“to classify these people here as ‘colored’ is to jumble them in as Negroes” (Maury Maverick, qtd. in Foley)

The real issue over racial classification was clearly as much about Mexican racial pride as it was about fear over discrimination. In Texas, Mexicans endured the injuries of discrimination daily. Middle-class Mexican Americans needed to believe that segregation stemmed from Anglo ignorance of Mexico’s history and the fact that many middle-class Mexicans, like their Anglo counterparts, actually believed that whites were superior to both Indians and Africans. Mexican Americans did not necessarily acquire a belief in white racial supremacy in the United States, although it was certainly reinforced there whenever one encountered blacks and Indians in the United States.[23]

These mostly middle-class Mexicans were not simply content to deny any “negro ancestry.” For many Mexicans and Mexican Americans, “colored” meant racial inferiority, social disgrace, and the total absence of political rights–in short, the racial equivalent of Indian and Negro.[24] In their injunction against the El Paso city registrar, for example, they cited an Oklahoma law that made it libelous to call a white person “colored.”[25] Mexican Americans in San Antonio, who joined the campaign to change the classification scheme, sent a resolution adopted by various LULAC councils to U.S. Representative Maury Maverick, a liberal Texas Democrat, to register their “most vigorous protest against the insult thus cast upon our race.”[26] Maverick wrote to the director of the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C., that “to classify these people here as ‘colored’ is to jumble them in as Negroes, wich [sic] they are not and which naturally causes the most violent feelings.” He urged the director to include another category called “other white,” and argued that the classification of Mexicans as “colored” was simply inaccurate, because “people who are of Mexican or Spanish descent are certainly not of African descent.”[27] An irate Mexican American evangelist wrote that if Mexicans were colored, then [133] Senator Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, who was the first U.S. senator of Mexican descent, “will have his children classified as Negroes. Then Uncle Sam can hang his face in shame before the civilized nations of the world.”[28]

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), 132-133.
  1. [23]García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship,” p. 189.
  2. [24]El Continental, Oct. 6 and 25, 1936, CCC.
  3. [25]Collins v. State, 7. A. L. R., 895 (Okla.) in petition presented to the District Court of El Paso, M. A. Gomez et al., v. T. J. McCamant and Alex Powell, Oct., 1936, CCC.
  4. [26]LULAC Resolution, San Antonio Council no. 16 and Council no. 2, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC.
  5. [27]Maury Maverick to William L. Austin, Oct. 15, 1936, CCC; see also Calleros to Mohler, Oct. 9, 1936, CCC.
  6. [28]Herald-Post, Oct. 8, 1936, CCC.

“His point was that the vast majority of El Paso Mexicans, who were not of the middle class, did not think of themselves as white and that El Paso blacks also did not regard Mexicans as white” (J. Hamilton Price, quoted and discussed in Foley)

J. Hamilton Price on Mexican protests of whiteness, non-coloredness. Followed Jim Crow patterns for colored, not white, people. / BB&W, p. 133.

Amidst all the protests that classifying Mexicans as “colored” insulted Mexicans on both sides of the border, little was heard from the African American community of El Paso, which, although small (less than two percent), could not have appreciated the Mexican community’s insistence that being classified in the same racial category as “negro” was the worst possible affront to Mexican racial pride. However, one El Pasoan, J. Hamilton Price, who was either African American or posing as one, wrote a long letter explaining how both blacks and whites in El Paso were roaring with laughter over the Mexicans’ exhibitions of wounded dignity.[29] Price wrote that local blacks did not consider Mexicans white, nor did they consider them to be superior to blacks. Furthermore, if Mexicans considered themselves superior to blacks, he wanted to know why Mexicans in El Paso ate, drank, and worked with people considered racially inferior. He went on to list the numerous ways in which Mexican behavior departed radically from Anglo-white behavior with respect to blacks. “One sees daily in this city,” he wrote, “Mexican boys shining the shoes of Negroes. If Mexicans are racially superior to Negroes,” he continued, “they shouldn’t be shining their shoes.”[30] It is worth listing all the behaviors Price described to indicate how ludicrous he found the Mexican claim to whiteness:

  • Some of the Mexican men had their hair made wavy to look more like the curly hair of Negroes.
  • In local stores Mexican clerks addressed Negro clients as “Sir” and “Ma’am.”
  • In local streetcars Mexicans occupied the seats reserved by law for Negroes.
  • Many Mexicans in El Paso preferred Negro doctors and dentists to those of their own race.
  • Many Mexicans were employed on ranches and in the homes and commercial establishments of Negroes.
  • Mexican boxers competed with Negroes in Juarez and would compete with them in El Paso, if it were permitted.
  • Mexican soccer players avidly played against Negroes, and many of the players on the Mexican teams were Negroes.
  • In some of the Mexican bars and small restaurants Negroes were as well received as Mexicans themselves.
  • Four out of five clients of Negro prostitutes were Mexicans.
  • In El Paso and Juarez many Mexican women were married to Negroes.

