We both go way back. Mexicans and Americans. My ancestors had been on this continent much before Americans arrived. Mine were centuries-old civilizations that were eventually conquered by the Spaniards. The pilgrims, the most notable forebears of today’s America, were fed up people, most of them seeking religious freedom and a home on pristine land. Those pioneers settled in North America some four hundred years ago.
While the pilgrims were busy running their colonies, fighting the natives and learning how to survive at a precarious place, my forebears, well, most of them didn’t have a choice. They were conquered people, turned into slaves by greedy and heinous rulers who extracted almost every ounce of wealth hidden in the bosom of our land. My predecessors were kept docile and unlearned, with almost no access to schooling or to the practices that could eventually lead to self-government. While Americans were fighting off the English Crown, declaring independence and seeking justice for all, Mexicans were still the servants of the conquerors and of their descendants.
Nothing much changed after the country declared its own autonomy in the year of eighteen ten. The new nation continued to be ruled by the same people. It was still the Spaniards, born in Mexico, but still Spaniards. Americans, on the other hand, were working on building a large and powerful nation. They were looking south, but mainly to the west, for new territory to tame and control. Fueled by beliefs of expansionism, they went after the coveted land soon after the turn of the nineteen-century. Much of it was Mexican.
That land fever wasn’t good for relations between the peoples of both countries. It’s been a struggle ever since. It’s ironic, too. We allowed Americans to come into Texas to raise and herd cattle. We taught them the business and gave them tips on how to survive on the range. We showed them how to cook food underground so it could last longer. We called it barbacoa, by the way. They couldn’t pronounce it, so they called it barbeque. Americans picked up a whole bunch of words from us, like rodeo, reata, lazo, juzgado, desesperado, and vaquero. They changed most of them. Some words became lasso, hoosegow, and desperado. Vaquero became cowboy.
It must have been fun, working together, taming the west. I think we made a pretty good team. But then the Americans got greedy. They decided to take over Texas and eventually they did. However, they didn’t stop there; they went after other lands in the west. It was manifest destiny, they said, a divine calling, to expand America’s borders from sea to shining sea.
After America invaded Mexico and took a big chunk of its land just prior to the eighteen forty-nine California Gold Rush, some of my ancestors remained on the now U.S. side. They became second-class people, without a nation and in limbo. Most of them lost their real property and for almost all purposes, had no legal rights, although citizenship and protection by U.S. law had been guaranteed by the pact that settled the Mexican-American War: The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Talk about illegal residents in their own land.
There’s much more to be told about how us Mexicans and Americans got to know each other real well, especially after we worked together in Texas. True, there’s no need to go back and cry over spilled milk. But we need to learn from that yesteryear and not repeat the same mistakes. And in case you’re interested, there have been plenty blunders in our past relations.
It’s sad. More than a hundred and sixty years after the end of that hideous war between the two nations, many Americans still fail to understand the enduring and beneficial value of the neighbors to the south. Or of the millions of Mexicans that now live in this country.