Strangers in Their Own Land: Lineages of the Conquest of Aztlán

The following article is a slightly modified version of a paper i had previously written during my Ph.D studies. 

Introduction: War on the Border

Today many Euro-American citizens of the united states on both sides of the political spectrum are growing increasingly concerned about high rates of migration from México and other Latin American states south of the Kótsoi River (Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte). This phenomena is perhaps seen most spectacularly within the current juncture by the mass swell of support by “everyday” settlers for the white supremacist, borderline-fascist candidacy of Donald Trump for the American presidency. These concerns for settlers generally, but not universally, centre on the presence of migrant workers who the colonial media, state and general public have heaped labels such terms as irregular and illegal upon. These migrants are often painted as a threat of varying degrees to the American way of life, despite their central importance to the functioning of the country’s economy not only in the southwest region, but from coast-to-coast.

Xicanos/Mexicanos and their communities, including the presence of some 10 to 12 million “irregular migrants,” in the united states are often blamed for local increases in crime, drug use and the loss of jobs for American citizens (read: Euro-American citizens of the empire) (2007 McCarty:1459). Migrants are also often painted as leeches, people who contribute nothing to society via taxes, yet still take from the system at the expense of American citizens. Frustrations over these perceived threats to national stability and cohesion has led to ever greater pressure on both the state and federal levels of government in the united states to do more to prevent irregular migration into the country. This has led to increasing levels of border militarization, a process which has seen modern weapons of war and surveillance perfected in the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts turned inwards and towards the united states’ 1,954 mile long frontier with México. In 2013 the united states Senate voted 69-29 to authorize the so-called “border surge”, “an amendment to the Gang Of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill that would shove tens of billions of dollars into border surveillance, fencing, and enforcement” (Wyler 2013).

More recently president Obama in a November 20, 2014 speech from the white house announced plans to, via executive order, push through immigration reform. His announced plans, though couched in rhetoric of allowing current irregular migrants to “get right with the law,”[1] in fact amount to even further militarization of the border with México and the heightening of surveillance of migrants already within the united states.

Due to perceived failings and ineffectiveness on the part of the federal government, many Americans have grown weary of government pledges to do more to stem the perceived tide of irregular migration from México and elsewhere in Latin America. Many of these citizens, frustrated with official government channels, have begun to coalesce into organizations styling themselves as volunteer border patrol forces. Though these organizations, such as the Minuteman Project and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, are in actuality little more than vigilante patrols that target migrants attempting to cross the border with México, they have obtained a degree of legitimacy within the American political sphere. As Matthew Ward explains in this article They Say Bad Things Come in Threes: How Economic, Political and Cultural Shifts Facilitated Contemporary Anti-Immigration Activism in the United States:

Contemporary anti-immigration activism in the United States has attained an unparalleled level of notoriety and even legitimacy at the hands of “minuteman” organizations. These volunteer organizations are most well known for their presence along the U.S.- Mexico border where members track unauthorized migrants crossing through desert areas, reporting them to border patrol and, occasionally, apprehending migrants themselves. By joining anti-immigration, vigilante organizations, such as the Minuteman Project (MMP) and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC), citizens are increasingly mobilizing against legal and unauthorized immigration to the United States (2014:263).

What is the basis of this current level of militant anti-migrant, in particular anti-Mexican, sentiment and activism in the united states? These kinds of organizations do not simply arise in a vacuum. There is a context – social, cultural, political and economic in nature – that has allowed space to be created in which this kind of reactionary, conservative activism can flourish. (Ward 2014:263-264). On the question of the context of the rise of these movements Ward describes what he considers to be the key factors:

Important shifts in the North American political economy – the rise and fall of golden economic eras in both the United States and Mexico and the concomitant rise and fall of the bracero program: a move toward rapid economic integration between the two countries beginning with Mexico’s entry into GATT and the drafting of NAFTA; and the United States’ paradoxical insistence on maintaining separate, distinct labour markets – coupled with tenuous geopolitical circumstances faced by the United States at the start of the Cold War (2014:287).

