On Friday I presented on another panel, talking about the little known history of the lynching of Mexicans in the United States. Between the late 19th- and early 20th centuries, countless Mexicans were lynched by Anglo mobs and officials, in some areas at rates comparable to or surpassing those of African American victims. Yet the victimization of Mexicans living in the U.S. during this period usually goes unnoted, even though such acts of terrorism proved a crucial component of Manifest Destiny and imperial expansion. In addition, I suggest that the erasure of these tragedies implicitly reinforces the naturalized impression of the Black/white binary under which United-Statesian logics operate, obfuscating the processes by which racialization occurs, oversimplifying historical race relations, and thereby making the work of social redress about resolving polarities rather than dismantling a complex, hierarchical juridico-ontological system of organization. In that presentation, I argued that the lynching of Mexicans and their subsequent dismemberment for souvenir purposes provided physical and ideological means to deal with Mexicans’ racial ambiguity. At a time when scientific and colonial discourses not only supported one another but maintained a shared teleology—the assertion of white supremacy—Mexicans did not fit into racial categories established to organize peoples into a global system of classification. Viewed by turns as neighbors and allies or mixed-blood “mongrels” needing to be civilized by whites (Alonso 462), Mexicans experienced a distinctive vulnerability marked by ambivalence. Anglo settlers used the threat of vigilante violence to evict them so that their lands could be seized, or they might be incorporated into the community through marriage and political alliance but always under rubrics of white order.
This presentation focuses on the latter circumstance to focus on the unique kind of symbolic and physical colonization that Mexican women faced as a result of their racial ambiguity: because they were perceived as white/non-white, Anglo settlers could marry them and gain access to their lands and resources. It’s important to understand how these two practices worked together, lynching and sanctioned intermarriage, as they were both prompted by colonial discourses that could not quite categorize Mexican-ness, and because together they formed a dyadic gendered scheme of racial organization that helped to reify for white settlers all-too-unstable boundaries between races and nations. While lynching reinforced impressions of “mongrel” Mexicans as less than fully human and in need of domestication by settler colonization, its victims were predominantly male. As was the case with African American women and some poor whites, a Mexican woman’s class status could render her especially vulnerable to mob violence, but by and large, lynching was seen as a punishment reserved for suspected thieves and murders (who were typically male) and women whose lack of status framed them as “un-womanly.” In contrast, the rhetoric of “mongrelization” served to sanction intermarriage between Anglo men and elite Mexican women while reinforcing the superiority of whites over Mexicans. Mexican women’s bodies were rendered fungible with the land symbolically because they allowed their spouses access to titles and deeds, but also physically because they, too, were framed as requiring association with white civilization in order to achieve their ultimate racial(ized) entelechy.
White United-Statesians settlers exercised consubstantiality in contrast to Mexicans, framing themselves as a separate, superior race known as Anglo-Saxons (Rodriguez 96). This process occurred post-Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War with annexation of half of Mexico’s territory by the U.S. and the U.S.’s incorporation of an estimated 50,000 Mexicans and other Native peoples whom Mexico had considered citizens (Jiménez 6). General resentment stemming from conquest and colonization meant that the racial classification of Mexicans took on a special importance: as the ideological basis of empire. Within the newly ceded lands, Anglo settlers found themselves vastly outnumbered and in competition for resources with people who had been there for generations; meanwhile, in Washington, Congress debated whether Mexicans should be disqualified from citizenship on racial grounds. However, in a most problematic manner, Mexicans did not fit neatly into any of the four racial categories originally set forth by Linnaeus [Systema Naturae (1735), Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, and American] (McGregor 7), or Blumenbach’s revised taxonomy that upped the number to five [On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1775), the European, or white race; the Asiatic, or yellow; the African, or black; the American, or red; and the Malay] (Blumenbach 56). To further complicate matters, “whether an individual of Mexican descent was considered white or nonwhite could also vary by an individual’s generational status, skin color, or class” (Fox and Guglielmo 335).
