History you should know: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

My wife and I were in San Antonio a few years ago, and we decided to take the tour of the Alamo that everyone seems to take when they visit there. As we walked around the different exhibits, we noticed a mother talking to her young child about what happened during the battle there. “The bad people had the Americans surrounded and outnumbered,” she said. “So we fought back and won.”

We looked at each other and kind of wondered about what the woman had just said. If you had sat through the ten minute presentation by one of the historians there, you’d come to know that Texas was a territory of Mexico at the time. Americans had moved in as undocumented immigrants and taken over land. Other English-speaking Texans (Texians) were Mexican citizens, but they held closer ties to the United States. In 1835, the Texians and the “illegals” started an armed insurrection against the Mexican government. The rebels held back the Mexican troops at The Alamo as long as they could before being run-over. More battles ensued until the Texan rebels won independence from Mexico in 1836. Over the next ten years, several skirmishes between the Mexicans and the Republic of Texas took place, leading the United States to intercede and annex Texas into the United States in 1845.

That annexation led to the Mexican-American war between 1846 and 1848. That war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under the terms of that treaty, most of the states in the west (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado) became territories of the United States. Mexicans living in those states were given the option to migrate down to Mexico or stay and become full citizens of the United States. Almost everyone chose to stay.

So, as you can see, labeling the belligerents at The Alamo as “good” or “bad” is a very simplistic way of looking at how that whole thing went down. The Alamo now sits in the United States, so I’m sure that’s why there is that view that the Mexicans were the bad guys. If The Alamo, and all of Texas, had stayed in Mexican control, the story would be different.

Likewise, when people see Hispanic people with Hispanic surnames in the American west, a lot of them assume that those Hispanics are immigrants. For the most part, they’re not. For the most part, their families have been Americans for about 160 years. They just happen to have the names their families had at the time of the treaty. And this is true of many Native Americans from those areas as well. Their names were replaced with Hispanic names as the Spanish conquest marched up into those places we now know as “The Southwest.”

You have to give them credit for not anglicizing their names, though. The Rodriguez didn’t become Rodricks, and the Puentes didn’t become Bridges.

So, to have a clear grasp of the social and political dynamics west of Texas, and to understand why immigration is such a big deal on the border states and beyond, you have to understand how all of those states became American states. But don’t stop there. Read up on why Americans flocked to Texas, and why the Mexican government was welcoming of those “new Mexicans.” Then go back even further and understand what the whole concept of “Manifest Destiny” was and why it influenced what the US is today on the world stage.

In other words, don’t just paint groups as good and bad based on the current state of things. The present is much more complicated than you’d think… And it is complicated because of an even more complicated past.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

2 thoughts on “History you should know: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

  1. Sometime ago there was a television mini-series about the Alamo. I thought it was going to be one that was historically accurate, but it turned out to include the same myths that have been circulating for over a century. So I wasn’t interested in spending any time on it.

    The longest time I ever spent in my youth was in California, specifically the Monterey Bay area, which had been a very established Spanish Colony then Mexican town (which was also invaded by illegals from the East, similar and parallel to Texas, something I need to read more about). In third grade the story of the missionaries and their “influence” on the Native Americans were big part of the California curriculum, I have vivid memories of making my salt dough Pueblo Indian house. It baffles me that some people think those with Spanish names in that state are all recent immigrants (especially since our neighbors, the Gonzalez family, were Portuguese — their grandfather fished in the bay during the 1920s hence the reason for Cannery Row, they had the best seafood parties).

    Lately I have been obsessed with the Oregon Occupation by Idiots, and have been following the #OregonStandoff twitter (this short educational/hilarious video explains it all). The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo has been mentioned more that once, mostly on the Bundy Bunch’s claims of land ownership in Nevada. Apparently the Idiotic Occupiers of a wildlife refuge not only have a warped view of the US Constitution (today’s court appearance was amusing), but of their own local history.

    Speaking of history, humor and California, when you have time not being spent doing research and writing your dissertation you should read this: Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews.

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    • As one who does his level best to be a nice guy, but is a military veteran, I’ll say one thing.
      Anyone trying to harm my men or myself is a bad guy.
      I’ve always done my level best to find common ground, defuse the situation and overall prevent violence, but on occasion, it happened. Usually, I felt as a failure, but occasionally, not so.
      That all said, anyone trying to harm me and mine is the bad guy.

      *That* all said, the history is one of men of unmarried mothers, if you get my drift.
      Zero saints, a lot of sinners.
      Let’s suffice it to say, those migrating to what is now Texas had their eventual agenda.
      Initially, trying to form their own nation, when they figured out that they’d lose, due to numeric issues, they went for statehood, during the adopted “manifest destiny”.
      Hence, there are no saints, but there are a hell of a lot of sinners all around.
      I’ll observe that today, the sin seems to want to expand in sin…

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