Bad Hombres, Mexico Will Pay: A Historical Perspective
By Matt Sedillo
The Southwest Political Report
In the third Presidential debate of 2016 Republican candidate Donald Trump made reference to a recent trip to New Hampshire. He decried that heroin was pouring in from the southern border and lamented the “poisoning” of the blood of New England’s youth. Donald Trump who began his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists returned to his theme of a brown menace emerging from the southern border. This time around he used the Spanish language to give name to this peril. He referred to this threat as drug lords and bad hombres.
Like Marco Gutirrez warning of taco trucks on every corner the internet responded quickly to Trump’s absurd phrasing. Memes, t-shirts, hashtags even cocktail recipes poured throughout the web in the following days and weeks all mocking Trump’s characterization of bad hombres. And it is funny. That this clownish buffoon who has challenge Robert De Niro to meet up for a fist fight, whose erratic behavior during the debates led Carrie Fisher to speculate that he was on cocaine while debating, that this ridiculous fool who has claimed Hillary Clinton was on performance enhancing drugs during their debates, should say such a thing. And then again it isnt funny. It really isnt. And it isnt random either.
The historic record of anti-Mexican sentiment in the US is foundational much to US culture and politics. That sentiment emerged from the objective historical economic development of the American Southwest. In many ways the Mexican American war never ended.
Remember the Alamo
The first act of the Mexican American war began in Texas. It’s most crystalizing symbol is that of the Alamo. A war of US aggression against Mexico is remembered most strongly in the American psyche for a battle which they lost and which demanded swift revenge. Remember the Alamo. Mexico will pay. The Alamo is a staple of Texas culture and has a place in the culture of the US as a whole.
Written in 1955 by Jane Bower and recorded Tex Ritter the song Remember the Alamo included the lyrics
“Hey Santa Anna, we’re killing your soldiers below!
That men, wherever they go will remember the Alamo”
The song was covered in Johnny Cash by 1963 and by Willie Nelson by 1968. Killing Mexicans is apparently deeply rooted in the psyche of “outlaw country.” As two of its leading figures saw fit to cover this song which lyrics also include the lines,
“Bowie lay dying, but his powder was ready and dry
Flat on his back, Bowie killed him a few in reply
And young David Crockett was singing and laughing”
Shedding Mexican blood against all odds as though it were the Anglos who were the victims of overwhelming aggression yet lived and died heroically is deeply ingrained in the American psyche and its narrative of “westward expansion.” The Alamo is probably the clearest example of this but it is everywhere.
In 1960 John Wayne starred in a film entitled the Alamo which was a glorification of Davey Crocket and again the film was remade in which Wayne utters the ridiculous lines “Republic. I like the sound of the word. Means that people can live free, talk free”
Nowhere in the song or film is it mentioned that the Texians were pushing for the expansion of slavery or that their leader Sam Houston was a protégé of Andrew Jackson. Or that Mexico had abolished slavery a decade earlier and this was the largely the basis of the conflict. No, none of that matters what is important is that white men died heroically fighting brown hordes.
The film was remade offering the same white heroics in 2004 with the tagline “You will never forget”
The question of slavery or land taken in aggression again are eschewed for the glorification of Davey Crocket as the embodiment white decency and strength. Remember the Alamo is a vicious phrase inseparably connected to manifest destiny and the anti-Mexican sentiment that permeates the American southwest.
The Hunt for Murrieta
In 1853 the California rangers were formed. Organized by John Bilger it was the first attempt in US history to established organized law enforcement in freshly stolen California. The California Rangers were formed out of a specific need. They were formed as means to capture the so called 5 Joaquin’s, the most notable being Joaquin Murrieta. Law enforcement in California was literally formed in order to hunt Mexicans. Much legend, myth and controversy surrounds Joaquin Murrieta, however this is much is known later that year a man of disputed identity whose murderers claimed to be Murrieta was beheaded and had his head toured in a jar throughout the state for the next 53 years till it was lost in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. That happened.
The Bear Republic, the 49ers and much of early US California history emerges from a time when Mexicans were hunted for bounties and had their heads toured in jars.
In popular culture it is widely speculated that Joaquin Murrieta served as inspiration for Zorro who in turn served as inspiration for Batman. Unholy racism batman!
The Hunt for Poncho Villa (The Mexican Expedition)
Between March of 1916 and February of 1917 the United States of America invaded Mexico. And no one seems to know this. The original name of the Mexican expedition was the Punitive Expedition a clear historic precedent for Mexico Will Pay.
The Mexican expedition was led by John Pershing killing hundreds of people and never coming close to accomplishing its stated mission.
Though this is maybe a forgotten piece of US history the ideas of the Mexican expedition deeply influenced US cultural production. From the Wild Bunch, to the Magnificent Seven, to the Three Amigos the vision of white American men going into Mexico to save Mexicans from themselves, to save innocent villagers from bad hombres is deeply rooted in the US psyche. This turns the actual history of Anglo/Yankee aggression on its head. Wherever it travels white saviorism betrays the actual truth of historical conquest. It emerges because imperial culture cannot function in full honesty.
Breaking Bad Hombres
Lastly I close this with a personal story. I was explaining to a white man in his mid twenties why I did not like the show Breaking Bad. I more or less said it targeted Mexicans and was part of the historic continuum of Manifest Destiny and he responded by saying “yeah but they are drug dealers.” Well yes they are. But so is Walter White.
The fact that much of white America and the US as a whole cannot come to grips with its real history is why there are political scapegoats in this country. It is the same reason there are political scapegoats throughout the world including in Mexico. But here in the United States this history of conflict, conquest and complete inbalance of power is why Mexicans are such a constant and frequent political scapegoat in our elections. This is the worst and most targeted it has been in generations but it is not at all random. It is rooted in a specific history. It is rooted in all our history. Bad hombres in the middle of a presidential debate doesn’t just happen. Centuries of struggle, conflict and oppression informed that moment.
The politics of the southwest are going national because its population is going national. These politics are not going anywhere and neither are we.
Taco trucks on every corner.