A Tale of Racial Passing and the U.S.-Mexico Border

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Texas, United States on 2016-07-20 21:18Z by Steven

A Tale of Racial Passing and the U.S.-Mexico Border

The New Yorker

Jonathan Blitzer

The African-American businessman William Ellis, pictured here around the year 1900, frequently passed as Mexican.

Some people knew him as William Ellis, and others as Guillermo Eliseo. He could be Mexican, Cuban, or even Hawaiian, depending on whom you asked. Everyone seemed to agree that he was spectacularly wealthy and successful. In the dime-store Who’s Who books that were popular at the turn of the twentieth century, his name, in one form or another, appeared regularly. He was a “Banker, Broker, and Miner,” who came to New York from the “Mexican frontier,” an exemplar of the self-made man.

It was one of his life’s many ironies that the pedigreed gatekeepers of American high commerce celebrated his origin story without knowing a thing about his actual origins. William Ellis was born a slave, in Texas, in the eighteen-sixties. Like at least some of his siblings, he was light-skinned, but with a key difference: on the city census that recorded blackness with a “c” (for “colored”), Ellis was somehow spared the label. In his early twenties, he got into the cotton trade after a brief apprenticeship with a white local businessman, shuttling back and forth to the cities in northern Mexico. He started telling people that he was Mexican, and that he had anglicized his name for their convenience, as Karl Jacoby recounts in his fascinating new book, “The Strange Career of William Ellis.” Having grown up just south of San Antonio, along the border, Ellis came to speak fluent Spanish. He quickly grasped the possibilities of bilingualism in the race-riven landscape of the Reconstruction-era South…

Read the entire article here.

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Calidad, Genealogy, and Disputed Free-colored Tributary Status in New Spain

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2016-07-04 18:35Z by Steven

Calidad, Genealogy, and Disputed Free-colored Tributary Status in New Spain

The Americas
Volume 73, Number 2, April 2016
pages 139-170

Norah Andrews, Assistant Professor of World History
Georgian Court University, Lakewood, New Jersey

In 1787, a group of Indians from the town of Almoloya, part of Apan in the Intendancy of Mexico, aired their grievances against several prominent local leaders. The petitioners claimed that their predominantly Indian community was plagued by a group of free-colored people who were masquerading as Indian nobles, or caciques, and enjoying privileges to which only those with noble lineage were entitled. One of these was exemption from the economically onerous and socially stigmatized royal tribute that had symbolized the relationship between the Spanish monarch and free-colored subjects since the sixteenth century.

To prove that the suspected were indeed tributaries, those lodging the complaint turned to lineage. They named more than a dozen people who lived as caciques, adding that those same individuals were “mixed with blacks and mulatos and should be registered and pay tribute with those of that class.” Despite their attempts to fashion themselves into caciques, the accused families had not erased from communal memory the occupations, castes, and places of origin of various ancestors, all of which could determine reputation, or calidad. Members of the Sánchez family, the petition claimed, were “grandchildren of a negro shoemaker called Martín.” The Granillos were “descendants of Juan Granillo, married to a known mulata servant.” The list of possible free-coloreds was exhaustive.

These “notorious mulatos” had gained exemptions awarded by the Spanish monarchy to Tlaxcalans who had served in Spanish conquests more than two and a half centuries before. Throughout the colonial period, descendants of Tlaxcalans could claim exemption from the tribute and other taxes, as well as land rights and a legal status distinct from those of free-coloreds and other Indians. This concern with the mixture of Indian and African blood resonated where Tlaxcalan, Nahua, or other Indian groups enjoyed place- and genealogy-specific tribute privileges. Apan bordered Tlaxcala, making the presence of Tlaxcalans in Almoloya entirely feasible. But to preserve such a status, the complainants reasoned, the Tlaxcalans should have pursued marital unions that preserved a lineage “without degeneration from the class of Indians or mestizos de españoles,” a caste category specifying a Spanish father and an Indian mother. How, wondered the Almoloya petitioners, could people with a publicly reputed line of free-colored ancestors possibly prove a Tlaxcalan genealogy?

