Violence Against Mexicans in Texas as a “Habit of Whiteness”
(Image of Hayden Edwards and the Republic of Fredonia)
By Joseph Orosco (August 6, 2019)
Irene Sanchez reminds us that white supremacist violence against Mexicans is not a new phenomena in Texas. She charts it to beginning of the Texas Revolution in 1836, when Anglo Mexican settlers seceded from Mexico to form the Lone Star Republic.
But I think the use of violence by white supremacists against Mexicans in what is now Texas is even older.
Almost 200 years ago, the newly independent nation of Mexico opened its borders to US American settlers. Northern Mexico was a sparsely populated region and the Mexican government believed that immigrants from the United States would help it to develop economically. Many of the immigrants that took advantage of the invitation were from Southern States where slavery was allowed, so they brought with them many Black slaves. This also meant a lot of white supremacist attitudes. Anglo settlers would become Mexican citizens as long as they agreed to convert to Catholicism and swear allegiance to Mexico.
In 1826, one of these Anglo Mexicans, Hayden Edwards, called for a violent overthrow of the Mexican government. Edwards had started legal proceedings against Mexican residents in the Nacogdoches area, forcing them to prove title to their land. He intended to displace them and sell their land to other wealthy Anglo settlers. When the Mexican authorities caught wind of this scheme, they ordered him to be deported. He then rose up with several of his friends, and the nearby Commanche tribes, and announced he was forming an independent nation—the Republic of Fredonia.
The Mexican government sent regular army troops, along with militia from among the Anglo Mexicans in the area, and put down the rebellion. Edwards escaped back into the United States and stayed there until other Anglo Mexicans followed his lead about ten years later and formented the Texas Revolution.
The Hayden Edwards Revolt demonstrates that violence against Mexicans is what my colleague Terrance MacMullan calls a “habit of whiteness” or I have called (see my essay here) an aspect of “los estadounidos profundo” (the Deep United States)—it is one reaction among the many “practices and institutional policies of exclusion, marginalization, and eradication of non white peoples; these are the ready-to-hand tools that are reached for in moments of fear and crisis for white Americans.”
If you read the manifesto of the El Paso terrorist, you can clearly see the fear that is part of what social scientists are calling “white replacement theory”—the idea that white Americans are being displaced as the majority of the population by demographic shifts. As Black and Brown people become the majority, the theory goes, there will be social decay, economic downturn, and environmental catastrophe.
These are all ideas that one can find among the writings of Anglo Americans who were settling Northern Mexico from California to Texas—they were quite mainstream at the time. The El Paso shooter might be elated to find out that the poet Walt Whitman agreed that Mexicans had no capacity to run their own political and economic affairs:
“What has miserable, inefficient Mexico—with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?”
And the shooter’s concerns with “race mixing” come right from the work of notable writers, such as Thomas Jefferson Farnham (who was one of the Oregon Trail pioneers). In 1851, Farnham wrote:
“No one acquainted with the indolent mixed race of California will ever believe that they will populate, much less for any length of time, govern the country. The law of nature which curses the mulatto here with a constitution less robust than that of either race from which he sprang, lays a similar penalty upon the mingling of the Indian and white races in California and Mexico. They must fade away…the old Saxon blood must stride the continent…and in their own unaided might erect the altar of civil and religious freedom on the plains of California.” (Life, Travels, and Adventures in California, 1851)
As the late Toni Morrison pointed out in 1993, there is what she termed a “profound neurosis” among white Americans that needs addressing: “If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem…My feeling is that white people have a very, very serious problem. And they should start thinking about what they can do about it.”
Realizing that the use of violence against Mexicans in Texas (and even before Texas was Texas) is one of the classic go-to responses of white Americans in crisis would be step toward dealing with this profound problem of white supremacist terrorism.