Impact of Plan de San Diego

Guest Blogger Miguel Levario Addresses Impact of Plan de San Diego

The Plan de San Diego of 1915 is arguably the most controversial document in Texas history since the call to arms for the Texas rebellion of 1836. The Plan was a visionary manifesto that sought retribution for the atrocities committed by the dominant society and the Texas Rangers since the outbreak of the Texan rebellion.El Plan de San Diego did not materialize as it intended; however, its legacy endures.

The Plan de San Diego emerged out of a time of great upheaval caused by the Mexican Revolution and demographic shift along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. During the ten-year revolution, Mexican migration contributed exponentially to the population growth of cities and counties along the Texas-Mexico boundary. For instance, the ethnic Mexican population in El Paso alone nearly doubled by 1916 and outnumbered the Anglo population.[1]

The “mexicanization” of the Texas-Mexico borderlands and other parts of the state affected racial demographics and sowed hostility between Anglos and ethnic Mexicans throughout Texas. In Val Verde County, just east of Big Bend and along the Texas-Mexico border, citizens wrote to then governor Oscar B. Colquitt calling for Texas Rangers and permission to raise a civilian home guard because they “had considerable Mexican population and there are others who would take advantage of [the revolution] in order to violate the law.”[2] Towns and cities across the state sought permission from the governor to organize into civilian home guards in order to prepare “should more serious trouble ensue between this country and Mexico,” because “no one can tell just what stand the Mexican residents [in Texas] might take against the whites.”[3] The increased presence of ethnic Mexicans in Texas, especially along the border, caused fear and trepidation among Anglo residents.

The distrust of ethnic Mexicans was ubiquitous throughout much of the state and not exclusive to the border. For example, citizens in Wichita Falls, which is located on the border between Texas and Oklahoma, petitioned the governor to form a home guard.[4] The formation of organized vigilantes was more than just a reactionary solution to threats undermining law and order. Mobilized armed civilians and heightened vigilance of ethnic Mexicans disguised latent feelings of bigotry and fear of mass migration into the state and the revolutionary fervor of the time. More profoundly, the governor’s active role in organizing armed civilians for defense suggests that they believed ethnic Mexicans to be enemies of the State. These actions resulted in the bloodiest counterinsurgency by vigilantes and Texas Rangers on ethnic Mexicans in the twentieth century.[5]

Demographic shifts along the borderlands, revolutionary rhetoric, and assertive political and social action threatened the dominant Anglo community and its stranglehold on the Mexican residents. The repercussions of political and social action by ethnic Mexicans were exceptionally violent and indiscriminate. Some considered it “open season” on “any Mexican caught in the open armed or without verifiable excuse for his activities.”[6] In other words, ethnic Mexicans were considered “bandits” or criminal regardless of their innocence or guilt. The cycle of violence attributed in part to the Plan de San Diego made victims of many residents, Anglo and Mexican, living in the borderlands. However, we observe that racial stereotyping and fear unjustly vilified the ethnic Mexican community and, to a great extent, that legacy persists today. For example, in June 2015, when announcing his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, Republican Donald Trump stated that Mexican migrants were “bringing crime” and were “rapists.”[7] Trump’s unfounded and bigoted remarks reflect a long history of vilifying ethnic Mexicans.

The Plan de San Diego was a transnational phenomenon with significant consequences. It brought to the forefront the racial and economic divisions that developed and were institutionalized since the Texas Rebellion of 1836. Secondly, the Plan represented a mobilized Mexican community fed up with the status quo marking a shift where political activism was characteristic of the Mexican community in South Texas. Lastly, increased vigilance over ethnic Mexicans’ activities along the border stigmatized many of them as what legal historian Mae Ngai calls “alien citizens,” thus handicapping their full emergence into the main politic and fabric of US society. The cycle of violence stemming from the Mexican Revolution and Texas Ranger atrocities made victims of many residents, Anglo and Mexican, living in the borderlands. But, again, we observe that a constant and pervasive thread persists throughout the course of history, which is the ethnic Mexican community was and continues to be criminalized and vilified well past the complex era of the Mexican Revolution.

[1] A special census was taken by the Bureau of the Census by order of the President of the United States , issued on October 20, 1915, in compliance with a request by the chamber of commerce in El Paso, Texas. United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Special Census of the Population of El Paso, Tex., prepared under the supervision of Emmons K. Ellsworth, January 15, 1916 (Washongton, D.C.:GPO, 1916).

[2] Letter from John F. Robinson to Governor Colquitt, April 24, 1914, Records, Texas Governor O. B. Colquitt. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

[3] ibid.

[4] Letter from Governor Colquitt to L.P. Hammonds, April 24, 1914, Records, Texas Governor O. B. Colquitt. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Letter from Governor Colquitt to F. E. Stout, April 24, 1914, Records, Texas Governor O. B. Colquitt. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission

[5] Benjamin Heber Johnson, Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion And Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans into Americans (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 2; Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler, The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution: The Bloodies Decade, 1910-1920(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004).

[6] William Carrigan and Clive Webb, Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 86

[7] Kerry Eleveid, “Trump calls Mexican immigrants ‘drug dealers’ and ‘rapists,’ crickets from the GOP field,” Daily Kos, June 17, 2015 (accessed June 17, 2015).

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