Are All Primary Sources Reliable? iA primary source is any artifact created during the time period being studied. Primary sources may be
textual, such as a diary entry or a news article, or non-textual, such as a map, chart, or sculpture.
Primary sources can also be unconventional, or non-traditional. Historians researching health, culture,
and disease often reference anthropologists’ study of a community water well, village dump sites, and
even feces. Tools, ceramics, and children’s toys all speak to the depth of a culture, the values held by a
community, as well as their methods for solving problems. Occasionally scholars disagree about
whether a source qualifies as
primary, for instance, if a journalist
interviews a second-hand witness
who reports a version of the event
based on someone else’s
experience. In fact, this is how
most folk tales and oral histories
come to be recorded, but the fact
that these sources have been
communicated from one
generation to the next, with
imagined details added by later
generations and actual details
sometimes omitted, means the
historian must not accept a primary
source at face value. Read Shifting
Through Sources for the Truth.
Primary sources must be evaluated
closely to determine the intended
audience. Some primary sources
are intended to be private, for
instance a personal diary is not
usually intended for a broad audience. However, historians must be cautious about making
assumptions on this matter. There are great examples of the private writings of Thomas Jefferson and
Benjamin Franklin, which paint them in a positive, thoughtful light, but historians know that was exactly
their intent. These men were writing “private” diary entries knowing that their association to United
States’ independence had made them legends. They knew historians would pour over their inner-most
INTRODUCTION TO SOURCES IN
MEXICAN AMERICAN HISTORY
If primary sources always told the truth, the historian’s
job would be much easier—and also rather boring. But
sources, like witnesses in a murder case, often lie.
Sometimes they lie on purpose, telling untruths to further
a specific ideological, philosophical, or political agenda.
Sometimes they lie by omission, leaving out bits of
information that are crucial to interpreting an event.
Sometimes sources mislead unintentionally because the
author was not aware of all the facts, misinterpreted the
facts, or was misinformed. Many are biased, either
consciously or unconsciously, and contain unstated
assumptions; all reflect the interests and concerns of
their authors. Moreover, primary sources often conflict.
As a result one of the challenges historians face in writing
a history paper is evaluating the reliability and usefulness
of their sources. (Rampolla, p. 9)
Sifting Through Sources for the Truth
thoughts and they chose to sanitize their “private” writings to ensure a positive historic view. This
means, in addition to analyzing the information within the source, the historian must also evaluate the
motive of the author and who the author thought their audience would be. Why did the author write
the diary entry? Who was the intended audience? When was the source composed? Did the “author”
of the source have the literary skills to write the source or was the source transcribed by a second
Top-Down Primary Sources Versus Bottom-Up Primary Sources History is often recorded by those with power and influence, such as government authorities. Much of
the history we study in classrooms is based upon the experiences of political and military leaders, and
on changes to government policy. Why is this? What impact will the mass production of these views
and this understanding of history have for future students? What additional purpose might be served
by studying only these perspectives? How would the study of uninfluential people differ? Why would
the status quo promote or publish the views of marginalized groups?
Evaluating a historic event using the records, comments, and views of the influential only is considered a
“top-down” approach to investigating history. Ethnohistorians find the top-down approach particularly
troubling, especially when the marginalized groups historians want to study are considered the “out-
group.” The study of history using the top-down approach means historians may not be able to fully
evaluate the views and beliefs of commoners and those on the fringes of society. Historians begin to
wonder if traditional textbook information about everyday people represents the actual experiences of
everyday individuals or just the elite perception of the “bottom.” Ethnohistorians value the study of
uninfluential individuals, and many believe the best way to understand those on the margins is to
evaluate non-traditional sources, and private, more authentic records. For example, folk tales, songs,
budget records, quilts, toys, tools, and photos are all less susceptible to manipulation or
misinterpretation. Additionally, when attempting to identify with the people of the past, one must
determine whether the existing sources are representative of a broad number of the people from that
period, or if the sources note exceptional experiences. For example, a government record noting a
public celebration may denote tradition or may represent a rare occasion; if sources like this one are
limited then the historian would have to evaluate other
records to sort out the difference.
One of the ways marginalized people make their
experiences known to the public is through art.
Muralists frequently reaffirm the beliefs, values, fears,
and history of Mexican Americans. Carlos Flores work,
entitled “Our Heritage,” communicates pride in ancestry
and identity. David Siqueiros, like Diego Rivera, is a
famous Mexican muralist who
highlighted oppression, classism,
corruption, and the aspirations of
everyday people. In the image on
the left, Siqueiros offers a “top-
down” interpretation of the early
20th century, noting the
experience of those who
benefited from the Porfiriato, or
period of Diaz dictatorship. The
image on the right provides
viewers with a “bottom-up”
interpretation of the period.