The “pure Indians” of Almoloya, as they called themselves in their initial petition and subsequent documents, relied on genealogy to stake their claims. The petitioners upheld proof of ancestry as a prerequisite for exercising privileges, a legal argument favored by Indian elites at the time. The use of the term “degeneración” in the petition drew on an older rhetoric of purity as well as hereditary concepts that would become popular in the nineteenth century. The repeated references to the “mixed nature” and “inferior calidad” of these individuals undermined their authority as caciques. Indeed, cacique status was predicated on publicly regarded and written genealogies. These ideas rested on the genealogical concept of limpieza de sangre, or blood purity, which had risen to prominence as a form of communal memory following mass conversions of Jews in medieval Iberia. In New Spain, limpieza de sangre would evolve to equate genealogical impurity with the presence of African ancestry as well. Pitting the idea of an inferior, mixed, and mulato calidad against Indian purity, the petitioners used the language of genealogy to upend local hierarchies.

The case of Almoloya shows the prominent place genealogy took in disputes involving local privileges, rivalries, and migration from the 1780s to the 1800s. Ordinary people who engaged in those disputes were well aware of it. In Almoloya’s surrounding jurisdiction, between 1781 and 1788 the number of mulato tributaries nearly doubled, while the number of Indian tributaries dropped by 10 percent. On a register made at the end of the year 1800, no caciques were listed at all, though 407 Indians and 21 mulatos were registered as reserved from payment. The Almoloya caciques failed to prove their genealogy and thus became (or had always been, in…

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Afro-Mexicans still struggle for recognition in Mexico

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2016-07-03 00:25Z by Steven

Afro-Mexicans still struggle for recognition in Mexico

The Seattle Globalist

Mayela Sánchez, Senior Reporter, Country Coordinator

Adriana Alcázar González, Reporter

María Gorge, Reporter

Luz María Martínez Montiel, 81, shown at home in Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos state in central Mexico, is a specialist in African languages and culture. She works to promote the recognition of Afro-descendants in Mexico.(Photo by Mayela Sánchez for GPJ Mexico)

It is latent racism. Nobody wants to be the descendant of black people,” Luz María Martínez Montiel says from her home in Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos state in central Mexico.

Martínez Montiel says this was confirmed for her at an early age. When she was 9, she went to live with her paternal grandparents in Veracruz, a state on the country’s east coast. Even though there were people in her family who were dark-skinned, they didn’t identify as descendants of Africans, she says.

‘Black’ always was the ‘other,’” says Martínez Montiel, now 80 years old.

Afro-descendants are defined as people whose ancestors were enslaved Africans who integrated into the places where they were transported, or to where they escaped, according to the Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (CONAPRED) the national council in charge of promoting policies for equality and inclusion…

Read the entire article here.

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Martyrs of Miscegenation: Racial and National Identities in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico on 2016-06-26 01:27Z by Steven

Martyrs of Miscegenation: Racial and National Identities in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

Volume 132 (2001)
pages 25-42

Lee Joan Skinner, Associate Professor of Spanish
Claremont McKenna College

The two most powerful critical paradigms for dealing with the relationship between literature and national identity in nineteenth—century Latin America have been those established by Benedict Anderson and Doris Sommer. In Anderson’s well-known formulation, “the nation [. . . ] is an imagined political community” (6). Anderson attributes the early appearance of such national imagined communities throughout nineteenth-century Latin America to the widespread popularity of the print-capitalism forms of the novel and newspaper, which created communities of readers in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and allowed for the dissemination of large-scale national imaginings. More recently, Doris Sommer has looked at the content of the novels that these potential national communities were reading in order to argue that national consolidation in nineteenth—century Latin America depended not only on the shared activity of reading but on the messages of the works that nineteenth-century readers were consuming. According to Sommer, nineteenth-century “national novels” use metaphors of romance and marriage to inscribe ideals of national reconciliation and to establish the ideology of nationalism and national identity in Latin America. In her View, the “foundational fictions” she analyzes disseminate specific messages about the constitution of national identities and play an integral role in consolidating national identities and ideologies in nineteenth-century Latin America.

