Mexican Stereotypes: Perceptions of Mexicans by Anglos in Texas

Published: 2021-06-22 06:10:06
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De Leon’s book They Called Them Greasers seeks to put forward an impressive history of the ways white people interacted with Mexicans in Texas in the 19th century. This was shortly after Texas had been taken from Mexico, and race relations were certainly something new for all of the people there. White people in Texas were getting their first taste of true racial diversity, and because of the power dynamics at play, there was not a cushy relationship between the sides. In fact, because the first contact was made in the context of white people brutally taking the land from Mexicans as a part of Manifest Destiny, it was almost guaranteed that the two sides would continue their conflict into the indefinite future. Still, as this book describes, a number of stereotypes erupted. White men began to hold various views of Mexican men and women around them, and those things reflected some of the perverse values held by the white Texans at the time. This book, which provides important context for some of the racial strife going on in Texas and America today, lays out a clear case for how white Texans systemically subjugated Mexicans through opinions and ideas, and how those concepts have shaped the reality today. White Texans believed Mexicans to be lazy, of poor character, and prone to violence, among other things.
As with most stereotypes, the white Texan stereotyping of Mexican men and women was based mostly on a lack of familiarity combined with a healthy dose of fear. The first stereotype that took hold was the idea that Mexican men and women were indolent (Montano, 2015). Many Texans believed that there was both a cultural and innate laziness to Mexican people around them (Griswold del Castillo, 1998). They believed that Mexicans were less interested in finding their own way in the world and more interested in resting and living off of others. On some level, this can be traced to the hokey American belief in self-sufficiency. Especially among Texans during that period, there was a real sense that America had a special place in the world specifically because some Texans and other Americans had done the hard work of coming to America and moving West. America might not have been obsessed with work—as is evidenced by the fact that fat-cat plantation owners stole slaves to do the labor—but Texans were obsessed with the idea of work. It is true of this stereotype that many Texans associated poorer people with lower work ethic. Because of the prosperity doctrine, which had a hold even then, there was a sense that God rewarded hard-working people with wealth, and God punished lazy people with a lack of wealth. Mexicans in Texas were often poor, a consequence of the social arrangement that had been thrust upon them. As a result, white Texans around them assumed that this impoverished state was a direct result of the fact that Mexicans were not as hard-working as white men.
White Texans also believed that Mexican men and women had defective morality in some ways. They suggested that Mexican men and women were not as capable of putting together moral rules that could guide society. There were two primary factors at work in this stereotype. For one, these people believed, according to Manifest Destiny, that they were divined by God to be the rulers of the new world. They believed that this was handed to them because they were morally pure. Mexican people often believed in their own gods, or in some cases, they practiced Catholicism, which contrasted harshly with the Protestantism of the majority of Texans. Likewise, one must recognize that white Texans still had within them some of the old racial biases held against black people and Native Americans. Those people were believed to be savages, partially because of racism and also because the whites in the US at the time needed to think of things this way in order to justify their behavior. How could one believe in slavery or in displacing Indians unless one also believed that those people were somehow less than human? The idea that white makes right and white makes might permeated American society at time, the and this ethic was carried out to Texas by the men who stole the land from Mexicans just as land had been stolen from Native Americans in other parts of the country.
Mexicans were also thought to be disloyal (De Leon, 2000). White Texans had a clan or cult of sorts. There was a close bond among those who inhabited the territory, and this continues today to some extent. Mexicans, then, could not be trusted to understand these traditions nor carry them on. This was projection in some ways. It was actually Texans who were the disloyal ones, as they had been the takers of the land, but they projected this onto Mexicans for a host of deeply troubling psychological reasons.
In addition, Mexicans in Texas were suspected of being in cahoots with black people and other minority groups (De Leon, 1997). This was a problem for white Texans given the racial calculus in the country at the time. Loyalty to black people, Native Americans, and other minority groups was seen as an affront to white Texans and a threat to the sanctity of the land. This caused white Texans to question whether Mexicans around them possessed the qualities to contribute at large to their growing society.
White Texans held Mexican people to generally be of low character. They saw in Mexicans a lack of work ethic, a lack of trustworthiness, and a tendency to commit crime. In seeking to elevate themselves to a high moral position, white Texans were willing to believe and say almost anything about the Mexicans that lived in their midst. This produced an uncomfortable atmosphere of oppression that has continued in many ways today.

De León, A. (1997). The Tejano Community, 1836-1900. Southern Methodist University Press.
De León, A. (2010). They called them greasers: Anglo attitudes toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821–1900. University of Texas Press.
Griswold del Castillo, R. (1998). Manifest Destiny: The Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Sw. JL & Trade Am., 5, 31.
Montaño, M. (2015). Appropriation and Counterhegemony in South Texas: Food Slurs, Offal Meats, and Blood. Food and Folklore Reader, 327.

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