“I had to leave Texas, abandon all, for which I fought and spent my fortune, then become a wanderer . . . I was in this country a being out of the pale of society, and when she could not protect the rights of her citizens, they seek protection elsewhere. I had been tried by a rabble, condemned without a hearing, and consequently was at liberty to provide for my own safety.”
Seguín’s memoir illustrates how a prominent figure in Texas history became denigrated and marginalized in the grand historical narrative; it exposes the shifting sociocultural and political milieu occurring in the Southwest as American foreign policy called for westward expansion during the nineteenth century. Authored by Juan Nepomuceno Seguín—a native and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas—this excerpt attempts to vindicate his purported betrayal of Texas through a detailed recounting of the events that occurred and the players responsible for the decline of his public image.
Once a reliable compatriot in the fight for Texan independence, Seguín quickly became viewed as a traitor and was forced out of Texas without due process. He alludes to the racial undertones of his treatment, which reflects the broader sociocultural trends occurring during this period of rapid expansion when white colonists clashed with natives on the North American continent. Several Tejanos (Mexican Texans) bravely fought for independence for Texas but were subsequently relegated to second-class status in the new Republic of Texas. The desire for white hegemony and an Anglo (i.e., Anglo-American) culture necessitated the removal of Tejanos like Seguín who possessed political clout. This excerpt alludes to Seguín’s value to Texas during the revolution and insinuates that the cause of his downfall lay in his status as a Tejano who possessed power in a land the Anglos so desperately wanted. His detailed account of the events surrounding his abrupt transformation into a foreigner in his own land elucidates the shifting political, socioeconomic, and cultural structures wrought by Manifest Destiny and its detrimental effects on nonwhite citizens. Such structures left an enduring legacy on the land and illustrate the roots of a racial status quo that many feel has endured into the present day.
During the nineteenth century, the United States experienced significant internal tensions brought about by a foreign policy of expansion and conquest, symbolized in the 1872 allegorical painting American Progress by artist John Gast.
The term “Manifest Destiny,” first coined by John O’Sullivan in a 1845 newspaper article, is the belief that the United States was destined and divinely ordained to expand across the North American continent to cover the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This concept necessitated a reimagination of land as vacant despite the presence of peoples who had resided on it for centuries. Seguín’s excerpt alludes to the adverse affects of westward movement and the thirst for land and power that resulted in heightened tensions between Anglos and native peoples.
Antagonism towards Seguín and his fellow Tejanos undergirded the complicated and contested image of Seguín as a traitor, despite his heroism and his role in the Texas Revolution. As the United States expanded westward, Texas had a unique political function, and the imminent battles over the territory provided a stage for Seguín to craft his identity in the minds of Texans and Mexicans.
The Texas Revolution of the 1830s and the events that followed serve to demonstrate American exceptionalism and the swiftly changing political, social, and cultural milieu occurring on the American frontier. The shifting conditions were caused primarily by heavy Anglo migration into Texas, which altered the balance of power and created a venue for white hegemony. Following the Texas Revolution (and after Seguín fled to Mexico), the remaining Tejanos who had fought for Texan independence at first enjoyed some political clout in the new republic. Before long, however, they suffered from arbitrary governmental seizures of their land, livestock, and food. They were treated as second-class citizens, and after Mexico twice invaded Texas during the 1840s, Tejanos—by virtue of their ethnicity—were viewed as aliens in their homeland. The new constitution codified this second-class citizenship by denying the protection of guaranteed rights and land grants to those who did not support the revolution. All Tejanos were categorized as traitors unless they could show clear proof they were not. Additionally, Tejanos who left Texas during the revolution were considered aliens upon their return.
The stipulations set forth in the constitution engendered violence against Tejanos, including lynchings and riots, that ultimately led to the reduction of the Tejano population in Texas. This serves as a microcosm for the changes wrought by Manifest Destiny and the chafing of clashing cultures. The acquisition of land became central to the ideology of Manifest Destiny, and land occupation produced serious sociocultural and political changes. After the annexation of Mexican territory at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, an anti-Mexican sentiment permeated US society and stigmatized Mexican Americans as perpetual others within American culture. Such sentiments implied that Mexican culture was separate from American culture, thus creating tensions in a region Mexicans had once owned and were native to.
