Documented Invasions and Undocumented Peoples: The 2019 Wal Mart Massacre, Land Dispossessions, and the Founding of Texas
Kris Klein Hernández
This August 3, 2022, ushers in the third anniversary of the El Paso Shooting, or what New York Times writers Simon Romero, Manny Fernandez, and Mariel Padilla have called the Wal Mart “massacre.” 21-year-old Dallas resident Patrick Wood Crusius drove over 650 miles to the Cielo Vista Walmart in east El Paso, and shortly after 10:30am Mountain Daylight Time on August 3, 2019, used his modified AK47 to murder twenty-three people (twenty-two killed and one died from complications days later) and injure twenty-three others. It was one of the deadliest attacks of the twenty-first century, seemingly designed to target a majority Latinx population: Mexican Americans, and Mexican nationals who live in El Paso or commute each day from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and beyond. Crusius allegedly published a manifesto before his mass murder on the site, 8Chan, which now goes by 8kun. In it, he reasoned that his assault was a “response to [the] Hispanic invasion of Texas.” If he did indeed pen the statement, the declaration lays out clear racial and xenophobic purposes to his actions. In addition, he selected a Walmart store nestled next to the national border that was “stocked with Mexican soccer jerseys, cans of chiles and salsa.” This Walmart witnessed a daily traffic of shoppers, the majority of which were Mexicans, who Crusius refers to as “invaders” in his manifesto.
Moreover, the manifesto’s wording is reminiscent of Texas’s own settler colonial past, the chronicle of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, and a crucial trope within Latinx history. As a fellow El Pasoan from the city’s northeast whose family shops at this particular Walmart, I see several connections between the 2019 Walmart Massacre and nineteenth-century Latinx history, specifically Mexico’s fears of undocumented white immigration into the country and the spread of slavery, which led to the 1835-1836 Texas War for Independence. Following its third anniversary, it is crucial to historicize the massacre and anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx discourse which inspired it during a time in which Texas legislators and state government officials are seeking to erase the state’s violent anti-Latinx past through projects such as the 1836 Project (a response to the 1619 Project) and legislation banning Critical Race Theory. Documenting Texas’s past helps demonstrate how fears of invasions have continued to alter and shape the state’s cultural milieu after Western colonialism’s penetration, from its time as a Mexican possession to its duration as a Texas Republic and now tenure in statehood.
One of the central concerns of anti-Latinx discourse is the fear of interracial marriage or “race mixing.” Leading historians of the eighteenth-century Texas region such as Juliana Barr, and nineteenth-century Texas, such as Julian Lim and Raúl Ramos, have all illustrated how interracial communities shaped the Texas we know today. Barr’s 2007 book, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman, has shown us how Caddo communities traded with Spanish communities for survival, while Ramos’s 2008 book, Beyond the Alamo, found cultural and political alliances between Bexareños (residents of San Antonio) and indios (Native peoples). Most recently, Lim’s 2017 book, Porous Borders, has analyzed the transcontinental railroad’s impact on African American and Asian American migration to the state and how racialized groups forged community in some of Texas’s border cities such as El Paso. Many Texas histories tell a declension story of how Anglo-Americans acquired structural agency and power in a region that was home to numerous Native, Mexican, and Mexican American communities, and how all but Anglos lost agency. Texas historical narratives should include how Native communities such as the Comanches, Apaches, Caddos, Tiguas, Karankawas, Wacos, and Tawakonis, alongside Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans, encountered one another. In addition, such a historical narrative should grapple with what kind of alliances, unexpected allies, and contradictions regarding race and nation manifested between these groups.
In order to trouble the broad claim of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” let us first outline Texas’s recent past as a Mexican state and later an independent republic. The word Texas is a mixing of the Caddo word, táysha’, which meant “allies,” and took on translations of “Tejas” and eventually Texas. Before achieving its independence from Spain, New Spain (Mexico) comprised two-thirds of the North American southwest. Following a decade-long insurrection in 1821, Mexico achieved its independence from its European sovereign and by 1824 created the United Mexican States where Coahuila and Tejas merged to become the state of Coahuila y Tejas (future Texas).
