UCLA Law Professor Laura Gómez grew up in New Mexico and she says it’s critical to know the history of racism against Mexican Americans and Latinos in the Southwest in order to understand today’s anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric and policies. She'll appear at Bookworks in Albuquerque on Saturday, March 10 at 3:00 p.m. to discuss her book Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race.
Gómez told KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel that there’s this mythology that the American conquest of New Mexico was a bloodless conquest.
Gómez: And in fact, that is not the case. In several towns north of Santa Fe and going up through Mora there was massive resistance to the American occupation. In the response to that resistance, the American military killed thousands of Mexicans in New Mexico in those villages and then put on trial for treason many of the participants of the uprising and then hanged them. There’s always been that kind of resistance and that kind of conflict, so it’s not really surprising that we continue to see some of the remnants of that conflict 170 years later.
KUNM: Why is it that so many Hispanic people in New Mexico especially sometimes identify more with their Spanish ancestry than their Native American ancestry?
Gómez: What I argue in Manifest Destinies is that it’s precisely because of that anti-Mexican racism that New Mexicans, Hispanos, came to identify as Spanish. Going back to the middle of the 19th century and late 19th century, the racism against Mexicans and Mexican Americans was so intense in the national press, even in the regional press in New Mexico.
That is, for example, why New Mexico didn’t become a state, why we were a federal territory of the U.S. from 1850 to 1912. In that context, Mexican Americans as well as some allies among Anglos began to construct a narrative about Spanish ancestry that served to distinguish Mexican Americans even more from Pueblo Indians and also served to kind of elevate the history of New Mexico.
KUNM: In the current political climate, recent years of anti-immigrant rhetoric, how has your work changed over the last ten years since the first edition of the book?
Gómez: The first edition of the book came out in late 2007 and Obama was elected president in 2008. There was a sense of hope and, I think, a sense on many people’s part of, ‘wow, we had elected an African American president,’ and therefore we were moving into a post racial society.
Nobody is talking about that ten years later, as we went through the presidential campaign and then the election of President Trump and now a year into his term. We are very acutely aware that there is a white consciousness movement, a white rights movement, a white identity movement. In other words, there are some people who don’t identify as white nationalists particularly, but do feel called to this kind of rallying cry of white identity. In that climate, people presume that all Latinos, or all those Latinos at least who “look” Latino, are immigrants.
There’s new data that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has released that shows that 1,000 American citizens have been deported to Mexico. This is a phenomenon that is very much like the 30’s when there were Mexican Americans in northern New Mexico who were rounded up and deported. That’s just a little example of how these concepts of immigrant, legal, illegal status – all become conflated and I think a lot of us are experiencing a great deal more blatant racism.