1920s: “a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school.” (Foley, The White Scourge)

Miscegenation laws forbade the marriage of blacks with whites, but because Mexicans were often regarded as nonwhite, even if they were legally white, they were rarely, if ever, prosecuted.[13] In one particular case the law was applied for entirely different reasons than that of intermarriage. During the 1920s a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school. Mexican children in this township attended the white school in separate classrooms for the first two or three years; afterwards, only a token few, usually the ones Anglo teachers singled out as being “clean” and “not like the others,” were permitted to continue their education. A judge from Dimmit County, where the case was tried, told Paul Taylor: “The Negroes with Negro-Mexican children and the Mexicans wanted to send their children to the white school, so when that started… they just indicted and tried them for violating the law against intermarriage. Then they tipped off the women that if they had nigger blood they could not put the men in jail.”[14] Lemmon’s Mexican [209] wife confessed that she must be part black in order to have charges dropped against her husband for marrying a white person. This “proved that all the Mexicans were black,” reported one county resident, “so we put the Mexicans and Negroes together in school and employed a part Negro to teach them.”[15] The judge solved the problem of segregating Mexicans from whites in a town that had only two schools for three ethnic groups by changing the racial classification of Mexicans to black.

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 208-209.

 

  1. [13]Interview with H. H. Schultz, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Austin, Texas, no. 192-363, folder “American Government Officials,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. When whites married Mexicans, especially of the “peon” class (dark-skinned), they were said to have descended “to the level of the Mexicans” (interview with Mr. Martin, county agent, El Paso County, Texas, no. 85-90, folder “Along Rio Grande,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers). For a fine study of miscegenation law and racial ideology, see Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law,” 44-69.
  2. [14]Interview with Judge Wildenthal, no. 54-644, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers.
  3. [15]Interview with John Asker, no. 42-634, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers, and interview with Bob Lemmons, no. 246-417, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. Asker told Taylor that he liked Mexicans but added, “You can’t make a rose out of an onion.”

“one path, slouching toward whiteness” vs. “Another path … brown” multiracial identity (Foley)

The rapid increase in the Hispanic population has not, however, complicated the black-white binary of U.S. race relations to the extent one might have expected. In part, this is because middle-class Hispanics–with the assistance of the Census Bureau in 1980–have redrawn the boundaries of whiteness to include both Hispanics and “non-Hispanic whites.” Mexican Americans, like other Hispanic groups, are at a crossroads: one path, slouching toward whiteness, leads to racial fissures that harden the color line between blacks and whites. Hispanic whites express their new sense of entitlement often by supporting anti-affirmative action laws, English-only movements, and other nativist ideologies on the backs of immigrants and African Americans. Another path welcomes the shared responsibility of defining and bringing into existence a transnational multiracial identity that acknowledges the Indian and African heritage of Latinos  and their ancient ties to the Western hemisphere, an identity that the author Richard Rodriguez calls simply “brown.”[49]

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), 141.

 

  1. [49]Richard Rodríguez, Brown: The Last Discovery of America (New York: Viking, 2000).

“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.

“In Texas, unlike in other parts of the South, whiteness meant not only not black but also not Mexican” (Foley)

In rupturing the black-white polarity of southern race relations, the presence of Mexicans in central Texas raises some interesting questions about the way in which “whiteness” itself fissured along race and class lines. White Texans had a long history of invoking the color line in their social, economic, and political interactions with African Americans, but they had little experience in plantation society with what one contemporary sociologist called “partly colored races.”[12] Were partly colored Mexicans, in other words, white or nonwhite? As a racially mixed group, Mexicans, like Indians or Asians, lived in a black-and-white nation that regarded them neither as black nor as white. Although small numbers of Mexicans–usually light-skinned, middle-class Mexican Americans–claimed to be Spanish and therefore white, the overwhelming majority of Texas whites regarded Mexicans as a “mongrelized” race of Indian, African, and Spanish ancestry. In Texas, unlike in other parts of the South, whiteness meant not only not black but also not Mexican.[13]

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 5.

 

  1. [12]Mnax Sylvius Hindman, “Economic Reasons for the Coming of the Mexican Immigrant,” American Journal of Sociology 35 (January 1930): 609-10; and idem, “The Mexican Immigrant in Texas,” Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 7 (June 1926): 37.
  2. [13]For the growing literature on working-class constructions of whiteness, see David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London and New York: Verso, 1991); idem, Towards the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working-Class History (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, vol. 1, Racial Oppression and Social Control (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York and London: Routledge, 1995); and Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (London and New york: Verso, 1990). On the legal construction of whiteness, see Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996); and Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106 (June 1993): 1709-91. On racial formation and the gendered construction of racial ideologies, see Howard Winant, Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs 17 (Winter 1992): 251-74; Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83 (June 1996): 44-69; Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); and Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History (London and New York: Verso, 1992). See also Barbara J. Fields, “Ideology and Race in America,” in Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, ed. J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 143-77; Thomas C. Holt, “Marking: Race, Race-Making, and the Writing of History,” American Historical Review 100 (February 1995), 1-20; and Ronald Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979).