However, art and other images
may distort the facts of daily life.
As John Hollitz explains in Thinking
Through the Past, images typically
tell a story about how we want to
remember the past, rather than
the actual past. The image of
Vicenta Sepulveda Yorba tells a
story of power, privilege, and
marriage alliances to Anglos. The
image does not communicate
agency of Mexican American
women; we do not know if they
participated in the marital
decisions, valued those
relationships, or if they had any
influence beyond the perception
Songs, ballads, and corridos are
non-traditional sources which
typically capture the experiences
of everyday life; this is particularly true of the pre-radio era. Like oral history, teaching ballads to young
children helped communicate an unwritten history and helped preserve awareness about the past in the
Does this image communicate power? Oppression? Status? Who decides what an image will communicate to the viewing audience?
Access the Film Clips on Blackboard
Study the Ballad of Gregorio Cortez links, including the lyrics. Then examine the history and
lyrics of Lydia Mendoza. What experiences are preserved in these non-traditional sources?
EVALUATING NONWRITTEN PRIMARY SOURCES
When and where was the artifact made?
Who might have used it, and what might it have been used for?
What does the artifact tell us about the people who made and used it and the period in which is was
FOR ART WORKS (PAINTINGS, SCULPTURE, ETC.)
Who is the artist and how does the work compare to his or her other works?
When and why was the work made? Was it commissioned? If so, by whom?
Where was the work first displayed? How did contemporaries respond to it and how do their
responses compare to the ways in which it is understood now?
Who is the photographer? Why did he or she take this photograph?
Where was the photograph first published or displayed? Did that publication or venue have a
particular mission or point of view?
Has the photograph been altered or doctored?
What is the message of the cartoon? How do words and images combine to convey that message?
In what kind of publication did it originally appear (newspaper, magazine, etc.)? Did that publication
have a particular agenda or mission?
When did the cartoon appear and how might its historical context be significant?
What kind of map is this (topographical, political, military, etc.)?
Where and when was the map made, and what was its intended purpose?
Does the map contain any extraneous text or images? If so, what do they add to our understanding
of the map itself?
FOR SOUND RECORDINGS
Who made the recording and what kind of recording it is (music, speech, interview, etc.)?
Where and when was the recording made?
Was the recording originally intended for broadcast? If so, why was it broadcast and who was the
Is the recording complete or has it been edited? Has part of the recording been lost due to poor
treatment? What is the context of the full recording? How might an edited version be misused or
offer information out of context?
According to the news provided by the Office of Emigration, annexed to the Jefatura Política of the
Bravos District [apparently at El Paso], between the first and fifteenth of the month [of July], 3,142
persons who crossed the boundary line registered at that office. They came from the following States of
the Republic: 1,322 from Guanajuato; 931 from Michoacán; 600 from Jalisco; 207 from Zacatecas; the
rest from Durango, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas.
As can be seen from the foregoing alarming figures, the greater part of those unfortunates emigrate
from our state, in search of work which undoubtedly is not found on our soil…..
…Perhaps there are other reasons that oblige our workingmen, so attached to the land, to abandon the
country, even at the risk of the Yankee contempt with which they are treated on the other side of the
Bravo [Rio Grande].
One newspaper says we must make known the innumerable prejudices, hardships, and oppression that
they receive far from the fatherland, to all those persons who are deluded by the offers of the so-called
“recruiters” and go abroad in search of work which they believe to be better recompensed. The greater
part of the time they will be unsettled and abandoned among people whose language they do not know
and may not be able to use, not even to beg for help.
What our government should do, we say, is lower the high taxes which weigh heavily upon the people,
and put a stop to bossism, in order that our workingmen will not abandon their birthplace, despairing of
the misfortune which grinds them down.1
Comparatively few people in the United States have any conception of the extent to which Mexicans are
entering this country each year, of their geographical distribution, or of their relative importance in the
various industries in which they are employed after their arrival. Nor are the social problems resulting
from the influx of Mexicans fully appreciated by many persons who are not acquainted with the
situation at hand. This is primarily because the attention of students of the race problem has been
focused upon the more important development of European and eastern Asiatic immigration to the
eastern states, and upon Chinese, Japanese, and East Indian immigration to the Pacific coast. Other
factors in diverting attention from Mexican immigration have been the relatively noncompetitive
character of their employment in certain parts of the country, and the lack of adequate data with regard
to their numbers.
