Mexican-American and Mexican Immigrant History is a Forgotten One

By Rondell Treviño, Founder/Director, The immigration Project

The History of Mexican-American and Mexican Immigrant discrimination—from lynchings, segregation, and mass deportation is brutal and forgotten one here in the United States and the Church. Few groups have suffered more systematic mistreatment, abuse and murder than African-Americans—but what’s often overlooked, however, from Americans and the Church due to the black-white binary, is that lynchers targeted many other racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, including my people—Mexicans-Americans and Mexican Immigrants.

Americans and the Church are largely unaware that Mexicans were frequently the targets of lynch mobs, from the mid-19th century until well into the 20th century, second only to African-Americans in the scale and scope of the crimes. One case, largely overlooked or ignored, was that of seven Mexican shepherds hanged by white vigilantes near Corpus Christi, Texas, in late November 1873. The mob was probably trying to intimidate the shepherds’ employer into selling his land. None of the killers were arrested. From 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases—some committed at the hands of Texas Rangers. These lynchings occurred not only in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, but also in states far from the border, like Nebraska and Wyoming.

As I’ve dug deeper into my study, what’s import to note is the fact that if Anglo mobs killed African-Americans for alleged offenses that challenged white supremacy, Anglo mobs lynched Mexicans to police citizenship and sovereignty. And although Mexican-Americans and Mexican Immigrants were “white by law” since 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo granted citizenship to the Mexican inhabitants of the newly acquired territory, Anglos viewed Mexicans as “greasers” and “wetbacks” undeserving of equal rights.

Here’s an interesting reality: In Texas, when Anglos were unable to impose Jim Crow policies on Mexican-Americans and Mexican Immigrants legally, a less formal “Juan Crow” pattern of prejudice emerged. In 1893 and 1905, Texas passed a series of English-only laws that paved the way for the segregation of Mexicans in public schools. However, segregation extended past public school—Mexican-Americans and Mexican Immigrants experienced segregation in restaurants, water fountains, buses, deportations, and bathrooms—similar to African-Americans.

For example, I was told by my abuelita (grandma) younger, Mexicans were often sitting next to African-Americans in buses, and sharing the same bathrooms and water fountains. My abuelita (grandma) also told me while Anglos were screaming the terrible “N” word to African-Americans, they were also screaming “Beaner”, “wetback”, and “Alien” to Mexican-Americans and Mexican Immigrants in Texas. While “Jim Crow” existed to segregate and dehumanize African-Americans, “Juan Crow” existed to segregate and dehumanize Mexicans. Signs like the one above were displayed at various restaurants and other pubic accommodations under a system known as “Juan Crow” laws.

There’s a lot more on the discrimination of Mexican-Americans and Mexican Immigrants have faced. But sadly, it continues today through the dehumanization of Immigrants and Migrants–primarily through terrible policies, separation of Immigrant families, and racism and xenophobia from some Christians. Therefore, I firmly believe the Church must begin to read the history of Mexican-Americans and Mexican Immigrants in the United States.

Mexican-American and Mexican Immigrant history is a brutal and forgotten one. But it shouldn’t be. We must shine a light on this history because it has potential to help us not repeat the past, and to move forward as a Church.


 

The immigration Project exists to equip the Church to have a biblically balanced approach to immigration that shows compassion to immigrants while respecting the rule of law.

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