“Baptismal and census records list her variously as a ‘mestiza,’ ‘mulata,’ ‘loba,’ or ‘coyote,’ … Mariano was also one of those individuals who experienced gradual ‘whitening’ over time, early records recording his status as a ‘coyote’ or ‘mestizo,’ but later records referring to him as an ‘español.'” (Matovina and de la Teja)

Family

José Antonio Menchaca was a fourth-generation Tejano, the son of Juan Mariano Menchaca and María de la Luz Guerra. According to the parish baptismal register, Father Gavino Valdez baptized the eight-day-old José Antonio on 17 January 1800.[8] Although in the years before his death in 1879 he would claim descent from the wrong first settlers of San Antonio, he was nevertheless correct that his ancestors were among the town’s founders.

[5] It is a shame that Antonio apparently was unaware of his family’s colorful roots in his beloved San Antonio. Both of his maternal great-grandfathers were soldiers in the city’s earliest days. Antonio Guerra was one of the men Governor Martín de Alarcón recruited in Monclova for his 1718 expedition to found a settlement on the San Antonio River, and between 1718 and sometime in the 1740s Guerra served in the presidio company there. Whether he was married before or after he came to San Antonio is not clear, but he and his wife, Catarine Jiménez Menchaca, had at least four children during his enlistment. Having made his life in San Antonio, Guerra lived out his retirement among his children and grandchildren, passing away in the spring of 1759.[9]

Among Antonio and Catarina’s children was Antonio’s grandfather, José Joaquín Guerra, who was baptized in San Antonio on 19 February 1735 and buried there on 19 April 1790. Little is known of Joaquín, who for at least part of his adult life made a living as one of the civilian assistants at Mission San Antonio de Valero. On the few occasions that he appears in the town’s and mission’s sacramental records, he is listed as a “mestizo,” a “mulato,” or, as in his burial record, a “coyote.” Likewise, his wife, María Guadalupe de Ávila, who had at least twelve children with him between 1763 and 1781, is recorded as a “mestiza” or a “mulata” in the sacramental records. That the children of soldiers who appear in the records as españoles (Spaniards) were later identified as being of mixed blood is not surprising, for in the eastern frontier provinces of New Spain, there was a tendency to equate military service with pure Spanish blood.[10] The [6] magic that an officer could perform with a pen on behalf of his soldiers, improving their calidad (quality) to that of Spaniards, generally did not extend to their children after they moved out on their own or even to themselves following their retirement.[11]

Antonio’s grandmother, María Guadalupe de Ávila, was the daughter of Antonio’s other great-grandfather, Felipe de Ávila, who came from Saltillo, Mexico, and entered military service in San Antonio in 1722. An enlisted man, Ávila has the distinction of having been involved in a 1730 homicide that led to the oldest recorded criminal investigation in San Antonio’s history. According to the testimony, Ávila found his wife, Ildefonsa (or Aldonza) Rincón, naked in bed with Nicolás Pasqual, and there was an altercation during which Pasqual stabbed Ávila, who was saved by his brother-in-law and next-door neighbor, Sabatián Rincón. A few weeks later there was a second confrontation during which Ávila shot Pasqual dead. Found not guilty of murder, he was nevertheless ordered transferred to Presidio del Río Grande, and he then disappears from the record. His family remained in San Antonio, where his sons went on to serve in the presidio and acquire property and his daughter María Guadalupe married Joaquín Guerra.[12]

[7] Among the dozen children born to María Guadalupe Ávila and Joaquín Guerra between 1763 and 1785 was María de la Luz Guerra, Antonio’s mother. Luz’s marriage to Mariano Menchaca produced ten children, of whom Antonio was the sixth. Like the other children of early soldiers, Luz appears in the documents as being of mixed blood. Baptismal and census records list her variously as a “mestiza,” “mulata,” “loba,” or “coyote,” and all but the last two of her children are similarly identified in the baptismal registers as “mestizos,” “coyotes,” “lobos,” or “tresalvas.”[13] Sometime between 1820 and 1830 she became widowed, and, as Antonio relates, she lived into the 1840s.[14]