Ward is prima facie correct in describing these conditions that have helped give rise to these recent manifestations of nativist right-wing anti-migrant activism in the united states. However, i contend that the ground from which such reactionary, conservative activism has sprung was made fertile by over a century and a half of anti-Xicano/Mexicano sentiment in the united states stemming from the American seizure of northern México in the 1830s and 40s and the racial and religious worldview of the united states that helped provide the ideological justification for that imperial project. These seeds beneath the snow germinated under modern circumstances, but they had been there, hibernating, for many years.

What i will set out to demonstrate is that these historical, sociological and ideological circumstances still play a central role in the fostering of contemporary American right-wing anti-migrant, in particular anti-Mexicano, sentiment and activism. The circumstances i examine include the u.s. imperialist seizure by force of nearly half of México, the transformation of those Mexicanos left north of the new border into the modern Xicano internal colony and the historical racial and religious antipathy towards Xicanos/Mexicanos. A final circumstance that I will examine is the more recent concern in some sectors of the u.s. population that continual high rates of Mexicano immigration into the American southwest, as well as high birth-rates of Xicanos already present, could lead to the eventual overturning of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  This concern is developed most strongly in the fear a possible reconquista of Aztlán by México. This, i contend, is in a way a tacit right-wing American recognition of that country’s forceful conquest of Aztlán, and, as will be shown, this fear is openly held as a justification for not only the border vigilantes, but has even made its way into the mainstream American media and to the upper levels of previous federal administrations.

The American Conquest of Aztlán

The importance of the imperial conquest of Aztlán by a burgeoning capitalist American empire in terms of the development of the relations between Xicanos and Euro-Americans cannot be understated. The fact that nearly half of México was seized by way of military invasion, thus making Mexicanos strangers in what was once their own land and subject to domination by a new, foreign colonial power underscores many of the other issues that are discussed in this article, such as the development of the Xicano internal colony and the current fear of a reconquista.

The acquisition of Aztlán by the united states was unjust and nothing less than brutal. American forces, which were largely an army of patriotic settler volunteers, considered the Mexicano to be subhuman. This allowed them to carry out many atrocities, including murder, theft and rape. The invasion has been compared by some historians to the Nazi invasion of Poland and Central Europe, as well as to the United States own, more recent, campaign in Việt Nam and Southeast Asia (Mirandé 1987:8; Acuña 1972:7).

This process of invasion and conquest began when the united states provided funding and cover to the settler rebellion in Tejas in 1836, which saw the successful fracturing off of Tejas from the rest of México. This successful settler revolt laid the groundwork for the Mexican-American War which would follow shortly thereafter. As noted by Japanese-American historian J. Sakai in his text Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, the Mexican-American War concluded when “the Empire annexed the Northern 40% of Mexico and by savage invasion reduced truncated Mexico to a semi-colony.” The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the Gadsden Purchase which followed quickly in the treaty’s wake, saw the transferal of an enormous swath of Mexican territory to the united states.

The most conservative geographical definition of the territories that make up Aztlán (based on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and Gadsden Purchase) covers the modern U.S. compartments of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, in addition to portions of Wyoming, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas. More generous definitions also include all of Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas, as well as Idaho and Oregon (Unión del Barrio 2012:2).

Other than the raw territorial annexation of Aztlán by the growing American empire and the consequent shifting of the Mexican-American border southwards, the conflict had serious consequences for the people already residing in the region. Despite high levels of legal and illegal Euro-American migration into Aztlán there were also many Mexicanos living in the region at the time of the conquest. These people left behind after the war were split off from the rest of their countrymen by the new border, leading to their development into an internal colony of the empire not unlike the in the various tribal nations also being territorially incorporated into the United States. However despite the new border many Xicanos and Mexicanos would maintain cross-border familial, cultural and political ties, helping to facilitate high levels of migration by Mexicanos into the United States, historically and currently. The conditions and context that gave rise to, and that arose as a result of, these conflicts still resonate deeply today in modern Aztlán. Thus they are essential to understand.

