Let me set you straight on Atzlan, or the northern part of that mythical land that some Hispanics still believe belongs to Mexico. We Southern Californians sometimes hear silly comments that the United States stole the American Southwest from Mexico. Those holding such beliefs need to examine the validity of Spain's claim of ownership of the American Southwest. They also need to question the notion that Spain's subjugation of the Aztec nation in 1521 was a more legitimate conquest than the way the United States acquired Texas in 1845, and California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming 3 years later. It's important to understand that in addition to Spanish and Portuguese claims for chunks of the New World, Holland, Spain, France, Russia and England also had subsequent designs on some of these lands. What ultimately won out for control over these new world lands were those European countries with the best overall financial or military prowess, or strategic geographic presence to persevere over competing nations. And we shouldn't forget that the overall and consistent losers were the Indian populations who'd lived on these lands for thousands of years before the European invaders subdued, and in many cases, subjugated them.
Mexico’s claim to the American Southwest stems from the Treaty of Tordesillas. This was a demarcation line established by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 to define the spheres of Spanish and Portuguese influence in the New World. The line ran due north and south 100 leagues (300 miles) west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. All discovered lands lying east of this line belonged to Portugal, while all lands discovered to the west belonged to Spain. This treaty was modified in 1506 by a new demarcation line 370 leagues (1110 miles) west of the Azores. This line ran longitudinally through the eastern hump of South America and is the reason Brazilians speak Portuguese. This treaty gave Spain the specious legitimacy to rule Mexico, and most of North and South America, beginning with Cortes' rape of the Aztec nation in 1521. Tordesillas was a marriage made in hell because it ecclesiastically allowed the Spanish and Portuguese to loot and enslave indigenous populations in return for their promises to "save the Indians for God".
Perhaps the most competent of Spain's colonial kings was Carlos 111, who ruled Spain from from 1759 to 1788. Carlos commissioned the The Marques de Rubi, in 1765 to provide him with a detailed report of his Mexican colony, including the actual geographical status of New Spain. It took Rubi 3 years to compile this report. (1765-1768) Among Rubi's findings was his contention that the true frontiers of New Spain were nothing like the imposing royal maps that delineated a mythical frontier stretching from Central America to Canada. These, according to Rubi were more apparent than real, and a lot of silly talk. Rubi's report stated that the real Mexican frontiers were pretty much what they are today. Two hundred seventy-six years after Tordesillas, in 1769, King Carlos III of Spain became concerned about Russian intentions for California, and decreed a program to build a series of Forts/Missions throughout California to insure Spanish control of California. Because these lands were virtually uninhabited by Spanish settlers, the Spaniards forced and enslaved local Indian populations to build a series of 21 forts/missions for settler protection and agriculture. These missions were built between 1769 and 1823, and stretched from San Diego to Sonora. Because of a series of revolutions that swept the Spanish empire in 1810, cash starved Spain stopped salary payments to it's civil servants throughout America, and these colonists were left to rot on the vine. It's noteworthy that in 1810, there were less than 1,000 Spaniards throughout the entire America Southwest, some 500,000 square miles of wilderness. It took a combination of Criollos, Indians and Mestizos to defeat Imperial Spain, but by 1821, after 11 years of civil war, they triumphed and modern Mexico was born. But the defeat of Spain changed little. Although the Mexicans repudiated Spanish tyranny, they kept the tyrant's ancient map for themselves. This vast wilderness continued to be virtually ignored by a slumbering and distracted Mexican central government. From the time of Spain's defeat in 1821, through 1848, the year the Mexican - American war ended, Mexico endured 50 military plots, 22 governments, five constitutional conventions, three constitutions and 10 of the 11 different terms of leadership under megalomaniac president and general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. To add to this confusion, Mexico City was embroiled in bitter internal distractions over such things as the power of the central government and the Catholic church. During that time, over half of Mexico's land and close to two thirds of the money in circulation had fallen into the hands of the Church. Beginning with Texas in 1845, which initially became a separate country in 1836, (the Lone Star State) and California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, (all which Mexico ceded to the U.S. in 1848) American settlers outnumbered Spaniards/Mexicans between by at least 5-1 in all eight states, except in Texas where Americans outnumbered Mexicans 10-1. What these settlers wanted was stabile government, something Mexico, because of its absentee ownership mentality, was unable to provide. And so began the inevitable movement for independence among American settlers, a people used to getting things done through representative government.
Without question, President Polk engineered the 1846-1848 war with Mexico in order to bring California and the other western states into the union. By the same token, there’s little question about Mexico’s inability to indefinitely hold-on to her 1846 American territories had the Mexican-U.S. war not taken place. Sooner or later, all 7 states would have followed Texas’s lead, and brought about the same results since Mexico hadn’t the focus, wherewithal, stability, moxy or muscle to govern American settlers.
Political ownership of something the size of the American Southwest can only be realized through conquest, settlement or transfer of ownership from one country to another. The Pope never owned this territory, and thus couldn't transfer it to Spain. The Spanish never conquered nor settled these lands to any meaningful degree, and therefore couldn't transfer or cede them to Mexico. Between 1821 and 1848, Mexico never conquered the Southwest, nor undertook any meaningful steps to settle or develop the territory, and never had anything but an ancient ecclesiastically sanctioned map, a few thousand settlers, and a sprinkling of missions, churches and pueblos to make their ownership claim stick. After making an offer to buy the Southwest, and being refused, the U.S. used force. On the other hand, the territory had been ignored by Mexico, as by Spain before her, to such a sorrowful extent, and over so many centuries, that a virtual power vacuum existed. Mexican rule was accordingly pre-determined and temporary, and conquest by a foreign power was inevitable, be that power Russian, English, French or American. The United States just happened to be the first foreign power that had the practical means to accomplish it.
To infer that the one-two-three punch of Pope Alexander VI, Conquistador Hernn Corts, and King Carlos III somehow gave Mexico title over the American Southwest is just plain nutty. American Indians owned these lands for thousands of years. Then came Spain, (on paper) largely by virtue of an ecclesiastical shell game with the Catholic church for some 300 hundred years. Next Mexico, (again on paper) between her victory over Spain in 1821, and her defeat by the U.S. in 1848, for 27 years. Finally the United States (the first to truly settle the lands) for the last 153 years. Neither Spain, nor Mexico, nor the United States acquired the American Southwest with clean hands, and it makes little sense to infer that Mexico has/had a more solid case for sovereignty than the United States. And, - 153 years later, all this bumper sticker about Mexico being the legitimate owner of the American Southwest is as untrue, as it is moot, as it is nutty.
Michael Scott Glendora, California
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