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Lynching Mexicans

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When that great study detailing the numbers of African-Americans lynched in the South came out last week, I noted that its weaknesses included that lynching was not confined to the South and that lots of non-blacks were lynched. Those stories are often forgotten about, as is so much about American racial history that is not black-white. I was not the only person to notice this of course and historians William Carrigan and Clive Webb have a New York Times op-ed on the matter:

From 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases. These lynchings occurred not only in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, but also in states far from the border, like Nebraska and Wyoming.

Some of these cases did appear in press accounts, when reporters depicted them as violent public spectacles, as they did with many lynchings of African-Americans in the South. For example, on July 5, 1851, a mob of 2,000 in Downieville, Calif., watched the extralegal hanging of a Mexican woman named Juana Loaiza, who had been accused of having murdered a white man named Frank Cannon.

Such episodes were not isolated to the turbulent gold rush period. More than a half-century later, on Nov. 3, 1910, a mob snatched a 20-year-old Mexican laborer, Antonio Rodríguez, from a jail in Rock Springs, Tex. The authorities had arrested him on charges that he had killed a rancher’s wife. Mob leaders bound him to a mesquite tree, doused him with kerosene and burned him alive. The El Paso Herald reported that thousands turned out to witness the event; we found no evidence that anyone was ever arrested.

While there were similarities between the lynchings of blacks and Mexicans, there were also clear differences. One was that local authorities and deputized citizens played particularly conspicuous roles in mob violence against Mexicans.

On Jan. 28, 1918, a band of Texas Rangers and ranchers arrived in the village of Porvenir in Presidio County, Tex. Mexican outlaws had recently attacked a nearby ranch, and the posse presumed that the locals were acting as spies and informants for Mexican raiders on the other side of the border. The group rounded up nearly two dozen men, searched their houses, and marched 15 of them to a rock bluff near the village and executed them. The Porvenir massacre, as it has become known, was the climactic event in what Mexican-Americans remember as the Hora de Sangre (Hour of Blood). It led, the following year, to an investigation by the Texas Legislature and reform of the Rangers.

Especially on the left, it’s really important to reiterate these points. There are good reasons why black-white relations still dominate our conversations about race as the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner remind us. But these same racist murders happen to Latinos as well. And while not in the big eastern cities that dominate the media cycle, Mexicans have been in this nation as long as African-Americans and have been subject to routine and systemic discrimination ever since the U.S. stole the northern half of Mexico to expand slaver in 1848. These stories have to be central to our racial history in order to fight for the rights of Latinos in the U.S. today.

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