Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America

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9780375713200: Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America

An unprecedented account of the long-term cultural and political influences that Mexican-Americans will have on the collective character of our nation.In considering the largest immigrant group in American history, Gregory Rodriguez examines the complexities of its heritage and of the racial and cultural synthesis--mestizaje--that has defined the Mexican people since the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. He persuasively argues that the rapidly expanding Mexican American integration into the mainstream is changing not only how Americans think about race but also how we envision our nation. Brilliantly reasoned, highly thought provoking, and as historically sound as it is anecdotally rich, Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds is a major contribution to the discussion of the cultural and political future of the United States.

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About the Author:

Gregory Rodriguez studied the sociology of the Latinization of California at UCLA. He has been a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan public policy institute in Washington, D.C., a contributing editor to The Los Angeles Times Opinion Section and a political analyst for MSNBC. His work has appeared in many of the nation's leading publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, The Nation, and The New Republic.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: The Birth of a PeopleOn February 10, 1519, Hernán Cortés, along with a crew of roughly five hundred men and a handful of women, sailed west from Cuba to explore the Mexican mainland. Two previous Spanish expeditions had already reached the eastern coast of Mexico where they had heard stories of a wealthy Indian kingdom in the interior of the country. Hoping to discover great riches, Governor Diego Velázquez of Cuba had commissioned Cortés to explore and conquer new territories.After weathering several days on stormy seas, Cortés and his eleven-ship squadron made landfall on the island of Cozumel. There a friendly band of Mayans informed Cortés that some years before two Christians had been taken captive in the neighboring land of Yucatán. The chief of Cozumel rejected the Spanish captain’s request that he send a search party to locate the captured Europeans. He feared that, “were he to do that, his messenger would be captured and eaten.”[1] Undeterred, Cortés dispatched his own messengers to bargain for the captives’ release. The scouts took trinkets for ransom and a letter from Cortés that one man concealed in his hair.The messengers found the two men—Jerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero—living in very different conditions. The two had been the only survivors of a group of men whose boat ran aground in 1511. They had taken to the boat when their ship, which was sailing from the coast of Panamá to Santo Domingo, struck shoals on some islands near Jamaica. Their boat eventually caught a westward current that cast them ashore in Yucatán. By that time, half the men were dead.The eighteen survivors were soon captured by Mayans. Five were sacrificed, their bodies eaten in a religious ceremony. The remaining thirteen were imprisoned to be fattened up for another day. Somehow they managed to escape their captors and took refuge with another Mayan chief, Xamanzana, who enslaved them. Before long, all died except for Aguilar and Guerrero.When Cortés’s messengers found Aguilar, he was still a slave desperately trying to hold on to Spanish ways. “He concentrated his mind by counting the days but, by the time he was liberated . . . he thought that it was a Wednesday, not a Sunday.”[2] After he “read the letter and received the ransom, he carried the beads delightedly to his master . . . and begged leave to depart. The Cacique [local chief] gave him permission to go wherever he wished.”[3] He then set out to find Guerrero, who lived some fifteen miles away. Guerrero not only was no longer being held captive, he had married the daughter of Na Chan Can, a Mayan nobleman. Guerrero’s response to Cortés’s letter and to Aguilar’s entreaties astounded his would-be liberator. Guerrero had assimilated so thoroughly into Mayan life that he no longer felt he would be accepted by his Spanish countrymen. His face was tattooed and his ears were pierced. “What would the Spaniards say if they saw me like this?” he asked.[4]Guerrero’s Mayan wife angrily interrupted her husband’s conversation with Aguilar. She demanded to know why “this slave” had “come here to call my husband away?”[5] Before Aguilar left, Guerrero explained to him the primary reason he could not leave. “Brother Aguilar,” he said. “I am married and have three children, and they look at me as Cacique here, and a captain in time of war.”