“In the western states, racial discrimination against Mexicans shares an almost equally long history, appearing for example in California’s 1855 ‘Greaser Act'” (Haney Lopez)

California 1855 ‘Greaser’ Act — [using a Texas-origin ethnic slur… -CJ]

It may be that those who draft or support such laws are unconscious racists in the sense that they operate under the influence of prevalent social prejudices but cannot admit even to themselves the racial antipathies that rule their fears and desires. Racial prejudice against immigrants is a long tradition in the United States, evident [145] certainly in the prerequisite cases. In the western states, racial discrimination against Mexicans shares an almost equally long history, appearing for example in California’s 1855 “Greaser Act,” an antiloitering law that applied to “all persons who are commonly known as ‘Greasers’ or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood . . . and who go armed and are not peaceable and quiet persons.”[65] Prejudice forms an established part of the contemporary social fabric, even as it stands in contradiction to society’s expressed disapproval of racial discrimination. Racial prejudice, though not consciously recognized as such, exists at a level that motivates and directs social hostility, giving it rhetorical and, more importantly, legal form.

The relative lack of intentional racial animus behind Proposition 187 and similar anti-immigrant legislation does not reduce the effect such laws have in maintaining and deepening racial hierarchies. […] Anti-immigrant laws, drawing on deep social beliefs in racial hierarchy, give effect to and entrench those same social beliefs.

The prevalence and daily material reinforcement of racist beliefs in our society ensure the continued legal construction of race in the form of ostensibly neutral but [146] actually discriminatory laws put forward by those who assure us, and are genuinely convinced of, their own good intentions.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 144-146.


  1. [65]Act of April 30, 1855, ch. 175, § 2, 1855, Cal. Stat. 217, excerpted in ROBERT F. HEIZER and ALAN J. ALMQUIST, THE OTHER CALIFORNIANS: PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION UNDER SPAIN, MEXICO, AND THE UNITED STATES 151 (1971).

Compare antebellum vagrancy laws in Texas and California (California Statutes vs. Oldham and White)

Text of the California “Greaser Act” (An Act to punish Vagrants, Vagabonds, and Dangerous and Suspicious Persons,” April 30, 1855.)

Section 1. All persons except Digger Indians, who have no visible means of living, who in ten days do not seek employment, nor labor when employment is offered to them, all healthy beggars, who travel with written statements of their misfortunes, all persons who roam about from place to place without any lawful business, all lewd and common prostitutes and common drunkards may be committed to jail and sentenced to hard labor for such time as the Court, before whom they are convicted shall think proper, not exceeding ninety days.

Sec. 2. All persons who are commonly known as “Greasers” or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood, who may come within the provisions of the first section of this Act, and who go armed and are not known to be peaceable and quiet persons, and who can give no good account of themselves, may be disarmed by any lawful officer, and punished otherwise as provided by the foregoing section.

The Statutes of California, Passed at the Sixth Session of the Legislature, Begun on the First Day of January, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty-Five, and Ended on the Seventh Day of May, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty-Five, at the City of Sacramento (Sacramento: B.B. Bedding, State Printer, 1855), 217.

(Sections 3-5 provide for Justices of the Peace, keepers of the Jail, and Board of Supervisors’ administrative powers and duties. Section 6 states when the act will take effect.)

Text of the Texas antebellum vagrancy act (“Of Vagrants,” Act of Aug. 26, 1856[?])

Art. 891. A vagrant is an idle person, living without any visible means of support, and making no exertion to obtain a support by any honest employment.

Art. 892. It is the duty of each Chief Justice of a county and Justice of the Peace, to order the arrest of vagrants, which may be done by warrant, directed to any peace officer.


Art. 895. When a person arrested is taken before the magistrate, he shall proceed to ascertain whether he is a vagrant within the meaning of the law; and if it be found that he is, the magistrate shall make an order that such vagrant be put to labor in such a manner as the County Court may direct.


Art. 897. The County Court of each county shall, by general regulation, provide for the manner in which vagrants are to be employed, and the kind of labor to which they shall be put, which may be upon any road, bridge, or other public work of the county.

Art. 898. The County Court shall so regulate the disposal of vagrants, as that they may be compelled to labor for the first offence not more than one week, and for the second, or any subsequent offence, not more than three weeks, during which time the person so compelled to work shall be supported, and, if deserving thereof, shall be paid an additional compensation, at the direction of the County Court, out of the county treasury.

Art. 899. The municipal authorities of incorporated towns and cities may make like regulations, respecting cases of vagrancy within their respective [668] jurisdictions, and vagrants may be arrested and dealt with under the warrant of the Mayor or Recorder of such town or city; may be compelled, in like manner, to labor upon any street or public work of such town or city, and shall be supported and compensated therefor out of the treasury of the corporation, at the discretion of such municipal authorities.

George W. White and Williamson S. Oldham, eds. A Digest of the General Statute Laws of the State of Texas (Austin, Tex.: Printed by J. Marshall & Co., 1859), 667-668 (link).