Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race

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9780814731741: Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race

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In both the historic record and the popular imagination, the story of nineteenth-century westward expansion in America has been characterized by notions of annexation rather than colonialism, of opening rather than conquering, and of settling unpopulated lands rather than displacing existing populations.

Using the territory that is now New Mexico as a case study, Manifest Destinies traces the origins of Mexican Americans as a racial group in the United States, paying particular attention to shifting meanings of race and law in the nineteenth century.

Laura E. Gómez explores the central paradox of Mexican American racial status as entailing the law's designation of Mexican Americans as &#“white” and their simultaneous social position as non-white in American society. She tells a neglected story of conflict, conquest, cooperation, and competition among Mexicans, Indians, and Euro-Americans, the region’s three main populations who were the key architects and victims of the laws that dictated what one’s race was and how people would be treated by the law according to one’s race.

Gómez’s path breaking work—spanning the disciplines of law, history, and sociology—reveals how the construction of Mexicans as an American racial group proved central to the larger process of restructuring the American racial order from the Mexican War (1846–48) to the early twentieth century. The emphasis on white-over-black relations during this period has obscured the significant role played by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and the colonization of northern Mexico in the racial subordination of black Americans.

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About the Author:

Laura E. Gómez is Professor of Law, Sociology and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Misconceiving Mothers: Legislators, Prosecutors and the Politics of Prenatal Drug Exposure and the editor of Mapping “Race”: Critical Approaches to Health Disparities Research (with Nancy López).


“Gomez has made a fine and distinctive contribution to our understanding of how conquest and law shaped the ambiguous racial position still occupied by Mexican Americans.”
-American Historical Review

“In her discussion of the role of law in the creation of Mexican Americans as a racial group Gómez tells a convincing story of conquerors manipulating the conquered.”
-The Santa Fe New Mexican

“Shows the impacts (then, as now) of the dominant white racist frame coming in from outside what was once northern Mexico.”
-Racism Review

“In this provocative analysis, the sociologist and legal scholar Laura E. Gómez offers a compelling argument for the unique racial status of Mexican Americans, significant (and increasing) proportions of whom identify as nonwhite... her steady focus and original approach make Manifest Destinies essential reading for scholars of race in America.”
-Journal of American History

“Laura E. Gómez’s Manifest Destinies offers a new interpretation of the ideology of Manifest Destiny and how that ideology worked to create a Mexican American race in New Mexico.”
-Hispanic American Historical Review

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