Both Anderson and Sommer present “national identity” as a relatively fixed category. Their analyses focus not on nineteenth-century Latin American national identity itself, but rather on the methods through which national identity is created and consolidated. Hence, Anderson describes the ways in which administrative and communicative structures such as the mechanisms of print-capitalism work to create and disseminate national identity, while Sommer examines the ways in which nineteenth-century Latin American romances inscribe allegories of conflict and resolution whose message is that national reconciliation can and should take place based on a unified national identity. Anderson’s and Sommer’s analyses take as their point of departure the idea that in the nineteenth century a stable, pre-established national identity is inscribed in public discourses such as newspapers and novels. But what happens when the notion of “national identity” itself is called into question? In novels produced throughout the nineteenth century in Latin America, discourses of national identity are frequently shown to be contestatory and conflictive. Rather than being a fixed category from the start, national identity in nineteenth-century Latin America might more productively be thought of as national identities. National identity is not a fixed, unchanging category that comes into being full-blown and unquestioned at the beginning of the nineteenth century; instead, national identity, like the nation itself, is a site of contestatory discourses and competing definitions throughout nineteenth-century Latin America. In this essay I address the novels of the Mexican author Eligio Ancona and argue that within his works, as within nineteenth-century Mexico his repeated attempts to come to terms with the Mexican past and the variations in the way he treats Mexican history based on his own changing position demonstrate that the category itself of national identity in nineteenth-century Latin America is continually under construction. The versions of Mexican national identity that Ancona produces in his texts respond to varying political, social, and ideological pressures and are contingent upon Ancona’s own shifting self-identifications at the regional and national level…

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Indian allies and white antagonists: toward an alternative mestizaje on Mexico’s Costa Chica

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Native Americans/First Nation on 2016-06-24 14:23Z by Steven

Indian allies and white antagonists: toward an alternative mestizaje on Mexico’s Costa Chica

Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies
Published online: 2015-10-05
DOI: 10.1080/17442222.2015.1094873

Laura A. Lewis, Professor of Latin American Anthropology
University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom

San Nicolás Tolentino, Guerrero, Mexico, is a ‘mixed’ black-Indian agricultural community on the coastal belt of Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, the Costa Chica. This article examines local expressions of race in San Nicolás in relation to Mexico’s national ideology of mestizaje (race mixing), which excludes blackness but is foundational to Mexican racial identities. San Nicolás’s black-Indians are strongly nationalistic while expressing a collective or regional identity different from those of peoples they identify as Indians and as whites. Such collective expression produces an alternative model of mestizaje, here explored through local agrarian history and several village festivals. It is argued that this alternative model favors Indians and distances whites, thereby challenging dominant forms of Mexican mestizaje.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Race and Nation in Modern Latin America

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2016-06-18 23:11Z by Steven

Race and Nation in Modern Latin America

University of North Carolina Press
March 2003
352 pages
5 illus., notes, bibl., index
6.125 x 9.25
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8078-5441-9

Edited By:

Nancy P. Appelbaum, Associate professor of History
State University of New York, Binghamton

Anne S. Macpherson, Associate Professor of History
State University of New York, Brockport

Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, Associate Professor of History
Unversity of Maryland

With a foreword by Thomas C. Holt and an afterword by Peter Wade

This collection brings together innovative historical work on race and national identity in Latin America and the Caribbean and places this scholarship in the context of interdisciplinary and transnational discussions regarding race and nation in the Americas. Moving beyond debates about whether ideologies of racial democracy have actually served to obscure discrimination, the book shows how notions of race and nationhood have varied over time across Latin America’s political landscapes.

Framing the themes and questions explored in the volume, the editors’ introduction also provides an overview of the current state of the interdisciplinary literature on race and nation-state formation. Essays on the post-independence period in Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, and Peru consider how popular and elite racial constructs have developed in relation to one another and to processes of nation building. Contributors also examine how ideas regarding racial and national identities have been gendered and ask how racialized constructions of nationhood have shaped and limited the citizenship rights of subordinated groups.

The contributors are Sueann Caulfield, Sarah C. Chambers, Lillian Guerra, Anne S. Macpherson, Aims McGuinness, Gerardo Rénique, James Sanders, Alexandra Minna Stern, and Barbara Weinstein.

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The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

Posted in Biography, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-17 20:31Z by Steven

The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

W. W. Norton & Company
368 pages
6.1 × 9.3 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-23925-6

Karl Jacoby, Professor of History
Columbia University, New York, New York

A prize-winning historian tells a new story of the black experience in America through the life of a mysterious entrepreneur.

A black child born in the twilight of slavery, William Henry Ellis inhabited a world of fraught, ambiguous racial categories on the anarchic border between the United States and Mexico. He adopted the name Guillermo Enrique Eliseo and passed as a Mexican: traveling as Hispanic in first-class train berths, staying in the finest hotels, and eating in leading restaurants. A shrewd businessman, he became fabulously wealthy and found himself involved in scandalous trials, unexpected disappearances, and diplomatic controversies. Constantly switching identities, Eliseo was a genius at identifying and exploiting the porousness of the color line and the border line.