Juan Nepomuceno Seguín was born into a respected and wealthy Tejano family on October 27, 1806, in San Antonio, Texas, to Juan José Maria Erasmo Seguín and María Josefa Becerra during a time when Texas was important politically. Seguín’s father and mother operated the post office in the city of Bexar. Juan was the oldest of three children: Tomas, a younger brother who died during infancy, and a younger sister who was born in 1809. Information regarding his early childhood remains scant due to a scarcity of records.
At a young age, Seguín became a provisional mayor, or alcade, of San Antonio, and after holding various political offices he played an active role in the Texas Revolution or War for Independence against Mexico. After banding together Tejanos sympathetic to the Anglo cause, Seguín led them against Mexican General Santa Anna in 1835 and participated in the siege of the Alamo the following year, narrowly escaping death. His engagement in the battle risked his family property and fortune, revealing his loyalty to Texas and its severing from Mexican control. Sympathetic to the Anglos in the wake of the revolution, Seguín campaigned for the controversial Texan senator and Anglo military general Sam Houston, which fostered skepticism and feelings of betrayal in the eyes of some Tejanos; Houston ordered Seguín to protect the Mexican frontier from the encroaching Mexican army. Seguín and his Tejano legion contributed to the defeat of Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of San Jacinto, which brought the Texan Revolution to an end. The residual effects of the revolution, however, greatly impacted Seguín’s position and the place of other Tejanos within Anglo society and the new republic. Mexican armies continued to attempt invasions into Texas, which alienated the Tejanos living there and rendered them suspect as traitors or potential traitors in the eyes of the Anglo government. In 1842, Mexican General Ráfael Vásquez briefly seized control of San Antonio, of which Seguín was then mayor. Although Seguín led a force in pursuit of the retreating Vásquez, he was blamed for the attack and forced to flee to Mexico, dashing his dreams of securing freedom for all Texans, Tejano and Anglo alike. Such realities exasperated Seguín and prompted him to write about his intense feelings of betrayal by those he had perceived as loyal countrymen and comrades.
The Mexican government did not welcome Seguín when he arrived at Nuevo Laredo in 1842. Police officials arrested him and gave him an ultimatum: either he serve in the Mexican army or be sent away for a very long prison sentence. Choosing to join the army, Seguín fought in the Mexican-American War starting in 1846 against the United States. Despite switching sides, Seguín is hailed as a hero for his contributions during the Battle of the Alamo and at San Jacinto. At the conclusion of the war in 1848, Seguín moved back north to his hometown in Texas, but he returned to Mexico in 1867 after continued threats on his life. He then began authoring his Personal Memoirs of Juan N. Seguín in an attempt to rectify and rehabilitate his reputation in the eyes of Americans. Concurrently he voiced his aversion to the nebulous position and status of Tejanos in American society; he had become what ethnic studies professor Mae Ngai terms an “impossible subject,” or an individual without a country. Unprotected by their US citizenship because of their race, Tejanos exercised minimal political clout and suffered from identity crises as a result of their culture and citizenship. Throughout much of his political and military career, Seguín battled being labeled a traitor by both Anglos and Tejanos. In 1890, Seguín died in Mexico near the Rio Grande and across from the land he had fought so hard to liberate.
The contradictory image of Juan Nepomuceno Seguín as a traitor and a hero in Texas during the nineteenth century has been debated by historians up to the present day. Seguín’s memoir regarding his controversial political and military career illustrates the changes that occurred during a time of expansion across the North American continent that resulted in shifting socioeconomic, political, and cultural structures. As the title suggests, land—Texas and Mexican territory—became crucial to the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny, or the idea that Americans are divinely ordained to expand across the North American continent. Such an ideology called for Anglo settlers to come into contact with native Mexicans, which led to mounting sociocultural tensions as a result of political and economic imperatives. Settlers, or “adventurers,” carried with them notions of white hegemony over natives as the American political domain expanded. As a result, nonwhite individuals such as Seguín who possessed status, political clout, and land faced mounting opposition and contempt from their Anglo compatriots.