[6] He then pointed to his children and said, “Ya veis estos mis tres hijitos [que bonitos] son" (“Now look at my three children, how beautiful they are!”).[7] Guerrero was describing Mexico’s first mestizos, its first mixed Indian/European people.News of Guerrero’s refusal to join his expedition angered Cortés. Like most Spaniards of the era, the captain could not fathom why a European would choose to live the life of a pagan. According to historian Hugh Thomas, at the time of the conquest of Mexico, “The Spanish had unbounded confidence in their own qualities, in the political wisdom of their imperial mission, and in the spiritual superiority of the Catholic Church.”[8] The recently completed reconquista, the explusion of the Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, had forged a militant Christianity that played an integral role in Spanish expansionism in the early sixteenth century. Indeed, religious conversion served as the legal justification for Spain’s overseas adventures.But this religious motive was not mere legal window dressing. Evangelization was a vital part of the sixteenth-century Spanish worldview. According to historian Lewis Hanke, “Between the two poles—the thirst for gold and the winning of souls . . . a variety of mixed motives appeared.”[9] Some friars were as greedy as the most rapacious conquistadors, while some conquistadors were as sincere in their efforts to Christianize the Indians as the most devout priests. However, for many Spaniards, the spiritual and material motives were inextricably intertwined. As conquistador and chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo put it: “We came here to serve God, and also to get rich.”[10] The early Spanish expeditions were “missions of discovery, conquest, settlement, and conversion,” all in one.[11]The religious imperative of the conquest of Mexico, however imperfectly and unevenly applied, led the Spaniards to engage intimately in the social, cultural, material, and spiritual lives of the Indians they encountered. After a contentious debate over the nature of the Indian, in 1537, Pope Paul III issued a bull, Sublimus Dei, which declared that “Indians are truly men” and “capable of understanding the Catholic Faith.”[12] While this in no way meant that Indians would not suffer abuse at the hands of Spaniards, it did mean that the Spanish, the only European empire that openly debated the “purposes of their expansion,” would ultimately seek to incorporate Indians into their Christian civilization.[13] Through the centuries, Catholics had already borrowed and absorbed a huge number of rituals and symbols from the peoples they had converted. This willingness to accept blending in the theological realm presaged a relative tolerance of racial mixing. Indeed, the large-scale mixing that would occur in Mexico over the next several centuries was due, according to historian C. E. Marshall, “in no small degree to a humanitarian spirit which found its roots in the tenets of the Catholic religion.”[14]The instructions that Governor Velázquez had drawn up for Cortés’s expedition prohibited blasphemy, the playing of cards, and sleeping with—and even teasing—native women. But from the very first landing at Cozumel, the rules were broken. There, Cortés reprimanded his incorrigible friend Pedro de Alvarado for seizing “turkeys, men, women, and ornaments from the temple.”[15] Hoping to avoid confrontations with the Mayans in Yucatán, Cortés directed the expedition to proceed toward the coast of the present-day Mexican state of Tabasco, where they anchored at Potonchan. It was there (probably near the present-day town of Frontera) that Cortés and his men had their first major battles with the Indians. It was also there that it became evident that the subjugation of Mexico would involve an “amorous” as well as a military conquest.[16]After a bloody struggle with Mayan warriors in Potonchan, Cortés sent 250 men to the village of Centla to seek food. There, for the first time in the Americas, the Spaniards used horses in battle. Though outnumbered by a significant margin, the Spaniards lost not a single man in either battle, although dozens were wounded. The Indians suffered hundreds of losses. After their warriors withdrew, thirty finely dressed emissaries approached the Spaniards with “fowls, fruit, and maize cakes.”[17] Later, the lord of Potonchan came and offered more food and gifts, including objects of turquoise and gold. According to Bernal Díaz, however, those “gifts were nothing . . . compared to the twenty women whom they gave us.”[18] Before Cortés distributed the women among his captains, one of the two priests on the expedition, Father Bartolomé de Olmedo, baptized them. They were the first women in New Spain, the name the Spaniards would later give conquered Mexico, to become Christians.The young woman whom Cortés presented initially to his good friend Alonso Hernández Puertocarrero was christened Doña Marina. Bernal Díaz described her as “good looking, intelligent, and self-assured.”