Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mexicans Didn't Immigrate To America -- We've Always Been Here by Pedro Garza

An in-law's brother of mine from South Texas, Pedro Garza, wrote this excellent column for Forbes Today (see below).

Mexicans in Texas, especially South Texas, have a deep, historic connection to the land.  I use the term "Mexican" because it is actually how so many of us identify.  We have many names or labels and they shift across place and time, but in South Texas for so many, particularly families like Pedro Garza's, it reflects the real, lived experience of one's kin never having actually crossed the border.  But rather, the border literally crossed them.  The same people, the same families that lived in South Texas for many generations before there was a "Texas" or a "United States" were always there.

Like my husband's family that has been in S. Texas, literally no less than 3 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border for generations, has a distinct relationship to the interior of Mexico.  Mine is more emotional.  His is not.

In my case, I am a third-generation Mexican American, whose family on one side emanates from Sonora, Mexico (northern Mexico on the border with Arizona), and on the other, from the Sierra Madre mountains of Guerrero in southern Mexico and is where the largest part of my family lives today.  So I long for my family in Mexico in a way that my husband does not—or more appropriately, cannot.  After all, outside of the literal U.S.-Mexico border, he has no family at all in the interior of Mexico.

Consequently, for people like Pedro Garza and my husband, their sense that "there's no Mexico to go back to" is particularly acute.  They are in Mexico, albeit on the U.S. side of the border.  That's why they call themselves "Mexican."  Plus, it's simply cultural for many to have this as their preferred self-referent.  This is not a national identity, but rather an ethnic one.  This of course annoys many Mexicans from Mexico who either do not understand or look down upon our having this nuance in identity as "Mexican Americans" or "U.S. Mexicans."

That said, Mexicans aren't making distinctions between themselves in certain places in the U.S. even if others are.  In Spanish, they say "Mexicano" or "Mexicana" as Spanish is a gendered language.  Other terms are "Tejano" and "Tejana,"" Chicano" and "Chicana" ...and these days "Chican@," Chicanx" or "Latinx" in order to promote gender equality in the area of self referents or identifiers. 

However, pan-ethnic terms like " Latino," "Latina," "Latin@," "Latinx," or "Hispanic," are situational and marshaled in certain contexts such as when in the presence of other Latino (or Latinx) groups (I can only imagine how this confuses others not part of our culture).

As the late scholar, Gloria Anzaldúa, once put it in her book (paraphrasing), Borderlands/La Frontera, there isn't a Tejano or Tejana alive who doesn't know that the lands were taken away.  We all grow up knowing this.  It's in our cultural DNA.  And what's fascinating is that even more recent generations acquire that very same sense of loss.  Not all, but many if not most.  I certainly grew up with it.

South Texas identity is complex, but at its base, connected to the land itself, the Spanish language, indigeneity, a rich, albeit vexed history involving governments in both countries, and protracted, intimate, transborder relations, blood mixture (mestizaje), family bonds, and a wealth of shared experiences as a people negotiating the same geographic and geopolitical space over the centuries.  

Moreover, the American Southwest represents a habitually traversed, uncannily familiar topographical landscape, even as it frequently connotes a shared experience of oppression, encouraging a sense of group solidarity that is part and parcel to many shared cultural, linguistic, and aesthetic norms, tastes, and preferences—the stuff of culture, no less.

Great job, Pedro!  "We didn't cross the border!  The border crossed us."

Angela Valenzuela

Apr 11, 2017 @ 10:35 AM

Guest commentary curated by Forbes Opinion. Avik Roy, Opinion Editor.
Guest post written by
Pedro Garza
Pedro Garza served as a First Lieutenant during the Vietnam War and is now a retired federal government executive.

Guest commentary curated by Forbes Opinion. Avik Roy, Opinion Editor.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Guest post written by

Pedro Garza

Mexican mariachis play the US national anthem while civil organizations carry out a demonstration called Mexican mariachis play the US national anthem while civil organizations carry out a demonstration called 'Serenade to Break the Wall' against US President Donald Trump's immigration policies. / AFP PHOTO / Pedro PARDO (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)

I can trace my ancestry to La Grulla, a small community just west of McAllen, on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. My ancestors settled there in the 1830s -- a decade before Texas became a state. They pre-date the ancestors of most current Texans.

Of course, when my family settled in La Grulla, it was part of Mexico. They became residents of the United States after the U.S. government was given their land -- or stole it, depending on your point of view -- in 1848.

My family settled in what is now the United States decades before President Trump's ancestors arrived. In other words, we "Mexicans" did not immigrate to the United States. We lived on U.S. land before it was U.S. land. And we're not going away.

The chanting of "Build that Wall" at Trump campaign rallies and in our schools was disappointing. Even more insulting was Trump's accusation that Mexican immigrants are "criminals and rapists."

But these are only the latest salvos in the U.S. government's centuries-long track record of anti-Mexican sentiment.

A little history. In the early 1800s, with a passion for expansionism fueled by Manifest Destiny, the United States craved a passage to the Pacific Ocean -- and by extension, the shipping routes to Asia.

But Mexico inconveniently stood in the way. So the United States invaded. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the two-year Mexican-American War in 1848 and ceded present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming to the United States.

The United States realized its "destiny" and secured its pathway to the Pacific. But it also inherited the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans and millions of Mexicans who had long lived on that land.

It was an immigration problem of the U.S. government's own making.

The U.S. Army responded to Native Americans with involuntary removals and reservations. From 1864 to 1866, nearly 10,000 Navajo and Apache people were forced to walk 450 miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico. The reservation didn't have adequate shelter or food. Over 2,300 Navajo and Apache died before the Army allowed survivors to move back home.

Dealing with the much larger group of Mexicans -- many of them landowners, office-holders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, bankers and members of the clergy -- was more complex. The government couldn't consign them to reservations.

Their customs, language, traditions, values, culture, food and communities all became part of who we are as a nation -- whether the U.S. government liked it or not.

But the U.S. government still did its best to make its newest citizens foreigners in their own land and unwelcome in their own country. Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862, allowing Americans to apply for Western land in exchange for farming on it -- taking land that belonged to Mexicans.

Later, during the Great Depression, the United States deported almost 2 million Mexicans. More than half of them were U.S. citizens.

Despite this history of bigotry, discrimination and exclusion, we're still here, contributing to American society and the economy. Latinos have $1.5 trillion in purchasing power. 
Latino-owned businesses were responsible for 86% of small business growth from 2007 to 2012. That means we created a whole lot of jobs, for Latinos and non-Latinos alike.

And there is no wall high enough or long enough to exclude us from this country's future. By 2060, one in four Americans is projected to be Hispanic. We're not confined to our ancestral home in the Great Southwest. The fastest-growing Latino communities are in North Dakota, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, South Dakota and Utah.

President Trump is seeking to close the stable door a century and a half after the horse has bolted. Mexicans are here -- in our homeland -- to stay. Nearly 33 million Latinos were born in this country.  We were here before many of our fellow citizens arrived. And a fence, a wall, a moat, or a river will serve only to keep us in, not out.

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