“spin-offs from racial attitudes developed and cultivated through repeated interaction with colored people on the western frontier were being bestowed upon another caste in a different setting”; “a race of ‘mongrels'” (de Leon)

De León positions Texas Mexicans as another people of color in the 19th century racial system, projected into coloredness through “spin-offs from racial attitudes developed and cultivated through repeated interaction with colored peoples on the western frontier,” and keyed to Anglo interpretation of mestizaje as forming a “mongrel” or “degraded” racial status. Emory, qtd. here, on “practical amalgamation of races of different color” and unions between the “cleaner race” or the “white” and “his darker partner.” In p. 112 n. 18 we have de León’s take on the 1845 constitutional convention debate (via Crisp), the first place I heard tell of it.

Manifestly, spin-offs from racial attitudes developed and cultivated through repeated interaction with colored peoples on the western frontier were being bestowed upon another caste in a different setting. As Olmsted reported in his notes on Texas society of the 1850s, Mexicans were regarded as “degenerate and degraded Spaniards” or, perhaps, “improved and Christianized Indians.” Generally, their tastes and social instincts were like those of Africans. “There are thousands in respectable social positions [in Mexico] whose color and physiognomy would subject them, in Texas, to be sold by the sheriff as negro-estrays who cannot be allowed at large without detriment to the commonwealth,” he concluded.[18]

In view of the Southern presumption that individuals with any noticeable trace of African blood were blacks and given the contempt whites had for Indian “half-breeds,” it is not surprising that “niggers,” “redskins,” and “greasers” intimately intermingled in the Anglo-Texan mind. Moreover, whites considered racial mixing a violation of austere moralistic codes. According to Joseph Eve, U.S. chargé d’affaires to the Republic, the Texans regarded Mexicans as a race of “mongrels” composed of Spanish, Indian, and African blood.[19] To Francis S. Latham, traveling in Texas in 1842, Mexicanos were nothing more than “the mongrel and illicit descendants of an Indian, Mexican and Spanish, pencilled with a growing feintline of the Anglo Saxon ancestry.”[20] Such feelings about “mongrels” stemmed from the extensive lore American culture had developed concerning [17] the undesirability and supposed peril of miscegenation, especially between whites and blacks. Certainly, the mixed-blood nature of Tejanos concerned Anglo-Americans because of their cultural aversion to interracial passion, a subject upon which whites expressed themselves adeptly, albeit with no scientific basis. According to white beliefs, Mexicans resembled the degenerates from whom they descended. Although they inherited both the faults and the good qualities of their ancestors, unfortunately, the darker traits predominated, so that Mexicans by nature were superstitious, cowardly, treacherous, idle, avaricious, and inveterate gamblers. William H. Emory, surveying the boundary between the United States and Mexico, related this idea in an incidental remark included as part of his report, finished during the Franklin Pierce administration. Attributing the decline and fall of Spanish domination in Texas and the borderlands to a “baneful” cohabitation between whites and Indians, he continued:

Where practical amaglamation of races of different color is carried [out] to any extent, it is from the absence of the women of the cleaner race. The white makes his alliance with his darker partner for no other purpose than to satisfy a law of nature, or to acquire property, and when that is accomplished all affection ceases. Faithless to his vows, he passes from object to object with no other impulse than the gratification arising from novelty, ending at last in emasculation and disease, leaving no progeny at all, or if any, a very inferior and syphilitic race. Such are the favors extended to the white man by the lower and darker colored races, that this must always be the course of events, and the process of absorption can never work any beneficial change. One of the inevitable results of intermarrying between races of different color is infidelity. The offspring have a constant tendency to go back to one or the other of the original stock; that in a large family of children, where the parents are of mixed race but yet the same color, the children will be of every color, from dusky cinnamon to chalky white. This phenomenon, so easily explained without involving the fidelity of either party, nevertheless produces suspicion followed by unhappiness, and ending in open adultery.[21]

This sort of pseudoscience dictated the status of mixed-blood Tejanos in a white state.

Arnoldo de León, They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821-1900. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983., 17-18.


