Seminar sheds light on racist origins of the West
By Matthew Thomson - Staff Reporter
The American west coast values it's progressive ideals, but these ideals are founded on a history of racism and imperi- alism, one ethnic studies pro- fessor told History Seminar last week.
History Seminar is a weekly series that seeks to inform stu- dents and the public about a va- riety of historical topics. Addi- tionally, it is open to the public.
"Over time as the Spaniards lost control of their vast empire, they started to relax the Cas- ta System as a way to say don't leave us, stick it out," said Dr. Diego Luna, professor of Amer- ican Ethnic Studies.
The Casta System was a name used for the Spanish caste system, which dictated a per- son's social status, legal rights and even their level of taxation. But Mexicans didn't like be put into castes.
The Spanish controlled Mex ico and most of the West Coast for much of the 15th to 19th centuries. During that time, the native people and the Spaniards in Mexico used the Casta Sys- tem, which maintained order in the territory, Dr. Luna said.
In the early 18th century, Mexico cast off the yoke of co- lonial oppression, but the caste system wasn't removed until the Mexican-American war. The Casta System became more fluid, however, allowing some social mobility in and out of a person's caste, Dr. Luna said.
After the Mexican-American War, the Anglo-Americans took control of the West Coast and the population already living there had to adapt to American cultural ideals.
Americans didn't believe they had a caste system. The di- chotomy of this belief being that the American South had the second largest slave population in the world, Luna said.
Nevertheless, the Mexicans adapted and by the late 1840s
some of the better-educated were able to write and speak English.
The 1848 Monterrey Con- vention, when California was in the process of becoming a state, had many representatives who were Americans that were of Mexican descent, Dr. Luna said.
Then the 1849 Gold Rush changed many things in the west. Not only did it bring great wealth to the American govern- ment, but it also changed atti- tudes toward minority groups – in this case Mexicans and Chinese.
The gold was originally so plentiful that people would just pick it up off the ground. How- ever, after an influx of immi- gration to California from Cen- tral and South America, as well as from Asia, Anglo-Americans became very jealous of what gold and other resources were left, Dr. Luna said.
Shortly after statehood, a Mexican woman was attacked in her home by a group of An- glo–American men intent upon expelling all Mexicans by force. They raped her in the process.
But the woman defended herself and stabbed some of the men. The woman was tried in a kangaroo court and lynched for the crime of self-defense, Dr.
Luna said. Dr. Luna's point: As left-lean-
ing and multicultural as the West Coast may be today, all of it is built on a bedrock of racism, and theft of land from natives.
History Seminar is finished for the Fall Quarter and will not return until Spring Quarter.