Amidst all those shifting national changes through the early 1800s New Spain and 1820s Independent Mexico, the country centralized its political power in Mexico City. This, however, meant that the country neglected its most peripheral states, such as those neighboring the United States. The best way to surveil its most distant lands would be a system of colonization, or settler colonialism. Mexico City’s process of conferring entry and subsequent property opportunities to everyday individuals—not just its citizens but also to foreign settlers—was an effort to control Mexican-claimed Indigenous lands through colonization. When I write colonization, I mean the effort to occupy Native lands with non-Indigenous settlers or Native settlers who the state deemed “civilized.” Alas, a longue-durée historical account of Texas reveals how the region was subject to documented invasions and the fear of impending ones: Spanish colonialism invaded the region known as Texas, which Mexico then claimed until Anglo-American immigration took it over, resulting in the U.S. state we know today.
In December 1820, Mexican governor Antonio María Martínez approved a land grant for the Anglo-American empresario Moses Austin to colonize a plot in Tejas. Historian Greg Cantrell defines empresario as both a “colonization agent,” but could also match loosely with the English word “impresario,” or a person with some “extravagant production.” Mexico’s approval gave Moses Austin the ability to settle 300 U.S. families near the Colorado River at Matagorda Bay. Moses died a couple months after securing the grant, and his son, Stephen Austin, took over his plans. Texas Mexicans (Tejanos) such as Erasmo Seguín and his son Juan Nepomuceno Seguín were crucial to Moses and Stephen Austin’s efforts in securing and carrying out their land grant, as they helped the Austins navigate the cultural terrain of New Spanish and Mexican politics.
Although Stephen Austin spent time in the multiracial Missouri Territory, a region inhabited with “Indians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Anglo-Americans, and African Americans,” he was partly a “product of the American South, with its distinguishing characteristics: plantation agriculture and racial [Black] slavery.” Consequently, many of the white settlers he brought to Coahuila y Tejas were proslavery U.S. citizens. Furthermore, Austin and his fellow Anglo-American settlers would immigrate to a highly-diverse, newly-independent foreign country: with over six million inhabitants, 1820s Mexico featured a population where “some 60 percent of Mexicans were Indians, 22 percent of mixed race, and 18 percent white.” “Old Texas” was a home to numerous Indigenous nations, and following Spanish colonialism, a place for thousands of Mexicans of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds. Understanding nineteenth-century Texas is integral to the American historical imagination because it shows us how Tejanos—Mexican Texans—developed an identity “based on their experiences before and during Anglo-American expansion” that brought regional and national understandings of class, ethnicity, and race into collision. This character, and today’s Latinx/Latina/Latino/Latine identity, share much of the same complexities. Enlivening Texas’s Latinx past helps reckon with the study of U.S. Latinx peoples today.
The north to south Anglo-American immigration route into Coahuila y Tejas post 1821 facilitated the conditions for the creation of new political alliances between Anglo settlers, Native people, and Mexicans. The Fredonian Rebellion is one example of such a coalition. Anglo settlers and several Cherokee Indians came together for political and economics motives to propose the establishment of an independent colony, which alarmed Mexico’s centralist government. Mexico City tasked General Manuel de Mier y Terán and a party called the Comisión de Límites to travel to Coahuila y Tejas and survey the land to answer who was occupying Mexico’s most northeastern state since the inclusion of Austin’s original settlers. Terán and his company visited the country’s limits and documented the numerous Native communities and Anglo settler colonies in the region. The 1828 Noticia de las Tribus de Salvages Conocidos que Habitan en el Departamento de Tejas laid out some of the region’s diverse population: Cherokees, Lipans, Comanches, and Yamparicas, among others. Following the expedition, Terán reported his findings to Mexico City. But these reports, alongside the Fredonian Rebellion’s aftermath, and with Mexico’s own political turmoil, would eventually lead to the passing of the Law of April 6, 1830 to further prohibit Anglo-American immigration, the spread of slavery, and thus, the invasion of white supremacy into Coahuila y Tejas.
Mexican Foreign Relations minister Lucas Alamán y Escalada helped pen the Law of April 6, 1830 that restricted Anglo colonization during Mexican President Anastacio Bustamante’s administration. Examining the Law of April 6, 1830’s language provides U.S. historians a glimpse into a period when undocumented migration was multi-sited: Black fugitives from slavery in the United States and Anglo immigration south to Mexico. Although the 1830 Bustamante Cédula (decree) featured eighteen articles, I will focus on three different parts: how Articles IX, X, and XI laid out President Bustamante and others’ anxieties around Anglo immigration.
