The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999 Page: 255
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What makes Central Texas an especially fascinating cultural setting for such a
study is the presence of Mexican Americans, whose numbers sharply increased
as a result of the Mexican Revolution. Here is where the South met the South-
west, and Foley skillfully shows the complexities of racial identity among those
who competed with each other to labor on cotton farms and corporate ranches.
Employers increasingly hired Mexican and Mexican-American workers to re-
place white tenant farmers and white and black sharecroppers. Mexicans who
climbed the agricultural ladder might achieve a degree of whiteness, but for
those who failed, the whiteness club remained off-limits. This created intra-eth-
nic divisions and competing identities within the Mexican community, and gen-
erated resentments among poor sharecroppers displaced by Mexicans who
worked for cheaper wages. Unlike African Americans, who were continually de-
nied access to whiteness, and unlike poor whites who were increasingly regarded
as trash, Mexicans with enough money and success could leave behind the eth-
no-racial purgatory that lay between the rows of cotton on Central Texas farms
Foley provides a nuanced examination of land tenure arrangements, mecha-
nization and the rise of agribusiness, and the racial hierarchies that accompa-
nied the agrarian transformation of Central Texas. The result is nothing short of
a redefinition of whiteness itself, one which emphasizes the economic power,
status, and privileges that whiteness bestowed. He also brings a gendered per-
spective to the analysis, along with a discussion of how racial identity limited ef-
forts to organize labor during the Progressive Era and Great Depression.
In a chapter devoted to T. A. Hickey, an Irish immigrant, Texas's leading So-
cialist, and editor of The Rebel in Hallettsville, Foley emphasizes the racial limits
of Hickey's political radicalism. Hickey, fearing race-baiting by Democrats who
had earlier manipulated racism to attack Populists, took the racial offensive in-
stead. He engaged in his own race-baiting to assure white tenant farmers that the
Renters' Union, which he created in 1911 (renamed the Land League in 1914),
upheld white supremacy. He later supported the organization of African Ameri-
cans, but only in segregated locals. As Foley indicates, this was more than mere
opportunism, for Hickey's writings often expressed deep contempt for African
Americans. Despite criticisms by black Socialists and appeals from Covington
Hall for interracial organizing, Hickey continued to use highly racialized lan-
guage to maintain the color line.
The Mexican Revolution forced Hickey to reassess his earlier contempt for the
alleged docility of Mexicans. Because of the radical organizing activities of the
Partido Liberal Mexicano in Texas during the early stages of the Revolution, he
now praised the "manly whiteness" (p. 1o6) of landless Mexican campesinos
who fought for land reform. In his view, the campesino revolutionaries led by
Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata had become "'whitehearted"' (p. 96).
This book, which provides the most in-depth critique of Hickey since James
Green's Grass-Roots Soczalzsm: Radical Movements in the Southwest, 1895-1943
(1978), is among the very best in the genre of racial identity studies. It is well
grounded in economic, political, and regional contexts, and it takes into account
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999, periodical, 1999; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/m1/298/: accessed December 11, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.