Wednesday, May 9, 2012

US Betrayal Caused The Birth of Mexican Americans and those who choose to call themselves Chicano!

The following article appeared in HISPANIC Magazine over fifteen years ago, and is probably more important to read today because little has changed for Mexican peoples. As the "anti-immigration rhetoric" increases daily, you should be aware of the revelatory ramifications that led to the ugly political realities that permeate the fabric of today's society. Hopefully, Christian America will return to its home base and admit its great sin

Legacy of a Land Grab
By Lalo López
HISPANIC Magazine - September 1997 Issue

The Mexican-American War, which took two years and cost Mexico a large chunk of territory, will mark its 150th anniversary in 1998. The war, waged under the American expansionist ideology of Manifest Destiny - which proposed that it was the God-given right of all United States citizens to take and rule land, including that occupied by Mexicans and Indians - ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Some promote the idea that the war against Mexico was a pretext for a massive theft of its land, and the treaty, negotiated under military coercion and through a corrupt Mexican dictator, General Santa Ana, Home simply formalized the theft of half of Mexico's territory - something that would violate any international law today. Others say that Mexico simply lost and the U.S. won the Southwest and California as spoils of war.

There's little the debate, however, about the treaty's enduring impact on Mexican Americans, then and now. The dispute began over Texas and its December 29, 1845, annexation by the United States and what the real southern boundary of Texas was - the Rio Grande, as asserted by the U.S., or the Nueces River, as asserted by Mexico. Skirmishes from the Mexican Revolution along both borders that brought with us! complaints from U.S. settlers and the desire to annex California were the catalysts for the war. After a failed diplomatic attempt by the U.S. to arrange an agreement with Mexico over the land, General Zachary Taylor advanced his troops to the mouth of the Rio GrandeMexico considered this an invasion into its territory and retaliated by sending Mexican troops across the Rio Grande, which with President James Polk called an invasion.

On May 13, 1846, Congress declared war on Mexico. The formal ceremony ending the war took place on February 2, 1848, in the Villa of Guadalupe, the site of the revered shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The treaty was signed under the cloud of territorial occupation - American troops held the Mexican capital, Staff of forcing the defeated to relinquish a large part of their northern territories.

This event "sold" the U.S. the territory that included Alta California, Arizona, New and Mexico, and Texas between the Nueces and the Rio plus parts of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, for $15 million. But the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is more than a bill of sale. Besides guaranteeing the sale of Mexican territory to the U.S., the treaty protected the lands, culture, religion, and civil rights of those wartime residents who had been Mexican citizens, including their descendants. Article VIII professes the sanctity of Mexican property: "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."

More profoundly ironic, however, is Article IX, which covers the social rights of the newly de-Mexicanized citizens, "The Mexicans who, in the territories aforesaid, shall not preserve the character of citizens of the Mexican Republic . . . shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States and be admitted . . . to the enjoyment of all the rights of citizens of the United States according to the principles of the Constitution; and in the meantime 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."


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. . . . 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.

While many U.S. courts consider the treaty defunct, others see it as a central contract that governs relations between the U.S. and Mexico. Some firmly believe it is a treaty about the human rights of the Mexican-origin population residing within the redrawn borders of this country. People have not shied away from citing the treaty for use in cultural and social issues. In the sixties, New Mexico land rights crusader Reies Lopez Tijerina and his Alianza movement invoked the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo during their land dispute.

At the height of the Chicano political movement in 1972, the Brown Berets youth organization invoked the treaty in its largely symbolic takeover of Southern California's Catalina Island. Several groups have cited the treaty in their struggle for the human rights of Chicanos in the United Nations and other international venues. Native Americans have also referred to the treaty in legal disputes. In his book The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Richard Griswold del Castillo points out that while many Mexican Americans view the treaty in this context, it's more than just wishful thinking. On paper, it guaranteed Mexicans and their descendants who remained in the transferred lands certain political rights, including territorial rights. Unfortunately, it also established how Mexican Americans would be perceived in the U.S. - as a conquered people abandoned by their own country. In the postwar climate after 1848, hostility, discrimination, and violence against Mexicans spread throughout the Southwest. It set the tone in the region for decades to come and by the end of the century, most Mexicans had lost their land, through either force or fraud.