  1. [18]Olmsted, Journey Through Texas, p. 454.  In 1845, serious debate dealing with the Mexicans’ color arose at the state constitutional convention. Some of the delegates protested that limiting citizenship and franchise to free “white” males might exclude Tejanos (Crisp, “Anglo-Texan Attitudes toward the Mexican,” pp. 413-416). For another example in which whites questioned Mexicans’ right to citizenship because of their color, see Texas State Gazette, April 21, 1855, p. 4.
  2. [19]Joseph Eve, “A Letter Book of Joseph Eve, United States Chargé d’Affaires to Texas,” ed. Joseph Nance, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 43 (October 1939): 218, (April 1940), 494, 506, 510.
  3. [20]Francis S. Latham, Travels in Texas, 1840, or the Emigrant’s Guide to the New Republic, p. 227; Roemer, Texas, p. 11; [Wright and Wright?], Recollections of Western Texas, p. 32; McIntyre, Federals on the Frontier, p. 254. Miscegenation produced curious side effects in Mexicans, according to popular lore. According to border resident Jane Cazneau, “the stoic Mexican, true to his Indian nature, endures suffering himself in silent, passive fortitude, and has no tenderness or sympathy for suffering or anything else” (Eagle Pass: Or, Life on the Border, p. 68; see also pp. 53, 70), while the German Ferdinand Roemer believed the Mexicans had somehow inherited the same inclination and skill for stealing horses as their Indian ancestors (Texas, p. 150).
  4. [21]House Exec. Doc. No. 135, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. (Ser. 861), I: 68-70. For a similar discourse on ethnology, see Vielé, “Following the Drum,” p. 158.

“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.


“Antimiscegenation laws… sought to maintain social dominance along specifically racial lines, and at the same time, sought to maintain racial lines through social dominance” (Haney Lopez)

Naturalization and immigration laws are not, however, the only or even the most important laws that have influenced the appearance of this country’s populace. More significant may be the antimiscegenation laws, which appeared in the statutes of almost every state in the union until they were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967.[3] These laws purported merely to separate the races. In reality, they did much more than this: they acted to prevent intermixture between peoples of diverse origins so that morphological differences that code as race might be more neatly maintained.[4] Antimiscegenation laws, like lynch laws more generally, sought to maintain social dominance along specifically racial lines, and at the same time, sought to maintain racial lines through social domination. As Martha Hodes argues, “racial hierarchy could be maintained primarily through the development of a rigid color line: if blacks and whites did not have children together, then racial categories could be preserved.”[5] Cross-racial procreation erodes racial differences by producing people whose faces, skin, and hair blur presumed racial boundaries. Forestalling such intermixture is an exercise in racial domination and subordination. It is also, however, an effort to forestall racial blurring. Antimiscegenation laws [118] maintained the races they ostensibly merely separated by insuring the continuation of “pure” physical types on which notions of race are based in the United States.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 117ff.
  1. [3]The Supreme Court declared antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). See generally ROBERT J. SICKELS, RACE, MARRIAGE, AND THE LAW (1972).
  2. [4]See VIRGINIA DOMINGUEZ, WHITE BY DEFINITION: SOCIAL CLASSIFICATION IN CREOLE LOUISIANA, 56-62 (1986); Paul Finkelman, The Crime of Color, 67 TUL. L. REV. 2063, 2081-87 (1993).
  3. [5]Martha Hodes, The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War, 3 J. OF THE HIST. OF SEXUALITY 402, 415 (1993).

Conflicting Evidence on Intermarriage and Selective Enforcement (Neil Foley, Charles Frank Robinson, F. Flores v. The State)

From Neil Foley, “Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line,” in Beyond Black and White. 127, 142

Although many Mexicans had lived in Texas long before Stephen Austin established the first Anglo settlement in 1822, Anglos still regarded Mexicans as alien culturally, linguistically, religiously, and racially. Their status as racially in-between, as partly colored, hybrid people of mixed Indian, Spanish, and African ancestry, made them suspect in the eyes of whites, who feared that Mexicans could breach the color line by marrying both blacks and whites. Although laws existed against race mixing for whites and blacks, no such laws prevented the mixing of Mexicans with both blacks and whites.5

5. Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83 (June, 1996): 44-69. Mexicans, who were legally “white,”were rarely prosecuted for marrying blacks. For the only case in Texas of a Mexican brought to trial for marrying a black, see F. Flores v. The State, 60 Tex. Crim. 25 (1910); 129 S. W. 1111. I am indebted to Julie Dowling for bringing this case to my attention. See her paper, “Mexican Americans and the Modern Performance of Whiteness: LULAC and the Construction of the White Mexican,” presented at the American Sociological Association annual conference, Anaheim, Calif., August, 2001.

From F. Flores v. The State (1910), in The Texas Criminal Reports Volume 60.