Article IX: The introduction of foreigners across the northern frontier is prohibited under any pretext whatsoever, unless the said foreigners are provided with a passport issued by the agent of the republic at the point whence the said foreigners set out.
Article X: No change shall be made with respect to the slaves now in the states, but the Federal government and the government of each state shall most strictly enforce the colonization laws, and prevent the further introduction of slaves.
Article XI: In accordance with the right reserved by the general congress in the seven articles of the law of August 18, 1824, it is prohibited that emigrants, from nations bordering on this republic shall settle in the states or territory adjacent to their own nation. Consequently, all contracts not already completed and not in harmony with this law are suspended.”
Though none of these articles state verbatim “undocumented Anglo immigration was now illegal,” closely reading the articles in context with the time period and its geography helps ascertain the main groups that the 1830 Cedula sought to inhibit. Article IX upholds that the “introduction of foreigners across the northern frontier is prohibited,” unless they have documentation, while Article X maintains that individual Mexican state governments must “enforce the colonization laws, and prevent the further introduction of slaves” into the country. Finally, Article XI prohibits “emigrants, from nations bordering on this [Mexican] republic [from settling] in the states or territory adjacent to their own nation.” Since the Louisiana Purchase, Anglo-Americans began to invade and settle in French- and Spanish-claimed Indigenous lands. Therefore, Coahuila y Tejas’s main northern foreign population was U.S. citizens of Anglo-American backgrounds. Many of these Anglo-Americans engaged in Black chattel slavery and practiced Protestantism, which went against Mexico’s colonization laws that sought to populate their claimed northern lands with Catholic settlers who did not engage in Black chattel slavery. Anglo settlers with enslaved Black labor did enter Coahuila y Tejas, just as Spanish colonialism had invaded Native Texas centuries earlier. While anti-Latinx discourse claims that there had been a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” history shows us that U.S. settlers invaded Mexico during the nineteenth century.
The way the narrative of Texas is presented obscures the history of Anglo-Texas settlers as undocumented white migrants. Even current news coverage of the El Paso Massacre was shaped by such an invisiblizing narrative. A New York Times article reporting on the Walmart massacre explained that “in recent years, the old white Texas and the new Hispanic Texas have repeatedly clashed.” Suggesting that an “old white Texas” and “new Hispanic Texas” are at odds erases patterns of im/migration and the state’s early history. Before Texas statehood, the region was known as the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. Before that, the region has, and always will be, Indigenous lands sovereign to numerous Native communities. Texas’s past is not just white, but Indigenous, Latinx, Black, and Asian. The Founding of Texas is a story about undocumented immigration. Yet, those immigrants were not what we think today; they were Anglo American.
It is pertinent to assess how a narrative of Texas history must incorporate African American-, Asian-, Latinx-, and Native American pasts. In the same year that Mexico sought to curtail Anglo immigration, U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act, forcing Native nations to relocate from their home lands to west of the Mississippi. Meanwhile, Anglo slavers argued for a need to migrate to Coahuila y Tejas for land. The exploration of nineteenth-century Latinx history is a study of land dispossessions in Texas, from Indigenous to Spanish, Mexican to American, and how they are tied to racial animus and white supremacy.
Fears of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” illustrates how a lack of knowledge about historical contingency, Latinx history, and settler colonialism rewrite a dangerous and inaccurate Texas past. Since the 2019 Walmart Massacre, Texas legislators and government officials have sought to erase the state’s history of anti-Latinx violence through projects such as the 1836 Project and legislation banning Critical Race Theory. The teaching of Latinx history is more important than ever, as the 2020 U.S. Census shows how over sixty million people identify as Hispanic and/or Latina/o/x/e. Texas’s nineteenth-century past is important within Latinx history because it illustrates a period of time when Mexicans and Mexican Americans encountered U.S. imperial power but also interacted with the state’s racialized populations. One of the foundations of a U.S. Latinx past must be exploring the impacts of settler colonialism on minoritized populations. For U.S. historians, Latinx history must also be a study of how competing visions of race and nation complicate the individual agencies of peoples who have collided with colonialism. Texas’s past is documented with invasions. The question we should ask our students is who was undocumented in these histories, and how did undocumented subjects, such as Anglo Americans, navigate Latinx- and Native Texas.