Speaking to this, Cybelle Fox and Thomas A. Guglielmo write, “Mexicans might be considered white in one town and not in another, white in Santa Barbara in 1880 but not in the same city in 1920, white for the purposes of naturalization law but not for the school board, or white for the 1920 census but not for the 1930 one” (ibid.). Certainly this vacillation still holds today; however, during the period between 1850 and 1930, as the process of incorporation of lands seized during the war took place, racial classification took on a unique significance and Mexicans’ racial ambiguity was legally and scientifically deliberated in order to determine their political and biological status, indeed, their very ontology. For Mexican women, this uncertainty took on a specialized violence marked by ambivalence. Deborah R. Vargas writes that “representations of Latina/o masculinities and femininities in popular culture genres and venues are constituted by racialized discourses of conquest, imperialism, and colonization, consistently represented as either deviantly hypersexual or inhumanly desexual” (119).
The late 19th- and early 20th centuries were marked by extreme political, geographical, and ideological upheaval, and during such times these two stereotypes have been deployed to “reif[y] dominant notions of ostensibly American subjectivity, citizenship, and family” because, as Vargas argues, “notions of country, homeland, region, locality, and ethnicity are constructed through the racialization, sexualization, and genderization of female corporeality” (121). We can perceive how historically, this dichotomy breaks down along class and colorism lines. Like Mexican men, poor Mexican women were frequently targets of violence, at times even lynched for defending themselves against the advances of Anglo men. For example, in 1851, Josefa Segovia of Downieville, California, was hanged for the murder of Frederick Canon, who broke into her home and tried to assault her. William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb contend that “[h]ad Josefa been an Anglo woman, she would have been praised for defending her honor. However, her degraded racial status ensured that she was seen as the criminal aggressor” (421). Through a reading of cultural differences regarding gender vis-à-vis Anglo notions of domestic virtue, Latinas were depicted as “hotblooded and excessive,” signifying their peoples’ innate depravity in contrast to the “good morals” of whites and United-Statesians in general (Vargas 121).
Because Mexican women were regarded as licentious and lewd, women like Josefa could be blamed for inflaming male desire rather than viewed as victims of assault. This stereotype, like that of the desexualized good mother, was built along divisions of class and color. Carrigan and Webb note that the stereotype of the Mexican prostitute took hold in California during the Gold Rush when Mexican women were accused of turning to prostitution not because of economic hardship but because they were moral degenerates; furthermore, these denigrated women tended to be described as “tawny visaged creatures,” little better than animals, as when one prospector wrote home to say that the local Mexican women were “just about half as good-looking as cows and just about as neat…” (Carrigan and Webb 421). These women were dark, dirty, and corrupt, the antithesis of the angel of the house who was supposed to serve as the moral center of the white home.
In contrast, when Anglo men sought to marry landed Mexican women in order to gain political power and/or control of the land and its resources, they deemed their spouses the descendants of Spanish conquistadores who shared their cultural and biological status and were therefore owed the attendant privileges of whiteness. Laura Gómez notes, “[S]ome evidence suggests that persons living in Mexico’s northern territories…were much more indigenous and African than Spanish in their origins—precisely because such mestizo settlers had more to gain from the comparably looser racial order on Mexico’s frontier” (Gómez 90). However, European colonization had already introduced colorism into Mexican society as an organizational framework of racial hierarchy, one that continues to tie skin color to women’s perceived desirability to this day, corroborating Fanon’s claim that the final stage of colonization projects includes the establishment of race-based caste systems that guarantee the advancement of white interests as an ongoing, self-sustaining operation (Stephans and Fernández 79). Hence, due to colorism and gentrified notions of marriage, many of those elite Mexican women who were deemed politically white by Anglo potential suitors were likely phenotypically white, or at the very least fairer-skinned than many of their less economically advantaged sisters, although the Anglo system preferred quantum to color as a framework of organization.