From Indians to Mexicanos: American Religious and Racial Antipathy for the Mexicano

The racial and religious attitudes of Euro-Americans towards Mexicanos are vital to any understanding of the American acquisition of nearly half of México. These attitudes not only underscore the seizure of northern México by the U.S.—seeing it as the right of the new American empire to claim the land from racially inferior and religiously deviant Mexicanos—but also the social relations in the century and a half that has followed.

Racial and religious hostility towards Mexicanos have long been firmly rooted in the American settler consciousness. The Mexicano was largely Catholic, in opposition to Protestant America. The Mexicano was also mestizo, that is, of mixed de-tribalized Native North American peoples and Spanish ancestry, if not fully Indian, a contradiction with the Europeanness of the American settler colonial project in North America predicated upon a logic of eliminating Indians in order to acquire their territories, as well as the horrific chattel slavery of African people. These links between settler racial and religious hostility towards Indians and Mexicanos is noted by Alfredo Mirandé in Gringo Justice:

Most Whites had never encountered Mexicans before, but their Elizabethan and Puritan heritage predisposed them to view Mexicans as a contemptuous, inferior, and barbaric race…Antipathy towards Spain and the Roman Catholic Church was deep-seated…Anglos could co-exist with the criollo elite and were attracted to Mexican women, especially upper-class women who were considered “white”, but most Mexicans were either mestizos or descendants of Tlascalan Indians who played an important part in Spanish colonization of northern Mexico and were considered non-White (1987:4-5).

Rodolfo Acuña in Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation (1972) also describes this link:

There is ample evidence that Anglo-Americans arriving in the Southwest believed that they were racially superior to the swarthy Mexicans, whom they considered a mongrel race of Indian halfbreeds. The gringo’s traditional antipathy toward the Indian was transferred to the Mexican (7).

The supposed inferiority of the Mexicano, and conversely the superiority of the Euro-American, was codified in the concept of Manifest Destiny. This ideology declared that the Protestant settlers were ordained by the Christian God to be the hegemonic power over the Western Hemisphere. Rooted in the belief of Mexicano racial and religious inferiority, this ideology justified the brutal violence visited upon them by the American conquerors (Mirandé 1987:5). The doctrine Euro-American superiority and racial destiny to dominate the continent in hand the ground was firmly laid for the seizure of Aztlán, beginning with the revolt in Tejas.

The Beginnings of Anglo-Settlement: The Creation of Anglo-Texas

Despite powerful internal contradictions in the development of the capitalist mode of production in the united states between the planter capitalists of the south and the northern industrial and merchant capitalists[2], all power factions in this new empire had much to gain by the seizing of Tejas and later the rest of Aztlán from México, using as its justification the racial and religious inferiority of the Mexicano. The benefits of this imperial adventure for the growing capitalist class included the establishment of new slave states for southern planter capitalists and increased trade with Asia via California for northern merchant capitalists (League of Revolutionary Struggle 1979). With much to gain in the name of growth, the first target in the seizing Aztlán would be Tejas.

The process of the American acquisition of Tejas however did not begin with the revolt itself, but was rather a protracted process. Euro-American settlement in the region that would later become Texas began in 1819, including early filibustering[3] activities, following the American purchase from sSain of Florida. As noted by Acuña:

The Transcontinental Treaty with Spain drew the boundary of the United States in such a way that it excluded Texas. By the time the treaty was ratified in February 1821, Texas was part of Coahuila, a state in the independent Republic of Mexico.  Meanwhile, Anglo-Americans made forays into Texas similar to those they made into Florida. In 1819, James Long led an abortive invasion of the province with the aim of creating the “Republic of Texas.” Long, like many Anglos, believed that Texas belonged to the United States (1972:10-11).

For a while these early filibustering actions by Euro-Americans in the territory of Tejas were replaced by more traditional settlement activities. For a time these activities were tolerated or even encouraged by Spain, and later the far-away central government of independent México. There were strategic considerations on the part of Spain and later México in allowing this activity. As Mirandé describes, “fearing possible annexation of its sparsely settled northern territories, Spain, and subsequently México, encouraged colonization by liberalizing its colonization laws to include Anglo-American settlers” (1987:6).

