Recovering History, Constructing Race: the Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans
Recovering Aztlan : Racial Formation Through a Shared History (1)
Traditionally history of the Americas and American population has been taught in a direction heading west from Europe to the California frontier. In Recovering History, Constructing Race, Martha Mencahca locates the origins of the history of the Americas in a floral pattern where migration from Asia, Europe, and Africa both voluntary and forced converge magnetically in Mexico then spreads out again to the north and northeast. By creating this patters she complicates the idea of race, history, and nationality. The term Mexican, which today refers to a specific nationality in Central America, is instead used as a shared historic and cultural identity of a people who spread from Mexico across the southwest United States. To create this shared identity Menchaca carefully constructs the Mexican race from prehistoric records to current battles for Civil Rights. What emerges is a story in which Anglo-Americans become the illegal immigrants crossing the border into Texas and mestizo Mexicans can earn an upgrade in class distinction through heroic military acts. In short what emerges is a sometimes upside down always creative reinvention of history and the creation of the Mexican "race (?)".
Mexicans, as constructed by Menchaca, are a predominantly mestizo population whose mixed ancestry she traces to early Latin American civilizations. In 200 BC the largest city in the Americas, Teotihuacán, was founded. Teotihuacán would one day be the site of Mexico City, and by 650 AD there were between 120,000 and 250,000 inhabitants. (2) Groups that inhabited the region from modern day California to Mexico include the Hohokam, Mogollon, Anasazi, Chumash, Shoshone, Maya, Zapotec, Cholulan, and Mixtec to name a few. Another group who settled near Teotihuacán were the Mexica who would later be known as the Aztec. The European heritage of Mexicans is complex as well in that the Spanish peninsula was a contested sight and one of migration from Africa, Europe, and the east. The African ancestry of Mexicans is perhaps the most straightforward in that most of the slaves that were brought into Mexico came from the west coast of Africa and specifically the kingdom of Mali. The Malinke people of Mali, who were left vulnerable by ecological disaster and war, were unable to defend themselves militarily and became an easy target for the Portuguese slave traders. (3)
By situating each of the three major groups involved in the formation of the Mexican people as she does, Menchaca, prepares her reader not for a story of separation by race, but one of thoroughly blended racial identity. During the Spanish period, though class structure was always of the utmost concern, she situates racial mixing as an integral part of the Spanish conquest of America. By befriending and allying themselves ...