Scholarly account of the long history of ethnic violence along the Texas-Mexico borderlands.
In 1915 and 1916, a time of revolutionary upheaval in Mexico, when refugees were streaming across the border, Texas Rangers and American soldiers declared open season on ethnic Mexicans in a time known as the “bandit wars.” During that yearlong campaign, writes Martinez (American Studies and Ethnic Studies/Brown Univ.), as many as 300 ethnic Mexicans were murdered—so many that “farmers raised concerns because their field laborers were fleeing to Mexico.” Those Mexicans who remained performed a difficult calculus: when to travel, whom to hide from, whom to deal with. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers, never known as an ecumenical organization, rewarded the criminalization of Mexicans and the murderousness of recruits, such as one fervent believer in deadly force whose “methods for ‘handling’ ethnic Mexicans and African Americans earned praise from his supervising officers.” Indeed, a contemporary account suggests, applicants to join the force need have only a single qualification: “that they had previously worked as gunmen and killed ethnic Mexicans.” In an account that sometimes strays into academic aridity and postmodern tropism (“vernacular histories that lament anti-Mexican violence open new opportunities to recover marginalized histories”), Martinez explores a terrible history that reverberates today not only because of family memory and local curation (including a small-town Dairy Queen with a display of photographs of lynched Mexicans), but also because so many of its particulars seem taken from current headlines as refugees continue to die in the desert. The author closes by drawing close connections between migrants killed at the border by American law enforcement officials today with those who died a century ago, such as “Concepción García in 1919, shot and killed by a US soldier while crossing the Rio Grande, returning to Mexico from school in Texas.”
Timely and of considerable interest to students of borderlands history as well as of sociology.