Popular accounts of the period speak of elite Mexican women in similar terms as Anglo women. These elite women were described as “uncommonly beautiful, graceful, and sophisticated,” and men who married into these families, like a certain Alfred Robinson, who married into a Californio family, claimed that “perhaps there are few places in the world where, in proportion to the number of inhabitants, can be found more chastity, industrious habits, and correct deportment, than among the women of this place” (Carrigan and Webb 421). Hence, the “racialized discourses of conquest, imperialism, and colonization” of the late 19th- and early 20th centuries functioned to authorize settler colonialism precisely by claiming for Mexican women a European lineage that effectively erased the Indigenous ancestry that connected them ethically to the land; erasing the African ancestry that might put Mexicans’ political at odds with white supremacy; and implicitly establishing a new system of racial hierarchization that elevated the status of Anglos.
These discourses implicitly bolstered the “scientific” rhetorics of racial supremacy that equated whiteness with increased natural refinement and even wealth, since popular philosophies such as those sustaining Manifest Destiny posited that whites were entitled to the land because they best knew how to develop its economic potential. They also simultaneously framed Nature as an alterior contruct, classifying the Other races under the rubric of alterity since they were part of nature, and meaning that the land resources, and others were available for exploitation. David Spurr explains, “The concept of ‘nature’ has been for colonial discourse the occasion for a fundamental equivocation. On one hand, nature is opposed to culture and civilization: primitive peoples live in a state of nature. On the other, nature, or ‘natural law,’ is also that which grants dominion over the earth to more advanced peoples…Colonial discourse thus naturalizes the process of domination…” (156). The concept of Nature cannot exist as an peripheral object rather than as an embodied ecology that includes human beings unless subjectivity is ideologically extricated from its ethical, material, and rhetorical accountability to the world that it inhabits. Such an ideation is fundamentally racist and sexist, predicated on the deliberate dislocation of whiteness and maleness from their material and contexts, since white (men) were classified as outside of Nature rather than ruled by its influences like other races, especially the Native. According to Spurr, “Colonial discourse may be said to naturalize in both of these senses: while it identifies a colonized or primitive people as part of the natural world, it also presents this identification as entirely “natural,” as a simple state of what is, rather than a theory based in interest” (Spurr 157). Not coincidentally, Nature was depicted as female and feminine, and as an accommodating figure who was not only receptive to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny but who also desired it.
In directly tying access to the land and resources to Mexican women’s bodies, colonial discourses naturalized settler colonialism because it was framed as a natural process, meaning not only that it was the inevitable result of destiny but that it happened through the most “natural” of functions. That is, dominion over the land was not necessarily a strategic endeavor but was simply the to-be-expected result of social and physical intercourse among the races—though strangely enough, the gender dynamics of such sanctioned intermarriages tended to stress the feminine position of the Mexican partner. Substantiating this arrangement were those 19th century discourses that framed Mexican men as effeminate compared to “traditionally masculine” Anglo men. By denying Mexican men’s realization of traditional masculinity, Anglo stereotypes also denied them virtues typically associated with masculinity. Mexican men were seem as “unprincipled, conniving, and treacherous” whereas Anglo men were honorable, honest, and loyal (Carrigan and Webb 420). The source of such ignoble traits was, of course, their Native ancestry. Since the inception of European colonization of the Americas, colonial discourses framed Native peoples as inherently godless and prone to idleness, since they failed to exploit all of Nature’s wealth, and these attributes justified their dispossession of the land (Takaki 38). In contrast, Anglo masculinity was fundamentally predicated on God-given rights to the land and on the willingness and ability to tame the frontier.