One case that has been in federal courts is that of Ricky Gonzales and Nick Gonzales, Jr., of Santa Fe, New Mexico. On October 17, 1995, they filed suit against the U.S. government for compensation, citing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo as legal grounds for their land claim. They allege that their ancestors, two of the original grantees, "Miguel and Manuel Ortiz (and subsequent heirs)," were defrauded out of a tract of land by local Anglo officials. The grant was an original Spanish land grant known as the Mesita de Juana Lopez Land Grant.

"We got involved in the lawsuit kind of by accident," explains the younger brother, Nick. As a genealogist, he was called in by a family that planned to sue for their lands but needed to prove that their ancestor was an original land grantee. "As I began my research, I noticed a lot of names were very familiar. As it turned out, I proved that my client was not an heir, but that I was."

Although they did ask for financial compensation, the younger Gonzales contends that the decision to sue was motivated not by money but by a larger issue. "For too long, we've been led to think that the land was lost because Mexicans were too dumb to hold on to it, but that wasn't the case. There was a treaty but it was never enforced. We set out to set history straight. This is not a racial issue. It's a matter of right and wrong. I don't believe the U.S. government set out to deceive the Mexican people but certain government officials and several lawyers in New Mexico at the time, did. If we can finally get the treaty enforced, that will be the true compensation," asserts Nick Gonzales, Jr.

The brothers have withdrawn their case because it was unsuccessful in federal courts. Believing their case to be strong, however, they may pursue it at the state level. Even in this century, the government continues to grab land. Unfortunately, its speed and efficiency in doing so does not match its ability to return illegally taken land.

There are currently several land disputes in the Southwest between the government and longtime Latino homesteaders. Maria Ernestina Montoya, 90, has been fighting for 80 acres in Los Alamos, New Mexico. In the early forties, the federal government told Montoya and her husband that it needed the northern New Mexico tract, also known as the Pajarito Plateau, for a government project. The project turned out to be the Manhattan Project, the testing site for the first atomic bomb.

At the time the Los Alamos site was appropriated, the Montoyas were given $750 plus the promise that their property would eventually be returned to them, the original owners. The family was given three days to move to Santa Fe. Today the controversy has been reignited, since the federal government announced its plan to transfer 3,000 acres of unused Department of Energy land to Los Alamos County and the San Ildefonso Pueblo rather than return the land to the families from whom it was taken. New Mexico senator Pete Domenici acknowledged the transfer in June, and the process could start at any time. Charles M. Montaño, the president of Citizens for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Employee Rights, has been working with homesteader organizations like the Los Alamos Homesteaders Association (the vast majority of who are Hispanic).

Although the land acquisition in this case took place in this century, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo has been invoked in defense of families like the Montoyas for two reasons - because most of the families affected were Hispanic and because the treaty represents a written document that not only outlines but guarantees the land rights of Latinos in the Southwest. Joe Gutierrez, an employee of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is a tireless New Mexico homesteader activist and leader of the Homesteaders Association of Los Alamos. The federal government, he says, has made good on compensation in other cases, almost exclusively involving Anglo homesteaders and ranchers. This government largess, he says, has been precipitated by the end of the Cold War. He cites a series of bills, H.R. 806 and S. 339, introduced by New Mexico's congressional delegation, in which non-Hispanic white homesteaders were compensated for land they lost to the White Sands Missile Range. In contrast, "Hispanic homesteaders have been given absolutely no consideration," he says.

Today, Los Alamos' mission has not only changed, it has been scaled down. This downsizing, Gutierrez says, has led to a recent U.S. government report that admonishes the Department of Energy for holding on to appropriated land too long, and for actually "laundering" land. Land laundering is the process that keeps appropriated land out of the reach of the public and transfers it to other governmental entities or special interests. "It's simply another land grab." states Gutierrez.

This month Gutierrez hopes to testify in front of the congressional committee concerning the transfer of the land to Los Alamos County (he has requested an opportunity to speak, but it has not been granted). "We've even prepared a bill of our own and have forwarded a request to President Clinton," he says. What should the president do about the Hispanic homesteaders? Gutierrez offers a solution: "The president wants a national dialogue on racism. Here's a perfect opportunity to make good on his word. They have arbitrarily removed us from our land and our culture and our livelihood. The president doesn't need to convene a special commission. He can level the playing field right here. He doesn't even have to send an apology. We don't want the money, we want the land. We want it back."

