Mexican-American Experience


Arnoldo De Leon wanted to write a monograph that attempted to further the documentation of the Mexican-American experience in the early years of Texas. After long hours of research and advice from writers before him, he wrote, They Called them Greasers. This monograph tries to uncover the seeds of racism that sprang up before the Texas War for Independence and has lasted since then. De Leon tries to prove that Mexicans were never judged by their own merit, but instead were judged on the cultural and physical differences between them and the Anglos in Texas. This was almost a natural process because the Anglos came from England where there was already a long history of discrimination against the Spanish, whom the Mexicans were thought to have descended from. A morally degenerate disposition, an unhygienic body, a backwards mentality, and a violent temperament were the four main qualities that the Anglos unfairly gave the Mexicans.


Mexicans, and especially Mexican women, were thought to have a moral abandon because their culture was more comfortable with sexuality than the Anglos. Often, the Anglos were disgusted when they saw women and children bathing together in creeks, or playing naked games in the lakes. The women were usually half naked while at their pueblo and the children ran around naked as well. The Mexicans had a dance that they called, “ The Fandango”, which was a very sexy and alluring dance that the women would do often at social gatherings. These things shocked the Victorian embedded Anglos that believed pubic nudity was barbaric and dancing sexually was a sin. At this time, there was a shortage of Anglo women in Texas, so many of the white men found themselves drawn to the dark Mexican women. After a period of intermixing, Anglo men decided that Mexican women were virtuous, but their Mexican men were still backwards and barbaric. De Leon believes that the reason the Anglos were so appalled, yet preoccupied by this blatant sexuality is because they saw it in themselves (p. 37). The Victorian values were so ingrained in their lives that they could not accept this about themselves or their Mexican neighbors. Morality was not the only thing that the Anglos questioned.


The Mexican complexion and their physical characteristics were also used against them. Their dark skin was immediately associated with African and Indian blood, which were the two most hated groups at the time. The Anglos just assumed that, “Mexicans descended from Indians, with Africans making an addition” (p. 15). De Leon also says that, “To whites, dark colors connoted filth and therefore Mexicans were a dirty, putrid people, existing in squalor” (p.17). These unfair prejudices were just the basic form of racism that fostered higher forms later.


The Mexican culture was certainly different from the Anglos’, yet they were discriminated against because of these dissimilarities. The “jacales”, which were the simple huts that Mexicans lived in, were thought to prove the simplicity of their mind. The Anglos believed the Mexicans could live off less food than they could because they were simpler. Their agricultural techniques were not as advanced as the Anglos’, so that became also a symbol of their inferiority as well. While many of these customs were traditional ways of the Mexicans, the Anglos still thought them inferior. These attitudes were also upheld by the paternalistic labor drivers that needed to defend the inhumane ways in which they treated their workers.


The Anglos also thought the Mexicans were violent, just like they had pinned violent behavior on the African slaves and the American Indians that had to fight for their freedom and land. De Leon says “As had been the case since the seventeenth century, Americans also needed to see violence in others to conceal the depravity within themselves” (p. 63). The Anglos made up the heritage for the Mexicans, saying that they got their ritualistically brutal behavior from the Aztecs who sacrificed humans, and from the Spanish who had a violent nature. This thought process originated in England, who had always had a rivalry and a fierce prejudice against the Spanish. In reality, the Anglos were much more violent towards the Mexicans than the other way around. At many points, they tried to exterminate them