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Fronteras Extra: Spanish Heirarchy

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New York University Press

Laura E. Gómez is a professor of law at the UCLA School of Law in Los Angeles.  Her book “Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican-American Race” explores how America’s newest citizens fit into the existing racial class after the war.

Gómez said when 19th century Americans started moving west, they encountered Mexican-Americans, which fell in between the existing racial class of black and white.

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Credit UCLA College of Arts and Science
Laura Gómez

Gómez said that even within Hispanic populations, there was a sense of hierarchy.

“At the bottom of that hierarchy was the indio and the African slave,” Gómez said. “The system that we had, Indians couldn’t be American citizens unless they relinquished their tribal citizenship. So they treated them as foreign and separate.”  

Gómez said Mexican-Americans wanted to distinguish themselves from Indians and deny their Indian, Mexican, and often their African ancestry, in order to emphasize their Spanish ancestry.  She said this carries over into how modern-day New Mexicans describe themselves. But she said it all depends on context.

“If they’re talking in Spanish in a private setting, they’re probably not going to (call themselves) Hispanic” instead of Spanish or Mexican, she said.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1