The Microhistory of Racial Identity and Racial Passing in the U.S. and Mexico in the Early Twentieth Century

The U.S.’s obsession with racial purity
, which reached its apogee in various “one drop” laws in the early 20th century, came about at the same time that Mexico was increasingly viewing itself as a mestizo nation composed of peoples of mixed racial descent. The juxtaposition of two such apparently different racial regimes across a mutual border is, I would argue, no accident. As Ellis’s life demonstrates, both nations were going through profound experiences of reconstruction in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and they came to define themselves in large part against one another. At the same time, ironically, both nations used peoples of African descent as the “other” who set the limits of national belonging, albeit in quite different ways. If in the U.S. African Americans were subjected to segregation and second-class citizenship, in Mexico, Afro-Mexicanos were erased altogether through a process that defined mestizaje (mixing) as occurring solely between Europeans and Indians. I thus make no claims in my study as to whether one nation was more racist or tolerant than the other, for it seems to me that each posed their own unique problems for peoples of African descent.


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Thank you for sharing Steven Riley @mixed_race