At the time of his death sometime in the 1820s, when he was in his mid-to late sixties, Antonio’s father, Mariano Menchaca, had achieved a measure of prosperity. Having opted not to follow his father into military service as other Bexareños (residents of the San Antonio de Béxar area) did in the last decades of Spanish rule, Mariano rounded up horses and cattle as opportunities arose and otherwise hired out for agricultural work. The last Spanish colonial census of San Antonio, taken in 1820, lists Mariano as a resident of the barrio del sur, that is, the town’s south ward, which extended south from what are today Dolorosa and Market Streets between San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River. It also indicates that he was a labrador, or landholding farmer. Taking Antonio at his word that the family was in San Antonio in 1813 when Joaquín Arredondo entered the city following the battle of Medina, Mariano appears to have been one of the many residents of the city who avoided becoming entangled in the bloody rebellion against Spanish rule. Mariano was also one of those individuals who experienced gradual “whitening” over time, early records recording his status as a “coyote” or “mestizo,” but later records referring to him as an “español.”[15]

Matovina and de la Teja, “Introduction: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History,” in Antonio Menchaca, Recollections of a Tejano Life: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History, edited by Timothy Matovina and Jesús F. de la Teja, with the collaboration of Justin Poché (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013)., 4-7.

  1. [8]Entry 450, San Fernando Cathedral Baptisms, book 5, San Fernando Cathedral Archives, Archdiocese of San Antonio Chancery (hereafter SF followed by the type of register and book number).
  2. [9]Autos sobre diferentes noticias que se han participado a su Exa. de las entradas que en estos dominios hacen los franceses por la parte de Coahuila y providencias dadas para evitárselas y fundación de la misión en la provincia de los Texas, 1715, Provincias Internas, vol. 181, Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, Mexico (hereafter PI); Autos sobre las providencias dadas por su ex., al gobernador de la provincia de Texas para la pacificación de los Indios Apaches y sus aliados, 1731, PI vol. 32; Autos a consulta de dn. Thoribio de Urrutia Capn. del Presidio de Sn. Antonio de Vejar en la Provincia de Texas, sobre aumento de soldados, y otras providencias que pide, para contener los insultos que hacen los Indios Apaches; sobre que también instó D. Joseph de Urrutia su Pe. difunto, PI vol. 32; Testamentary Proceedings for Joseph Urrutia, Bexar, 27 February 1741, Bexar Archives, Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (hereafter these archives are cited as BA); entry 89, SF Marriages, book 4a; entry 224, SF Burials, book 4b.
  3. [10]Unnumbered entry for 19 February 1735, entries 73, 135, 209, 287, 385, 497, 653, 790, 1042, 1274, 1368, 1550, SF Baptisms, book 4;
    entry 1368, SF Burials, book 10; criminal case against Roque, Anselmo, Francisco, and Mateo, Indians of Mission Valero, for the murder of Miguel Leal, 11 August 1778, BA. In northeastern New Spain, including Texas, mestizo and coyote were interchangeable terms denoting an individual of mixed Spanish-Indian blood. Elsewhere in New Spain, the term coyote denoted someone of mestizo-Indian parentage. A mulato was the offspring of a Spanish-black union. The label español was itself often compounded with the adjectives americano for individuals born in the New World and europeo for those born in Europe. Moreover, one need not be from Spain to be an español, as the term was commonly applied to anyone of European blood.
  4. [11]On the role of race in frontier military society, see Jesús F. de la Teja, “Why Urbano and María Trinidad Can’t Get Married: Social Relations in Late Colonial San Antonio.” See also De la Teja, San Antonio de Béxar: A Community on New Spain’s Northern Frontier, 24-28.
  5. [12]Autos a consulta hecha del Pe. Fr. Joseph González, Misionero del Presidio de San Antonio Balero Contra el Capitán Don Nicolás Flores por los motivos que expresa, PI vol. 32; Causa criminal hecha pr. muerte de Nicolás Pasqual contra Felipe de Ávila, Trinidad, 12 April 1730, PI vol. 32; Donación de un solar a Aldonza Rincón y otro a Blas de Ávila, 29 July 1765, Land Grants, Spanish Archives, Bexar County Clerk’s Office, San Antonio, microfilm roll 64 (hereafter BCSA); Donación de un solar a Juan Bautista de Ávila, 22 March 1774, BCSA Land Grants, microfilm roll 64; Census list of Villa, 31 December 1792, Nacogdoches Archives Transcripts, Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (hereafter these transcripts are cited as NAT); Blas de Ávila, vecino del presidio de S. Antonio de Béxar, sobre haberle quitado por el gobernador un pedazo de tierra para mercenarla al cura. Año de 1778, Archivo de Gobierno, Saltillo Legajo 5 expediente 303, in Spanish Materials from Various Sources, vol. 840, no. 4, Briscoe Center for American History,
    University of Texas at Austin; Padrón de las familias y almas que hay en esta Villa de San Fernando de Austria [sic], fecho en 31 December 1796, BA.
  6. [13]A lobo was an individual of Indian and mulatto parentage, while the meaning of the word tresalva is lost.
  7. [14]Entries 73, 135, 209, 287, 385, 497, 653, 790, 1042, 1274, 1425, 1542, 1677, SF Baptisms, book 4, and entries 55, 227, 310, 450, 585, 731, 830, 995, SF Baptisms, book 5; Pardón general, Béxar año de 1790, BA; Padrón de las almas que existen, 31 December 1792, NAT; Padrón de las almas que hay en esta villa, 31 December 1793, BA.
  8. [15]Cuaderno en que se sientan las partidas de el derecho que pagan los que cogen reses orejanas y caballerías mesteñas correspondientes al predicho año. 31 December 1784, BA; Cuaderno en que se sientan las partidas de el dro. que pagan los que cogen reses orejanas y cabellerís mesteñas en el discurso de el predicho año. 31 December 1793, BA; Census, barrio del sur, 1820, BA.