[134]Price wrote that the offspring of Mexican and black marriages were so numerous in El Paso that they were called “negro-burros,” literally, “black donkeys.” In Mexico, according to Price, many of these mixed-race persons were considered Mexican and occupied important positions in Mexican social circles. They often frequented the best theaters, restaurants, and Mexican hair salons, married Mexican women, and, if Democrats, were able to vote in the Democratic primaries in Texas, which otherwise barred blacks from voting. His point was that the vast majority of El Paso Mexicans, who were not of the middle class, did not think of themselves as white and that El Paso blacks also did not regard Mexicans as white. Price, angered by the manner in which Mexicans objected to being labeled as “colored,” ended his long leter with some racial invective of his own: “Though once pure Indians,” he wrote, “Mexicans had become more mixed than dog food–undoubtedly a conglomeration of Indian with all the races known to man, with the possible exception of the Eskimo.”[31]

Price’s letter brought a series of angry rebuttals from Mexicans who denounced Price as a coward for using a pseudonym–they could not find his name in the city directory. One writer, Abraham Arriola Giner, accused Negroes of deserving their inferior status for having tolerated oppressive conditions that no Mexican ever would. He boasted of the high level of culture attained by his Indian ancestors and belittled Negroes as descendants of “savage tribes” from Africa where they practiced cannibalism and did nothing to improve their lives. He reminded Price that American Negroes, as former slaves, did not have their own country or flag and that there was no honor for those who did not understand the meaning of liberty. In  afinal stroke of racial arrogance, Arriola Gina wrote that Mexicans would never tolerate any race claiming to be superior to Mexicans because “such superiority does not exist.”[32]

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), 133-134.
  1. [29]El Continental, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC. An editorial appearing opposite Hamilton’s letter stated that the letter appeared to be written “por un negro” and that although vulgar (“grosera”), the editor decided to publish the letter to express a different point of view.
  2. [30]El Continental, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC.
  3. [31]Ibid.
  4. [32]Ibid., Oct. 16, 1936.

“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).

1936, El Paso: Bureau of Vital Stats reclassifies Mexicans as “colored” population (Foley)

In 1936, in El Paso, Texas, white city officials challenged the traditional classification of Mexicans as whites in the city’s birth and death records. The county health officer, T. J. McCamant, and Alex K. Powell, the city registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, adopted a new policy of registering the births and deaths of Mexican-descent citizens as “colored” rather than “white.”[14] Both McCamant and Powell claimed that they were simply following the regulations established by the Department of Commerce and Bureau of the Census and that officials in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio used the same classification system.[15] McCamant also acknowledged that changing the classification of Mexicans from white to colored automatically lowered the infant mortality rate for whites in a city where Mexicans comprised over sixty percent of the population, most of whom were poor and suffered higher rates of infant mortality than did whites. Because the El Paso Chamber of Commerce had hoped to market El Paso as a health resort for those suffering from tuberculosis and other ailments, it became [131] necessary to disaggregate Mexicans from the white category on birth records and to move them into the colored category, thereby automatically lowering the infant mortality rate for “non-Hispanic whites.”

The Mexican American community of El Paso, as well as Mexicans across the border in neighboring Juarez, became furious over this racial demotion and mobilized to have their whiteness restored. Members of the El Paso council of the League of United Latin American Citizens and other community leaders immediately filed an injunction in the Sixty-fifth district court. Cleofas Calleros, a Mexican American representative of the National Cahtolic Welfare Council of El Paso, wrote to the attorney representing the twenty-six Mexican Americans who had filed the injunction, “Is it a fact that the Bureau [of the Census] has ruled that Mexicans are ‘colored’, meaning the black race?”[16]

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), 130-131.
  1. [14]Herald-Post, Oct. 6 and 7, 1936; La Prensa (San Antonio), Oct. 10, 1936; and New York Times, Oct. 21, 1936, in Cleofas Calleros Collection, University of Texas at El Paso, hereafter cited as CCC. All references from this collection are from box 28, folder 1 (“Color Classification of Mexicans”). See also Mario García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship: The Case of El Paso, 1936,” New Mexico Historical Review 59 (Apr., 1984): 187-204. García, who based his article on the same file from the Calleros collection, argues that Mexican American leaders used the controversy over racial classification of Mexicans “to show Anglo leaders that Mexicans would not accept second-class citizenship.” (p. 201). While that is no doubt true, García mistakenly argues that Mexican Americans used the politics of citizenship rather than race in forging racial identities as whites. As Caucasians, Mexican Americans asserted their own racial superiority over African Americans and other “people of color.”
  2. [15]Mr. Calleros to Mr. Mohler, memo, Oct. 9, 1936, p. 1, CCC.
  3. [16]Ibid., p. 2.

1930: U.S. Census guidelines on counting “Mexicans” as “not definitely white, negro, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese” (Foley)

Third, the U.S. Census had always counted persons of Mexican descent as whites, except in 1930, when a special category was created for “Mexicans.” The question of Mexican racial identity became especially acute during the immigration restriction debates of the 1920s. This broad exemption from immigration quotas led to the historic congressional debates in the 1920s by restrictionists determined to close the door to Mexicans. The Bureau of the Census decided that beginning with 1930 it would establish a new category to determine how many persons of Mexican descent resided in the United States, legally or illegally. Before 1930 all Mexican-descent people were counted simply as white persons, because the racial categories at that time included Negro, White, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. The 1930 census [130] created, for the first time in U.S. history, the separate category of “Mexican,” which stipulated that “all persons born in Mexico, or having parents born in Mexico, who are not definitely white, negro, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese, should be returned as Mexican.” This meant that census workers determined whether to record a particular Mexican household as “white” or “Mexican.” About ninety-six percent of Mexican-descent people were counted under this new category of mexican; only four percent were counted as white.[13] Mexicans had, for the first time in U.S. history, been counted as a nonwhite group. The government of Mexico as well as numerous Mexican Americans protested this new classification. Bowing to pressure, the U.S. government abandoned the category of Mexican in the 1940 census but sought other means of identifying the Latino population, by identifying those with Spanish surnames or households whose dominant language was Spanish.

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), 129-130.
  1. [13]