Title: Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850
Author: Andrés Reséndez
Categories: Borderlands, Identity, Mexico, Empire
Place: Texas and New Mexico
Time Period: 1800-1850
Andrés Reséndez writes a borderlands history of Mexico's Far North (New Mexico and Texas) in the first half of the 19th century. Reséndez argues that residents in the region made individual decisions to adopt different identities - from Mexican/Spanish to Indian to Anglo-American - but that they did so under broader structural forces: namely, the Mexican/Spanish state and the American market. Far from a modern conception of state and market working in concert, Reséndez argues that the two were often antithetical and pulled residents in opposite directions (a feature, Reséndez posits, common to many borderland areas). Reséndez often operates under a spatial framework, demonstrating how contests between state and market often took the form of core/periphery relationship in which the centralized Mexican state struggled to control market forces operating on the peripheral frontier.
Reséndez maintains the dual theme of state and market through a chronological examination of the region from various vantage points. He begins with an analysis of how spatial perceptions were constitutive of people's identities and a real source of tension between various groups and their agendas. For example, the Mexican state tried to impose a spatial ordering on the far north via cartography and establishing borders, while Anglo-Americans spatially identified with the American South, and Indians enjoyed spatial mobility that made a mockery of "official" borders. Almost all non-Indians, meanwhile, defined space in opposition to the "barbarous" area of Kiowas, Comanches, and other groups that defined the surrounding northern areas. Reséndez goes on to detail how the Mexican state set up an official state apparatus in Texas and New Mexico, primarily through land grant patronage in Texas and via the institution of the Catholic church in New Mexico. The American market, meanwhile, gained a stronger and stronger foothold in the Far North, and as it was increasingly embraced by local residents it became a growing source of tension between centralists who wanted less access and state officials who wanted more. Reséndez argues that the cultural/economic incursions of the American market were far more significant than any attempted American political incursions. The tension between state and market gets further elaborated through the prism of intermarriage between Mexican women and foreign-born men (mostly Anglo-American traders), as the state clamped down this practice by using the regulatory power of the Catholic church.
The second half of the book looks at the 1830s and 1840s and the broader contest between center and periphery in Mexico between frontier federalists who wanted more local, peripheral autonomy and centralists who wanted more metropolitan control. Reséndez argues that the Texan Revolution, instead of being a discrete event, was just one part of this wider struggle. In the years after Texan independence, Reséndez uses the event of the Santa Fe Expedition in 1841, when a group of Texans attempted to open up a route across central Texas and establish a commercial route with New Mexico, to examine how different identities shaped literary coverage of the event (ex. Anglo coverage influenced by having to sell their stories in the market, Nuevomexicano coverage being largely controlled by the Mexican state). Ultimately, the Mexican-American War culminated decades identity formation in the frontier that had been shaped and tugged back and forth between market and state, center and periphery.
Key Themes and Concepts
- "Tsunami-like" structural forces of state and market (often times pull in opposite directions in frontiers/borderlands)
- Importance of spatial perceptions in shaping/being shaped by different identities
- State-building project by Mexico in 1820s-1840s (Church, patronage)
- Increasing ties to American market in the Far North - economic/cultural impact more important than attempted American political incursions
- Struggle between center and periphery - core centralists vs. frontier federalists
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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