By Raoul Lowery Contreras and Frank D. Gomez
Leading American academicians such as Harvard’s late Samuel P. Huntington and the Hoover Institute’s Victor Davis Hanson have proclaimed that Mexicans are the greatest threat to American ideals and sovereignty.
American history, however, contradicts these men of letters.
Centuries of European domination of North and South America began to erode and eventually mostly disappear when a courageous group of English subjects signed their names to a proclamation written by Virginia slave-owner Thomas Jefferson on the 4th of July 1776. The world would change forever when that declaration was signed.
Its worldwide effect is best described by Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis, Spanish diplomat and finance minister to the West Indies, who said, “What is not being thought about at present, what ought to occupy the whole attention of politics, is the great upheaval that in time the North American revolution is going to produce in the human race.”
The first to break away from European domination was America, soon to be named the United States. Next came Mexico in 1810 and then the Central and South American countries eventually named Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and the other Spanish and Portuguese colonies south to Argentina.
The key link between hemispheric colonialism and independence was Mexico and Mexicans. Yes, calling it Mexico before that country’s independence from Spain is derided by critics steeped in traditional dislike of anything Spanish, Roman Catholic or American Indian, but not calling Mexico Mexico before its 1810 revolt for independence is like not calling America America before 1776.
The spirit of American independence didn’t register in the minds of France’s Bourbon royalty or its Madrid incarnation in 1779 when France and Spain declared war on England. Their concern was great-power politics. But the revolution was sincerely felt in the Spanish and French territories of Cuba, New Spain (Mexico) and New Orleans.
The newly appointed Spanish Governor General Bernardo Vicente de Galvez y Madrid had surreptitiously helped American rebel forces since 1775. Authorized by Spain’s King Charles III, American agent Oliver Pollock could buy military supplies including gunpowder in New Orleans. Boatloads of critical materiel were shipped up the Mississippi River by Spanish boats and boatmen to American rebel forces.
General Galvez enthusiastically joined the formal war against England by initially enlisting a force that included 300 recruits from Mexico, free blacks, 500 experienced Spanish infantrymen, volunteers from the American colonies and Louisiana’s German and Acadian communities, and American Indians.
The Spanish government built up its military in America then demanded that Great Britain recognize the rebel “United States of America.” When that demand was rejected, Spain declared war.
With numbers eventually totaling 8,000 and equaling those of France helping Washington in New England and Virginia, Galvez routed the British from their strongholds in Baton Rouge and Mobile Bay and at the massive fortress at Pensacola.
The British army commanded by Lord Cornwallis moved south from the New York area to encamp on the Yorktown Peninsula in the hope of winning the war there. The American cause’s future was not bright at the time; mutinies by American troops were occurring with frequency for lack of pay, food and supplies.
The Continental Congress could not provide the required hard currency, as its continental currency was worthless. Any possible American victory was in jeopardy for lack of money.
Luckily the needed funds were raised by the Spanish in Cuba in an emergency collection from the people of Havana. Washington’s soldiers and French sailors were paid, the British surrendered, and the United States of America was born, paid for with Mexican silver and gold — eight years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Six decades later, Mexicans and Americans fought a border war that resulted in a huge expansion of the U.S. and a shrinking by half of Mexico. Over 100,000 Mexican citizens automatically became U.S. citizens per the Treaty of Guadalupe that ended the war in 1848.
Many of them would don U.S. uniforms and fight in and during the Civil War. Their war contribution was a Mexican-American cavalry brigade in California that defended the country west of New Mexico. It was commanded by the highest ranking Hispanic in the Union ground forces, Brigadier General Romualdo Pacheco. The highest ranking Hispanic naval officer of the war, Admiral David Farragut of “damn the torpedoes” fame, was offered the Republican nomination for President in 1868.
More than 20,000 Hispanics served in the Civil War from private to general and admiral, and Hispanics have continued to distinguish themselves serving in America’s armed forces. The wartime honor roll includes:
- Boxer Rebellion — Marine Pvt. France Silva became the first Mexican-American to be awarded a Medal of Honor.
- World War I — Army Pvt. David B. Barkeley Cantu from Texas was awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously; the Army did not know he was Mexican-American until decades later. Army Private Marcelino Serna, born in Mexico and living illegally in the United States, was the first Mexican to earn the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also Texas’ most decorated veteran of the war.
- World War II – Seventeen Hispanics were awarded the Medal of Honor including the war’s second most decorated fighting man, Texan Cleto Rodriguez, the most decorated fighting Mexican-American ever. Two of those honored were actually Mexican citizens.
- Korean War – Fifteen Hispanics were awarded the Medal of Honor, including 10 Mexican-Americans and five Puerto Ricans.
- Vietnam — Twenty-two Hispanics, including four Puerto Ricans, three Mexican citizens and 15 Mexican-Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Despite Huntington and Hanson’s negative views of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, objective observers might declare them to be the most lethal enemies of America’s enemies.
Feliz Cuatro de Julio! Viva la Independencia!
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” Frank D. Gomez is a retired senior foreign service officer.