Around age thirty-five, Seguín was the mayor of San Antonio, a city that was integral to Anglo dreams of fulfilling their Manifest Destiny. Marked a traitor for the majority of his adult life, Seguín sought to clear his name through this deeply passionate memoir in which he elucidated not only the origin of his branding as a traitor but also conveyed his loyalty to his family as a reason for his perceived divided loyalties (which many other Tejanos conveyed and continue to demonstrate into the present day). He uses vivid language that sets up a binary between criminal and hero in order to rehabilitate his legacy as a hero of Texas and a Tejano leader. In this way he seeks to subvert the image of the angelic Anglo settler set against the criminal, brutish native Mexican.
Cultural artifacts produced during the nineteenth century articulated various political sentiments, racial stereotypes, and salient historical inquiries that permeated this period. John Gast’s painting American Progress conveyed ubiquitous ideas that undergirded Manifest Destiny and Anglo relations with nonwhite natives; Seguín subtly alludes to such ideas in his vindication of his tarnished legacy. Gast’s depiction conveys how social characteristics became inscribed on real and imagined space emanating from the notion of Manifest Destiny. He portrays the US nation-state in the symbol of a sexualized, angelic, and white mother figure whose aggressive movement westward conveys a protective posture; built into the construction of whiteness is the notion of purity. She holds books in her hands to demonstrate her knowledge as she moves into corners of the word depicted and racialized as dark and in need of enlightenment. The painting contrasts a progressive, cultured, and divine white race with the dark, backwards, savage, nonwhite, and uncivilized natives. Such attitudes regarding native Mexicans undergirded US treatment of them after the moment of contact and subsequent conquest. The ideology of Manifest Destiny spawned the increasingly tense interactions between westward moving Anglos and the natives residing in formerly Mexican territory in the Southwest as a result of occupied land and racial and cultural differences.
Seguín sets a binary of Anglo settlers as the true “criminals” against the sovereignty of native Tejanos as a way of elevating his heroic status and contesting his image as a traitor. Furthermore, he stressed his loyalty to Texas, to his fellow Tejanos, and to his family, despite constant questioning of his moral character; he left Texas not out of betrayal but to protect his family from the suffering they were enduring as a result of Anglo oppression. Seguín fervently believed in the idea that a Tejano could be proud of his or her national heritage while remaining a “loyal Tejano” (Montejano 26). He heroically fought for Texas during the Texas Revolution out of his loyalty to and love for his native land. However, many Anglo “adventurers” migrating into the land fought for the “liberty of Texas” as a part of their “criminal designs” to steal the land once independence was achieved; Tejano property and life were therefore not secure during this turbulent period. Seguín subverts the image of himself as a traitorous criminal by deflecting such a delineation onto encroaching Anglo settlers through his use of vivid and explicit diction. On the other hand, he also used his position in the government to protect his defenseless countrymen from the criminal activity of and the force used by Anglo adventurers. Seguín does so to emphasize a moral code based on the justice he lived by and acted on. Furthermore, he alludes to the racial undertones of the Anglos’ perceived prerogatives in the region as depicted by Gast; Mexicans were viewed and treated as savage “brutes” who were not self-possessed or worthy of owning “desirable property.” Additionally, Seguín articulates an image of himself as a victim of this Anglo hatred, brutish treatment, and oppression by top officials to garner sympathy; he left Texas not by choice but out of necessity, to save his family from “enemies trying to ruin” him, and it was he who warned city officials of the advancing Mexican army towards the city, thus constructing himself as a heroic figure.
As a prominent Tejano senator who sympathized with the Anglo government during the Texas Revolution, Seguín endured accusations of being traitor by his fellow Tejanos, while Anglo “dignitaries of the Republic” concurrently treated him with vigilant suspicion. His position as mayor of San Antonio gave him political clout to which Tejanos generally did not have access during this period of American expansion. Although his prominent political position fostered Anglo aversion toward him, most of his purported transgressions emanated out of his actions as a leader in the military. Such disdain and “jealousy” demonstrated by prominent Anglos within the army toward him and his fellow Tejanos for owning land that they felt was ordained for them fostered similar attitudes in the Anglo masses. Property and land formed the roots of his enemies’ disdain toward him and other Tejanos, whose “only crime was that they owned large tracts of land and desirable property.”
