Friday, February 02, 2007

Una Identidad Sin Fronteras: Remembering 1848

El Segundo de Febrero - the 2nd of February. An important date for scores of Mexican Americans/Xicanos/Latinos/whatevertheywishtobecalled, yet only a speck of us know why it is significant. In 2007, it is either just another Friday or a day to fuss over a marmot groundhog.

I have to admit that I had no clue why this day was important until it was introduced to me by an active Xicano movement here in Baja Arizona several years ago. You see, today is one of our birthdays as a people.

In December 1845, the U.S. Congress voted to annex the Texas Republic and soon sent troops led by General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande (regarded by Mexicans as their territory) to protect its border with Mexico. The inevitable clashes between Mexican troops and U.S. forces provided the rationale for a Congressional declaration of war on May 13, 1846.

Hostilities continued for the next two years as General Taylor led his troops through to Monterrey, and General Stephen Kearny and his men went to New Mexico, Chihuahua, and California. But it was General Winfield Scott and his army that delivered the decisive blows as they marched from Veracruz to Puebla and finally captured Mexico City itself in August 1847.

Mexican officials and Nicholas Trist, President Polk's representative, began discussions for a peace treaty that August. On February 2, 1848 the Treaty was signed in Guadalupe Hidalgo, a city north of the capital where the Mexican government had fled as U.S. troops advanced. Its provisions called for Mexico to cede 55% of its territory (present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Nevada and Utah) in exchange for fifteen million dollars in compensation for war-related damage to Mexican property. - linkage (emphasis mine)

I say "one of our birthdays" because five years after Mexico lost half of its territory at the receiving end of a military assault, la frontera was moved north yet again to its current form.

The territory desired by Gadsden and his group was then a sort of no man's land, experiencing frequent Indian raids. The United States wanted to make certain "boundary adjustments"; Mexico needed money and wanted a settlement of her Indian claims against the United States; and Gadsden and his friends wanted a route for their railroad. In 1852 Gadsden agreed to pay Santa Anna $10,000,000 for a strip of territory south of the Gila River and lying in what is now southwestern New Mexico and southern Arizona.

Many Americans were not especially proud of the Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty and considered the price of the Gadsden Purchase as "conscience money." The Gadsden Purchase has an area of 45,535 square miles and is almost as large as Pennsylvania. This tract of nearly 30,000,000 acres cost Uncle Sam about thirty-three cents an acre.

The deal was so unpopular in Mexico that Santa Anna was unseated as dictator and banished. Gadsden was recalled as Minister to Mexico for mixing in Mexican politics and domestic affairs and did not live to see the Southern Pacific Railroad built through his purchase. When the inhabitants of Arizona asked Congress for a Territorial government in 1854, one of the names suggested for the new Territory was Gadsonia, a Latin adaptation of the surname of James Gadsden. - linkage

These dates have been on my mind lately because I honestly feel like they are important threads of history to consider while indigenous families continue to be raided in their workplaces, splitting up homes forcefully the same way they were 150+ years ago (hat tip to Madman for the CounterPunch link).

I think the "uphold the law" crowd likes to pretend that there is no history when it comes to the cultural and political dynamics that exist between the United States and Latin America (mainly thinking of Mexico here). The reason that places like Texas are part of the U.S. is because illegals were invading the territory in droves during the mad rushes of gold fever and Manifest Destiny. The only differences between them and the current illegals were/are skin color and language.

It should be noted that when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, the U.S. Congress decided that it needed to make changes when they got their hands on it. They stripped away guarantees of property rights and ties to the mother languages of the people who suddenly found themselves citizens of a different government overnight.

But, as we all know, life is a stubborn child that will get its way despite the rules. That is why we still have countless homes of citizens and non-citizens that speak only Spanish, or cities such as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio Porciúncula within the United States (L.A. for the uninformed), or United States-born Americans who can say things like "that's as American as salsa de tomatillo!" without flinching.

There are Xicanos in the United States with a bicultural identity because we have a history that is bicultural. It is not rocketscience. And I don't think it is asking too much that we be allowed to live it through our language or synergistic reality, much to the chagrin of the nativist brigades.

Walking the streets of Washington D.C. last weekend by myself was something that I have done before. This time was different, however. I felt disconnected from the meaning of the glow of the lit monuments at night. I'm aware that my history also flows in the direction of the Potomac, but it seems like that is the mundane tributary at the moment. I'm on a quest to unearth the spring that can be found in the dusty river bottom of the Gila instead.

At some point I will find the source. From where all of the water flows. But for now, all I can see is the sangre-tinged currents and wonder what it will take for all of us to stop and figure out a way how to coexist without conquering or killing one another.

Más Historia:
Crossposted at BooMan Tribune

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