Thursday, March 06, 2014

drawing the line

Do you want to start a fight? 

Just pull out a map.  Such as this one.

That is what Absolut – the vodka people – did in 2008 when it published one of its edgy advertisements showing the Mexican-US border as it would have been if General Santa Ana had not proven that his military skills were no better than those of George McClellan.  (guns and texas roses

There was much gnashing of teeth and moaning in the dark from Americans who felt as their destiny had somehow been made less manifest.  By a booze ad. 

I thought of that adman edginess today when I saw this map.

It is nothing more than an ethnicity map.  But it does bear the infamous Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo line.  And its subject matter will undoubtedly raise eyebrows in certain quarters.

The map shows the density of Mexican ethnicity (not citizenship) by county.  Not surprisingly, the heaviest Mexican ethnicity is centered on the counties along the border.  My observations during my assignment in Laredo in the early 1970s is consistent.

The accompanying article in The Economist includes an interesting paragraph: “Some are recent arrivals; others trace their roots to long before the map was redrawn.  They didn’t jump the border -- it jumped them.”

It is true that there were Mexicans living north of the border when it was drawn.  (Technically, anyone living north of the border was a Mexican subject.)  Some with ancient land holdings granted by the Spanish crown.  And some who fought shoulder to shoulder with the insurgents to gain independence on behalf of the Texas Republic.

But there were not many.  And it was the lack of Mexican civilian and military settlements that made the contested land such a prize for the Polk administration.

I suppose I had never asked myself why what we now know as the American Southwest was devoid of settlers in the early 1800s.  It turns out that it is the same reason that the Mexican government invited American settlers to Texas -- to protect the Mexican frontier from one of the best fighters in the Americas.  The Comanches.

Two summers ago, I was enjoying lunch in the courtyard of a fellow blogger in
Pátzcuaro.  One of our fellow diners told us he was reading the best book about American Indians he had ever read.  S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

He was correct.  I knew next to nothing about the amazing story of the Comanches.  How they had transformed themselves from a low-status mountain people to the fiercest horse-mounted war machine the Indian nations had encountered.  They drove all other tribes from their territory.

And that territory was the heart of the territory the Americans had wrested from Mexico.  James Polk may have thought he had won a great prize for the United States.  What he had won was one of the longest-running war Americans would face.  It it ended only when --

Wait a minute!  That is the whole point of Mr. Gwynne's book.  And I do not want to spoil it for you.

Once you have read it, you will never look at maps like these two in the same way.

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