1 Diario el Hogar (Mexico City), August 2 & 8, 1910. Translated by David J. Weber and republished in Foreigner in the Their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican Americans, by David J. Weber, ed. University of New Mexico Press, 1973.
Case Study: Primary Source Views on Immigration and Citizenship, circa 1900
Socially and politically the presence of large numbers of Mexicans in this country gives rise to serious
problems. The reports of the Immigration Commission show that they lack ambition, are to a very large
extent illiterate in their native language, are slow to learn English, and in most cases show no political
interest. In some instances, however, they have been organized to serve the purposes of political
bosses as for example in Phoenix, Arizona. Although more of them are married and have their families
with them than is the case among the south European immigrants, they are unsettled as a class, move
readily from place to place, and do not acquire or lease land to any extent. But their most unfavorabale
characteristic is their inclination to form colonies and live in a clannish manner. Wherever a
considerable group of Mexicans are employed, they live together, if possible, and associate very little
with members of other races.
….although the Mexicans have proved to be efficient laborers in certain industries, and have afforded a
cheap and elastic labor supply for the southwestern United States, the evils to the community at large
which their presence in large numbers almost invariably brings may more than overbalance their
desirable qualities. Their low standards of living and of morals, their illiteracy, their utter lack of proper
political interest, the retarding effect of their employment upon the wage scale of the more progressive
races, and finally their tendency to colonize in urban centers, with evil results, combine to stamp them
as a rather undesirable class of residents.2
The great numbers of Mexican workers who pass daily from Mexico to the United States ought finally to
make both governments open their eyes. There is not a day in which passenger trains do not leave from
the border, full of Mexican men who are going in gangs to work on railroad lines in the United States.
The Mexican government loses the labor which could make its fertile lands very productive, its mines
more developed, its herds larger, and the country more prosperous and united.
This [Mexican government] should make life easier in the country, establishing colonies where the
worker is able to become a landowner—well-organized colonies that are able to make life more
independent and the spread of education completely unrestricted.
Once the foundation of these colonies has been laid, preparing young people to develop themselves,
they should be fit for the struggle of life. They will no longer have to leave their country to go in search
of life in a foreign country, where they are always viewed as inferiors. No longer will Mexico have to
experience the delay [of progress] that comes from the scarcity of workers.
For its part, the American government ought to put an end to this disagreeable immigration. The
American journeyman is more at the level of modern methods of work. Once invaded by the
competition of the Mexican worker who, for lack of familiarity with American money and ignorance of
2 Samuel Bryan, “Mexican Immigrants in the United States,” The Survey 28 n. 23 (Sept 1912): 726, 730. Reprinted in Foreigner in the Their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican Americans, by David J. Weber, ed. University of New Mexico Press, 1973.
the machinery of the country, works for what he is given, he [the American] will be demoralized, and
with reason. He is made more insecure and his living more disagreeable.3
….Here, as in Metcalf, two miles to the north, the mines are fabulously rich in copper. The number of
miners and other workers is estimated at three thousand men.
The societies prosper in Morenci and Metcalf. La Alianza Hispano-Americana, La Saragoza, and Obreros,
have very good lodges [i.e. mutualistas]. Men of high standing make up these organizations. But despite
this good fellowship, the public administration is very weak, and abuses in the area of justice are
shameless. It is charged that the Justice of the Peace in Metcalf has seized a family and has detained
them until they can pay certain bills they owe. In other words, he uses the tool of a criminal case to
solve a civil case. In Morenci it is assured that the justice of the peace is a little more than a
businessman. In various cases the prosecuting witnesses have been fined for the simple reason that the
accused did not have the money to pay his Honor….
The political condition is demoralized in the extreme, and there is only one remedy that can save the
situation. That is that many of the Mexicans who live in these mining camps become American citizens.
