America’s surging politics of victimhood and identitarian division did not emerge organically or inevitably, as many believe. Nor are these practices the result of irrepressible demands by minorities for recognition, or for redress of past wrongs, as we are constantly told.
Those explanations are myths, spread by the activists, intellectuals, and philanthropists who set out deliberately, beginning at midcentury, to redefine our country. Their goal was mass mobilization for political ends, and one of their earliest targets was the Mexican American community.
These activists strived purposefully to turn Americans of this community (who mostly resided in the Southwestern states) against their countrymen, teaching them first to see themselves as a racial minority and then to think of themselves as the core of a panethnic victim group of “Hispanics”—a fabricated term with no basis in ethnicity, culture, or race.
This transformation took effort—because many Mexican Americans had traditionally seen themselves as white. When the 1930 census classified “Mexican American” as a race, leaders of the community protested vehemently and had the classification changed back to “white” in the very next census.
The most prominent Mexican American organization at the time—the patriotic, pro-assimilationist League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC—complained that declassifying Mexicans as white had been an attempt to “discriminate between the Mexicans themselves and other members of the white race, when in truth and fact we are not only a part and parcel but as well the sum and substance of the white race.” Tracing their ancestry in part to the Spanish who conquered South and Central America, they regarded themselves as offshoots of white Europeans.
Such views may surprise readers today, but this was the way many Mexican Americans saw their race until midcentury.
They had the law on their side: A federal district court ruled in In Re Ricardo Rodríguez (1896) that Mexican Americans were to be considered white for the purposes of citizenship concerns.