“Middle-class Mexican Americans … drew distinctions between themselves and lower-class Mexicans who they often regarded as ‘Indios’ or ‘Indian Mexicans’ and used terms like ‘mojados’ …” (Foley)

racial stratification within Tejanx community — “indios,” “mojados,” etc. / BB&W, 134

These middle-class Mexican Americans in El Paso sought to eliminate once and for all the ambiguity surrounding Mexican racial identity. First, they recognized that any attempt to define them as “nonwhite” could easily come to mean “noncitizen” as well, because many Anglos did not regard Mexicans, particularly of the lower class, as truly American or fit for American citizenship. Second, middle-class Mexican Americans themselves drew distinctions between themselves and lower-class Mexicans who they often regarded as “Indios,” or “Indian Mexicans” and used terms like “mojados” (“wetbacks”) and other terms of class and racial disparagement. Hamilton Price, the black El Pasoan, pointed out as much when he reminded El Pasoans about the close, even intimate, relations that existed between blacks and lower-class Mexicans in El Paso, from Mexican men shining the shoes of African American men to African American men marrying Mexican women.

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), 134.

 

“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.

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.

“Residential segregation, therefore, did not occur in a single pattern in the cities of south, central, and west Texas during the nineteenth century” (de León and Stewart)

1900: residential segregation numbers for San Antonio, Brownsville, Corpus, El Paso, Laredo.

Table 5.8 reports the indices of segregation for five cities [87] in 1900.[14] The index of segregation is expressed as the percentage of Tejanos or Anglos that would have to residentially relocate from one of the city’s wards to another if both Tejanos and Anglos were represented in each ward in proportion to their presence in the total citywide population. Generally, a small index of segregation indicates residential diffusion of an ethnic group across the wards of a city, while a larger index results when an ethnic population is disproportionately clustered into only some of the wards.

Table 5.8
Indices of Segregation for Five South, Central, and West Texas Cities, 1900
City Tejanos Anglos
Brownsville 3.33% 20.06%
Corpus Christi 26.58% 34.39%
El Paso 25.64% 22.10%
Laredo 5.16% 34.38%
San Antonio 42.82% 10.59%

Overall, the indices in Table 5.8 demonstrate three different patterns of residential segregation among Tejanos and Anglos in the cities of south, central, and west Texas. The first is illustrated by the southern-most cities–Brownsville and Laredo–where the majority of the population were Tejanos. In these cities, the low index of segregation for Tejanos shows that Mexican Americans were quite generally distributed across the city wards, while the higher index for Anglos indicates more residential clustering. In San Antonio, where whites were a majority of the city’s population, the opposite patterns developed where Anglos were more generally distributed across the city and Tejanos clustered into a few wards. The third situation is illustrated by Corpus Christi and El Paso, cities where neither Tejanos nor Anglo Americans dominated the citywide population. In these [88] cities, the indices of segregation were relatively large for both groups, indicating that each group was residentially clustered into separate areas.

Residential segregation, therefore, did not occur in a single pattern in the cities of south, central, and west Texas during the nineteenth century….

Arnoldo de León and Kenneth L. Stewart, Tejanos and the Numbers Game: A Socio-Historical Interpretation from the Federal Censuses, 1850-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 86-88.

  1. [14]For detailed discussion of the index of segregation, see Otis Dudley Duncan and Beverly Duncan, “Residential Distribution and Occupational Stratification,”American Journal of Sociology, 60 (1955), 493-503. Also see, Karl E. Taeuber and Alma F. Taeuber, Negroes in Cities: Residential Segregation and Neighborhood Change (Chicago: Atheneum, 1965), pp. 195-245.

“The political status of the Mexican in Texas … the right to vote” (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 39-41.

The second question requiring immediate attention was the political status of the Mexican in Texas. One of the liveliest debates in the Texas Constitutional Convention (1845) concerned whether or not the Mexican should be allowed the right to vote. The debate centered on whether the qualifying adjective ” white” should be retained in the constitutional provisions that described the voters of the state. The Harris County representative argued that the qualifier “white” should be kept, not because he feared the Spaniard; he welcomed them as he welcomed any portion of the Caucasian race that desired to settle in Texas. Rather he feared the mass immigration of “hordes of Mexican Indians”: “Silently they will come moving in; they will come back in thousands to Bexar, in thousands to Goliad, perhaps to Nacogdoches, and what will be the consequence? Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty thousand may come in here, and vanquish you at the ballot box though you are invincible in arms. This is no idle dream; no bugbear; it is the truth.”[47] The proposal failed, however, because of opposition by several Anglo-Texan allies and protectors of the Texas Mexican elite (like Col. Henry Kinney of Corpus Christi). José Antonio Navarro of San Antonio, the only Texas Mexican (and the only native-born Texan) at the Constitutional Convention, argued eloquently against the proposal.

