“We Were Too White to Be Black and Too Black to Be White,” Tyina L Steptoe (2016)

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Tyina L Steptoe (2016) – We Were Too White to Be Black and Too Black to Be White

 

128ff: “Letter from Chapultepec” and the question of race and skin color

  • “The tenth point of the manifesto related directly to ethnic Mexicans and the question of color. People of Mexican descent, they wrote, ‘are called “brown people,” “greasers,” et cetera and of course want to be called white.’ … The term brown people marked them as a nonwhite group, which could hurt their claims to whiteness in a place that considered anyone with African roots ‘colored.'”

149ff: “Letter from Chaptultepec” praised by and used as model by black branch of YWCA

  • “More problems arose when the African American branch of the YWCA discovered the letter and used it for their own purposes: ‘They heard about our [i.e. ethnic Mexicans’] problems and they said, “We have some problems too,”‘ said Estela Gómez of members of the black branch that contacted her. ‘”You did a great thing writing all of those things down.”‘ The African American women asked club officers Cortés and Gómez if they could publish the letter in their organization’s magazine, the Occasional Papers (“a quarterly publication for Negro [YWCA] branches”), and they agreed.’

143-146: segregation and Houston ship channel dockworkers

  • “the Mexican was a whole lot more decent man than the Negro”
  • “IF we let this union fall through our jobs will go to the Negroes”

“These alternatives collapsed, however, in the following fifty years as obreros, both in the city and the countryside, came to be concentrated into general laboring positions.” (de Leon and Stewart)

Collapse of avenues for advancement, concentration into general labor pool. / TNG, 77.

As labor markets developed in south, central, and west Texas cities and rural areas, considerable disparities of employment opportunity for the region’s two major ethnic groups evolved. For Mexican Americans, the labor systems in both rural and urban areas at mid-century offered clear alternatives for pursuing a living and striving towards betterment. These alternatives collapsed, however, in the following fifty years as obreros, both in the city and the countryside, came to be concentrated into general laboring positions. In the same period, Anglos found that opportunities in the rural areas narrowed in the agricultural market while the cities presented a range of alternative choices for them in trade, transportation, and manufacturing. Given the inequalities of occupational opportunity that developed, it is little wonder that larger percentages of whites chose city life compared to the Mexican Americans. Indeed, the reason why fewer Tejanos were attracted to the budding urban centers, and the reason why those who went were more frequently non-natives, was because cities held out less promise to Mexican American workers. The legendary image of bustling new cities ripe with opportunity is, to be [78] sure, an overrated figment of North American remembrances of history. But in the nineteenth century, the myth came nearer the truth for whites than for the Mexicans of Texas.

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), 77-78.

“Significantly, a part of this increase in laborers was due to the entry of females into the labor pool.” (de Leon and Stewart)

1860s-1900: Mexican women increasingly drawn into labor pool, especially single women & minors / TNG p. 44

Perhaps the most important effect of declining occupational standing among Mexican Americans in the nineteenth century is related to the already mentioned fact that increasing numbers of Tejanos were drawn into the labor force as economic change progressed. Significantly, a part of this increase in laborers was due to the entry of females into the labor pool. Indeed, analysis of the composition of Mexican American workers shows that approximately 8.8 percent were females in 1850, and that this proportion climbed to 12.1 percent by 1900. Between 1850 and 1900, the total Tejano laboring population increased thirty-fold, while the female segment multiplied forty-three times. Though women never made up more than a minority of the laboring population, they were its fastest growing segment.

One aspect of Mexican American life directly affected by [45] the increased presence of women in the labor force was the family. In 1850, according to computer estimates, some 5.2 percent of Tejano households were at least partly supported by working women, and this percentage grew to 19.6 percent by 1900. The household status of working women changed. Between 1850 and 1900, the percentage of working women who were heads or children of households increased from 34.8 percent to 63.6 percent. At the same time, the number of working women who were spouses in the household declined from 52.2 percent to 11.9 percent.

Statistics such as these, of course, do not speak to attitudes and perceptions about women in the work place, or to subtle changes in family patterns centered around their involvement in work. Mario T. García, along with other historians, has held that Mexican women in their cultural upbringing were not encouraged to seek gainful employment.[10] Thus, it is certain that economic conditions leading to an escalation of female activity in wage labor markets pressed against the value orientations of the Tejano community and brought women to forsake their cultural beliefs in order to support the domestic budget. The fact that it was female household heads and children, rather than Mexican American spouses, who were drawn into the labor force most rapidly lends further credence to the thesis that it was impoverishment instead of preference that stimulated the change of work patterns.

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), 44-45.

  1. [10]Mario T. García, Desert Immigrants: The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880-1920 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), p. 200.