Through Ellis’s picaresque biography, Karl Jacoby presents an intriguing narrative set in a secret and ever-changing world. The Strange Career of William Ellis reinterprets the borderlands, showing how U.S. and Mexican histories intertwined during Reconstruction, and he offers new insight into the arbitrary and evolving definitions of race in America.

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Texas slave passes as Mexican millionaire

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Texas, United States on 2016-06-12 01:25Z by Steven

Texas slave passes as Mexican millionaire

San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio, Texas

Joe O’Connell

Former slave passes as Mexican millionaire

Historian Karl Jacoby was driving near the Texas-Mexico border when he was stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol, the agency charged with keeping Mexicans out of the United States.

He explained, to their dismay, that he was writing a book about a Texan who had tried desperately to cross into Mexico.

In the completed book, “The Strange Career of William Ellis,” Jacoby has pieced together of the life a former slave who transformed himself into a wealthy Mexican.

Ellis was born to a mixed-race mother on a cotton plantation in Victoria one year before slavery ended, but found transformation in San Antonio, then the hub of commerce between the United States and Mexico.

“He was born ‘in between’ in multiple ways,” Jacoby said. “There was this fault line between slavery and freedom and what that might mean. There was also a fault line between the United States and Mexico.”

Both nations were courting immigrants as business boomed in the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century…

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Sacramento’s Mexican genealogists trace their roots to Aztec empire

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Mexico, United States on 2016-04-12 01:29Z by Steven

Sacramento’s Mexican genealogists trace their roots to Aztec empire

The Sacramento Bee
Sacramento, California

Stephen Magagnini


  • Mexican Americans use Catholic Church records, other documents to map family roots
  • Some trace family history to Aztecs, colonial Mexico
  • Interest in Mexican family histories is growing as Latinos become biggest group in California

Maria Cortez dug deep into Catholic Church records and family histories and struck gold.

The retired state-worker-turned-genealogist managed to trace her roots back to two of the most famous figures in Mexican history: Miguel Hidalgo, who declared independence from Spain in 1810 with “el grito de Dolores,” and the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. “You’d be amazed; I think everyone has fascinating stories to be discovered,” said the 55-year-old, who co-founded the Sacramento-based Nueva Galicia Genealogical Society, thought to be the oldest Mexican genealogical club in California.

Cortez and 20 other Mexican Americans with roots in the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes gathered Saturday at the Sacramento Family History Center for the club’s quarterly meeting, scanning church records, Mexican census data and border-crossing information to excavate secrets of the past. Interest in exploring Mexican roots is surging, now that Latinos are the state’s largest ethnic group, genealogy TV shows are hot and DNA research is becoming more exact, Cortez said.

Mexican Americans can trace their DNA to as many as five continents, said Cortez, who was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

As thrilled as she was to learn that Hidalgo was her seventh cousin four times removed, and that evidence shows Moctezuma was her 12th-great-grandfather, Cortez was shocked to learn the blood of a dozen nations flows through her veins. She said DNA tests show she’s not only 41 percent Native American and 30 percent Iberian, but also 2 percent North African, a little less than 1 percent Bantu from southeastern Africa, 4 percent west Asian, 3 percent Middle Eastern, 1 percent European Jewish, 9 percent Greek and Italian, 5 percent Irish, another 5 percent from Great Britain, along with some roots in southern and central Asia and northwestern Russia.

“We’re the most mixed race in the world, and I’m a child of the world,” said Cortez, noting that other club members have made similar discoveries after researching their DNA. “In Mexico, you’re not taught about slavery, but slavery existed there. … They didn’t disappear. They married and mixed in with the rest of the population, so a lot of us have African ancestry.”…

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The black people ‘erased from history’

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Politics/Public Policy on 2016-04-11 00:02Z by Steven

The black people ‘erased from history’

BBC News Magazine

Arlene Gregorius, BBC Mexico

More than a million people in Mexico are descended from African slaves and identify as “black”, “dark” or “Afro-Mexican” even if they don’t look black. But beyond the southern state of Oaxaca they are little-known and the community’s leaders are now warning of possible radical steps to achieve official recognition.

“The police made me sing the national anthem three times, because they wouldn’t believe I was Mexican,” says Chogo el Bandeno, a black Mexican singer-songwriter.

“I had to list the governors of five states too.”

He was visiting the capital, Mexico City, hundreds of miles from his home in southern Mexico, when the police stopped him on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.

Fortunately his rendition of the anthem and his knowledge of political leaders convinced the police to leave him alone, but other Afro-Mexicans have not been so fortunate…

Read the entire article here.

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