….The fact that there is almost not a man among those who know how to read who is not a subscriber to
some newspaper demonstrates that there generally exists good communication, and all that is lacking is
that the great majority make themselves citizens in order to use the sword of suffrage in the defeat of
In my youth I worked as a house servant, but as I grew older I wanted to be independent. I was able
through great efforts to start a little store in my town. But I had to come to the United States, because it
was impossible to live down there with so many revolutions. Once even I was at the point of being killed
by some revolutionists. A group of revolutionists had just taken the town and a corporal or one of those
who was in command of the soldiers went with a bunch of these to my place and began to ask me for
whiskey and other liquors which I had there. But, although I had them, I told them that I didn’t sell
liquor, but only things to eat and a few other things, but nothing to drink. They didn’t let me close the
store but stayed there until about midnight. The one in command of the group then went to another
little store and there got a couple of bottles of wine. When he had drunk this it went to his head and he
came back to my store to bother me by asking for whiskey, and saying he knew that I had some. He
bothered me so much that we came to words. Then he menaced me with a rifle. He just missed killing
3 El Labrador (Las Cruces, New Mexico), August 19, 1904. Translated by David Weber and and republished in Foreigner in the Their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican Americans, by David J. Weber, ed. University of New Mexico Press, 1973. 4 “Editorial Message” in El Labrador, July 15, 1904. Translated by David J. Weber and republished in Foreigner in the Their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican Americans, by David J. Weber, ed. University of New Mexico Press, 1973.
me and that was because another soldier hit his arm and the bullet lodged in the roof of the house.
Then some others came and took the fellow away and let me close the store. On the next day, and as
soon as I could, I sold everything that I had, keeping only the little house—I don’t know in what
condition it is in today. The Villistas [followers of Pancho Villa], pressed me into the service then, and
took me with them as a soldier. But I didn’t like that, because I never liked to go about fighting,
especially about things that don’t make any difference to one. So when we got to Torreon I ran away
just as soon as I could. That was about 1915.
I went from there to Ciudad Juarez and from there to El Paso. There I put myself under contract to go to
work on the tracks. I stayed in that work in various camps until I reached California. I was for a while in
Los Angeles working in cement work, which is very hard. From there I went to Kansas, and I was also in
Oklahoma and in Texas, always working on the railroads. But the climate in those states didn’t agree
with me, so I beat it for Arizona. Some friends told me that I could find a good job here in Miami. I have
worked in the mines here, in the King, the Superior and the Globe. In all of them it is more or less alike
for the Mexicans. Here in the Miami mine I do everything. The work here is very heavy, but what is
good is that one lives in peace. There is no trouble with revolutions nor difficulties of any kind. Here
one is treated according to the way in which one behaves himself and one earns more than in Mexico. I
have gone back to Mexico twice. Once I went as far as Chihuahua and another time to Torreon, but I
have come back, for in addition to the fact that work is very scarce there, the wages are too low. One
can hardly earn enough to eat. It is true that here it is almost the same, but there are more comforts of
life here. One can buy many things cheaper and in payments. I think that as long as we have so many
wars, killing each other, we will not progress and we shall always be poor.
….I don’t care about political matters. It is the same to me to have Calles as Obregón in the government.
In the end neither one of them does anything for me. I live from my work and nothing else….why should
we poor people get mixed up in politics? It doesn’t do us any good. Let those who have offices, who get
something out of it, get into it. But he who has to work hard, let him live from his work alone.5
EVALUATING SECONDARY SOURCES
What is a Secondary Source?
Secondary sources are interpretations of the past written by someone who did not experience the
event. Secondary sources do not include encyclopedias, which are categorized as tertiary sources.
Typically, a journal, textbook or review of another source is considered secondary. Popular internet
sites are also filled with interpretations of non-participants and categorized as secondary sources.
Lectures and information gathered from guest speakers are also typically categorized as secondary
unless the guest speaker is addressing an event in which he/she was a participant.
5 Manuel Gamio, “The Mexican Immigrant: His Life-Story,” first published in 1931 and reprinted in Peoples of Color in the American West. (Toronto: D.C. Heath and Company), 1994.
Historical Interpretation One of the most common comments history professors receive from students is that history does not
change. While the events themselves do not change, actually the “History” — that is the study of the past
— does change and has changed significantly over the past century. What many new students do not
realize is that there is more to the study of history than just the past events. While most will try to
present a balanced opinion, each professor, teacher, textbook or website selects and presents the
events in a way that fits his or her teaching style. We refer to this as “historical interpretation.” In a
sense, they are interpreting the past events just as someone would interpret a foreign language for
another person who does not speak that language. A skillful interpreter must know how to translate
individual words, but some phrases mean more than just the sum of the words. In those cases, the
interpreter must also explain the meaning of the phrase. In the same way, the historian must not only
“tell” the events but also “explain” the events, by connecting them to an overall theme or thesis.