Out of all of México’s northern territories this process became most pronounced in Tejas. In Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality (1979) Mario Barrera describes this process:

The penetration of Texas by settlers from the United States was more thorough than in the other areas of northern Mexico. Here the Spanish and later the Mexican governments had made vigorous attempts to populate the area through a series of land grants, some of which had gone to Anglo colonizers (8-9).

Barrera also concurs with Mirandé regarding the strategic considerations of México in allowing this, noting that “while the Mexican government realized to some extent the dangers of settling the area with non-Mexicans, there was considerable danger in allowing this territory to remain very thinly populated” (1979:9). In light of these dangers of Euro-American settlement there were conditions imposed upon this colonization. Mirandé notes that “all settlers were required to be of good moral character, to be Catholic or to convert to Catholicism, and to swear allegiance to Mexico” (1987:6).

Under these terms the important Euro-American colonization leader Moses Austin was given permission by the government of México in 1821 to begin settling in Tejas with Spanish families that he was to bring over from Florida. Moses died before he could complete the task; however his son Stephen was given a comparable grant by México, leading ultimately to his founding of the settlement of San Felipe de Austin. This marked the beginning of the Euro-American influx into the territory of Tejas, with more than 20,000 Anglos having moved into the region less than a decade later in 1830 (Mirandé 1987:6; Acuña 1972:11).

While Austin was willing to abide by the terms and conditions set forth by México regarding Euro-American colonization of the territory, for the most part the majority of the new settlers were not. Within short order the settlers began to resent the authority that the government of México attempted to exert over the territory and over them (Mirandé 1987:6). Additionally, many of these new Euro-American settlers in Tejas were not there legally, but rather had arrived illegally from the Southern U.S., and sought to develop cotton cultivation and import African slaves—by 1830 these settlers had brought with them some 2,000 enslaved Africans (Mirandé 1987:7); Acuña 1972:11). In response to this México:

Began to take measures to stem the tide of illegal aliens. In 1829 slavery was abolished by executive decree. Following intense protest by Anglo-Texans, the decree was quickly suspended, but on April 6, 1830, Mexico passed a law that prohibited the importation of slaves and attempted to severely restrict Anglo settlement…Mexican soldiers were also sent to Texas to enforce Mexican laws, including laws pertaining to immigration (Mirandé 1987:7).

Eventually the tensions between the government of México and the Euro-American colonists would boil over in the mid-1830s in the form of the Texas Revolt. Beginning in 1836 and ending in the defeat of México by 1837, the revolt resulted in the granting of Euro-Texan independence with the Treaty of Velasco. The American annexation of Tejas was not fully completed until 1845 however. This conflict would set the stage for the much larger Mexican-AmeriCan War and the annexation of the rest of México’s northern territories by the united states.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Creation of the Modern Xicano Colony

Of all the official documents relevant to the status of Xicano-settler relations in the united states, none is more important than the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Signed on February 2, 1848 the treaty established the Kótsoi River (Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte) as the border between México and Euro-American Texas and ceded the rest of Aztlán to the U.S. Besides the approval of a large, new territorial acquisition, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo also saw the incorporation of a large population of Mexicanos into the United States. This meant that these Mexicanos now stood alongside the various Indian Nations as the only national groups to have been incorporated into the territorial corpus of the U.S. via direct military conquest. Also paralleling the situation of the Indian Nations, these Mexicanos theoretically had their rights as a people guaranteed via a treaty signed by the American federal government (Mirandé 1987:9). Thus the birth of the modern Xicano nation can be traced directly to forceful acquisition of territory from México and the development of an exploitative internal colonial relationship between Xicanos and Euro-Americans (Mirandé:4).

While colonialism is traditionally treated as a phenomenon that is removed geographically from the imperial homeland of any given colonial power, such as the domination by France and Britain of large regions of Africa and Asia, Acuña lays out six conditions that demonstrate the colonial nature of the relationship between the Xicano nation and the dominant and privileged Euro-American settler population:

  1. The Land of the people is invaded by people from another country, who later use military force to gain and maintain control.
  2. The original inhabitants become subjects of the conquerors involuntarily.
  3. The conquered have an alien culture and government imposed upon them.
  4. The conquered become the victims of racism and cultural genocide and are relegated to a submerged status.
  5. The conquered are rendered politically and economically powerless.
  6. The conquerors feel they have a “mission” in occupying the area in question and believe that they have undeniable privileges by virtue of their conquest(1972: 3).

