Mexican-Anglo differences were always a factor in early Duval County

A note that appeared in the Corpus Christi newspaper of July 9, 1887 reveals much about attitudes in Duval County at the time regarding race (ethnic) relations. Although today, Duval County has an overwhelming Mexican-American population, in those days there was a considerable Anglo presence in the county. I, of course, use these terms loosely.

The facts are that while many “Mexican-Americans” were in fact born here and were “Americans”, many others were Mexican nationals who were not born locally or obtained citizenship. The same was true of “Anglos”, which of course is a further generalization since many of the “white” residents were not of Anglo descent. A few were native born, but many came from other parts of the state, country, or world. They descended of Slavic, Hebrew, Irish, French, Russian, Arab, and other nationalities.

It seems that a “Mexican” went on trial in Benavides in what the newspaper’s correspondent described as an all-Mexican event. The journalism of that day was not what it is today. The newspapers could not afford to have reporters gallivanting across the wide south Texas plains or brush country on horseback. They did not have the luxury of e-mail, either. Therefore, they all relied on correspondents who mailed in their weekly columns or stories. 

These correspondents, or the newspapermen for that matter, did not have journalistic training, and were not subject to the politically correct mores of today. In fact, they felt no compunction to refrain from making observations that today we see as racists, at worst, or insensitive, at best. The correspondent for the Corpus Christi newspaper of the day was a fellow named Jeffreys.

But, let me get back to our story. Jeffreys does not mention what the dispute in the case was; rather what impressed him was the fact that the county attorney had a “purely Mexican case.” According to Jeffreys, no one in the case spoke in English, not the jury, witnesses, defendant, nor opposing counsel. “The court and audience were all Mexicans,” Jeffreys observed.

Then, he adds that even though they were all Mexicans, the jury fined the defendant $5. He seemed surprised that a Mexican jury would find the defendant guilty and then fine him for his violation. In yet another seeming surprise to Jeffreys, the defendant paid the fine and the court costs. Jeffreys found it surprising that a Mexican would actually pay a fine; furthermore, he added that the defendant felt “lucky” with the jury’s decision.

The newspaper’s correspondent casually makes yet another revealing observation; “they say Mexicans don’t want the law enforced.” The question is who were “they” that said Mexicans did not want the laws enforced. Why would they say that?

Oh well, those were other times. One can be generous and say those were the views of that one correspondent, but history would suggest otherwise, although it would also be correct to point to many instances of the two groups not only getting along but also joining families and customs.