Violence against Mexicans: a neglected part of our history

As the struggle for immigrant equality and justice is waged in the streets and heated debate fills Congress, a wave of hate crime has been unleashed upon the Mexican/Chicano community in the Southwest, a violent wave not without precedent in U.S. history. This “open season” declared by white supremacists, haters and xenophobes given the pretext of the ultra-right nationally fabricated “immigrant crisis” was witnessed in the April 22 assault on a 16-year-old Mexican American boy near Houston. The young Chicano suffered through a 15-minute attack in which the attackers shouted ethnic slurs and which included head-stomping with steel- toed boots and sodomization with the sharpened plastic tube of a patio umbrella, which was later filled with bleach and administered onto the young victim. After this modern day lynching the youth was left for 10 hours before an ambulance was called.

David Tuck, 18, and Keith Turner, 17, may be convicted of capital murder if the juvenile football team star at Klein Collins High School dies, along with the aggravated sexual assault charges they currently face. Texas prosecutors, representing a state with an ominous record of anti-Mexican/Chicano institutional racism, have refused to seek hate crime charges against the pair. Says County Prosecutor Mike Trent, “Whether it is one or isn’t a hate crime, and it may be, that will make no difference here.”

Since the year 2000, the FBI has reported over 2,500 hate crimes against Latinos based on race and ethnicity — and how many more have gone unreported? The pattern of anti-Latino violence suggests that hate crimes against Mexicans/Chicanos continue unabated. This climate of hate, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has been stoked by “the extreme fringe of the anti-immigration movement [which] includes white supremacist groups, anti-Hispanic hate groups masquerading as immigration reform groups, and vigilante border patrol groups who have conducted armed patrols along the borders of the United States.”

The hate crimes of this far-right sector — aroused with the current rhetoric of “immigrant invasion,” “Mexican territorial expansion” and “race war” suggested by the corporate media in conjunction with ultra-right political forces currently exercising power — are deeply rooted in the history of the U.S. Southwest and for the Mexicans/Chicanos are only the latest incarnation of what has existed since the beginning.

It is an often-neglected part of U.S. history and the Mexican/Chicano civil rights struggle that following the Manifest Destiny-inspired 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, in which Mexico lost over half of its territory to the U.S., the violence against and lynchings of Mexicans in the territory now known as the “U.S. Southwest” began.

In the period following U.S. colonialization of the Southwest, Rodolfo Acuna, author of “Occupied America, a History of the Chicanos,” writes, “lynching became commonplace and Mexicans came to know Euroamerican democracy as ‘Linchocracia.’”

With no political power or social standing in the new nation, the Mexicans whom the border “crossed over” had no recourse or protection as the wrecking ball of corrupt individuals and institutions of the new nation waged class and race warfare with impunity. Suggests Luis Angel Toro of the University of Dayton, “The Anglos who poured into Texas and the rest of the Southwest brought their apparatus of racial terror, developed to hold the African American people in bondage, to the newly conquered territories. Mexicans became frequent victims of beatings and lynching.” Records indicate the disturbing statistic that between 1848 and 1870, 473 out of every 100,000 Mexicans in the Southwest died from lynchings.

In 1884 Mexicans around Fort Davis, Texas, fled daily lynchings as area Anglos, spurred on by the racist Texas Rangers (“los Pinches Rinches”), voiced the opinion that the lynchings should continue until the Southwest was rid of Mexicans. The hateful climate was further exacerbated as poor Mexican immigrants, refugees of the Mexican Revolution, poured into the Southwest from 1910-1930 for agricultural and other low-wage, unskilled-labor jobs.

These workers were forced to settle into communities that did not care for their presence. In communities that were told the Mexicans were only staying temporarily, Mexicans suffered segregation and victimization, and were despised by the surrounding white population. This abuse of Mexican laborers eventually escalated into racial oppression comparable to that of African Americans in the Jim Crow South. Tony Dunbar and Linda Kravitz suggest in “Hard Traveling,” “For a Mexican living in America from 1882 to 1930, the chance of being a victim of mob violence was equal to those of an African American living in the South.”

Today the culture of violence and racism seeded over 150 years ago is being revisited upon the Mexican/Chicano in the Southwest with a renewed impetus fostered by groups like the Minutemen, the American Patrol and the Arizona Ranchers Alliance. The recent Houston hate crime is a symptom of this culture of hate coming out of a long and shameful tradition. The drive for equality for Mexicans/Chicanos and for all immigrants will not be stopped by such incidents. They will only intensify the united struggle for justice, and for making our common history as a colonized and oppressed people more widely known. “El Movimiento” will only continue to build.

Cristobal Cavazos is a Chicano activist and graduate student who lives in the Chicago area.