[19] Her original name was Malinali, which was also the word for the twelfth month in the Aztec calendar. She was born on the boundary between areas controlled by the Chontal Mayans and the Aztecs, and therefore spoke both Chontal Mayan and Nahuatl, the lingua franca of the Aztec empire, which stretched from central Mexico to present-day Guatemala and from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf coast. Her father had been tlatoani—leader in Nahuatl—of Painala, a village near the present-day city of Coatzacoalcos in the state of Veracruz. Her mother ruled Xaltipan, a small village nearby. But when her father died, Marina’s mother remarried another local leader and gave birth to a son whom they chose to be their heir. Marina was then sold to some merchants from Xicallanco, a nearby port, and declared dead. Her first owners then traded her to Mayan merchants, who, in turn, sold her to the people of Potonchan.Marina’s bilingualism and her talent for languages made her in- dispensable to the Spaniards from early on. Indeed, the expedition would first encounter the Nahuatl language not far from Potonchan on the coast of Veracruz. Up to that point, Cortés had depended on Jerónimo de Aguilar, the shipwrecked man whose freedom the Spaniards had bought in Yucatán. “Aguilar, who had served the party well in Yucatan and Tabasco, was suddenly faced with an unfamiliar language. It was then that Marina was observed speaking with the most recently encountered [Indians].”[20] Once Cortés learned of her bilingualism, he appointed her his interpreter and gave Hernández Puertocarrero another Indian woman. Marina’s knowledge of Nahautl as well as Mayan enabled her to communicate first with Nahautl speakers and translate their words into Mayan for Aguilar, who could then speak them in Spanish to Cortés. But once Marina learned enough Spanish, Cortés was able to cut out the middleman. In any case, Aguilar’s knowledge of Yucatec Mayan became less useful to Cortés as the Spaniards marched westward away from the Mayan-speaking coastal regions and toward the Nahuatl-speaking Valley of Mexico. The Indians—both the friendly and the hostile—whom the Spaniards encountered “came to think of [Marina] as Cortés’s voice; indeed, they assimilated the two persons to such an extent that they would refer to don Hernán as ‘Malinche,’ ” or master of Marina.[21] As the Spaniards descended upon Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, Marina became both the go-between for all crucial communications with the Indians as well as Cortés’s mistress. In 1522, she gave birth to a son, Martín, whom Cortés legitimized in 1529 through a bull issued by Pope Clement VII. Also through the efforts of his father, Martín was later made a Knight of the Order of Santiago, one of the most prestigious military orders of Spain.The Aztecs and their Nahuatl-speaking tributaries referred to Doña Marina reverentially as Malintzin, there being no distinction between r and l in Nahuatl. The -tzin was an honorific, like doña in Spanish. Oddly enough, “La Malinche” is the name by which contemporary Mexicans remember her. For three centuries, both Spanish and indigenous sources portrayed Doña Marina as a powerful woman who was afforded great respect. The sixteenth-century mestizo historian Diego Muñoz Camargo, who was a child when Marina died, described her as being as beautiful as a goddess. But in the nineteenth century, after Mexico gained its independence from Spain, new depictions “condemned her role in the Conquest” of the Aztecs and gave rise to the peculiarly Mexican concept of malinchismo, a term used to describe the “rejection and betrayal of one’s own.”[22] But though her people spoke Nahuatl, Marina was not Aztec. Nor at the time of the conquest did indigenous people even have a word for a large-group category such as Indians. “Self-definition and differentiation between indigenous groups was primarily in terms of the altepetl, [a] type of local kingdom.”[23] As historian Frances Karttunen explained, as a slave being traded from place to place, Doña Marina “saw her best hope of survival in Cortés and served him unwaveringly.”[24]It is somehow fitting then that Marina became instrumental in Cortés’s strategy of leveraging indigenous resentment of imperial Tenochtitlán. In the early sixteenth century, central Mexico was “not a homogenous state, but a conglomerate of populations, defeated by the Aztecs who [occupied] the top of the pyramid.”[25] Cortés skillfully appealed to those groups whom the Aztecs had subjugated as the lesser of two evils, “as a liberator, so to speak, who [would permit] them to throw off the yoke of a tyranny especially detestable because so close at hand.”