Donald Trump is quoted by various news outlets as arguing that the American Civil War could have been averted through negotiations. Although I highly doubt it because of the central issue to the war, Trump has the right to opine his opinion about a historical event. All history could have been drastically changed by one change in the many dynamics that propels historical events. For example, México could have won the war with the United States had Santa Ana not played a central role in the fiasco. Granted, that is one thing that may, or may not have made a difference. The point is that we will never know because history has happened and we live its impact today.
However, history is in the eye of the beholder. Generally, it is the victor that writes the history books. But like all issues, there are many driving forces that generates the facts. History is taught in schools based on political necessities. From there it becomes part of the narrative through the fabric of each culture. This is true for all countries and the United States does not stand alone on this.
I learned a long time ago that history books and teachers teach from a biased position. For that reason it is not sufficient to read or depend on one version, but to look at all versions of the historical record to gain an understanding of the events. Even original source materials cannot be counted on without putting the context of who produced them and for what reason.
Many of us may disagree with Trump’s assessment that the American Civil War did not have to happen but it his opinion nonetheless.
What got me to write about this today is something that happened to me many years ago and it bothers me to this day. It bothers me because I was naive and carried deep inside of me the psyche of defeatism that is part of my Mexican culture. Mexicans, by our nature, look at the world through the eyes of a defeated attitude. Many of us do not realize it or are unwilling to accept it but if we are honest we see it in how we react to different things.
It took me years to understand this and I’m still fighting the tendencies today.
Many years ago, I was attending a class in the United States where the topic of the Civil War arose. I had learned a rudimentary history about the American Civil War in México and by no means was I, or am I an expert or even well-versed on the topic. The bias of the classroom setting was that the students were all taught about the civil war through the U.S. educational system. I was aware about different versions of historical events in the U.S. school systems because I had a previous heated debate about Pancho Villa in this same classroom.
But I assume it was the point of view issue from which side of the border the observer was looking at any event.
What I was not prepared for was the revisionist history that I did not understand at the time.
The professor still had not gotten over our debate about Pancho Villa and the Texas rebellion and thus he typically asked me pointed questions about the topics at hand.
I was asked if I understood the cause of the American Civil War. Of course I did, I retorted pointing out that the cause was slavery – the North did not want it and the South depended on it economically.
I still believe that everyone laughed at my response, although it was probably one, or two laughing at the face the professor made. The professor immediately jumped into a soliloquy about how the American Civil War was about the rights of the states. Of course the lack of an educational system in México was thrown into the mix.
At first I was taken aback second guessing my initial answer because of the defeatism attitude that I carried deep within me. It is likely that I would not have bothered to argue back had there not been a comment about the Mexican educational system. I may carry the defeatist attitude within me, but that does not mean that I’m not a proud Mexican.
I stood my ground and argued that the rights of the states may have been part of the different issues that people were fighting for, but the root cause was slavery.
I lost the argument because no one wanted to discuss slavery as the central issue, instead focusing on the rights of the states to make their own determination. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my point.
I frequently think about this event in my life and I firmly believe that I am correct. I also remember it was one of the many times that I thought about how difficult it was to move people away from a biased look at something.
Forget all the hundreds of thousands of words written about the subject and focus on one fact.
The issue of whether slavery is legal in the United States was settled after the American Civil War.
As for state’s rights, there are still ongoing debates about the rights of states in the United States. Look at the issue of legalized marihuana. Federally you can be charged with possession, even though some states legally allow it. Clearly, the debate has yet to be settled.
To this day, I get puzzled looks from people when I remind them that it was the Republicans that opposed slavery in the United States. I’ve had people argue that it isn’t true or that the Republicans of that era are not today’s Republicans. That doesn’t negate the fact that it was the Republicans, but I guess it allows the false narrative to play out for certain people.
As is frequent on my blog, I like to connect the dots. The reason that I read books about the American Civil War is that México played roles in the event. Some of you, likely not many, know of some of the issues but most of you will be surprised to learn that the American Civil War played a big part in México as well.
The impetus that led to the loss of almost half of México’s territory was the issue of slavery. In 1829, México outlawed slavery across the country. México had opened its borders to U.S. immigrants to settle in Texas. When slavery was abolished, the immigrants complained about how their livelihoods were being changed. The Mexican government, concerned about the fact that Anglos outnumbered Mexicans, imposed restrictions on further immigrants, imposed new taxes and reaffirmed no slavery in México.
Revisionist history tells you that the Texans were oppressed by the Mexican government and thus they rebelled. The politically correct narrative is that taxes and other laws imposed upon them by Santa Ana was the issue. But the underlining cause was that many of the Texan settlers brought with them slaves.
Now, let me blow your mind.
Many of you reading this today believe that Barack Obama was the first black president of North America. North America, for those who are not clear about it, includes Canada, México and the United States. Obama was, however, not the first black president in North America. It was Vicente Guerrero, México’s second president and the president who outlawed slavery in México. Many, even in México do not know this.
Guerrero was one of many black Mexican citizens that can be found even today. I’ll have more on him in a later post because Vicente Guerrero played a very important part in Mexican history.
Let us get back to the American Civil War and how it impacted México.
It is very appropriate that I write about this today because on Friday is Cinco de Mayo.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated extensively in the United States while in México it is a civic day, much like Flag Day in the United States. Many celebrating Cinco de Mayo correctly know that it is not México’s Independence Day, but rather it is about The Battle of Puebla. Some readers even understand that it involved the French.
I’ll be posting two articles about the Cinco de Mayo celebrations later this week. On Thursday, I’ll share with you the story about the Battle for Puebla. Some of you may be surprised at what we celebrate that day. Hint, it wasn’t the decisive victory over the French. On Friday, I’ll share with you the real story behind the Cinco de Mayo holiday. It is very appropriate considering Donald Trump and the false narratives about México.
For now, let’s get back to how the American Civil War dovetails into Mexican history. For many of you, Abraham Lincoln saved the union from itself. What many of you may not know is that Abraham Lincoln is revered in México as well. There is even a statue of him in Juárez. Benito Juárez and Abraham Lincoln shared a friendship. Benito Juárez, the City of Juárez and Abraham Lincoln are central to the Battle for Puebla which is the genesis for the Cinco de Mayo holiday.
You see, France would not have felt comfortable invading México for the second time were it not for the American Civil War. Lincoln was distracted in keeping the union together and thus France felt it could ignore the Monroe Doctrine.
There would not have been a Cinco de Mayo celebration were it not for the American Civil War and more importantly, many of you reading this today would not by U.S. citizens were it not for the issue of slavery that led to México losing almost half of its territory.
The reason I keep writing about México, Donald Trump and border politics is that many people, including Donald Trump make the mistake of taking historical events in a vacuum without realizing how the event affected other things that seem to be unrelated.
Those in El Paso today tend to forget that El Paso became El Paso because of the second intervention by France in México. It led to Cinco de Mayo. El Paso del Norte, a significant city in México, was renamed Juárez in honor of Benito Juárez giving the opportunity for Franklin to adopt the name El Paso.
As you prepare to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, know that there are many connecting dots between its genesis, El Paso and even what Trump thinks of México today. I’ll be sharing those thoughts with on Thursday and Friday.