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The Treaty of Guadalupe Hilgado Leaves a Sad Legacy

Rodolfo R. Flores workforce and training specialist at University of Texas at Brownsville talks about the Legacy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Imagine that you're a Mexican who lives in Matamoros, Mexico. You have three kids and a wife to feed, but you don't work because there are no jobs available. You and your family live on the streets because you can't afford to live in a house. You are practically starving. After discussing the situation with your wife, you decide that you're going to have to sneak across the Rio Grande River to the U.S. to try to get work there. If you can earn money, you can send it home so your family can buy food.

So Close, But Yet So Far Away
Brownsville, Texas, looks so close from where you stand. It would be a great place to get a job, you think, because it is one of the fastest growing towns in the U.S. It wouldn't take you long to get there, but you'll have to dodge the army of Border Patrol agents who are waiting for you on the other side. Agents have caught you once before and sent you back to Mexico, so you have to think about where to try to enter the U.S. You decide to go way outside of town where there aren't so many Border Patrol agents. On your walk along the Rio Grande, you think: Why do I have to escape and sneak to the U.S. ? There's only a river separating our two countries. And why am I so poor? How did this all happen? You sit down on the riverbank and fall fast asleep.

Dreaming of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hilgado
While you're asleep, you dream that it is February 2, 1848, and you are at the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexicans and Americans at the end of the Mexican American War signed the Treaty. You read the agreements of the Treaty and are shocked to learn that the United States has won almost half of what was Mexico's territory, including the present-day states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah! From now on, the Rio Grande would be the boundary between Texas and Mexico. In return, the U.S agrees to pay Mexico $15 million. This treaty created a huge change in American history because it gave so much of Mexico to the U.S. Sounds like Mexico got the bad end of the deal, doesn't it? One of the effects of the Treaty is that Mexico today is a rather poor country. People live on the streets, begging, starving, and dying. At the time of the signing, the people who lived on the north side of the Rio Grande River, now officially part of the United States, could choose to become U.S. citizens and remain where they were. Or, they could travel to southern Mexico and remain part of the Mexican Republic. Mexicans left the U.S by the hundreds because they felt that they wanted to stay in their country. Others wanted to leave but couldn't afford to, and still others didn't want to leave. The Mexicans who decided to become U.S. citizens were promised civil rights and protection, which a lot of the western settlers didn't like. There were a number of skirmishes between settlers and Mexicans because of the Treaty and because of the mistrust and misunderstanding of the different cultures.

A Journey Across the Rio Grande
You wake up from your dream and begin the walk out of town. As you walk, you realize that the land across the river where you are hoping to go used to be part of the Mexican territory. If Mexico hadn't lost the war and been forced to sign the Treaty, you would have the right to live there today! When you think it is safe, you carefully wade into the water and cross the Rio Grande without being seen by anyone. You walk into the desert, filled with cactus and rattlesnakes. You walk for so long that cannot go any further. You collapse, your stomach aching from hunger. Suddenly, you see lights and stumble toward them. You reach a house. When you peer into a window, you see a counter full of food. Nobody is home. You're not a thief but you don't want to die out here in the desert. So, you break in and when you're almost to the food, you hear a gunshot and feel a burning pain. You've been shot! Several minutes later, you are dead, all for wanting to get some food to stop the hunger pangs in your stomach.

Freedom is a Matter of Life or Death
The story told above is not unlike what has happened before at the Mexican-American borders. Every year, thousands of Mexicans cross the borders illegally. Some succeed, while others get caught and taken to prison. Still others are shot and killed, or die from thirst and starvation as they wander through the deserts in the southwest. Why do they put themselves in so much danger? They want better lives. The legacy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo lives on; originally, it was farmers fighting settlers, today it's immigrants trying to dodge the Border Patrol.

In the past couple of year, the Border Patrol has doubled in size. Agents shine their lights on the river to reveal any Mexicans who might be trying to cross, and the police drive up and down the riverbanks to catch any illegal immigrants. They even wear heat-sensor goggles to spot illegals hiding in the dark.

Park Service ranger showing us the high-powered lights that the boarder patrol uses at night
The Legacy of the Treaty will live on forever. When you hear about illegal immigration from Mexico, remember that the Mexicans wouldn't have to sneak into this great country of ours if we hadn't had a huge impact on their way of life by taking over half of their lands. This is another example of how nothing is black and white, it's just a very large gray area and we have to pick through it before we decide what opinions to have on an issue. This is very important cause if we continue to act on the motivation of just pure anger and are not educated correctly our country will continue to head in the wrong and negative direction.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - The Alamo's top tall tales
Becky - Henry David Thoreau, busted! And a nonviolent political tool is born
Neda - The Republic of California, a 24-day wonder
Nick - The winning, er, uh, wresting away, of the West
Stephanie - The King Ranch, just another slice of corporate American pie?
MAD - English only? No, nyet, nein!