The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995 Page: 228
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
This article explores the struggles over the definitions of racial, class,
and gender identities which occurred in Laredo's Mexican community
at the beginning of the twentieth century. Rather than portraying an ar-
tificial unity among Mexicans or workers, I show the heterogeneity and
cleavages in each group. Put simply, race, class, and gender divided
Laredo's community. Specifically, I focus on the culture and ideology of
the Mexican elite as expressed in their newspapers. Laredo's Spanish
language newspapers provide ample evidence of conflict within the Mex-
ican community over such diverse areas as leisure activities, work, dress,
and style of speech. I will analyze the newspapers El Dem6crata Fronterizo,
La Cr6nica, and El Defensor del Obrero not only as a rich source of com-
mentary on cultural, political, and economic events in Laredo, but more
importantly as actors themselves in the ideological battle to define social
identity. This methodological approach steers away from a materialist
analysis that focuses on economic and demographic changes, and in-
stead emphasizes the power that culture and ideology have in shaping
reality. For instance, while this article discusses the material causes and
goals of a strike by a socialist-oriented union in Laredo, its focus remains
on the ways in which newspapers wrote about the strike and defined the
"working class." My emphasis on symbolic representation stems from a
belief that identity is formed or constructed in the ideological realm as
much as in the material one. As the late social historian E. P. Thompson
has argued, class is not a "structure" or a "category," but "something
which in fact happens (and can be shown to have happened) in human
relationships." Furthermore, he insists that class be seen as an historical
process of "social and cultural formation."2
During the first decade of this century, the Mexican elite of Laredo at-
tempted to distinguish themselves from other Mexicans migrating to
Texas by highlighting their own respectability, high level of education,
and honorable culture. I refer to this group as the gente decente, meaning
literally "decent people," in part because this is how they saw themselves,
and in part because the word decente represents a sense of propriety, so-
briety and responsibility that they all shared.'
see Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formatzon in the United States: From the z960s to the
z980s (New York. Routledge, 1986) for a discussion of theories of racial formation.
IE [dward] P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York. Vintage, 1966), 9
(1st quotation), 11 (2nd quotation). Also see Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of Hstory
(New York: Columbia University, 1988), 68-go, for an interesting critique of how gender is por-
trayed in Thompson's Makzng of the English Working Class. Thompson's insightful understanding
of class as a process of "formation" can and should be extended to include race, gender, and na-
3 William Earl French m his dissertation "Peaceful and Working People: The Inculcation of
the Capitalist Work Ethic in a Mexican Mining District (Hidalgo District, Chihuahua,
1880-1920o)," (Ph D. diss , University of Texas at Austin, 199o), refers to the middle class people
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995, periodical, 1995; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/m1/266/: accessed April 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.