The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995

Deconstructing La Raza: Identifying the
Gente Decente of Laredo, z904-19 I
ELLIOTT YOUNG*
As socialists we demand that all of the wealth that has been produced be distrib-
uted collectively between the class that created it. . . . Comrades, the time is now
that the parasitic class, that we call the bourgeoisie, disappears; the time is now
that each person is given the total product (socially speaking) of their labor.
El Defensor del Obrero, July 1, 1906
We believe that labor and capital, as everything that can be exchanged, are irrev-
ocably subjected to the laws of supply and demand, and that all pressure, physi-
cal or moral, that is exercised to impede this balance, is an attack on liberty, an
opprobrious monopoly and an act of true tyranny, that will have repercussions
not only for the capitalists and workers, but also for all of the consuming classes,
which is the reason why we are interested in maintaining a prudent equilibrium
between labor and capital.
ElDem6crataFrontenzo, Dec. 15, 1906
IN THE LATTER HALF OF THIS CENTURY IDENTITY HAS COME TO BE UN-
derstood as a social construction rather than as a biologically deter-
mined and hence inalterable trait. The social Darwinist thinking of the
early twentieth century that explained and justified unequal social strati-
fication (class, race, and gender) in terms of genetics and heredity has
waned, though by no means disappeared. Nonetheless, social scientists
continue to write as if class, race, and gender identities are natural and
objective categories that need no further explanation or exploration. In
using these categories in a non-critical and ahistorical manner one ends
up objectifying and simplifying a dynamic process of identity formation
that is marked by conflict and change.'
* Elliott Young is currently working on his Ph.D. in history at the University of Texas at
Austin. An earlier version of this article was presented at the XVII International Conference of
the Latin American Studies Association in Los Angeles in September 1992. He would especially
like to thank Neil Foley, Susan Deans-Smith, and Mary Lou Pickel for their close readings of dif-
ferent drafts of this paper Finally, this article could not have been written without the ground-
breaking scholarship of Emilio Zamora, David Montejano, andJos6 E. Lim6n.
For an innovative discussion of the formation of racial and national identity in England see
Paul Gilroy, There Ain't No Black zn the Unzon Jack (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987). Also,

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