Seguín’s work as a land speculator combined with the centrality of land to the ideology of Manifest Destiny also played a huge role in sullying his public image. As a land speculator, Seguín worked for several Anglo detractors who accused him of fraud in his selling land. Many alleged that he would not return money he had confiscated when residing in San Antonio. Seguín asserts that he dealt with land and property disputes according to Texas law and maintained compliance with the directions of the board. However, several of his decisions regarding the land of prominent Anglo families incurred him bitter enemies despite his adherence to legal standards. Following the Texas Revolution, Mexican families living along the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers experienced high rates of expulsion and land seizures by the Texas government (Montejano 26); Mexicans who remained loyal to Texas rather than Mexico nonetheless endured random acts of violence, land and livestock seizures, and acts of humiliation by people who held anti-Mexican sentiments. By the 1840s, the majority of the prominent Mexican families with Spanish ties had left Texas, either by force or under threat of murder.
The role of land during US expansion with regard to American Indians further helps explain Anglo sentiments toward Seguín and the complicated image he inherited as a result of his social status and land ownership. The colonial relationship between American Indians and Anglo-Americans enabled the US government to strip American Indians of their tribal sovereignty through the dispossession of their culturally sacred, ancestral lands; to do so, a racialized public discourse helped to support various legal precepts that maintained the myth of American Indians as, increasingly, a “vanishing race.” Bolstered by the ideological conceits of the myth, white sellers perceived natives as infantilized and impotent in order to refute indigenous land claims and justify European domination. For the United States to become a country ruled by the masculinized “Yankee spirit” of the Euro-American colonist required the extermination of indigenous people, both physically and culturally, from the American landscape. Ultimately, it was the unequal relationship established upon contact that provided the colonists the tools to wipe the American Indians off of their native landscape and ultimately from the American consciousness through reimagining space with regard to racial hierarchies (Espiritu 46). The reimagining of land and space within the United States thus reinforced the white hegemony over the natives’ sociocultural systems of native groups and provided an impetus for the cultural genocide of American Indians.
Such processes began to take place upon Anglo advancement into Texan land and infusion into the existing socioeconomic and political systems. Rumors of Seguín’s loyalty to the Mexicans destroyed his reputation in the eyes of Texans, both Anglo and Tejano. Seguín describes in anguish the severe danger he and his family faced as the Mexican army threatened to seize San Antonio and several of the surrounding cities. Such daily affliction and peril caused by “mere rumors” forced him to move his family and become “a wanderer” in the land he had served and fought for. His former friends and colleagues turned on him, forcing his family to flee to Mexico while he faced incarceration and forced military service against his former homeland during the Mexican-American War. Seguín invokes his military accolades in the service of Texas and his political accomplishments to emphasize his loyalty and garner more sympathy for his adverse treatment. A loyal and productive citizen, Seguín was betrayed and abandoned by the country he served, and his anguish resonates with the many other Mexican American families betrayed by a country they too served and inhabited for generations.
Throughout this excerpt from Seguín’s memoir, it is clear that the sociocultural and political landscapes were drastically shifting as a result of US expansion westward. Mexican Americans became increasingly subordinated to the status of second-class citizens, and they saw their citizenship rights violated without due process. Land grants were violated frequently, and force was often used to seize desired land plots from Mexican families, leaving them no choice but to flee their native land. This process of arbitrarily rendering Mexican Americans stateless for Anglo gain exposes the salient racial antagonisms that characterized this period. A legacy of white supremacy and dispossession rather than one of liberty and justice as the foundation of America emerged out of this hotly contested time. Citizenship for nonwhite individuals—event prominent political figures such as Seguín—did not guarantee the protection of rights codified by the US constitution.
