February 2nd was the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. This treaty officially ended what has been known as the Mexican War, and which subsequently ceded over half the territory of the nation of Mexico over to the United States. Many also see it as the beginning of the Chicano people, a colonized nation within U.S. borders. Even though it happened over 166 years ago, its legacy remains today, and the aftermath will have repercussions for the future of the United States and the Chicano and Mexicano people.
This year in 2014 on that date, The Economist, a weekly British mainstream news magazine, posted a blurb about this date, along with a demographic map:
On February 2nd 1848, following a short and one-sided war, Mexico agreed to cede more than half its territory to the United States. An area covering most of present-day Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, plus parts of several other states, was handed over to gringolandia. The rebellious state of Tejas, which had declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, was recognised as American soil too. But a century and a half later, communities have proved more durable than borders. The counties with the highest concentration of Mexicans (as defined by ethnicity, rather than citizenship) overlap closely with the area that belonged to Mexico before the great gringo land-grab of 1848. Some are recent arrivals; others trace their roots to long before the map was redrawn. They didn’t jump the border—it jumped them.
It is interesting that a mainstream publication like the Economist would characterize this event so truthfully, especially describing it as a “gringo land-grab.” It also nicely summarizes this history.
The Treaty is seen as the beginning of the Chicano people. The roots of the Chicano people on this land are deep and go back thousands of years before Columbus, as the land was populated by indigenous nations. After the Spanish Conquest the northern lands of what became New Spain were colonized, with the vast majority of those settlers being indigenous and mestizo. In 1810 a war for independence begun against Spain, and was completed in 1821, with New Spain becoming the new independent country of Mexico, named after the Mexica people and their empire commonly known as the Aztecs. It is no surprise that the Chicano people identified with their indigenous heritage.
As Mexico was developing as a new nation, it faced its weak leadership along with the expansion of the United States under its doctrine of Manifest Destiny. A misguided attempt by Mexico to encourage settlement of what is now Texas by Anglos resulted in the encroachment of the Mexican people there by those settlers. The aftermath of the Texas Rebellion in 1836 by these settlers resulted in a short-lived Texas republic, and later annexation in the United States as a state that would allow slavery. Border disputes between these two nations created the pretext that led to the invasion of Mexico by the U.S.
The Mexican War started in 1846, and ended in 1848. Mexico as a new nation was unevenly matched with the military might of the United States, and at one Mexico City was militarily occupied by U.S. troops during this war. At the time it was the costliest war the U.S. ever fought, The war finally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by American and Mexican representatives on February 5, 1848. For $15 million, the U.S. took authority of all the northern lands of Mexico, 55 percent of its territory then. It was ratified by the Senate some months later, only delayed because of debate about taking more Mexican land, which was nixed because they did not want more Mexican people to become American citizens. Later in 1853 the Gadsden Purchase was done, for the interests of railroad companies, which took more land of what is now southern New Mexico and Arizona. This treaty and subsequent acts afterward established the present-day border of the U.S. and Mexico.
The Treaty gave the Mexican citizens living in the territories taken by the United States the option of becoming U.S. citizens or moving to Mexico. The great majority decided to stay, as they had strong generational ties to the land and considered it their homeland. The treaty said that these new citizens would have all the rights of American citizens, and retain their property rights, language rights, and rights of cultural identity. The key parts of the Treaty were articles VIII and IX:
Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in the said territories, or disposing thereof, and removing the proceeds wherever they please, without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax, or charge whatever.
Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States. But they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty; and those who shall remain in the said territories after the expiration of that year, without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexicans, shall be considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States.
In the said territories, property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans not established there, shall be inviolably respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said property by contract, shall enjoy with respect to it guarantees equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.
The Mexicans who, in the territories aforesaid, shall not preserve the character of citizens of the Mexican Republic, conformably with what is stipulated in the preceding article, shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States. and be admitted at the proper time (to be judged of by the Congress of the United States) to the enjoyment of all the rights of citizens of the United States, according to the principles of the Constitution; and in the mean time, shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without; restriction.
