Reading about “immigration reform” after my recent drive through the Southwest has me pondering the history of that region. From 1769 to 1821, the modern U.S. states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming were all under Spanish rule. After Mexico established independence from Spain, Alta California as it was called was part of Independent Mexico until around 1846.
Conquest is a fact of life, but it’s a fact that most Americans choose to ignore if they were even aware of it. When Fitzgerald writes in The Great Gatsby about the “fresh, green breast of the new world” that offered “the last and greatest of all human dreams,” he doesn’t mention that this world was not so new and that any dreams fulfilled would prove nightmarish for those already here.
There is nothing moral about conflict, and wars are not won by the righteous but by the most powerful. If you’ve driven down California’s Highway 1, you can appreciate why the U.S. would want to claim the area. However, could we be more gracious about it? Why deny the past and act as if the ancestors of people who saw the Pacific before we did are planning some insidious invasion when they cross our artificial borders?
The next time you’re in the parts of the U.S. that were once Spain and Mexico, take a long look. Notice how many people of Hispanic descendent are mowing lawns, laboring in fields, cleaning hotel rooms, or preparing your Starbucks mocha. Could any American comprehend such a scenario for themselves? Will we one day see Canada claim Washington, Montana, Minnesota, and Michigan? And the great-great-grandchildren of Portland hipsters crossing the Oregon border to seek their fortune in a Canadian Washington? How would Canadians handle the immigration issue? Probably better than Jan Brewer in Arizona who wants to deny immigrants driver’s licenses.
When on Highway 395, I drove past a store that sold “guns, ammo, and liquor” (an ingeniously self-destructive combination) — most likely to further the subconscious desire to preserve what is only tenuously ours. Flying outside in the store’s parking lot was a U.S. flag and a Confederate flag… although eastern California was never part of the Confederacy. However, there was no Mexican or Spanish flag in sight.
So much for heritage.
June 4, 2013 at 12:26 pm
Is that another way of saying we should have an open border with Mexico, like we do with Canada? That we treat Mexicans differently because they are brown and Canadians are white? Although I confess, your piece raises a possibility I had not previously though about — maybe the border is closed because we warred with Mexico and not with Canada. (At least, not after we killed off all the Hurons and Iroquois.)
Have you been in North Carolina lately, speaking of rewritten history? Try to find a Civil War battlefield. They’re there, but they don’t talk about it much.
At any rate, if you have not read it, I highle recommend Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop.for some early New Mexico history,although that would be the least of it.