Like all colonial experiences the conquest of Aztlán included the imposition of Euro-American culture, the English language and, to an extent, the Protestant variant of the Christian religion over the land and the people. The incorporation of Aztlán into the body of the United States also included the displacement of a traditional pastoral economy by American capitalism (Mirandé:18). Today the Xicano nation is a submerged nation within the American empire, facing exploitation and oppression. They are the victims of racial stereotypes and slurs from Euro-Americans. Most importantly they are denied political and economic self-determination by the united states, much like Indians and African people (Acuña 1972:4).

Further, the view common among Americans of Xicanos as an immigrant group misses the essence of the Xicano nation’s status as a colony that has been territorially engulfed by the United States via direct military action. Regardless of whether an individual of Mexicano ancestry residing within the borders of the united states is a recent arrival, or a descendant of more long term residents, they are immediately and always subjected to a colonial condition. Even the most recent “voluntary immigrants” from México enter this colonial relationship upon arrival. This is because colonization is a relationship not between individuals, but between nations (Mirandé 1985:5). The question of Xicanos as immigrants also misses the artificial and imposed nature of the colonial border. For those whose ancestors have resided in Aztlán and México for centuries, if not millennia, this line in the sand drawn by the agents of a conquering nation has always been capricious and arbitrary (Mirandé 1985:5).

The understanding of the Xicano nation as an internal colony is important in developing an analysis not only of historic anti-Xicano/Mexicano sentiment within the United States, but also contemporary ones—including those that have manifested in the most militant form of border vigilantes. This is because it brings to the surface that in acquiring Aztlán and its resident Indigenous population—not only the Xicano nation, but also a large number of Indian nations—the United States brought within its territorial fold a sizable grouping of possibly hostile people who continued to maintain cultural, political and familial ties with their former countrymen across the new border in now truncated México. It meant that the presence of the Xicano nation, like Indians, within the continental corpus of the country could not only throw into doubt the legitimacy of the American claim to hegemony over the land, but could even pose an existential threat to the national cohesion and territorial integrity of the American empire. Thus it is in the best interest of the United States to keep the Xicano nation submerged, including continued denial of the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo designed to protect their rights, to disrupt their language rights, to deny them their traditional culture and to continue to treat them as foreigners within the territory. Most of all it means that it is in the continued interest of the United States to limit, as much as is possible, the growth of the Xicano nation centred in Aztlán via the continued incorporation of more recent immigrants (both regular and irregular) from México.

The Reconquista: Fear of a “Chicano Québec” in Aztlán

While it is often spoken of in euphemistic terms in schools, on television, in film etc.—such as discussion of “how the West was won”—the political consciousness of the united states-at-large is not oblivious to its genocidal and colonial origins. American schools and other ideological state apparatuses and their functionaries do not hide the fact that the United States seized its territorial land base from Indians and Xicanos, or that it used the mass enslaved labour of Africans to build their nation upon it. However although they admit their genocidal and colonial origins, they do so with a clever spin that re-frames discussion away from a narrative of oppression, exploitation and violent conquest. The Texas Revolt for example is often portrayed as a tale of valiant Euro-American settlers waging a struggle for democratic values against a distant and arbitrarily oppressive government in México City (Acuña 1972:11).

Contemporary American recognition of its colonial history regarding Aztlán further manifests as fear of a Reconquista. Barrera describes the development of this particular political phenomenon in the following way:

In recent years these interlinked phenomena of inequality and group identity have taken on a new urgency because of changing demographic patterns in the Southwest. Whereas in the past Chicano political activities have been contained  because of the minority status of this group, the combination of a high birthrate and a continued high rate of immigration from Mexico now threatens, or promises, to bring about a Chicano majority in several states in the not too distant future. These trends have raised the spectre of a “Chicano Quebec” in the Southwest in the minds of many observers (1979:1-2).

