quarter of Texas' population. Their contributions to the cultural diversity of the State, to its economy, its institutions, cannot be overstated. But the influx of Mexicans into the state began, massively, during the Mexican Revolution, and has continued since. Only a tiny handful could lay claim to remaining "where they had been for generations" at the time of Texas' independence. If those who came since are, in fact, treated with "derision" by Mexicans, it would seem to me that we would need look not to antiquity, but elsewhere, to understand the phenomenon."
     My comment: Most people have a one-sided, simplistic view ot their own history, and textbooks on the opposite side of the border teach children different versions. There is a similar case in the territorial dispute between Ecuador and Peru. That is why there are commissions of historians trying to agree on one version. To add to the confusion, there are two versions of the history of Mexico, giving rise to a textbook battle. Following the official version, Hidalgo simply shouted "!Viva Mexico!" In fact, he shouted !"Viva Fernando VII y la Virgen de Guadalupe, y abajo el mal gobierno!" So we are back to the Virgen de Guadalupe.
     James Whelan has just returned from London, where he went in connection with the Pinochet case. He should have some valuable comments.

Ronald Hilton - 02/08/99


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