It is not possible to discuss every event, idea, or figure in history, so the historian selects which
things or people that he or she feels in most important. For the professor, this teaching style might be
based on his or her own background (what he or she was taught or experienced), by personal interests
(such as a specific time period or topic which he or she enjoys talking about) or it might be based on
current events (such as an emphasis on military history during a war time or economic history during a
recession). No two professors will teach exactly alike. Understanding a person’s perspective will help
you understand why the instructor chose to present those specific facts.
A substantial number of political refugees came to the United States in response to the political tensions
in Mexico during the regime of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1911). The Porfiriato [the regime of Diaz] attracted
foreign capital that built 15,000 miles of railroad. Most lines ran north and south, with spurs providing
better access to local and regional markets. In this scheme, mines attracted armies of Mexican workers
to northern Mexican states and Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.
The demand for Mexican labor was directly related to the decline in population of Chinese workers and
Indians. Mexicans moved from pastoral occupations to menial-wage work. They took jobs at the lowest
rung of the ladder. Increasingly, they became wage earners, driven from subsistence farming by the sale
of common lands (ejido land grants).6 At the same time, thousands of Mexicans migrated to California
from Mexico and elsewhere in the Southwest.
Much of this labor was segregated. For example, 13 miles south of San Jose, the Almaden mercury
mines, active since the Mexican Period, employed mostly Mexicans. Fifteen hundred miners worked at
6 Some property owners tried to hold on to their property despite the strength of the railroad. According to Acuna, “In 1889, Modesta Avila was hauled before the Orange County Superior Court and accused of placing a sign on the tracks of the Santa Fe railroad that read, ‘This land belongs to me. And if the railroad wants to run here, they will have to pay me ten thousand dollars.’ Avila posted the sign some 15 feet away from the doorstep of her home. Local authorities had told Avila not to do this, to which she replied, ‘If they pay me for my land, they can go by.’ Avila was sentences to 3 years in jail and died in San Quentin; she was in her mid-20s at the time of her death.”
the Quicksilver Mine Company. Using ancient methods, they hauled ore out of the underground mines
with 200-pound sacks strapped to their foreheads and resting on their backs. Minders produced 220,000
pounds of ore per month. The company kept tight control of its workers. It segregated them not only by
race, but also by occupation. The Cornish miners, for example, lived separately from the Mexican
miners, who were provided with a distinctively lower standard of l
After the Civil War (1861-1865), transportation costs dropped dramatically, and interest in copper
revived. Copper was the best and least expensive conductor of long distance transmission of electricity.
Transcontinental railroads played a huge role in making the giant copper camps profitable, as did the
On January 19, 1903, the Arizona legislature passed an act prohibiting miners from working more than
eight hours per day underground. The eight-hour law was a major victory for union men. However, its
true purpose was to eliminate foreign-born Mexicans, who had to work 10 to 12 hours a day to make
ends meet with their lower wages. The cut in hours meant that Mexican minders would take less money
home. On the morning of June 3, miners responded by walking off the job, shutting down the smelters
and mills, and beginning what Jeanne Parks Ringgold, granddaughter of then-sheriff Jim Parks of Clifton,
called the “bloodiest battle in the history of mining in Arizona.” Between 1,200 and 1,500 strikers
participated, of whom 80 to 90 percent were Mexican. Armed miners took control of the mines and
shut them down.
….Among the demands of the strikers was free hospitalization, paid life insurance for miners, locker
rooms, fair prices at the company store, the hiring only of men who were members of the society, and
protection against being fired without cause.
The governor ordered the Arizona Rangers into Clifton-Morenci, and on June 9, 1903, workers staged a
demonstration of solidarity. In direct defiance of the Rangers, 2,000 Mexicans marched through the
streets of Morenci in torrential rains. A clash seemed inevitable, but the storm dispersed the strikers,
and a flood drowned almost 50 people and caused some $100,000 worth of damage.
A distinguishing characteristic of this strike and others of the decade is that the workers organized them
through their mutualistas. These associations varied greatly in their political ideology, ranging from
apolitical to reformist to radical. Mutual aid societies met the immigrants’ need for “fellowship, security,
and recreation” and were a form of collective and voluntary self-help and self-defense. Their motto—
Patria, Unión y Beneficencia (country, unity, and benevolence)—became a common unifying symbol
throughout the Southwest and eventually throughout the Midwest as well. Shut out of mainstream
unions, Mexicans often used mutualistas as a front for union activities.7
The Democratic Party, the self-described “party of the white man,” dominated Texas politics after
Reconstruction. Political disenfranchisement of Tejanos set in as Anglo-Texan Democrats used voter
7 Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America, A History of Chicanos (New York: Pearson Longman), 2007.
