I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Maui with friends. Like most Hawaii tourists, we spent time on the beach, by the pool and at a few cultural sites, if you can call the Ocean Vodka and Rum Distillery a cultural site.
One evening, we hung out with a nice group of folks at a barbecue. I enjoyed the band (dancing!) and meeting new people. The speedbump in my otherwise fun evening? The conversation with a gruff-looking but affable guy who told me, “I tried to get a job in Texas, but no one would hire me because I don’t speak *Mexican. This is America!”
You might think I got my knickers in a twist over that, but I didn’t. More like I did an eye roll (an inside sentiment rather than an outward facial expression) and let out a heavy sigh.
I was the guest of a friend, the guy had clearly downed a few too many beers (local vodka or rum from the distillery?), and I didn’t know him from Adam, plus he was the size of a brown bear, the kind that ripped Leonardo DiCaprio to shreds in that movie, so, I chose to keep my mouth shut except to say, “Uh-huh.”
You have to pick your moments. Unknown big drunk dudes do not make the best verbal sparring partners. And to be honest, he otherwise seemed like a really nice fellow.
Given people’s relative absence of knowledge about Mexico’s history and its MAJOR impact on the US, I wonder how many know that a large swath of the US was originally part of Mexico?
From the Library of Congress:
The first Mexicans to become part of the United States never crossed any border. Instead, the border crossed them.
Spanish-speaking people have lived in North America since the Spaniards colonized Mexico in the sixteenth century, and Mexicans have always played a crucial role in the continent’s culture and history. Mexican culture brought many firsts to North America: The first Thanksgiving took place in either New Mexico or El Paso; the first university in North America was founded in Mexico City; the first printing press on the continent arrived in Mexico in 1538, more than a century before printing came to New England.
Mexicans first arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598 and founded the city of Santa Fe in 1610. By 1800, Spain had governed Mexico as a colony for almost 300 years. Although Spaniards held positions of power, the people of Mexico were primarily mestizos–people of both Spanish and indigenous heritage.
The northern sections of Mexico, especially the lands north of the Rio Grande, were lightly populated well into the 19th century. Mexican government officials, merchants, and a few trappers and hunters from the U.S. lived in small settlements, mostly around a series of mission churches. This arrangement remained largely undisturbed after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821.
In 1846, everything changed. War broke out between the U.S. and Mexico over the U.S. annexation of Texas. Mexico was defeated, and in 1848 the two nations signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty gave the victorious nation an enormous amount of land, including what would later become the states of California and Texas, as well as parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, in exchange for a token payment of $15 million.
One more important piece of land changed hands in 1854, when the U.S. bought what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico from the Mexican government for $10 million. This land deal, known as the Gadsden Purchase, brought the U.S. a much-coveted railroad route, and helped open the West to further expansion.
With two strokes of a pen, the larger nation had expanded its size by one-third. And almost overnight, tens of thousands of Mexican citizens had become residents of the United States.
Regarding the use of the Spanish language by those who were once Mexicans and became North Americans by way of a war, treaty and real estate deal between the two countries, I find this article by Pamela Oliver to be an excellent source of information and fodder for discussion.
Perhaps if I ever see that man again, I will ask him to read the article and meet me for coffee and a friendly debate.
*For goodness sake! There is no “Mexican language.” It’s called Spanish.