Mexican men were also accused of such things as tending to cheat at cards and commit “cowardly” acts of murder, which “diminished their sexual menace to whites” (Carrigan and Webb 420). Effeminization ties directly to threats of lynching I mentioned before because murder and stealing were the two crimes for which people were often lynched. Thus, in addition to eliminating the Mexican problem through killing—via lynching, or what the Texas Rangers deemed “evaporation”—and through forced or self- expulsion, Anglos could also get rid of their rival settlers by literally breeding (with) them out of existence since only they were “men enough” to deserve both land and lady. Sociopolitical vulnerability corresponds culturally to a female or feminized corporeality, in which defenselessness is supposedly reified in a body burdened by apertures under constant threat of invasion. For this reason, “allegorization of colonized nations in terms of the female figure (bodily, rhetorical) has [long] been a cliché of colonial history” (Spurr 171); and, not surprisingly, in the nineteenth century during the peak of global colonial activity, sexuality became a potent metaphorical wellspring (Law 975). A poem dating from the Mexican-American War equates Anglo-American masculinity with testosterone and triumph, asserting that the “Spanish maid…awaits our Yankee chivalry/ Whose purer blood and valiant arms,/ Are fit to clasp her budding charms” because the Mexican men are “sunk in sloth,” nap “some dozen times by day,” and are “somber and sad, and never gay” (Takaki 177). Here Mexican men’s feminized corporeality signifies points of weaknesses in other cultures that may be exploited for Anglo gain. Framed as both effeminate and lazy, or should I say, perhaps because these two traits were seen as the same thing, the Mexican male’s aberrance substantiated Manifest Destiny by suggesting that whiteness would conquer the continent through all available means because it was only a natural outcome.
Additional themes to be considered:
VISIBILITY/BODIES AND PROOF (see S. Chinn)
TRI-RACIAL SYSTEM (see E. Bonilla-Silva)
In conclusion, I contend that it is crucial to understand settler colonialism’s intersectional but highly gendered tactics with regard to Mexicans living in the U.S. Southwest during the late 19th and early twentieth centuries. Sometimes they faced overt and extreme violence; sometimes a slow hegemonic transformation took place, facilitated through social interaction and presented as a natural phenomenon through various modes of colonial discourse. These diverse experiences form an interrelated system of rhetorics of embodiment that sought to establish the right kinds of bodies that could inhabit certain places—whether towns or histories, since these matters are still ignored by the dominant culture narratives—or inhabit certain spaces—as in having the agency to speak or react to the violence against their communities. This knowledge is needed because, as Spurr writes, “The elements of naturalization as a rhetorical mode applied to the representation of non-Western peoples are to be found not only in overtly imperialist ideology, but even in the writing of those, like Rousseau and John Stuart Mill, who have contributed to modern Western ideals of liberty and justice” (Spurr 157). Only by deconstructing how notions of justice that we still live with today are sustained by intolerant ideologies can we begin to strive toward composing new ones.
Alonso, Ana María. “Conforming Disconformity: ‘Mestizaje,’ Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism.” Cultural Anthropology 19.4 (2004): 459-490.
Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich, and Thomas Bendyshe. The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. The Anthropological Society, 1865
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2004). “From Bi-racial to Tri-racial: Towards a New System of Racial Stratification in the USA.” Ethnic & Racial Studies 27.6: 931-950.
Carrigan, William D., and Clive Webb. “The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928.” Journal of Social History 37.2 (2003): 411-438.
Chinn, Sarah E. Technology and the Logic of American Racism: A Cultural History of the Body as Evidence. Continuum, 2000.
Fox, Cybelle, and Thomas A. Guglielmo. “Defining America’s Racial Boundaries: Blacks, Mexicans, and European Immigrants, 1890–1945.” American Journal of Sociology 118.2 (2012): 327-379.
Galton, Francis. Hereditary Genius. Macmillan and Company, 1869.
Gómez, Laura E. “Opposite One-Drop Rules: Mexican Americans, African Americans and the Need to Reconceive Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Race Relations.” How the United States Racializes Latinos: White Hegemony and Its Consequences. Ed. José Cobas, Jorge Duany, and Joe R. Feagin. Routledge, 2016. 87-100.
Jiménez, Tomás Roberto. Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity. Univ of California Press, 2010.
Law, Jules. “Being There: Gothic Violence and Virtuality in Frankenstein, Dracula, and Strange Days.” ELH 73 (2006): 975-996.
McGregor, Russell. Imagined Destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory, 1880-1939. Melbourne UP, 1997.
Rodriguez, Gregory. Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America. Vintage, 2008.
Spurr, David. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Duke UP, 1993.
Stephens, Dionne P., and Paula Fernández. “The Role of Skin Color on Hispanic Women’s Perceptions of Attractiveness.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 34.1 (2012): 77-94.
Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Revised Edition). Bay Back Books, 2008.
