Yes, I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to listen to reports of the angry debate in the USA over the border wall. What you never hear in those arguments is the voice of Mexico.
When I was teaching English in Mexico City in 1969, the school put me in charge of discussion groups for students who had some command of English. For some reason the manager of the school believed that this Canadian would speak better English than the 2 American teachers, and of course better than any of the Mexicans. That amused me, since I had had trouble speaking in public from the time I was a boy. Even several of the Mexican teachers were more English articulate than me.
But the students seemed to like me and we had many good discussions. One day I made some fairly innocent remark about the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848. I had read a history of Mexico published in the USA and thought I knew something about it.
Basically, the most common American position is that the Mexicans hardly put up any fight, so they deserved to lose California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Texas had already been lost to the rebellion led by Sam Houston and funded by rich southern business men. At that time, all that territory was in 2 sections, called by the Mexicans ‘Alta California’ and ‘Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico’:
A bank manager from Acapulco, who had come to Mexico-City to improve his English, then gave me a startling dressing-down with a quick review of the facts of that war and its long term consequences. He was impassioned about it. From him, and later reading, I learned that:
- Though the Americans claimed otherwise, they started the war, not Mexico. In his biography, American general and later US President, Ulysses Grant, a captain at that time, told how their instructions were to start a war but make sure they didn’t fire the first shot. So US troops crossed the border into Mexico and marched around until the exasperated Mexicans fired on them. At which point the headlines in the US reported the outrage and president Polk authorized a full scale invasion. Grant considered this shameful.
- About 20 yrs earlier the USA had proposed that Mexico sell the above territory to them. The Mexicans refused.
- Contrary to the version I had read, there was intense fighting, some of it very interesting. For example, when US troops drove the Mexican forces out of California, the people of California – Mexicans, ex-patriot Americans, and several native tribes – rose up, fought together, defeated the US troops, then declared independence. How many people know that for a few months, at least in the minds of its inhabitants, California was a free and independent country? But a larger US force returned and put them down. I suspect that a lot of California’s citizens would welcome independence today.
- The most important events began when general Winfield Scott landed a large force at Vera Cruz on the east coast and set out inland to capture Mexico City. It was a daring move. Napoleon failed with that in Russia, as Hitler would founder with it in World War II. There were many fierce battles along the way, combined with guerrilla-type actions by the Mexicans. By the time Mexico City fell, the troops of the USA had suffered a higher rate of casualties than they would receive in any war outside the United States, including World War II. That’s probably why there hasn’t been a similar invasion since.
- Mexico’s government leaders in Mexico-City, captured by general Scott, agreed to a settlement that included the transfer of all that land to the USA. This outraged the Mexican public, who had fought the Spanish to gain independence, defeated a Spanish re-invasion, then in a long conflict, finally drove the French out after their 1838 occupation. Had there been no surrender, there would have been a protracted guerrilla conflict whose outcome might have been quite different.
And so a border was created within Mexico where no border had been before. Many families were separated. Although most US citizens don’t seem to realize it, a large portion, maybe the majority, of the Spanish-speaking families in the south-western USA, usually referred to now as ‘Latinos’, have been there longer than the English-speaking inhabitants.
While Americans citizens seem to have almost universally forgotten this part of their history, among educated Mexicans – my Acapulco bank manager was just one – that history is alive and well. I thanked him for my unexpected dressing-down – his eloquent defence of Mexico – for, unlike so many people today, I have always valued the truth. When I’m wrong, I want to know I’m wrong. I suspect that that comes from being the product of working-class parents and ancestors from Yorkshire/Lancashire.
As the infamous border wall between the USA and Mexico has sporadically increased in size, you can imagine the growing anger in Mexico where this is seen as just one more provocation that started with that robbery at gunpoint in 1848, when half their country was stolen.
PS – If you want to read more about the Mexican-American War, there is an excellent account of it at Wikipedia – where I found the above map showing Mexico in 1824.