There Goes the Neighborhood-Part 2

Texas Rangers with bodies of random Mexicans they’d killed. The photo was turned into a popular postcard, much like the postcards of lynchings.

In the first post in this series, I gave a little history of anti-immigration sentiment as it affected people from certain parts of Europe and Asia. In this post, Part 2, we go south of the border.

“Poor Mexico…

“Poor Mexico—so far from God, so close to the United States.” The saying is attributed to a former Mexican President. The history between the two countries is rather complex.

Texas had been part of Mexico but in 1836 became an independent republic. At first it wasn’t taken in to the United States, since northern political interests didn’t want to add a new state that would have supported slavery. But when James K. Polk—a believer in “Manifest Destiny”—was elected, he offered to buy the territory. Mexico declined, so in 1845 the United States forcibly annexed Texas. When Mexico refused to recognize the land grab, our government invaded.

In 1848, at the end of the war Mexico was forced to cede Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of present-day Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

Many Mexicans, including mestizos, Afro-Mexicans, and indigenous peoples in the annexed territories, experienced a loss of civil and political rights. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo promised United States citizenship to all former Mexican citizens living in the territories. However, the United States instead gave ceded states the authority to establish citizenship policy.

“…within a year, states were passing laws that banned all Mexicans in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas from United States citizenship, except white male Mexicans. Furthermore, non-white Mexicans lost certain citizenship rights, such as the right to practice law, vote or hold certain government positions. Indigenous peoples lost land rights and were exterminated or forced into reservations.”

Subsequent violence against Tejanos (formerly Mexican, now residents of Texas) erupted in 1910-1920, when the Texas Rangers pushed many off the land they’d been farming for generations and murdered them with impunity.  A 2016 article in the El Paso Times quotes history Professor Benjamin Johnson, who says there were even calls to force Tejanos into concentration camps.

The El Paso Times article is headed by a photo of Rangers on horseback with the bodies of Mexicans. The photo was made into a postcard (similar to popular postcards with photos depicting lynching of Blacks). Although the victims were apparently killed at random, the card was titled “Dead Mexican Bandits.”

Anti-Mexican and anti-Latino violence continues to this day.

On August 3, 2019, a gunman slaughtered 22 shoppers and wounded dozens more in an El Paso supermarket. He had fulminated against a “Hispanic invasion” and said he wanted to kill Mexicans.

Since 2010, Border Patrol agents have killed more than 125 people, six of those in cross-border shootings. In the cross-border shootings, the agents always claim that the victims were throwing stones, although videos contradict this.

On February 24, 2020, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court ruled that constitutional protections don’t apply across the border, so the agents have complete immunity. (That was before Ruth Bader Ginsburg died—now it would be 6-3 instead of 5-4.)

On January 13, 2024, a woman and two children drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande. In this case the Border Patrol wanted to help, but was denied access by the Texas National Guard under the direction of Governor Greg Abbott.

In the Footsteps of the Founders

How can we blame Trump for espousing the anti-immigrant, racist sentiments of Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, as well as those other luminaries I quoted in Part 1? Granted, his language is a bit coarser. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he asked, referring to African nations, and then suggested bringing in immigrants from Norway.

I’m sure that Trump truly believes his words. I suspect that most right-wing politicians share his attitudes. Others are probably more cynical, finding it useful to foment resentment between one group of workers and another, usually based on race, ethnicity, or immigration status. This is particularly effective during a downturn, when the lower status group can be accused of taking away jobs and suppressing wages.

These days a number of economists and pundits say that our country is doing well. I’m looking at NY Times columnists Paul Krugman and reporter Lydia DePillis. What they really mean is that the GDP is up and there’s more money in the overall economy. However, that money is going to CEOs and shareholders. It isn’t reaching the average worker, who has been putting in longer hours and/or working gigs with no set schedule, no job security, and no benefits, as well as paying vastly inflated sums for food and housing.

In such conditions the seeds of hatred find fertile ground.

Anti-immigrant hostility has been particularly virulent in recent years, not coincidentally since the rise of Trumpism. And it’s not just the MAGA voter who regurgitates racism. Middle- and upper middle-class readers of the Times (I am, alas, a subscriber), people who are very comfortable economically, write in comments expressing outrage at the influx of new arrivals.

To be continued…

3 Responses to There Goes the Neighborhood-Part 2

  1. Connie O Byrne March 4, 2024 at 10:50 pm #

    and yet our economy would take a big hit without the immigrant work force, people willing to take ridiculously low-paying jobs, living in extreme poverty simply because that’s all they can get. they are also subjected to harsh suppression tactics and constantly under threat of deportation.

    keep writing and sharing this history…as the Bishop Rev. Barber says, poverty is violence.

  2. Martha Shelley March 4, 2024 at 11:56 pm #

    Exactly! And it’s been that way at least since they brought in Chinese laborers in the mid-1800s to build the Transcontinental Railroad. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the Mexican laborers, “Deportee.” Here’s a link to Joan Baez singing it:

  3. Connie O Byrne March 5, 2024 at 12:43 am #

    and I keep.goingvback to Tracey Chapman and her song about waiting on a revolution…and waiting. I’m hoping it will come in my lifetime, but I no longer am holding my breath.

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