“What the evolutionary process of economic change did was to force the bulk of Tejanos into making their way as jornaleros: day laborers and other journeyman workers” (de Leon and Stewart)

1850s-1860s: de-specialization of Mexican labor -> jornaleros. Carting, Farming, Crafts -> Day labor. [Labor Compression]

On the eve of the swift Anglo in-migration into south, central, and west Texas beginning at mid-century, Mexicans held their own in terms of economic standing. In the state’s incipient economy of the 1850s, Tejanos had a share of positions in trade, transportation, and agriculture, as well as manufacturing and mechanical enterprises (see Table 3.2). As the economy developed further, however, Anglos monopolized the better positions in those sectors. Mexicanos lost their grip on them, and over time were channeled [34] and heavily concentrated into the marginal “unspecialized” labors.[2]

In 1850, for example, Tejanos dominated the freighting industry with negligible competition from Anglos (see Table 3.2). According to Frederick Law Olmsted, a perceptive observer who toured the state in the mid-1850s, Mexicans seemed to have had no other occupation than carting goods, as the entire transportation of clothes, foods, cotton, and the like between Indianola and the Matagorda Bay area appeared to have been a thoroughly Mexican concern.[3] Obviously, Tejanos earned their living in other ways, but Olmsted was not far off in his guess, for according to the census, 50 percent of Mexican American workers pursued this line of work in central Texas, the region from which Olmsted drew his generalization. By 1860, however, Tejanos still dominated the business, but they rapidly were being displaced and thrown into the pool of “unspecialized” general laborers.

A similar shift in the economic standing of Tejanos occurred in farming and ranching. In the first census, enumerators counted about one-third of Tejano obreros as farmers, but the percentage declined by one-half by 1860 and a downward spiral followed thereafter. The percentage of Anglos in the same enterprise increased sharply before the Civil War and remained a stable line of work for them in the postwar years as more than one-fourth of white workers were listed as “farmers” in 1870 and afterward. Similarly, “stockraising” ranked as one of the most reliable occupations engaging the labor of Anglos.[4]

The changes accompanying the economy’s growth also dislodged Tejanos from certain craft occupations. At mid-century, Mexicans did well as shoemakers and tailors, but they could no longer rely on these pursuits after 1860. The same applied to carpenters and blacksmiths. Moreover, Tejanos were not able to penetrate the white-collar jobs that opened up to Anglos. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, and military [35] personnel (up until the settlement of the frontier) were familiar figures in the Anglo work force, but these types were barely represented among Mexican American workers. In the mercantile trades, Tejanos also found slight chance for employment as less than 1 percent made their living as merchants or clerks. Anglos, on the other hand, consistently turned to these endeavors as promising avenues for advancement.

What the evolutionary process of economic change did was to force the bulk of Tejanos into making their way as jornaleros: day laborers and other journeyman workers. Many others were tied to menial service jobs such as laundering, cooking, and general servant work. In the ranching areas, where Anglos came to dominate the land, Tejanos relied on old ranching skills and found employment as ranch hands with little hope of betterment, and as the railroad spread across the state in the 1880s, Anglos monopolized the skilled tasks (for example, engineers and foremen), while Mexicans were relegated to laying track and performing other less desirable duties.

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), 33-35.

  1. [2]Anglos did not experience a comparable level of labor concentration into the marginal occupations. By 1900 only 19 percent of Anglo workers were situated in “unspecialized” jobs that appeared in the census records compared to the 54.5 percent of Tejano workers shown in Table 3.2. Specialized agricultural pursuits absorbed the largest plurality of Anglo workers (32.3 percent), and trade and transportation specialties occupied another 20.2 percent of the white labor force.
  2. [3]Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969), p. 160.
  3. [4]Misinterpretation on the part of the census takers regarding the proper terms for different agrarian tasks may have overestimated the number of Tejanos counted as “farmers” and “ranchers,” especially after 1860. Therefore, the shift of Mexicans from farm and ranch ownership to hired labor likely was more pronounced than the statistics indicate.

“Dual wage systems and unequal occupational stratification were the direct outgrowths of these beliefs” (de León and Stewart)

1800s: Labor segregation, “Mexican work” and wage discrimination.

The Tejanos of the nineteenth century held a subordinate position within the state’s economy. Several factors contributed to this condition, with the most obvious one being the disparaging attitude of Anglos who stereotyped Mexicans as suitable for a certain range of low-level occupations. From the viewpoint of white society, “Mexican work” involved the restriction of Tejano laborers to sundry types of servant work plus grubbing and cotton picking in farm lands. Anglo lore even held that the Creator had meant the Mexican for certain ranch tasks, particularly sheepherding. Dual wage systems and unequal occupational stratification were the direct outgrowths of these beliefs.[1]

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), 31.

  1. [1]Mario Berrera, Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), pp. 43-45.