Vargas, Deborah R. “Representations of Latina/o Sexuality in Popular Culture.” Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies. Ed . Marysol Asencio. Rutgers UP, 2010. 117-136.
Between the years 1848 and 1930, thousands of Mexican and Mexican American men and women were lynched by Anglo mobs in displays of vigilante justice and by Anglo law enforcement officials seeking to appease agitated settlers (Carrigan and Webb, 2003; Delgado, 2009). In addition to being beaten and hanged in brutal public spectacles, many of the victims were dismembered so that their body parts could be distributed among the crowd as souvenirs. White popular media and perpetrators themselves justified this kind of violence by arguing that it was necessary in order to control the threat posed to Anglo settlers by Mexicans, who were framed as predisposed to criminality and savagery. Racialized as “mongrels” (Villanueva 2011; McPherson, 2006), Mexicans epitomized the geographical and ontological borders of a humanity defined through the lens of white nationalism, a mix of various inferior races with cultural and political ties to more than one nation. In contrast to the purity of whiteness, Mexican-ness epitomized for United-Statesians the dangers of biological and ideological instability.
I argue that lynching as a violent symbolic and physical act connects directly to the racial categorization of Mexicans as “mongrels” by enacting at the physical level the fragmentation and dissociation processes that colonial discourse sought to perform at the rhetorical level. Lynching and subsequent dismemberment dis-integrated the person materially and metaphorically. It rendered a person corporeal fragments that together did not make a whole person while dissociating the victim (or their memory) from white notions of civility, as lynching was viewed as a punishment reserved for the uncivilized savage. The dismemberment that attended lynching permitted spectators to deconstruct the individual at the physical, local level and at the symbolic, nationalistic level, reinforcing Anglo settlers’ identification as the legitimate and authoritative community against all abject Others. In the case of Mexicans, the Other sometimes proved not Other enough. Even as period writers deployed the term “mongrel” to signify the ontological inferiority of Mexicans, its use revealed an anxiety over racial ambiguity that proved useful to Anglo settlers who nonetheless needed to distinguish themselves from the ostensibly inferior but all-too-proximate racial Other. Thus, I suggest that lynching served another rhetorical purpose, not only denoting white supremacist claims to land and law but becoming a means to contend with the instability of racial categories upon which white supremacy based its claims.
In The Rhetoric of Empire, David Spurr delineates 12 features of 19th- and early 20th-century colonial discourse that provide the dehumanizing frameworks used to justify colonization and naturalize said framing as objective proof of colonized people’s inferiority. While they all work together in different capacities in different contexts, in the interest of time I focus here on just one, which he terms “classification.” Spurr explains classification as a process that entails setting up “a single standard of economic and political organization to which all nations must aspire” and then assessing the success or failure of all nations based on their adherence to that standard as though cultural distinctions do not or should not affect social organization (62). Such ostensible success or failure is then used to determine an arrangement of civilizations, with those at the top framed as more evolved or “modern,” and those at the bottom framed as being in need of saving through physical and ideological colonization. Nineteenth-century colonial discourse relied heavily on Eurowestern scientific rhetorics, especially eugenicist-based views of a global racial hierarchy. Frederick Lugard, a British colonial administrator in Africa, classified native Africans based on whether they were “primitive,” “advanced,” or “Europeanized” (Spurr 68). Although this presentation deals with settler colonialism happening at that time in territories along the U.S-Mexico border, it is important to note how racial hierarchization based on Eurowestern systems of classification typically bore out, centering European schemes of knowledge and organization and demanding that the colonized Other correspond to meticulously delineated categories, with “each category of native requir[ing] its own administrative tactic” (69). Lynching was one such un/official tactic for dealing with Mexicans as a population that could not be clearly sorted.
