Thursday, August 29, 2019

Chicanonautica: When America Invaded Mexico

I’ve always been curious about the Mexican War AKA the Mexican American War. It’s the war that created the world I live in. If it hadn’t happened, there would be no such thing as Chicanos. The American Southwest would be Northern Mexico. We’d be living in an alternate history, an alternate universe.

For some reason, going to school in California, the war was barely mentioned. Bizarre. Imagine schools in South not teaching about the Civil War.

I’m always on the lookout for materials about it, but they are hard to come by.

Even Hollywood dropped the ball on this one. Where are the movies with John Wayne leading the Marines into Mexico City? The only mention of this is in the Marine Hymn:

From the Halls of Montezuma . . .

So when I found The Mexican War Journal and Letters of Ralph W. Kirkham edited by Robert Ryal Miller, at a fantastic bargain price, I went for it.

The book consisted of a personal journal and letters that Lieutenant Kirkham, from Springfield, Massachusetts, wrote to his wife, Mrs. Catherine Mix Kirkham. They were not written for publication. What the historians call a primary source. Honest. Uncensored. You’d need a time machine to get a closer look at the war.

Which was different from wars as we know them. Low-tech Napoleonic war left cities mostly intact, so Kirkham enjoyed music, theater, circuses, and museums after conquering. He was also there for an earthquake, and climbed Popocatepetl before the end.

As for the people:

The Mexican women are very graceful, more so than ours; but as for being handsome, or even pretty, it is all a mistake. Nine tenths of the people resemble the Cherokee Indians as much as possible.

He considered not looking white to be ugly. Most whites felt that way back then. Many still do today.

As for Mexican morals:

No one could believe how low and depraved these people are, and instances are common of men selling their wives, and sisters, and often their mothers and daughters. The clergy, generally are very immoral and ready to stoop to the lowest acts of villainy and wickedness.

But he did note that the Mexicans were fond of flowers, birds, and paintings.

As for the availability of good help:

. . . servants are not to be had at any price, and I am sorry I did not take a good black boy with me from New Orleans.

Were American military officers allowed to buy slaves? And take them on military campaigns? I’m imagining John Wayne having a slave boy fix his breakfast before a battle . . . More research is in order here.

Bullfighting appalled him:

It is certainly the most cruel amusement that I ever witnessed.

As cruel as war? But then war is business, not amusement. At least it was back then.

And the war did take its toll:

How many more of our brave officers and soldiers shall we lose before we are conquerors of this miserable race, God only knows, but I hope and pray not many.

Ah, “this miserable race.” It does look like white supremacy, and Manifest Destiny were the justifications for the war -- that, and the land grab.

The United States of America did take Mexico City/Tenochtitlán, conquering the country. I often wonder why they (or should that be “we?”) only kept half. My theory is that it’s another race issue: A brown majority would have changed things. President Francisco Villa might have made Spanish the official language in the early 20th century.

Democracy can be a dangerous thing.

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