Since the Chicano Power Movement of the 1960s and 70s there have of course been radical Xicano nationalists who have actively advocated, and still do advocate, for some kind of Xicano separatism in the territories once held by México. Some, such as Unión del Barrio, advocate for the reunification of Aztlán—which they also refer to as México Ocupado—with the rest of what is currently México. Their programme states “We seek to advance the liberation and reunification of México under a revolutionary government” (Unión del Barrio 2012:4). Others, such as the Partido Nacional de la Raza Unida advocate the creation of some kind of independent Republic of Aztlán (Partido Nacional de la Raza Unida 2014). Perhaps the largest and most widely recognized organization that advocates for the right to self-determination for the Xicano nation is the student mass organization known as the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). MEChA, with branches on university and college campuses across not just Aztlán but the United States as a whole, states in their central programmatic document:

Chicanismo seeks to educate our barrios and campos about our history y cultura to further create a movement of self-determination for the Liberation of Aztlán… These factors have made it necessary for Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlán to affirm our philosophy of liberation (i.e. educational, socio-economic, and political empowerment) for our Chicana/Chicano Nation (1999:3-4).

Additionally, several non-Xicano Marxist-Leninist and Maoist organizations in the United States, historically and currently, also recognize the existence of some kind of “Chicano National Question” and thus support a call for Xicano national self-determination within Aztlán, without necessarily taking a specific stance on the question of reunification or independence (League of Revolutionary Struggle 1979; Freedom Road Socialist Organization 2004). However the current mainstream politic of the Xicano internal colony and the rest of the u.s does not reflect the radicalism of either the Xicano nationalists or the non-Xicano revolutionaries. Nevertheless the fear of Xicano separatism has seeped out and planted the seeds of the fear of a reconquest of Aztlán in the popular Euro-American imagination.

The fear of Xicano separatism is clear within much of the far-right of the united states, especially, but not limited to, the new generation of border vigilantes. In a video entry on the principal website of the Minuteman Project entitled Aztlan: Just a Little Reminder of What this Battle is All About (2013) the influence of the fear of a possible Reconquista of Aztlán on the worldview and direction of contemporary border vigilantes is made clear. Additionally, while the original Minuteman Project has suffered a number of splits, several of the larger factions such as the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps have been described Southern Poverty Law Center as subscribing to “the “Aztlan” or “Reconquista” conspiracy theory that the Mexican government is trying to reconquer the American southwest by encouraging illegal immigration (and possibly ultimately resorting to force of arms) (2010).

These kinds of fears have not been sequestered though to the extreme right-wing and “white rights” movements, but rather have been given space and airtime within the mainstream colonial media. One clear example of this is the prominent American news media television host Lou Dobbs. During his time hosting the programme Lou Dobbs Tonight on the supposedly liberal cable news channel CNN, Dobbs came under fire from anti-hate and migrant rights organizations on a number of occasions for the views that were often expressed on his show. One of the more egregious examples of this took place in 2006. On the particular episode in question a map was shown onscreen with several U.S. states highlighted and labelled as “Aztlan”. The context of this was a visit by then neo-colonial President of México Vicente Fox to Utah, Washington and California. The voice-over that accompanied this map of Aztlán described it as a “mythical Indigenous homeland” and, as noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, strongly implied that there is an ongoing plot by the modern government of México to reconquer the states highlighted on the screen with the aid of Mexicano immigrants (Southern Poverty Law Center 2008).

Central to these concerns, as noted earlier by Barrera, are constantly high birth-rates of Xicanos and historically and currently high rates of migration by Mexicanos across the border with México into Aztlán. Acuña notes the link between Mexicano migration of the growth of the Xicano internal colony, saying:

After 1910, in fact, almost one-eighth of Mexico’s population migrated to the United States, largely as a result of the push-and-pull of economic necessity. Southwest agribusinessmen “imported” Mexican workers to fill the need for cheap labor, and this influx signaled the beginning of even greater Anglo manipulation of Mexican settlements or colonias (1972:4).

