Peons and Progressives: Race and Boosterism in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1904-1941

Abstract

The Texas borderlands have come to be increasingly important in the historical literature and in public opinion for the way that the region shapes national thought on race, borders, and ethnicity. With this increasing importance, it is pressing to examine the history of these issues in the region so that they may be accurately and insightfully deployed. This article contributes to the existing scholarship with a close discursive analysis of race in the booster materials, 1904-1941. The booster materials forge a notion of race relations that borrows from tropes common across the West but is also informed by Jim Crow and the unique demands of the region. The booster materials forward a notion of race that is largely unique in Western boosterism, positing only two major characters, Mexicans and white Northerners. The figure of ‘the Mexican’ is drawn more as a part of nature than human society in that it shares the fundamental characteristics of the land, animals, and rivers of the region. Nature in the region is depicted as an adventitious, disorderly, and wasteful body that calls out for northern discipline. The ‘Northerners’ are figured as the ones who, through applying discipline to the natural resources of the area (land, water, and Mexicans) can bring reason, fertility, and profitable connection to the national economy. The consequences of this racial division are further explored in the article as they play out in schooling, religion, justice, beauty, leisure, and sport.

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Cory Wimberly
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

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