Juan Nepomuceno Seguín was a Tejano who possessed unusual socioeconomic status and political clout. He lived a patriotic life fighting for Texas, his native land that he served ardently both in the military and in politics. Additionally, he combated an image of himself as a traitor both to his own Mexican heritage and to the land that he served. His conflicted life represents a microcosm of the Tejano experience in Texan regions to the present day, which has inspired cultural articulations of such struggles. In the face of Anglo-American colonization and hegemony in the American Southwest, author Americo Paredes’s George Washington Gomez (1990) details the struggles of Mexicotexans, as he calls them, to preserve their culture and identity in the face of growing Anglo hegemony in the American Southwest in the early twentieth century.
With the development of railroads in Texas, Anglos migrated into borderland towns and displaced the Tejano power structure; as a result, this demographic shift led to drastic sociocultural and political changes. Paredes’s novel centers around a young Mexican-American boy who struggles with his identity while living in Jonesville, a fictional, rural town on the border between Texas and the United States in which the Anglo migrants displaced the Tejanos (Mexicotexans) through settler-colonialism. The colonial processes that take place in Paredes’s novel demonstrate that, while this novel typifies the American story between the 1910s and 1940s, the history of Mexicans living in the Southwest suffering violence at the hands of Anglo-Americans shaped an idiosyncratic narrative rooted in vicious oppression that is symbolic of the region and the rendering of native Mexicans as foreigners in their own land. Paredes’s novel depicts the idiosyncrasies of life on the borderland caused by colonial structures as a result of Anglo migration and hegemony in a predominately rural region. Nonetheless, the themes and issues raised in George Washington Gómez—although set on the Texas borderlands—convey a typical American story by dramatizing the extent to which nativist sentiment undergirded US government policies between the 1910s and the 1940s; thus, Paredes portrays national sociocultural trends on a local level that took root during the period in which Seguín lived; his experiences represented the experiences of Tejanos living in a region in transition.
The violent history between Anglos and Mexicans in the American Southwest resulting in colonial social structures renders regional economic trends as exceptional in comparison to national trends. Paredes’s depiction of race in the American Southwest implicates a social system structured by “internal colonialism” that discriminates against individuals of Mexican descent (Ngai). This colonial structure took in the antagonistic relationship between Mexico and the United States as a result of the US annexation of Mexican land following the Mexican-American War in 1848; Paredes’s protagonist Feliciano expresses extreme rage over the “gringos” taking Mexican land by force (102). Settler-colonialism is the process by which a hegemonic population occupies space by forcibly removing an inhabiting population. Paredes implicates these colonial processes that structure life for Mexican Americans at the borderland when discussing the significance of chaparral (the shrubland of southern California) to Mexicotexans. Indigenous to the Southwest, chaparral represented the Mexicotexan’s “guarantee of freedom” from “alien law” and allowed small farmers to work their own land independently (42). However, once the Americans annexed the Southwest, they developed the land by eradicating the chaparral, which did not benefit them economically; using Mexican labor and paying them barely enough money to subsist, American farmers replaced the chaparral with cotton and citrus orchards (42). American policies such as this suggest that they sought to integrate this region into the global economy both ethnically and economically, and to do so required an eradication of the traditional Mexican way of life. Paredes’s projection of Mexicans as colonized individuals within America renders them as an oppressed people in their native land and implicates their subjection to prejudice and violence. The notion that the Mexican family’s standard of living was much lower than the Anglo’s portrays Mexicans in the rural Southwest as an inferior stock of people compared with their Anglo oppressors (200).
This nativist sentiment experienced by Seguín in his transition into an “impossible subject” survived into the twentieth century and translated into gross civil rights violations during the 1930s and 1940s. Paredes dramatizes the dialogue between the police and a Mexican worker who did not have his documentation papers with him, resulting in his forced repatriation back to Mexico (197). Between five hundred thousand and one million Mexicans and Mexican Americans in California alone had their citizens’ rights violated through forced repatriation during the 1930s as a result of job competition during the Great Depression. Economic uncertainties “inflamed racial hostility toward Mexicans,” which prompted the deportation and repatriation of Mexicans regardless of citizenship status (Ngai 71). This legacy of nonwhite Americans arbitrarily becoming foreigners in their own land has persisted well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Through his emotional memoirs, Seguín articulated the grief and anger over his tarnished image and second-class citizenship and expressed the experiences of many Tejanos and other nonwhite groups due to Anglo discrimination, which in some ways endures into the present day.
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