A section respecting the rights of land grants, Article X, was taken out before it was ratified, although other sections stated the property rights would be upheld. Another part of the treaty, Article XI,, showed how both countries dealt with the indigenous nations in these territories, guaranteeing cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico against the raids by “savage” tribes. This last part, along with guarantees of religious freedom, were in fact the only parts of the Treaty that were guaranteed. As with other treaties signed by the U.S. in the 19th century, this one was never worth the paper it was written on.
The U.S. wasted no time in bringing in white settlers to take over their newly acquired land, and encroached on the Mexican people every way they could, from legal means to outright violence. The Mexican people were subject to a wide range of national oppression, and became second class citizens within the U.S. The new citizens were no longer part of Mexico and its nascent development as a nation, and at the same time never fully integrated into American society. They were a colonized people inside the United States occupation. They became Chicanos, an oppressed nationality forged through a common experience of national oppression.
Another thing this land grab did was enable the U.S. to continue to expand its empire. There were up to 100,000 Mexican residents in these territories who chose to stay on their land and become subjects of the U.S. These lands were sparsely populated by 1848 but had a vast amount of natural resources. Gold was discovered in California shortly after the signing of the Treaty. Along with oil in Texas, minerals, agricultural land, and the access to the entirety of the West coast, this all created a major accumulation of wealth for the U.S., This wealth acquisition was also aided by the labor of the Mexican people and other exploited peoples in the region the settlers used. This wealth was used by U.S. imperialism to acquire more land and resources, through either financial or military means, not only in North America but around the world. For military means, it is no mistake that there are a fairly high number of Amerikan military installations in this territory up to today.
The Treaty redefined the border and the border region. These borders, never existing in any natural or political state before, have ever since been fortified. It is no surprise as these borders were imposed by military conquest. Despite this border, migration through Mexico has continued up to today, which has added to the number of Chicano and Mexicano people in the region, as shown in the map above. This is what drives the ongoing nativism by the settler class. Yet if these borders more or less stayed consistent from before 1848, this migration would seem normal, as it would be an internal migration between the same country. But what has happened is that with the continued migrations of mostly Mexicans in the surrounding regions is reinforcing Mexican culture in the region, from the language and norms to its economic impact. In other words, reinforcing Mexican ties to the land.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and its ongoing violations are a constant reminder of the Amerikan occupation. It has been invoked many times, including by Reies Lopez Tijerina and the land grant movement he helped lead in the 1960’s. In the daily struggles for democratic rights it should always be referenced to. Yet the struggle is not a legal one but one of self-determination.
The inherent contradictions of this imperialist occupation on stolen land, like other occupations in this American empire, will eventually come to a head. It is also a struggle over identity, and our identity will not be settled by being consumed into Americanism. The right-wing of settler society sees an invasion of Third World hordes. The liberal sections of settler society sees us as another ethnic group to be assimilated as “Americans.” Even settler based Marxists want to ignore what that tradition has called the National Question to subsume our national struggle to one of a white-led “multinational” working class struggle, or to opportunistically use our struggle for their own aims. All of these ignore that our struggle, the struggle of the Chicano and Mexicano people, is a national struggle, and thus a struggle of self-determination. This means that as a nation we have right to not only be on this land but to influence our destiny on this land. The goal to liberation will be one of building our own nation-state, whether under our own authority or to reunite with a revolutionary Mexico being options to be determined. It means having political authority over our land. This strategy is based on objective conditions based on the inevitable collapse of the Amerikan empire, which like other empires before it will fall. It will also be aided by the demographic shifts within this region and the rest of the United States that will bring out these contradictions. This would also be accompanied with the other liberation movements of the other captive nations of the empire. The New Afrikan nation, the indigenous Native nations, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, this empire being a prison-house of nations. This struggle, in going against one of the largest imperial powers in the world, will also aid the international struggles for liberation, freeing other nations under the grip of Amerikan imperialism.