“while longhorns, Stetson hats, and the romance of ranching have replaced cotton, mules, and overalls in the historical imagination of Anglo Texans today, the fact remains that most Anglo Texans were descended from transplanted Southerners who had fought hard to maintain the ‘color line’ in Texas and to extend its barriers to Mexicans” (Foley)

Southern vs. Southwestern Image and Orientation / WS, 2

The postbellum image of the South also overlooks twentieth-century Texas and its large population of Mexicans, both native-born and immigrant, who came increasingly to displace Anglos and blacks on cotton farms in central Texas after 1910. As part of the Spanish borderlands before 1821 and as a Mexican state until 1836, Texas has had a long history of interaction between Mexicans and Anglos, as well as between masters and slaves in east Texas.[2] East [2] Texas, for example, fits comfortably within the cultural and historiographical boundaries of the South, with its history of slavery, cotton, and postemancipation society. South Texas, however, shares more commonalities with the history of the “trans-Rio Grande North” and Mexico than with the U.S. South. These discrete cultural regions of east and south Texas overlap in south-central Texas from Waco to Corpus Christi, where cultural elements of the South, the West, and Mexico have come to form a unique borderlands culture. Spanish, French, German, African, Mexican, English, Polish, Czech, and other groups have left their cultural mark in a society of such great social heterogeneity and hybridity that one geographer has called it the “shatter belt.” Texas is thus culturally and historiographically at some distance from the “most southern place on earth,” but its cotton culture nevertheless makes it recognizably southern, even if the state’s large Mexican population continues to link it with other western states and Mexico (see Maps 1 and 2).[3]

As the cotton culture of the South advanced westward, Texas retained the image of a state more western than southern, in part because, as one Texas historian has noted, cotton makes Texas seem “too southern, hence Confederate, defeated, poor, and prosaic.”[4] In Texas, “unlike the Deep South,” wrote the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, “there was no leisure class to romanticize cotton farming, and it could at no time compete with ranching in capturing the imagination of the people as an ideal way of life.”[5] Tourists flock to San Antonio more than any other Texas city because it alone captures the image that Texans most like to project of themselves–defenders of the Alamo, victors in the war against Mexico, pioneers in the western wilderness, manly cowboys and rich cattle barons. But while longhorns, Stetson hats, and the romance of ranching have replaced cotton, mules, and overalls in the historical imagination of Anglo Texans today, the fact remains that most Anglo Texans were descended from transplanted Southerners who had fought hard to maintain the “color line” in Texas and to extend its barriers to Mexicans. Many Anglo Texans thus often wore two hats: the ten-gallon variety as well as the white hood of the Invisible Empire.[6]

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 1-2.
  1. [2]On interactions between Mexicans and Anglos in Texas, see David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987); Américo Paredes, “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958); and Arnoldo de León, The Tejano Community, 1836-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982). On slavery in Texas, see Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989); Paul D. Lack, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835-1836 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992), 238-52; and Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin: Founder of Texas, 1793-1836 (1926; reprint, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), 201-25.
  2. [3]Terry D. Jordan, John L. Bean Jr., and William M. Holmes, Texas: A Geography, Geographies of the United States Series (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1984), 5, 91.
  3. [4]Robert A. Calvert, “Agrarian Texas,” in Texas through Time: Evolving Interpretations, ed. Walter L. Buenger and Robert a. Calvert (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991), 197.
  4. [5]Oscar Lewis, On the Edge of the Black Waxy: A Cultural Survey of Bell County, Texas (Saint Louis, Mo.: Washington University Studies, New Series, 1948), 2.
  5. [6]On the resistance of many white Texans to identify with the Texas of the South and the Confederacy, see Campbell, Empire for Slavery, 1. For a long-overdue discussion of the burden of Western history, see Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987), esp. 17-32. On the connection between southern and western regional identities, see David M. Emmons, “Constructed Province: History and the Making of the Last American West,” Western Historical Quarterly 25 (Winter 1994): 437-59, and, in the same issue, the responses by Joan M. Jensen (pp. 461-63), A. Yvette Huginnie (pp. 463-66), Albert L. Hurtado (pp. 467-69), Charles Reagan Wilson (pp. 470-73), Edward L. Ayers (pp. 473-76), and William Cronon (pp. 476-81). See also Edward L. Ayers, “What We Talk about When We Talk About the South,” and Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Region and Reason,” in All over the Map: Rethinking American Regions, ed. Edward L. Ayers et al. (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 62-104.

“became the nation’s leading cotton-producing state by 1890” (Foley)

Whatever image of the South one summons, it largely excludes Texas cotton farmers, even though Texas, as a slave state of the Confederacy, experienced defeat and Reconstruction and became the nation’s leading cotton-producing state by 1890.

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 1.

 

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]

1893: “The statute defined colored as ‘all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry. Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law…” (Foley)

1893: state segregation law for schools still defines “colored” as “Negro ancestry” / BB&W, 129

Second, Plessy v. Ferguson did not apply to Mexicans, inasmuch as they were officially recognized as “white.” In Texas, for example, the legislature passed a law in 1893, six years before the Supreme Court mandated “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, that required separate schools for the state’s white and “colored” children. The statute defined colored as “all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry.”[11] Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law, and school districts defended the practice on the grounds that Mexican children did not speak English and spent part of the school year with their families as migrant agricultural workers. When Mexican American civil rights activists were able to show that Mexican children were arbitrarily segregated, regardless of English-language facility, the courts generally ruled in favor of the plaintiff Mexican Americans.[12]

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.

 

  1. [11]C. H. Jenkins, The Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, Annotated, (Austin: H. P. N. Gammel Book Co., 1925), vol. 1, p. 1036.
  2. [12]See Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “The Origins, Development, and Consequences of the Educational Segregation of Mexicans in the Southwest,” in Chicano Studies: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. by Eugene E. García, Francisco Lomeli, and Isidro Ortiz (New York: Teachers College Press, 1984), pp. 195-208.