“In the name of racially regulating behavior, laws CREATED racial identities” — Tennessee use of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants” (Haney Lopez)

Second, positive law has created the racial meanings that attach to physical features. In a sense, this is the heart of the prerequisite cases, which at root embody the efforts of the courts to inscribe on the bodies of individual applicants the term “White” or “non-White.” These cases established as legal precedent the racial identities of the various faces and nationalities entering the United States at the turn of the century. Again, however, the racial prerequisites to naturalization are not the only laws that explicitly defined racial identities. Almost every state with racially discriminatory legislation also established legal definitions of race. It is no accident that the first legal ban on interracial marriage, a 1705 Virginia act, also constituted the first statutory effort to define who was Black.[6] Regulating or criminalizing behavior in racial terms required legal definitions of race.[7] Thus, in the years leading up to Brown, most states that made racial distinctions in their laws provided statutory racial definitions, almost always focusing on the boundaries of Black identity. Alabama and Arkansas defined anyone with one drop of “Negro” blood as Black; Florida had a one-eighth rule; Georgia referred to “ascertainable” non-White blood; Indiana used a one-eighth rule; Kentucky relied on a combination of any “appreciable admixture” of Black ancestry and a one-sixteenth rule; Louisiana did not statutorily define Blackness but did adopt via its Supreme Court an “appreciable mixture of negro blood” standard; Maryland used a “person of negro descent to the third generation” test; Mississippi combined an “appreciable amount of Negro blood” and a one-eighth rule; Missouri used a one-eighth test, as did Nebraska, North Carolina, and North Dakota; Oklahoma referred to “all persons of African descent,” [119] adding that the “term ‘white race’ shall include all other persons”; Oregon promulgated a one-fourth rule; South Carolina had a one-eighth standard; Tennessee defined Blacks in terms of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants, having any blood of the African race in their veins”; Texas used an “all persons of mixed blood descended from negro ancestry” standard; Utah law referred to mulattos, quadroons, or octoroons; and Virginia defined Blacks as those in whom there was “ascertainable any Negro blood” with not more than one-sixteenth Native American ancestry.[8]

The very practice of legally defining Black identity demonstrates the social, rather than the natural basis of race. Moreover, these competing definitions demonstrate that the many laws that discriminated on the basis of race more often than not defined, and thus helped to create, the categories they claimed only to elucidate. In defining Black and White, statutory and case law assisted in fashioning the racial significance that by themselves drops of blood, ascertainable amounts, and fractions never could have. In the name of racially regulating behavior, they created racial identities.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 118-119.
  1. [6]Finkelman, supra, at 2088. According to Finkelman, “This act also made the first stab at defining who was actually black. The law declared that anyone who was a child, grandchild, or great grandchild of a black was a mulatto under the statute. this meant that persons who were of one-eighth African ancestry were black for purposes of Virginia law.” See generally A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., and Barbara K. Kopytoff, Racial Purity and Interracial Sex in the Law of Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, 77 GEO. L. J. 1967 (1989).
  2. [7]See Raymond T. Diamond and Robert J. Cottrol, Codifying Caste: Louisiana’s Racial Classification Scheme and the Fourteenth Amendment, 29 LOY. L. REV. 255, 265 (1983) They argue that “[s]tate supported or initiated discrimination required racial definitions. The law could not separate what it failed to categorize.”
  3. [8]Paul Finkelman, The Color of Law, 87 NW. U. L. REV. 937, 955 n. 96 (citing PAUL MURRAY, STATES’ LAWS ON RACE AND COLOR [1950]).