Mexican Discrimination in Post-War USA

When observing Mexican American and white Anglo interactions after Mexico lost a third of its territory in the Mexican-American War, it is difficult to place Mexican Americans at any single point on the U.S. racial hierarchy spectrum. In 1848, Mexicans residing in the newly acquired territory were promised full citizenship and equality. There were very few oppressive laws targeting Mexicans, but de facto segregation ran rampant. Anglos, at the time, claimed that Mexicans were dirty, lazy, and could survive on a “Mexican wage” (Glenn 154).

Although they were not considered as “colored” by the books, as were Native Americans and African Americans, they were certainly treated as inferiors. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848, Mexicans who opted to claim U.S. citizenship believed this would give them equal status to white Americans, however, they were considered “colored” by many Anglos and lived a lifestyle comparable to that of blacks in the South: a life full of coercion and oppression at home, work, and school.

Mexicans were originally given three choices upon annexation. They could migrate south to land still controlled by the Mexican government, they could remain in the territory and claim Mexican citizenship, or they could remain and choose to become full American citizens. Many Mexicans were eager to claim American citizenship because Antonio Lopez ruled as a dictator in Mexico; American democracy seemed to promise a better life. Unfortunately, legal citizenship resulted in turmoil from whites combating the Mexican culture. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was in many ways like the 14th Amendment in that it offered legal documentation of citizenship, but there were many loopholes that allowed for the mistreatment and undermining of the minority race.

Get quality help now
Bella Hamilton

Proficient in: Mexican-American War

5 (234)

“ Very organized ,I enjoyed and Loved every bit of our professional interaction ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Many Mexicans were fair skinned and had prominent Spanish Heritage resulting from an influx of Spanish missionary immigrants in previous centuries. Others were tan and resembled their Native American ancestors.

In either case, the census almost always included Mexicans in the “white” category, but white El Paso residents sought to change that in 1936. In an effort to redefine the city as a healthy utopia and attract white residents, El Paso fought to categorize Mexicans as “colored” in the Census because the city believed the Mexicans contributed most to the high infant mortality rate. In fear of losing basic citizenship rights with the reclassification, the Mexican community enlisted the help of The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in a great campaign and won (Molina 192). LULAC is known for defending Hispanic civil rights and played a key role in this triumph and many others since 1929. While the Mexican infant mortality rate may have been higher, it is important to examine why Mexican infants were dying at a rate higher than white infants. Mexicans received significantly lower incomes than their white counterparts, and therefore, often lacked access to primary health care. In a capitalist society, healthcare is extremely expensive and money saves lives.

When the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and California were all still part of Mexico, Mexicans obviously governed themselves and were involved in both skilled and unskilled labor practices. This promptly changed when whites started flooding into the territory after the discovery of gold in the West in 1849. Under the justification of Manifest Destiny, whites took control of Native Mexican and Native American land and forced the Mexican

Americans into menial labor positions. In 1930, only 9.4% of the Mexican population was doing “skilled” work as compared to 43.9% of their Anglo colleagues (Glenn 155). This is a significant disparity in labor, and the numbers demonstrate the amount of control whites held in the workforce. Wool was a valuable and exportable resource that numerous agriculturalists in the Southwest cultivated. Many Mexican Americans that once owned land and ranches had been left with nothing and were forced into share-sheeping in order to benefit from the wool industry. Share-sheeping worked in a similar manner as share cropping in the South, and it trapped many Mexican families in a system of debt peonage (Glenn 156). Mexican women, much like black women, needed to work because their husbands’ wages alone could not support a family. Upper class white women did not need to work because they were seen as virtuous reproducers; they often employed black and Mexican women to occupy their housework.

White people in power purposefully trapped Mexicans (and blacks) into a cycle of subordination. Mexican children went to segregated schools in which they were taught vocational education. Their school days and school years were considerably shorter than that of white schools, allowing them to help their families in agricultural labor and depriving them of equally advancing in their studies. The white community supported this separation as school officials claimed that “Mexican children had learning problems, lacked proper behavior, and came to school dirty and unkempt” (Glenn 181). In 1931, the Lemon Grove case set a historical landmark as the first school desegregation case to be won. The Mexican community may have only successfully desegregated a small population in Southern California, but this feat was an eye opener to minorities all over the U.S. (Molina 192). Unfortunately, school segregation across the nation would not legally end until the Brown V. Board of Education case that overturned the rulings of Plessy V. Ferguson in 1954.

Mexicans did not anticipate the level of subjugation they would face upon declaring U.S. citizenship. They often tried to distance themselves from African Americans in an attempt to avoid the same fate, but white Anglos were just as eager to target and dominate Mexicans, even without the help of written laws. In mixed communities, Mexicans faced discrimination and social norms that told them that they were inferior. In the work force, Mexican labor was valued less than white labor, and Mexicans were given unskilled jobs. At school, Mexican children were not given equal opportunities and were herded into unskilled workforces. It is apparent that despite the promise of the American Dream through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, white Anglos were not truly willing to allow Mexican Americans the same chances. Mexican Americans were placed in a subordinate group; based on social interactions, they were considered “colored.”

Cite this page

Mexican Discrimination in Post-War USA. (2023, Jan 15). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7