The treaty isn't relevant to some current land claims, however. According to Julius P. Arocha, a retired Marine Corps captain from Mission Viejo, California, who researched in detail his ancestor's Spanish land grant, any claim he himself might have was simply out of reach. After serving briefly in the early eighties as president of the Asociacion de Reclamantes, a Texas-based association of land claimants, Arocha doesn't believe the treaty has anything to do with claims in Texas."Texas was a sovereign Republic at the time of the treaty and therefore not to be considered former Mexican territory," says Arocha. His great-great grandfather, Bartolome Treviño, received cuatro porciones (four portions) of land from the Spanish crown in November 1776. Interestingly, Treviño, in addition to being "Teniente de Justicia" overseeing the community of Camargo, Captain in the Royal Spanish Army, and colonista, was an official surveyor.

Arocha asserts that the boundaries his great-great-grandfather established still stand today as portions of Starr County, Texas. For his service to the Crown, Treviño's cuatro porciones came to more than 28,000 acres, on which now sit oil wells, cities, and natural gas production plants.  

Arocha's genealogical and historical research, however, uncovered the fact that a man named Gillespie obtained the title to the land in 1888. "I can't go back and deal with land fraud that may have occurred 100 years ago. The statute of limitations has clearly run out. My efforts couldn't reverse that [fraud]," says Arocha, who now gives seminars on how to win the lottery. He theorizes that the odds are better for winning a jackpot than they are for resolving a land claim, given the muddled and dubious territorial history of the U.S. There may be a glimmer of hope that the treaty could finally be enforced.

Prominent Mexican American, former New Mexico congressman, and now ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson has introduced the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty Land Claims Act of 1997. The act aims to establish a presidential commission to determine the validity of land claims in New Mexico "arising out of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 involving descendants of persons who were Mexican citizens at the time of the treaty."

Since introducing the act, however, Richardson has left Congress, and his seat was filled by a conservative non-Hispanic Republican. Without its author or another Hispanic representative from New Mexico to carry it along, Richardson's bill has an unclear future. For advocates like Montaño, Richardson's efforts were too little, too late. "This [act] was no more than a parting gesture," Montaño contends. "Congressman Richardson had a long time to deal with this issue. He knew he would not be there to see it through." 
The treaty promises to be under dispute for many years to come. Even its contemporaries saw problems ahead. At the time of the treaty's signing, the Whig political party, opponents of President Polk, questioned the morality of a "forced sale" of Mexican territory. They saw that it was problematic to force a defeated nation to "sell" territory under duress, but that was the way of Manifest Destiny.

One Whig wrote an 1847 article in the American Review predicting trouble ahead: "What then follows? An immense national debt-deep taxation - a steady augmentation and extension of the central power-corrupt election - the rapid waste of public funds - neglect of all improvements - moral fanaticism roused and irritated to action - civil war - and that last and greatest of all evils, the disunion of the states." The leader of the Mexican opposition to the treaty, Manuel Crescencio Rejón, also predicted dire consequences in the wake of the treaty.

Rejón dismissed notions that Mexican residents would be treated fairly under American laws. Cannily, he foresaw the inevitable economic dominance of Mexico by the U.S. He argued that if the US-Mexico boundary were redrawn so much closer to the heartland of Mexico, the undue influence of American commerce would eventually Americanize Mexico. Rejón wrote: "We will never be able to compete in our own markets with the North American imports. . . . The treaty is our sentence of death." And, he added, "the North Americans hate us, their orators deprecate us even in speeches in which they recognize the justice of our cause, and they consider us unable to form a single nation or society with them." In the light of today's anti-immigrant atmosphere, Rejón's remarks resonate.

History doesn't repeat itself - it seems to stand in place. The legal ramifications of land grabbing notwithstanding, Latinos cannot help but infer political implications into the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on its 150-year anniversary. The treaty promised to protect Spanish-language customs for Mexican-descended residents, and U.S. officials agreed to these and many other terms. The treaty didn't just create the American Southwest; it also created Chicanos. By definition, Chicanos, or Mexican Americans, are US-born or raised Mexicans. 

With one stroke of the pen, the treaty assigned a new national status to the Mexican residents of the former northern Mexico. That spiritual and cultural dichotomy is alive and well today.

HISPANIC Magazine - September 1997 Issue

1 comment:

  1. When will "Christian" America begin to act like a really Christian America? I am waiting and so are many others for this to happen. Now I am wondering if this will happen in my own lifetime!