Kris Klein Hernández is an assistant professor of history at Connecticut College. His articles and chapters appear in The Postcolonialist, 50 Events that Shaped Latino History, Reviews in American History, and The Routledge History of American Sexuality. His upcoming book manuscript is titled “The Color of the Army: Forts and Race-Making in the Nineteenth-Century U.S.-Mexico Borderlands.”
Simon Romero, Manny Fernandez, and Mariel Padilla, “Massacre at a Crowded Walmart in Texas Leaves 20 Dead,” New York Times, Aug 3, 2019.
I use Latinx in this essay as a term that encompasses Latina, Latino, Latinx, and Hispanic people. I use Latinx also to include people who may not identify with masculine or feminine articles. Romance languages, like Spanish, engender language. Latinx is an effort to include those who might identify as both or neither. Most of all, Latinx for me refers to U.S. Latinx people. In the Americas, Latine and Latin@ are utilized as well. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/el-paso-shooting-victim-dies-months-later-death-toll-now-23/
Jon Porter, “8chan returns to the internet as 8kun,” The Verge, Nov. 4, 2019; Patrick Crusius, “The Inconvenient Truth,” 1-5.
Simon Romero, Manny Fernandez, and Michael Corkery, “Walmart Store Connected Cultures, Until a Killer ‘Came Here for Us,’” New York Times, Aug. 4, 2019.
Patrick Crusius, “The Inconvenient Truth,” 5.
For more on my family and this Walmart, see Kris Klein Hernández and Edgar Sandoval, “Latinx Im/mobilities: Mexican and Mexican American Navigation in El Paso, Texas, and Waukegan, Illinois,” Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America, Aug. 3, 2021.
For more on the 1836 Project, see https://www.newsweek.com/what-1836-project-texas-promote-patriotic-education-1598616. For more on Texas legislation banning Critical Race Theory, see https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/15/abbott-critical-race-theory-law/.
Patrick Crusius, “The Inconvenient Truth”: 4.
See Julian Lim, Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (2017); Raúl Ramos, Beyond the Alamo: Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861 (2008); and Juliana Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (2007).
Phillip L. Fry, “Texas, Origin of Name,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association.
For more on histories of the Mexican North, see Mark Wasserman, Everyday Life and Politics in Nineteenth Century Mexico: Men, Women, and War (2000).
Greg Cantrell, Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas (1999), 1-2.
“Texas Independence, 1835-1836,” in Lilia Fernández, ed., 50 Events that Shaped Latino History: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic (2018), 117; for more on Moses Austin, see W. R. Fossey, “Toward the Vision of Austina: the Life of Moses Austin,” East Texas Historical Journal, 16 (no. 2, 1978), 3-15; original correspondence on Austin and his son can be found in Austin Papers: Moses and Stephen F. Austin Papers, 1676, 1765-1889, in Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin.
See “Juan Nepomuceno Seguín,” in “Texas Independence, 1835-1836,” in Fernández, 50 Events that Shaped Latino History, 127.
Cantrell, Stephen F. Austin, 2, 8.
Cantrell, Stephen F. Austin, 104.
Ramos, Beyond the Alamo, 2-3.
José María Sanchez y Tapia, and Manuel de Mier y Terán, Noticia de las Tribus de Salvages Conocidos que Habitan en el Departamento de Tejas (Copy), in Williams Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI.
For more on the political and ideological connections between undocumented immigrants and fugitives from slavery, see Sandra L. Rierson, “Fugitive Slaves and Undocumented Immigrants: Testing the Boundaries of Our Federalism,” University of Miami Law Review, 74 (no. 3, 2020), 598-710.
Anastacio Bustamante, “Decree of April 6, 1830.” Located at the Texas Land Grant Office. File Number: SC 000123:14, 123-14-160. Translated by Wallace L. McKeehan. For original Spanish copy, see Law of April 6, 1830, at Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin.
For more on Spanish colonialism in the region, see Barr, but also see Herbert E. Bolton, “The Mission as a Frontier Institution in the Spanish-American Colonies,” American Historical Review, 23 (Oct. 1917), 42-61; Ramón Gutiérrez, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 (1991); and María Elena Martínez, Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico (2008).
Simon Romero, Manny Fernandez, and Michael Corkery, “Walmart Store Connected Cultures, Until a Killer ‘Came Here for Us,’” New York Times, Aug. 4, 2019.
Patrick Crusius, “The Inconvenient Truth,” 1.