fraud and election-law trickery and racism to retain power over them, just as they did with blacks and
poor whites. Voter fraud was rampant in the Rio Grande Valley counties and in those precincts with
large Spanish-speaking populations. Entrenched South Texas political bosses such as James B. Wells, the
products of Democratic political machines appearing throughout the Texas border region, had large
numbers of aliens from Mexico brought in just before elections, naturalized, and declared legal
residents; the new residents were then expected to vote for the bosses. Certain precincts voted more
than the entire population combined. In a failed attempt to stop this political bossism, the State of Texas
passed a law in 1895 requiring six months’ residency before a person could vote. Some Tejano
Democrats had access to public office. Unreconstructed Confederate Army veteran and banker-
merchant Thomas A. Rodríguez of Brownsville served three terms in the Texas state legislature
representing parts of Atascosa, Karnes, and San Patricio counties. Confederate Army veteran and
Laredo businessman Santos Benavides held the most terms in the Texas House of Representatives,
serving from 1879 to 1884. However, owing to increased disenfranchisement, Thomas A. Rodríguez was
the sole Tejano in the Texas House of Representatives by the end of the nineteenth century.
Relying on Jim Crow techniques, Anglo-Texans retained full control of the Tejano vote via the poll tax.
Between 1879 and 1899 six attempts were made to pass poll-tax legislation in Texas. All failed because
of opposition from blacks and Tejanos, labor groups, and Populists. In 1901, the Texas Legislature finally
passed the poll tax, which state voters approved the following year by a two-to-one margin. Requiring
Texas residents to pay $1.75 to vote, the poll tax effectively created a barrier to keep Tejanos from
voting. Because of greatly restricted district electorates, Texas Democrats dominated political
leadership. In addition to the poll tax, gerrymandering weakened voter strength. Finally, the white
primaries undercut manipulation of the Tejano vote by prohibiting Tejanos from joining the Democratic
Party or participating in primary elections.
The efforts of Anglo-Texans to further consolidate their political power took a strange turn in 1896. In
the same year in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld racial segregation in public accommodations in
Plessy v. Ferguson, Ricardo Rodríguez appeared in federal district court in San Antonio, Texas. The
Tejano, a five-year resident of San Antonio employed as a street cleaner, made an application for United
States citizenship that would grant him the right to vote. His actions initiated concerted legal
maneuvers by Anglos to disallow Tejanos the right to vote in the state of Texas.
The Rodríguez case involved the right of naturalization. It focused attention on the fact that Tejanos
born in Mexico could not vote unless they applied for naturalization. At the center of the debate was an
1872 federal statute that ruled that only Caucasians and Africans could become U.S. citizens. Under this
law and reflecting nineteenth-century color designations of black, white, red (American Indian), and
yellow (Asian), Ricardo Rodríguez did not qualify for American citizenship because the state of Texas
considered him neither “a white person, nor an African, nor of African descent.”
At issue was the question of racial and educational qualification for achieving U.S. citizenship. Interest in
the Rodríguez case was high among Tejanos who were facing desperate times in Texas during which
what remained of their political rights were being threatened. They rallied to condemn the “effort being
made in Federal Court to prevent Mexicans from becoming voting citizens of the United States.” In his
court testimony, Rodríguez claimed his cultural heritage to be “pure-blooded Mexican,” but the Tejano
stated to the court he was not a descendent of any of the aboriginal peoples of Mexico (American
Indians), nor was he of Spanish or African descent.
Defense lawyers for Ricardo Rodríguez and witnesses who testified on his behalf asserted that he had
the right to become an American citizen. They argued that since 1836 both “the Republic of Texas and
the United States had by various collective acts of naturalization conferred upon Mexicans the rights and
privileges of American citizenship.” The defense further observed that the U.S. Congress in 1845 had
extended citizenship to Mexicans after Texas annexation. The defense noted that Article VIII of the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo automatically conferred American citizenship on Mexicans who did not
leave the territory after one year as long as they did not declare their desire to become Mexican
citizens. On May 3, 1897, the federal court ruled in favor of Rodríguez. Re Rodríguez declared that the
Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States
regardless of color or race. What was more, the Rodríguez decision upheld the legal right of Mexicans
as “white,” legally affirmed the rights of Tejanos to vote, and prevented further attempts by Anglo-
Texans to use the courts to deprive them of their voting rights.8
8 Zaragosa Vargas, Crucible of Struggle, A History of Mexican Americans from Colonial Times to the Present Era. (New York: Oxford University Press), 2011.