The fear that continued Mexicano migration and integration into the Xicano colony within the United States might lead to, at best, political instability in the Southwest or, at worst, the development of an outright separatist movement, has, in previous decades, reached up to some of the highest levels of the U.S. colonial administration. Barrera notes the upward movement of the fear that this combination of factors (high migration, Xicano nationalist sentiment etc.) could possibly lead to the development of a “Chicano Québec” in Aztlán:

A combination of factors has given rise to genuine worries about the long-term political stability of the Southwest. In a long memo sent to Secretary of State Kissinger by Arthur Corwin in June 1975, these worries are laid out. In it, Corwin argues that the combination of rapid population growth in Mexico, continued inflow of undocumented workers across the border, and rising nationalist and Third World sentiment among Chicanos and Mexicanos in the Southwest could lead to an “American Quebec” in that area and a “reconquest of Aztlan” (1979:128).

This makes abundantly clear that the fear of the reconquest of Aztlán—whether as some external plot by the modern government of México, the result of an expanding Xicano population with nationalist and Third Worldist political sentiments, or some combination thereof—is a factor that cannot be ignored. The recognition that the Southwestern States of the U.S. were seized by brute force from México during the Texas Revolt and Mexican-American War is manifested clearly in the origins and orientation of the border vigilantes and other conservative political actors in the united states.


In this article I set out to explore the origins of contemporary American anti-Mexican sentiment, with a particular eye towards more far-right manifestations of this in the new generation of self-proclaimed “volunteer border patrol” organizations—in reality nothing more than vigilantes dressed up in the rhetoric of conservative Euro-American nationalism. I set out to do this by way of an examination of the historical, sociological and political circumstances of the American conquest of Aztlán.

These circumstances included not just the historical and political facts of the Texas Revolt and the Mexican-American War which ceded 40% of Mexico’s territory to the united states, but also the underlying cultural attitudes of Euro-Americans who viewed México and the Mexicano people with suspicion because of their adherence to the Catholic religion and their racial make-up largely as Indians and mestizos, both of which stood in contrast to the European and Protestant character of the United States. These views allowed Euro-Americans to see it as their destiny to create an empire spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny outlined Euro-American White Protestant supremacy and that Tejas and the rest of northern México was the rightful territory of the United States.

Following the American seizure of Aztlán, Mexicanos north of the new border came under an oppressive and exploitative relationship with the new Euro-American masters of the land. Alongside Indians, the Mexicano people became were incorporated into the united states by direct military force. Over time this lead to the development of a Xicano colony within the borders of the united states centred in Aztlán. This colony exists in an exploitative and oppressive relationship with the dominant settler nation. Despite its presence within the borders of the United States many Americans continue to treat the Xicano people as a foreign presence, linking them strongly with México. This is not only because of the Xicano nation’s historical relationship to México, as well as its roots within and continued ties to the Mexicano people, but also because the Xicano internal colony has continued to grow since its creation in part due to consistently high levels of Mexicano immigration into Aztlán. These immigrants have long integrated into the Xicano colony.

This allows us to begin to understand one of the driving, if somewhat submerged, fears giving shape and direction to the modern brand of American anti-Mexicano sentiment and activism: the fear that continued growth of the Xicano colony with high birth-rates and high rates of Mexicano migration could lead to political instability in the region. Referred to as the possibility of a “Chicano Québec,” this fear—based not only on actually existing trends of Xicano nationalism and Third Worldist political sentiment, but also conspiracy theories regarding the modern government of México—has not just influenced the creation and motivation of the current cohort of border vigilantes in the united states, but has even been given air time on major American cable news outlets. Even more so, it has, in past decades, been of concern to the upper levels of the federal government.  Thus while it may seem on the surface as a fringe fear birthed by the most conservative, reactionary, far-right and Euro-American nationalist sectors of the American political spectrum, this is simply not the case.

While I agreed at the outset with Matthew Ward when he noted that the modern manifestations of anti-migrant activism, such as the border vigilantes, do not simply appear out of nowhere, there is always a political, social, economic and cultural context that allows them to rise up, I do not believe it goes far enough to locate these forces purely within the last few decades of American social development. While the factors discussed by Ward are undeniably important when attempting to grasp this particularly virulent and militant modern brand of right-wing border activism, it is my opinion that these forces simply provided the water necessary for the germination of seeds that were sown well over a century ago.