Coloniality’s delineation of humanness vis-à-vis a gradated, hierarchical scheme reveals the phenomenon of race as an unfixed, always already unstable foundation of ontological taxonomy. Apparent are the performative aspects of race despite and in addition to scientific arguments that posited race as established by empirically determined phenotypes, of which those pertaining to the white peoples objectively ascertained their superiority. Furthermore, we can see that the classification feature of colonial discourse served a dual, paradoxical purpose: it presented a seemingly static, implicitly biological racial organization that legitimized white supremacy while simultaneously indicating a racial fluidity that induced members of Othered races to strive for whiteness and its privileges. Especially underscored is the porous quality of racial categories. Presumably, members of so-called inferior races could evolve to a certain level of whiteness; yet contemporaneous anxieties over “tainted whiteness” and racial degeneration imply that whites could easily devolve to the level of inferiors unless the boundaries of whiteness were carefully and constantly regulated (Stubblefield 2007; Jacobson 2000) to prevent contamination from Other races.
The racial liminality of Mexicans exacerbated these fears, since biologically and culturally their Otherness defied distinct classification. In certain economic contexts, as when Anglos sought to marry landed Mexican women, they were framed as the white descendants of Europeans, but in other political contexts, as when Anglos sought to drive them out of certain areas, they were characterized as bestial progeny of Europeans and Indians. Such ambiguity was concretized by legal rhetoric, putting Mexicans in a uniquely precarious position. Rubén G. Rumbaut explains that “in 1849, the California State Constitutional Convention deemed Mexicans to be ‘white’ for legal purposes…[and they] were exempted from miscegenation laws that applied to other minorities. But that did not prevent California from passing an anti-loitering law in 1855, known as the ‘Greaser Act,’ which applied to ‘all persons who are commonly known as ‘Greasers’ or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood…who go armed and are not peaceable or quiet persons” (22). In other words, Mexicans were biologically and politically white enough to expedite the aims of white nationalism and settler colonialism; they were also Native enough that they could be subjugated and killed, if not enough so that they could be exterminated outright. Lynching reinforced impressions of Mexicans, like other Native peoples, as less than human and wild like the wilderness that could only, and would only, be domesticated by settler colonization. Their bodies equated with the land, Mexicans both represented those undesirable aspects of nature that needed to be excised so that proper order could be imposed and they embodied those undesirable elements, as Mexican settlers had to be expelled so that the rightful (Anglo) colonists could lay claim to the land.
Consequently, the lynching of Latinxs provided means to regulate the boundaries of whiteness by establishing Latinxs as squarely within an Other category, dissociating them from whiteness, and symbolically fragmenting the mongrel so that whiteness was separated from the other races at the most essential corporeal level. In a letter dating from 1853, California gold miner John Eagle writes to his wife, Margaret, revealing a typical perspective on the need for vigilante justice in the so-called frontier. He writes, “I am opposed to Capital Punishment in communities when they have prisons to keep murderers secure for life, but in new settlements, and new countries, like California where there is little or no protection from the hands of such monsters in human shape, it becomes necessary to dispose of them by the shortest mode, for the safety of the community” (Forgotten Dead 24). Two years later, as a result of the 1855 Rancheria tragedy—in which four white men, one white woman, and one Native person were killed by bandits that included Latinos—eight to 16 Mexicans were killed without trial. Even after the guilty parties were found and hanged, every “Spanish” home in the area was burned down and a resolution was passed that no Mexican could ever after live in the area. Any Mexican found in violation of this order was to receive 150 lashes. Every Latinx family left, including those who were not Mexican as the law and the mob made no distinction (Gonzales-Day 36).
Eagle’s letter and the events following the Rancheria tragedy illustrate the all too superficial distinction between symbolic and physical violence that prove(d) a constant threat for Latinxs. Carrigan and Webb note that mob violence often resulted from the alienation and sense of precarity experienced by Anglos who settled Mexican lands, as they were outnumbered and did not speak the established language. Rather than cite such positions of vulnerability, vigilantes instead blamed local law enforcement as weak on crime, taking matters into their own violent hands and rationalizing lynching and other forms of mob violence as unavoidable. Hence, Eagle’s seemingly pleonastic description of California as a “new settlement” and a “new country” can be read not as rhetorical redundancy but as a classification of the recently incorporated state as a liminal space which simultaneously demanded white United-Statesian law and more violent regulation. Deeming California a “new country,” Eagle exhibits a typical view of the “frontier” as unoccupied, rhetorically erasing several centuries of Spanish, then Mexican settlement and countless centuries of Native inhabitation altogether. Such reasoning justified brutality and reinforced the settler colonial view of the borderlands and areas newly open to Anglo settlement as wild and needing to be tamed even though various peoples already inhabited these areas. The aftermath of events at Rancheria show that the land was not only already inhabited but that Mexicans had lived there in apparent peace with Anglo settlers. Therefore, lynching provided an occasion for white settlers to retroactively demonize all Mexicans and enact their rhetorical and physical dissociation from their white neighbors.
