The idea of “Manifest Destiny” precipitated mounting conflicts with Mexico that ultimately provoked a Mexican attack on U.S. forces seeking to occupy this disputed territory. In May of 1846, the U.S. government declared war on Mexico and U.S. military force triumphed over the Mexican armies and reached and occupied Mexico City for a time. The war ended in early 1848, with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which called for Mexico to forfeit its claim to Texas and, in return for fifteen million dollars, transferred roughly half of Mexico’s lands including what is now California, Nevada and Utah and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming which had comprised northwest Mexico to the United States. To this point, no other nation in the world had been coercively compelled to surrender so large a percentage of its territory to the United States.
Along with the lands acquired in the Spanish-American war, indigenous tribes had occupied these newly acquired lands for thousands of years, made inhabitants U.S. nationals or citizens by various statutes. The Treaty gave Mexican residents of the transferred lands who chose to remain the option of obtaining U.S. citizenship. Virtually all the estimated 75,000 who stayed did so. Native Americans had long been the victim of U.S. aggression and continued to face persecution of at the hand of the U.S. Military during this period. As the 19th and then the early 20th centuries proceeded, persons of Latino descent increasingly found themselves subjected to a wide range of discriminations by U.S. territorial governments throughout the region.
California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas prior to the Civil War, adopted constitutions that dictated voting rights and jury service to white men. Granted, New Mexico permitted Pueblo Indians to vote, but only until Congress changed that policy in 1853. Many of these new Americans were of mixed race ancestry and were deemed non-white, specifically poor farmers and laborers. Many found themselves governed by officials, policed by territorial and local enforcement officials, and tried by courts with limited commitments to equal treatment. Over time many of these new Americans responded with various forms of “resistant adaptation” that is the acceptance of certain forms of assimilation in return for economic opportunities and somewhat broader rights all the while refusing to accept fully the identities and statuses imposed by the American territorial and then state governments upon most persons of Mexican descent (Meeks 4).
The significance of this history is that the U.S. government, through its territorial governments, used coercive authority to displace substantial populations from their former lands and homes and instituted policies that encouraged them to eagerly gain better economic opportunities outside of their native ways. Despite their strong links to and identification with Mexico, its language and cultural traditions, many were forced to...