Monday, April 16, 2012

Tom Chavez Considers Hispanic Demographics

Thomas Chavez is one of New Mexico's two or three leading historians. He graciously provided some observations on the demographic changes in Hispanic New Mexicans over the past ten years. I discussed these changes in my column that currently is being printed by the ten papers around that state that subscribe to New Mexico News Services. Thanks Tom. It's a complex situation. Your views add positively to the discussion. - Harold Morgan

Whether asked during census, among friends, or in a classroom, identity has always been a fluid and sometimes controversial matter. The answer will always be given in context of the times, convenience, place, upbringing, education, etc. and it can depend on how the question is posed. Then there is the matter of how the question is interpreted. For example does the person think of identity as a culture, ethnicity, race, or place of birth? A Caucasian born in Costa Rica can see him or herself as Caucasian, Hispanic, Latino(a), or Costa Rican. Then there is the reality of mixture. Federal law states that if a person is 1/8 Native American, then that person qualifies for a “Certificate of Indian Blood” and is eligible for tribal registration. And what is a person with a Mexican father and mother from Maryland?

New Mexico has twenty-two Native American tribes, borders Mexico, and was first settled by Europeans over 400 years ago. Back then the people were identified by tribe, blood mixture, or place of birth. There were Peninsula Spaniards, Ciollos (full-blooded Spaniards born in America), mestizos (Spaniards and Indians), lobos, coyotes, sambos, Negros, mulattos, and so on. Eventually, by the eighteenth century the designations became so complicate that only the bored and very elite cared.

With Mexican independence in 1821 everyone in New Mexico became Mexicans. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 that ended the Mexican War and made New Mexico a part of the United States there were Americans, itself a misleading and presumptuous term, Mexicans, Indians all lumped together, and Negroes (the nice version of the term more commonly used). This sometimes was simplified to Mexicans, Indians, and Anglos, which included Negroes.

On the other hand the United States did not know what to think of a population the was neither primarily Protestant nor English speaking. Nor, it seems, could they differentiate between the races. Just a dozen years before the outbreak of the Civil War, the real question was, are these people of color or not?

Suffering from the obvious prejudices of their new country some “Mexicans” pointed to their Hispanic ancestry, which predated the English roots of the United States. With reason, these people claimed to be Caucasian and Spanish albeit up to ten generations removed. Some who claimed this ancestry did so with pride and a sense of history; others made the claim to separate them from the stigma of being a Mexican. Others still tried to differentiate between themselves and recent arrivals from Mexico.

Over the years the migration north out of Mexico that began in 1598 has continued. Each generation has been culturally different from those that preceded it. And, as subsequent generations were born in New Mexico they became more distant from the first generation. This is a universal migrant story.

Moreover, all these people have intermarried. New Mexico has never been heavily populated. In the last decade or more it appears that New Mexico has had an increase of first arrivals from our neighboring country (and others further south). In addition there are people with Hispanic surnames who through generations of intermarriage would not call themselves Mexican, Hispanic, or Latino. Not surprisingly the self-identified Hispanic population is decreasing, maybe fading, in relative numbers while the self identified Mexican population is increasing with the influx of first and second generation new arrivals.

The self-identified Mexican population along the border in southern New Mexico, in the cities, and in eastern New Mexico is explained by convenience and work opportunities. The shrinking enclave of self-identified Hispanics in the northern part of the state is primarily where their ancestors settled. Of course, Hispanics as well as all the others – Mexicans, Native Americans, new arrivals from other parts of the United States – have moved to the cities for opportunity.

The census is not surprising and, in fact, reflects both reality and not. Generally it reflects reality. In particular it leaves many questions unanswered.

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