Anti-Xicano sentiment, just like anti-Indian and anti-African sentiment, is central to the development and continued cohesion of the Euro-American settler nation. It is true that since the success of the Civil Rights Movement and the U.S. defeat in Việt Nam there has been and increasing trend towards the integration of the those colonies territorially engulfed by the United States—most clearly seen in the election of the country’s first African president, Barack Obama. However in general the relationship between the United States and its non-Euro-American populations remains one of settler colonialism and franchise colonialism. Understanding this relationship and its origins will allow us to genuinely begin to combat these political trends and to build towards our future goals of land, independence and socialism.

End Notes

[1] Obama Immigration Reform 2014 Speech: Announcing Executive Action [FULL] Today on November 20th

[2] These contradictions would later explode as the American Civil War.

[3] Filibustering is the carrying out of revolutionary or insurrectionist actions in a foreign territory. (Acuña 1972:11)

Works Cited

Acuña, Rodolfo. 1972. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation. San Francisco, CA: Canfield Press.

Barrera, Mario. 1979. Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Freedom Road Socialist Organization. 2004. Statement on National Oppression, National Liberation and Socialist Revolution. Chicago, IL:

Gomez, David F. 1973. Somos Chicanos: Strangers in Our Own Land. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Leal, Luis. 1989. “In Search of Aztlán.” Pp. 6-13 in Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, edited by Rudolfo A. Anaya and Francisco A. Lomelí. Albuquerque, NM

League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist). 1979. “Resolution on the Chicano National Question.” Forward: Journal of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought (2). Retrieved December 2, 2014

McCarty, Justin A. 2007. “The Volunteer Border Patrol: The Inevitable Disaster of the Minuteman Project.” Iowa Law Review 92(4), 1459-1492.

Minuteman Project, The. 2013. Aztlan: Just a Little Reminder of What This Battle is All About. Retrieved December 5, 2014

Mirandé, Alfredo. 1985. The Chicano Experience: An Alternative Perspective.

Mirandé, Alfredo. 1987. Gringo Justice. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán. 1999. The Philosophy of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán.

Partido Nacional de la Raza Unida. 2014. Auto Determinacion al Pueblo Chicano Mexicano! Retrieved December 2, 2014

Sakai, J. 1989. Settlers: The Mythology of White Proletariat. Chicago, IL: Morningstar Press.

Southern Poverty Law Center. 2008. Lou Dobbs Citing Extremists, Again. Retrieved December 1, 2014

Southern Poverty Law Center. 2010. Top Minuteman Group Announces Breakup. Retrieved December 8, 2014

Unión del Barrio. 2012. The Political Program of Unión del Barrio: A Program for Political Direction, Consciousness Raising, and Liberation Struggle. San Diego, CA

Ward, Matthew. 2014. “They Say Bad Things Come in Threes: How Economic, Political and Cultural Shifts Facilitated Contemporary Anti-Immigration Activism in the United States.” Journal of Historical Sociology 27(2): 263-92

Wyler , Grace. 2013. It’s Official: America Is Militarizing the Mexican Border. Retrieved December 5, 2014


One thought on “Strangers in Their Own Land: Lineages of the Conquest of Aztlán”

  1. Reblogged this on Unsettling America and commented:
    “Anti-Xicano sentiment, just like anti-Onkwehón:we and anti-Afrikan sentiment, is central to the development and continued cohesion of the euro-amerikan settler nation. It is true that since the success of the Civil Rights Movement and the u.s. defeat in Việt Nam there has been and increasing trend towards the integration of the internal colonies within the body politic of the amerikan empire—most clearly seen in the election of the country’s first Afrikan president, Barack Obama. However in general the relationship between the united states and its non-euro-amerikan populations remains one of internal colonialism. Understanding this relationship and its origins will allow us to genuinely begin to combat these political trends and to build towards our future goals of land, independence and socialism.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s