A Struggle for Sovereignty: National Consolidation, Emancipation, and Free Labor in Texas, 1865

A Struggle for Sovereignty: National Consolidation, Emancipation, and Free Labor in Texas, 1865, Nancy Cohen-Lack

The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 57-98.

Development of new contract labor system in Texas agriculture post-emancipation.

 

“The Matter of Race … a race situation,” labor segregation (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 82-84.

The Matter of Race

Mexican-Anglo relations in the late nineteenth century were inconsistent and contradictory, but the general direction pointed to the formation of a “race situation,” a situation where ethnic or national prejudice provided a basis for separation and control. The paternalism of the Anglo patrones and the loyalty of their Mexican workers did not obscure the anti-Mexican and anti-Anglo sentiments and divisions of the ranch world.

In the late nineteenth century, these race sentiments, which drew heavily from the legacy of the Alamo and the Mexican War, were maintained and sharpened by market competition and property disputes. Every conflict provided an opportunity for a vicarious recreation of previous battles. The Mexican cattle “thieves” of the 1870s, for example, claimed they were only taking “Nana’s cattle”–Grandma’s cattle–and that “the gringos” were merely raising cows for the Mexicans. Texas ranchman William Hale presented the other [83] point of view: “Killing a Mexican was like killing an enemy in the independence war.” Since this was a conflict “with historic scores to settle [Goliad and the Alamo] the killing carried a sort of immunity with it.”[21] The English lady Mary Jaques, who spent two years on a central Texas ranch in the late 1880s, noted in her journal that it was difficult to convince Texans that Mexicans were human. The Mexican “seems to be the Texan’s natural enemy; he is treated like a dog, or, perhaps, not so well.” What especially upset Lady Jaques, however, was the assimilation of such instincts by educated Englishment who had settled in Texas. Describing the commotion over plans to lynch a Mexican, Jaques remarked: “It seems scarcely credible that even a fairly educated Englishman, holding a good position in Junction City, an influential member of the Episcopalian Church, should have become so imbued with these ideas that he … gleefully boasted that he had the promise of the rope on which the ‘beast’ swung, and also of his scalp as a trophy. ‘I have one Mexican scalp already,’ he exclaimed.”[22] For both Anglos and Mexicans, the power of assimilation made actual participation in the Texas Revolution or Mexican War an irrelevant point. These shared memories simply provided a context for the ongoing conflict of the day.

The basic rules regarding Mexicans on many ranches called for a separation of Mexican and Anglo cowboys and a general authority structure in which Anglo stood over Mexican. As Jaques noted in 1889, the Texans ate in the ranch dining room and “would have declined to take their meals with the Mexicans.” The Mexicans, for their part, “camped out with their herds” and cooked their weekly ration of flour, beans, and other groceries.[23] Likewise, underneath the much-discussed paternalism of the King Ranch and the loyalty of the vaqueros was a clear hierarchy of authority along race lines. Trail driver Jeff Connolly of Lockhart, Texas, recalled the days of herding King Ranch cattle to the Red River: “The only white men with the herd were Coleman and myself, the balance of the bunch being Mexicans. All the old-timers know how King handled the Mexicans–he had them do the work and let the white men do the bossing.”[24] Nor were these bosses ordinary “white men.” The ranch foremen and subordinate bosses were, as a rule, former Texas Rangers. An apparent exception to this pattern was Lauro Cavazos, descendent of the San Juan Carricitos grantees. Cavazos worked as foreman of the ranch’s Norias Division, which comprised the old San Juan Carricitos grant.[25] Cavazos, however, was not actually an exception to the postwar authority structure, for there was no problem with Mexicans bossing other Mexicans.

This understanding about authority was carried well into the [84] twentieth century. Again, J. Frank Dobie provides the clearest statement of the practice: on the smaller ranches and stock farms in the Lower Valley, the Mexicans were managed by Anglo owners or bosses; on the larger ranches, the mayordomo (overseer) was usually Anglo, but the caporales (straw bosses) were often Mexican. However, if “white hands” worked alongside Mexicans, then the caporal was “nearly always white.”[26]

 

  1. [21] William Hale, Twenty-Four Years a Cowboy and Ranchman in Southern Texas and Old Mexico, p. 137; John H. Culley, Cattle, Horses, and Men, p. 103; Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country, pp. 54-56; González, “Social Life,” p. 11; Hunter, Trail Drivers, 2:938-939.
  2. [22] Mary J. Jaques, Texas Ranch Life, pp. 361-362.
  3. [23] Ibid., p. 61.
  4. [24] Hunter, Trail Drivers, 1:187.
  5. [25] Lea, King Ranch, 2:497, 638-639; also 100 Years.
  6. [26] Dobie, “Ranch Mexicans,” p. 168; see also John Hendrix, If I Can Do It Horseback, p. 32.