“It’s really all still Mexico” interrupted a man when I claimed that the border between the United States of America and the United Mexican States is arbitrary and quite void of significance. His statement and the accompanying sentiment feel incongruous with a logical approach to the history of North America in the past 500 years.
In stating that the border is arbitrary and void of true meaning, I am taking the (somewhat) long view of history, not stopping at the history of the past 150 or so years. The man who claimed that “California, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and other areas are really still part of Mexico” is forgetting many important facts. Most importantly, even during the time (1846-1848) when the USA and UMS were at war over Texas and other territories, the native tribes (or First Nations) of the areas being fought over did not recognize the claims of sovereignty over the land of either the Americans or the Mexicans. The Shoshone are an important example of this, led by the great Chief Pocatello, they never viewed themselves as subjects of the Spanish Crown nor as Mexicans; their territory being shown on paper maps as being ruled from Mexico City notwithstanding.
It is important to remember that Mexicans, and every other extant, internationally recognized nationality in the Americas, are not the indigenous (or first) nationalities. The indigenous nationalities of the Americas remain extant in the form of semi-sovereign tribes with allocated land located within the national boundaries of Canada, The USA, Brazil, and possibly other countries. Then there are groups of people who have an identity, a language, a culture, a religion, or other defining characteristic which sets them apart from the mainstream, dominant culture of their country. If that identity, language, culture, religion, etc. predates the arrival of Christopher Columbus, I would say that those people are participating in the indigenous survivance movements of The Americas. Those who participate in indigenous survivance in the modern-day Mexican territory are landless, and therefore their continued survivance is more precarious than that of the White Mountain Apache, for example. It is my view that the lack of land reserves for the people who practice indigenous survivance in the UMS is unfortunate. I knew a Mexican man, Carlos Balleza, who would rather the practitioners of indigenous survivance in areas such as the Mexican State of Chiapas give up their ways and assimilate into mainstream Mexican (Hispanic) culture. On this topic, I find it derogatory to refer to all the people living in the UMS as “Hispanics”. It is an obvious attempt to coverup and erase the distinct identities cultures which predate Christopher Columbus, replacing them with the Hispanic identity and culture. Doing so is tantamount to calling every person in the USA (excluding foreign visitors) “Anglo” or “Anglo-Saxon”.
Many, if not most, of the nations we know today are the direct result of European conquest and settlement; and they are the direct successor states to the European Empires. The United States were “The British Crown Colonies in America” before they declared (in 1776) themselves to be a collection of sovereign states, and won (in 1783) their independence of the British Crown. In the exact same sense, there was no polity in the world called “Mexico” before 1810 (declared) or 1821 (won). There was a city, the former Tenochtitlan, named Mexico by the Spanish, and it served as the capital of the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain. This vast viceroyalty included more territory than Mexico ever has, controlling the territory of some of the modern Central American countries, in addition to the only modern nation to be named in honor of a Spanish monarch, The Philippines. However, both the USA and UMS took their post-independence shapes by assuming control of the land which had been claimed by the British and Spanish, respectively. In this way, when my former classmate made his claim, he is (probably unwittingly) granting legitimacy to Spanish (specifically) and European (in general) ideas of hegemony over and superiority to the native nations which predate European arrival in America (The Americas). I would have explained this to my former classmate, had our conversation been allowed to continue.
Everyone who feels very strongly one way or the other about the current location of the USA-UMS border needs to take a deep breath and relax. They all need to recall that both countries are the successor states to European Empires, and as such, out of respect for The Shoshone and other native nations, they should give up feeling strongly that the border “is where it ought to be” or that it “should be elsewhere” or as my former classmate said, that “[the modern southwest of the USA] is really all still Mexico (he began to justify his claim by saying that the SW USA has “a lot of Hispanics”).” In addition, to those who lament that Mexico City no longer controls a territory as vast as it once (at least on paper maps) did, I submit the case of the shifting borders in South America. The issue of whether the Mexican-American War was “justified” (is there such a thing as a “just war”?) notwithstanding, the same border-shifting wars took place in the southern half of the American Continent. Bolivia, currently a landlocked country, had territory along the Pacific Coast after its independence from Spain. It retained this territory before it was “taken away” (Stolen? Won?) by Chile during negotiations to end the war between the two formerly Spanish (but still Hispanic?) countries. These things happen with a high degree of frequency throughout recorded history. Nations are founded, dependencies (colonies) break away, a militarily powerful nation conquers and annexes a militarily vulnerable nation, nations squabble over access to resources and coasts (resulting in border shifts when the peace treaty is signed), etc. It is in the nature of human civilization that borders shift and their location is contentious to those who feel “patriotic pride” toward one nation or the other.