[On Valentine’s Day, I gave a Fitchburg State University Harrod Lecture on my book in progress: Exclusion & Inclusion: The Battle to Define America. These histories and stories couldn’t be more important to me these days, so I wanted to spend the next couple weeks highlighting some of them. Starting with this year’s version of my annual non-favorites series, focused on exclusionary moments from across American history. Add some of your least favorite histories, stories, or figures for a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances!]
On the treaty that displaced and excluded, psychologically but also in many cases physically, a foundational American community.
While there remain many significant gaps in our national narratives about and inclusions of Native Americans, I think we’ve gotten a lot better in the last few decades at recognizing a couple core realities of Native American experience: the history of unbalanced and broken treaties that defined the government’s relationship with native tribes; and the removals from and losses of homelands and homes that said history produced. As I wrote in this post on the Trail of Tears, those narratives don’t do anything like full justice to Native American histories, nor do they help us much to engage with contemporary native issues, identities, and perspectives; but they’re definitely better than nothing. And when it comes to another community that saw their homes and homelands significantly altered by both federal action and encroaching Anglo settlers, Mexican Americans in the mid to late 19th century, “nothing” is about the extent of what our national narratives include.
As I wrote in this post, the most significant and troubling aspect of our national misunderstandings of the Mexican American War isn’t related to the war itself—it’s about the longer histories and communities that we fail to recognize and incorporate into our narratives as a result. Without an awareness of the many, longstanding and deeply rooted Mexican American communities and identities in the Southwest and California, homes and homelands that went back in many cases to the first 16th and 17th century arrivals of Spanish explorers and settlers, it’s certainly impossible to understand with any complexity the war itself, and specifically how much it pitted American communities against one another, at least as much as it represented two distinct nations in conflict. But without such awareness it’s even more difficult to recognize how much the war’s conclusion, and the terms and effects of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with which it closed, changed for those longstanding Mexican American communities and individuals.
Far from representing a negotiated peace settlement, the Treaty’s terms were mostly dictated by the US representatives—who were occupying Mexico City at the time—and the imbalance is obvious: the treaty is more exactly a land transfer, one equal to the Louisiana Purchase in its immediate and sweeping addition of an enormous area (comprising more than 500,000 square miles) to the United States. When it came to the many communities of Mexican Americans present within that region, the Treaty was in its official terms quite generous, granting citizenship to them and expressing support for their maintaining of their lands and homes. Yet precisely as was the case with the aforementioned treaties with native tribes, the Treaty was immediately and consistently broken: both by arriving Anglo settlers who treated Mexican American land as available for the taking; and by subsequent legal decisions and governmental policies, which tended to side consistently and overwhelmingly with those Anglo settlers. Much of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s historical novel The Squatter and the Don (1885) focuses precisely on that history of broken promises and lost homelands; the book’s second chapter, “The Don’s View of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” should be required reading for all Americans if we are to understand the perspectives and experiences of Mexican Americans over these dark decades of displacement and exclusion.
Next anti-favorite tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other anti-favorites you’d highlight?
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