In spite of the formal defeat of disenfranchisement at the convention, Mexicans in certain districts were denied the vote or allowed only limited participation. Corpus Christi merchant Henry Kinney observed that in several counties the practice immediately after independence had been to withhold the franchise from Mexicans, even though they may have fought against a people “of their own race.” Traveler Frederick Olmsted observed that, if the Mexicans in San Antonio voted, they could elect a government of their own; “such a step would be followed, however, by a summary revolution.”[48] Where Mexicans did have the right to vote, protests and threats from Anglo-Americans were constant reminders of a fragile franchise.

A typical protest was exemplified by a hotly contested election for state representative from Nueces and Webb counties in 1863, where S. Kinney of Corpus Christi lost to Charles Callaghan of Laredo by a margin of thirty-five votes. The Corpus Christi Ranchero noted that Kinney was the choice of fifteen of sixteen voters where the English language was spoken and that “American men in an American country should have a fair showing in shaping the destinies of the country.” The Fort Brown Flag of Brownsville joined in the protest, editorializing that “we are opposed to allowing an ignorant crowd of Mexicans to determine the political questions in this country, where a man is supposed to vote knowingly and thoughtfully.”[49] Disenfranchisement was the usual sentiment of disgruntled losers in electoral politics.

Where Texas Mexicans constituted a significant portion of the male vote, the politicians among the American settlers proceeded to instruct and organize the new voters. A common pattern wast the controlled franchise, where Mexicans voted according to the dictates [40] of the local patrón or boss. Since these political machines delivered sizable blocs of votes in state and national elections, the Anglo patrones acquired influence far beyond that usually accorded “backwater” county politicians.

Generally, the lesser bosses were members of the wealthy Mexican families who had entered the political arena to maintain and defend their traditional status, as in the “subrings” of Brownsville, San Antonio, and El Paso.[50] But in all these instances, including places where Mexicans controlled most offices, as in Starr and Zapata counties, the figure of an Anglo boss legitimized Mexican political involvement. In the 1850s, the specific arrangements varied. Cameron County in the Lower Valley showed a nearly equal division of county commissioner positions. In Webb County, Anglos ran the county while Mexicans ran the city of Laredo. In El Paso County, the pattern was reversed, and Anglos ran the city while Mexicans ran the county.

The role of the Mexican elite as influential politicians was contingent, of course, on the presence of a large Mexican electorate. In San Antonio, where the Mexican population increasingly declined through the nineteenth century, Mexican representation on the city aldermanic council fell at an exponential rate after 1836. In 1837, for example, all but one of the forty-one candidates running for city elections were of Spanish-Mexican descent; a decade later there were only five. Between 1848 and 1866 each aldermanic council included one or two Mexican representatives; after 1866, however, even token representation was rare. Mexican political clubs remained active but constituted minor actors in the city’s affairs. Through the early 1900s, the Mexican voice in city politics was symbolically represented by Anglo officials with family ties to the Mexican upper class–the Lockwoods, Tobins, and Callaghans, for example.[51] The [41] tabulation in Table 1, with city administrations organized roughly in periods of seven to ten years, gives a clear indication of the decline in power of the Mexican elite in San Antonio during the late nineteenth century.[52]

[N.B. how in the Corpus Ranchero, “American” has become a purely ethnic and not a national term; an election in 1863 took place in the Confederacy, after Texas had been two years out of the United States of America.]

  1. [47] Quoted in P.S. Taylor, American-Mexican Frontier, p. 232.
  2. [48] Olmsted, Journey through Texas, p. 163; P.S. Taylor, American-Mexican Frontier, p. 230-234.
  3. [49] Quoted in J. Thompson, “A 19th Century History,” pp. 58-59. Another example is provided by Arnoldo de León, In Re Ricardo Rodriguez.
  4. [50] González, “Social Life,” p. 84; M. T. García, Desert Immigrants, pp. 157-158; De León, Tejano Community, pp. 23-49; J. Thompson, “A 19th Century History,” pp. 5, 28-31.
  5. [51] Remy, “Hispanic-Mexican San Antonio,” pp. 570; De León, Tejano Community, pp. 25, 28, 30-34.
  6. [52] This table was organized from information compiled by August Santleban, who attached an appendix of San Antonio’s city officials to his memoirs. The ethnicity of an alderman was based on surname, a fairly reliable method. See August Santleban, A Texas Pioneer, pp. 314-321.