Furthermore, Eagle’s justification of vigilante violence against those “monsters in human shape” reveals an anxiety at the crux of biology and ideology. Monsters are “category errors [that] contradict standing cultural concepts,” “interstitial figures…that blend, blur, or conjoin disparate categories,” or “incomplete realizations of standing cultural categories…[that] constitute our stereotypes” (Carroll 91). Mexicans proved monstrous because they defied biological classification, undermining the seeming fixity of racial categories. In a case surrounding ownership of a mule, related by Major Horace Bell in 1881’s Reminiscences of a Ranger, two Latinos were not permitted to testify against a white man unless physiologists could ascertain whether Latinos were indeed white. The court sought to determine differences between “a person of pure white blood and a mongrel” (qtd. in Gonzales-Day 199) based on the evidence provided by examination of their salivary glands, their punctalachrimalia (or openings of the tear ducts), and the growth of their wisdom teeth. The witnesses fled but this case tells us that the racial classification of Mexicans remained unsettled. Such ambiguity proved a major concern. Authors claimed that white America was becoming “racially degraded by historic and often familial ties to Indians and Africans” and as a warning, they pointed to the problematic nature of Mexicans, who were “a constant reminder of the frontier’s potential for ‘unfit amalgamation’ of Europeans and Indians” (Warren 1154). So-called monstrous “deviation from our norms of the human” (Carroll 91) reveals the manufactured quality of categories that organize the world and privilege those claiming the authority to do so. The mongrel status of Mexicans required regulation precisely because a defiance of classification revealed the illusions of racial hierarchy.
Thus, lynching served as an explicit warning to Mexicans that they must adhere to white settler notions of justice and authority while emphasizing the alleged superiority of Anglo Americans that allowed them to impose order in colonized areas where they often proved the minority. Lynching also implicitly bolstered white coloniality’s license to establish the ontological terms of the human, signifying and enabling white coloniality’s right to distinguish white racial integrity from the teratological inferiority of Mexicans. The structural results of such classification, set out rhetorically and reified in the flesh of living beings, remain with us today just as, and because, coloniality remains.
Carrigan, William D., and Clive Webb. Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928. Oxford UP, 2013
---. “The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928.” Journal of Social History 37.2 (2003): 411-438.
Carroll, Noël. Engaging the Moving Image. Yale UP, 2003.
Delgado, Richard. “The Law of the Noose: A History of Latino Lynching.” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL) 44 (2009): 297-312.
Gonzales-Day, Ken. Lynching in the West, 1850-1935. Duke UP, 2006.
Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917. Hill and Wang, 2000.
McPherson, Alan L. Intimate Ties, Bitter Struggles: The United States and Latin America since 1945. Potomac Books, 2006.
Rumbaut, Rubén G. “Pigments of Our Imagination: On the Racialization and Racial Identities of ‘Hispanics’ and ‘Latinos’.” How the US Racializes Latinos: White Hegemony and Its Consequences (2011): 15-36.
Spurr, David. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Duke UP, 1993.
Stubblefield, Anna. “‘Beyond the Pale”: Tainted Whiteness, Cognitive Disability, and Eugenic Sterilization.” Hypatia 22.2 (2007): 162-181.
Villanueva, Victor. “Of Ideologies, Economies, and Cultures: Three Meditations on the Arizona Border.” Present Tense 1.2 (2011): n.p.
Warren, Louis S. “Buffalo Bill Meets Dracula: William F. Cody, Bram Stoker, and the Frontiers of Racial Decay.” The American Historical Review 107.4 (2002): 1124-1157.