With the Fourth of July fresh in our memories, most of us have an image of what our American past and history looks like. They are monolithes in our past that never get questioned. Quite literally, they are carved into mountains.
I grew up in a small town. My high school graduating consisted of 40 kids and half of them I knew since kindergarten. Needless to say, I didn’t hear any other language besides English. The way that I remembered being told American history started with colonials and the narrative follows their path as they went on their “manifest destiny.”
I would love to hear if you have ever changed your view of American history? If so, what changed it?
When I was fresh out of high school I would have said, build a wall, make English the national language, and get rid of illegal immigrants. Everything changed when I started learning about American history from the perspective of different cultures.
It was a book called Borderlands: La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua that changed the way I thought of American history. In the first section of her book she describes how America acquired land through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
I remember hearing it as the Mexican-American War that ended with a treaty. This sounded fair. Both people fought and ultimately someone “won” and paid for land. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Consider this: Mexicans in America never crossed the border, the border crossed them.
Before the war, several American farmers lived in Mexico. The tension was that Mexico abolished slavery and we weren’t having it. Instead of transitioning into a new world without slaves we couldn’t even fathom what that was like. Our entire economy was built upon slavery and oppression of indigenous cultures.
To get an idea of how our economy was dependent upon slavery, let’s break it down. Obviously, there is the obvious agriculture labor aspect of slavery. Then, extending from that we have monetary investments from that labor that influence economy. The very first clothing department store in New York City was created using money generated from slave labor. There is also the money generated from acquiring slaves. People would float up and down the African coast acquiring slaves to bring them back to the States. These operations required “food” and chains. These chains were made from blacksmiths who made money off slavery.
There is a lot more than we can get into. All that to say, our economy was built upon slavery and we weren’t going to give it up.
We thought that English speaking slave-owners would do a better job of managing the land than Mexicans.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? The idea that I had about English being the national language was the exact same rhetoric used to take over Mexico. It was the manifest destiny still alive today.
The Mexican’s were not equipped for war, there was no declaration of war, it was a massacre to steal land so we could have slaves. We offered Mexico money and they declined so we decided to attack them.
After the massacre was over, we had Mexican’s submit deeds to their land to the government. The promise was that it was to register the land as part of the United States and then we would return them the deeds.
Once Mexican’s submitted deeds to their land to the government, the government sold it.
We literally massacred them, took 1/3 of Mexico, and then made them work on the fields that we gave them. They had no choice but to give up their land and then be slaves on the fields that were once theirs.
This started to change how I viewed the acquiring of land. It was becoming very clear that there was nothing “fair” about it. The concept of declaring war, battle, and a treatise was far more simplistic than reality.
It wasn’t over yet. Now that we had land, we had to make sure that they couldn’t acquire it back. We required that starting immediately, everyone speaks English. If they spoke Spanish in school they were beaten. We just conquered land that was Spanish speaking and since the 1500’s and then declared it English speaking all of a sudden.
The logic that was that it is our Manifest Destiny. We were going to”save them” with our civilized slavery and oppressive political structure. English was the civilized language and we were helping them enter the 19th century.
The idea of having a national language has always been about oppressing individuals to maintain power.
In the case of spanish, it was about ensuring they weren’t able to participate in government to acquire their land back. We were clearly outnumbered once we stole 1/3rd of Mexico. Now they were American citizens and could be a part of government. We had to ensure they couldn’t undo what they worked for.
This is an interesting conversation because it comes up a LOT in politics. It is attached to a lot of bills but has never been passed. There is no official language of United States and hopefully never will.
I had the opportunity to study abroad in Ireland for a summer. I remember traveling and loved being able to heard the different languages. I would ask them how to say certain words. I watched the World Cup with them cheering on their teams.
There is significant research into studying how learning a different language can help us improve our outlook in life. It’s time we get rid of our Manifest Destiny and start looking at ways to improve society.