The idea of Manifest Destiny became extremely popular during the 1840’s to justify US intrusion into other lands. Anglos believed it was their God-given right to expand and populate other areas. With this mentality, Anglos set out to take what belonged to Mexico. American intrusion into Mexican land created conflict between the two, leading to the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848. Mexicans living in present-day California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, which became part of the United States after the Mexican-American War, experienced a drastic change in their lives. Many false promises were made with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the Mexican-American War. Mexicans became an underrepresented population in their own land. Mexicans had to undergo legal battles to get rid of the notion that they were an in-between race, not white enough to receive full rights such as serving on a jury, and keeping their own lands, but not black as to qualify under the rights given by the 14th amendment.
Before the war, Mexicans were a majority in what is now the American Southwest. “Political control could be violently wrested from Hispanos, even though they constituted a majority in a settlement”, (Weber, 177) in Texas during the 1850’s. Most Mexicans were not allowed to vote, so most decisions were made by what the Anglos wanted, or perceived as being for the best. Mexicans weren’t allowed to serve on juries either, they were “systematically, intentionally, and deliberately excluded from [all] Jury Commissions and Grand Juries”, (Garcia, 38). Mexicans were considered “neither African American nor completely white when it came to judicial interpretations”, (Garcia, 14). In excluding Mexicans from serving on the juries, Anglos were discretely suppressing the Mexican community. The absence of Mexicans on the juries meant that if a Mexican was ever put on trial, they would be undoubtedly declared guilty because Anglo’s believed Mexicans were an inferior race.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had promised Mexicans the “enjoyment of all the rights citizens of the United States according to the principles of the constitution”, (The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Article IX). Although this is how it was supposed to be, Mexicans found that the reality was completely different. An example of the injustices was Joaquin Murrieta’s case. In Murrieta’s case, a group of Anglos visited his home and, “peremptorily bade him to leave his claim, as they would allow no Mexicans to work in that region”, (Weber, 230). His case wasn’t isolated event. He was forced to leave his settlement twice, due to Anglo harassment. Anglos would often harass Mexicans and force them to leave their lands and home without a valid reason. Anglos would do so because they either wanted the land inhabited by Mexicans, or simply to cause problems for them. Anglos often believed that Mexicans were incapable of properly caring for and harvesting the land. It was extremely hard for Mexicans to settle peacefully in any place for an extended period of time before Anglos would force them to relocate.
For many, it was difficult to decide how Mexicans living in the United States should be treated. It was difficult to figure out what it meant to be “white ‘but not really’ and to be ‘of color’ but not black”, (Garcia, 3). Everything in the United States revolved around being either white or black so “being ‘in between’, (Garcia, 3) created uncertainty. Mexicans weren’t granted the full rights available to US citizens because they were not socially considered white. At the same time, Mexicans could not be included under the Equal Protection Clause because they were not black. The Equal Protection Clause prohibited the states from denying any of its citizens’ equal protection under the law. This uncertainty only served to restrict Mexicans to living without rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had originally guaranteed ethnic Mexicans basic civil and legal rights. Mexicans found that they weren’t receiving the rights they had been guaranteed under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. After remaining silent for some time, Mexicans finally decided to take action and speak out against the oppression they were facing. The Lemon Grove Incident in 1930-1931 and El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan in 1969 highlight Mexicans’ semi successful use of the courts and the legal system to demand their rights.
The Roberto Alvarez vs. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove District, better known as the Lemon Grove Incident marked advancement in Mexican’s fight for rights. Segregation of Mexican kids in schools was supported at the state level. According to the school board, a barnyard was to serve as the school for Mexican children. The Lemon Grove school board had expected the children and families to “act docile, follow orders and attend the new school”, (“The Lemon Grove Incident”, pg. 3). The community formed the Comite de Vecinos de Lemon Grove. Fred C. Noon and A.C. Brinkely agreed to act as legal counsel for the lemon grove community. The community was “not deterred and on the 13th of February issued a writ of mandate through the superior court”, (“The Lemon Grove Incident”, pg. 7). That demanded that the school board “reinstate the Mexican American Students”, (“The Lemon Grove Incident”, pg. 7).
The members of the school board were indicted for illegal segregation and ordered to allow Mexicans pupils back into the main school. They denied allegation concerning the segregation and isolation of Mexican students. The Board of Trustees argued that the new school was in Mexican area and that it was an Americanization school. The case finally went to court on February 24th. On March 30, 1931 the court ruled in favor of the Mexican community. The court ordered “immediate reinstatement of the children” and considered that there existed “no legal basis on which to segregate the children”, (“The Lemon Grove Incident”, pg. 9). The court also determined that the children were legally entitled to enter the regular school and to instruction based on equality with the other students.
El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, a manifesto, adopted March 1969 by the First National Chicano Liberation Youth Conference encouraged the idea of Mexicans as La Raza de Bronze. In this plan they stated that “social, economic, cultural, and political independence is the only road to total liberation from oppression, exploitation, and racism”, (Plan de Aztlan, pg. 1). The manifesto demanded that contributions made by Chicanos to the United States history be taught. It encouraged unity among people in the barrios. The main goal of this manifesto was to encourage the liberation of La Raza de Bronze by “using nationalism as the key of common denominator for mass mobilization and organization”, (Plan de Aztlan, pg.1). They believed that the only way to do something significant was to unite as a under a common nationality to organize and overcome adversity. The plan called for the creation of “an independent local, regional, and national political party”, (Plan de Aztlan, pg. 2). They believed that by creating their own political party at every level of the legal ladder, they would be able to receive more representation.
Both the The Lemon Grove Incident and El Plan de Aztlan were both a bit successful and unsuccessful in establishing full rights for the Mexican community. “The Lemon Grove Incident” stands out as the nation’s first successful desegregation case. It was the first time that a Mexican community had spoken up against segregation. This case demonstrated the strength that the Mexican could have if they united. Even though this case was successful during its time, segregation still continued to occur throughout the United States. The actions of the Lemon Grove community benefited their community and the ordeal reached national prominence, but it was not enough to get rid of segregation throughout the country. Although it is more subtle, segregation based on ethnicity still survives, proof that the Lemon Grove Incident was only momentarily successful. El Plan de Aztlan served to create unity among Mexicans. It encouraged Mexicans to organize themselves so that they could get better results for themselves. The main ideas of the plan were good; they encouraged passive fighting for the rights of Mexicans. Although the ideas behind the manifesto were good, it didn’t yield results because it remained at that, a manifesto.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had initially assured Mexicans that they would have the full rights and liberties of an American citizen. The reality was that they were treated as second class citizens. They couldn’t participate in juries or own land but they couldn’t be included under the equal protection law. Mexicans initially accepted this as their destiny and therefore didn’t protest. After some timer, they realized that they had other options. At this poin they decided that they could use the courts to their favor. The use of the courts turned out to be favorable in a way. Victories gained through the use of courts were only temporary.