The evidence shows that appellant was a Mexican, or of Spanish extraction. There is no evidence in the record that he had any negro blood in his veins, and his testimony, as far as it goes, excludes the idea that such was the case. The testimony of the woman appellant married, Ellen Dukes, goes to show that she had negro blood in her veins, but within what degree is not shown. She is variously described by the witnesses, and some of them go sufficiently far to say that she looks like a negro. These witnesses state that her physical makeup, and especially the fact that her face and hair, indicate that she was a negro. She testified that she was born and raised in San Antonio and was 31 years of age; that her mother’s name was Refugio Gonzales; that her father’s name was Garmo Dukes; that her mother was Mexican while her father had some negro blood, but she did not know how much negro blood or how much Mexican blood; but that he did have some negro blood in him; that her father’s color was very bright, a great deal brighter in color than herself; that his hair was not kinky or nappy like the ordinary negro–not as much so as was her hair–that it was straighter. Those witnesses who testified to the fact that the woman appellant married was of negro extraction were not aware of how near she was to purity of negro blood; they did not know whether she was within the specified degrees mentioned in article 347 of the Penal Code or not.

From Charles Frank Robinson II, Dangerous Liasons: Sex and Love in the Segregated South

[88] Other interracial couples remained relatively inconspicuous by hiding under the cover of color closeness. Individuals who could cloak their African ancestry could often marry across the color line without alerting state authorities. Even if the state discovered that one of the parties in the relationship had some racial mixture, the state would then have the very difficult task of proving that the individual in question had sufficient black ancestry. Such was the case in Flores v. State (1910). On June 9, 1909, F. Flores and Ellen Dukes married in Angelina County, Texas. Within months after their ceremony, state authorities arrested the couple and charged them with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law. The state contended that Flores was of Mexican descent, thereby making him [89] a white person for purpose of the statute. Yet Dukes had both Mexican and African origins. In the Angelina County district court trial, Dukes never denied having African ancestry. However, she testified that she did not know how much African ancestry she possessed. According to Dukes, “her mother was Mexican while her father [Garmo Dukes] had some negro blood.”[3]

The state presented Ellen Dukes’s physical appearance as evidence of her guilt. She apparently had rather dark skin and somehwat “kinky hair.” The state also produced witnesses who gave testimony that they believed Dukes to be “a Negro.” These same witnesses further told of conversations that they had had with Flores in which he confirmed to them that he was “a Mexican and had no Negro blood in him.”[4]

The state convicted Flores and Dukes. The couple appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Although the court acknowledged that Dukes had black blood, the court held that the state had failed to prove the degree of it. Dukes did not know when questioned. Neither did any of the state witnesses. According to the high court, the Texas anti-miscegenation law obligated the state to show “that one of the parties had sufficient blood to prohibit the marriage.” Since there was a “reasonable doubt” about Dukes’s percentage of African mixture, the court reversed the lower court verdict.[36]

[92] The case of Marre v. Marre (1914) was another instance when color closeness protected the marital interests of a person involved in an interracial relationship. In 1911, Louis Marre sued for an annulment of his three-year marriage to Agnes E. Nash Marre. Louis claimed not only that he had married Agnes under “duress” but that Agnes was a person of color. A St. Louis Circuit Court found in Louis’s favor, and Agnes appealed. Upon reviewing the case, the Missouri high court could find [93] nothing to substantiate Louis’s claims. The court saw no duress. Although Agnes’s sixty-year-old mother had insisted that Louis marry her daughter, who was pregnant at the time, and allegedly threatened him with bodily harm if he failed to do so, the court did not consider this duress. According to the court, “Mere apprehension of physical or possible physical injury, is not sufficient” to constitute duress.[45]

With regard to the charge of Agnes’s African ancestry, the Missouri Supreme court did not believe that the evidence substantiated the conviction. Agnes and her mother unequivocally denied having any black heritage. They acknowledged that they had a few black friends but argued that their apparently tanned appearance was a result of the Mexican origin of one of their immediate ancestors. Agnes also used the fact of her two sisters having married white men as further evidence of her legal whiteness.[46]

[34] [35]


  1. [3]
  2. [4]
  3. [36] Flores v. State, 129 S.W. 1111 (1910).
  4. [45] Marre v. Marre, 168 S.W. 636 (1914).
  5. [46] Marre v. Marre, 168 S.W. 636 (1914).
  6. [34]Flores v. State, 129 S.W. 1111 (1910). Also see Marriage Licenses, Angelina County, 641.
  7. [35]Flores v. State, 129 S.W. 1111 (1910).