[26]When the Spaniards reached Cempoala, the main city of the Totonac Indians, located in the present-day state of Veracruz, they were welcomed enthusiastically. According to Bernal Díaz, “they gave us food and brought us some baskets of plums, which were very plentiful at that season, also some of their maize-cakes.”[27] The Totonac chief, a very obese man whom Díaz simply called the “fat Cacique,” unburdened himself to Cortés and complained bitterly of “the great Montezuma and his governors, saying that the [Aztec] prince had recently brought him into subjection, had taken away all his golden jewelry, and so grievously oppressed him and his people that they could do nothing except obey him.”[28] The Aztecs had confiscated their arms and enslaved some of their people. Of the many indignities they suffered few were more humiliating than the tax-collectors’ practice of raping their most handsome women.The Aztecs, who called themselves the Mexica, the origin of the word “Mexico,” maintained several garrisons near the Veracruz coast. Sometimes the Totonacs sent their tribute—often the cotton clothing that was popular on that coast—to the local garrisons, which then delivered it to Tenochtitlán. At other times, Totonac porters carried the goods directly to the Mexican capital. The annual burden of their tribute payments made the Totonacs predisposed to welcome the Spaniards. In fact, they were among the Aztecs’ most resentful subjects. After explorer Juan de Grijalva visited their stretch of coastline the previous year, the Totonacs were sorry to see him go. They gave Grijalva a girl “so finely dressed that, had she been in brocade, she could not have looked better.”[29]To cement their people’s relationship with the Spaniards, the Cempoalan caciques presented Cortés with eight girls of high rank. According to Bernal Díaz, they “were dressed in the rich shirts that they wear, and finely adorned as is their custom. Each one of them had a gold collar round her neck and golden earrings in her ears, and with them came other girls to be their maids.”[30] As the fat chief presented the girls, he said to Cortés, “ ‘Tecle’ (which in their language means lord) ‘these seven women are for your captains, and this one, who is my niece, is for you.’ ”[31] He explained that now that they were allies, “they would like to have us for brothers and to give us their daughters to bear us children.”[32]Though Cortés accepted the girls “with a gracious smile,” he took advantage of the moment to preach the Christian gospel and condemn the Cempoalans’ faith.[33] He told the caciques that before he “could accept the ladies and become their brothers, they would have to abandon their idols which they mistakenly believed in and worshipped, and sacrifice no more souls to them; and that when he saw those cursed things thrown down and t...

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Book Description Vintage Books USA, United States, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. An unprecedented account of the long-term cultural and political influences that Mexican-Americans will have on the collective character of our nation.In considering the largest immigrant group in American history, Gregory Rodriguez examines the complexities of its heritage and of the racial and cultural synthesis--mestizaje--that has defined the Mexican people since the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. He persuasively argues that the rapidly expanding Mexican American integration into the mainstream is changing not only how Americans think about race but also how we envision our nation. Brilliantly reasoned, highly thought provoking, and as historically sound as it is anecdotally rich, Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds is a major contribution to the discussion of the cultural and political future of the United States. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780375713200

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Book Description Vintage Books USA, United States, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. An unprecedented account of the long-term cultural and political influences that Mexican-Americans will have on the collective character of our nation.In considering the largest immigrant group in American history, Gregory Rodriguez examines the complexities of its heritage and of the racial and cultural synthesis--mestizaje--that has defined the Mexican people since the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. He persuasively argues that the rapidly expanding Mexican American integration into the mainstream is changing not only how Americans think about race but also how we envision our nation. Brilliantly reasoned, highly thought provoking, and as historically sound as it is anecdotally rich, Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds is a major contribution to the discussion of the cultural and political future of the United States. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780375713200

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