In the fall of 1999, I volunteered my efforts to the Black and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in Orange County, California, to produce a booklet that would show the historical Black Latino connections.
It was with great interest that I approached the task, feeling strongly that those connections existed and needed to be understood, particularly as demographics projected a growing population of U.S. Latinos and newly arrived immigrants.
publication was completed for the Juneteenth 2000 Black
Chamber celebration held at the Disneyland Hotel.
My first awareness of the historical black-latino connection was during a visit to the Institute of Texas Cultures in San Antonio, Texas in the late 1980s. Sitting on the table in the research library was a three-volume set of books entitled,
The Residents of Texas 1782-1836. I was immediately captivated and intrigued with the introduction:
"This research project began in 1971 by The Institute of Texan Cultures. The original intent of the research was to prepare a draft containing information on Blacks in Texas prior to 1836. The research was broken down into three categories: statistical, census, and general information (general manuscript series).
Since it was impractical to extract only the information concerning persons of Black origin, translation of the complete statistical and census reports of Spanish Texas was accomplished. This material includes demographic, statistical and qualitative data on many ethnic groups, and individual families can be traced for several generations. It also documents the existence of a large number of Blacks among the Spanish and Indian population in Texas long before the influx of Anglo Americans colonizers.
The general manuscript series, consisting in large part of translated summaries, documents the Black's experience in Texas. The translation of this series was not brought to completion. In 1973 the project ended after an evaluation of the work revealed that the intended scope had been surpassed and that the work had the potential for a scholarly publication."
The volumes were not available for purchase, but microfilm copies were. I was fascinated with what the records showed. Slavery was being practiced in Spanish America, but it appears, not in the same way that it existed in the areas governed by British laws.
So much focus has been on the unkind treatment of one group to another, but documented marriages reflect a different atmosphere, a racial integration that has been the foundation of Spanish America. Despite the class structure and caste system carried over from Europe, Spanish America and the United States created a new social order based on wealth and economic advantage. In Spanish America (Nueva España) racial categories actually changed as individuals were successful in the accumulation of wealth. Social standing in the community changed with the accumulation of wealth.
In present day Mexico and Texas considerable inter-racial intermarrying took place. In the 1600-1700s records collected for The Residents of Texas 1782-1836 projects, documents reveal mulattos being given their freedom. For example, from the General Manuscripts section of The Residents of Texas 1782-1836 :
3/22/1647 Real de las Salinas. Letter of Freedom Granted by Alonso de Trevino to Mulatto Slave named Antonio.
4/29/1651 Valley of Orozco. Letter of Freedom Granted by Hernando de Mindiola to Mulattoes Antonio and Her children, Antonia de la Cruz and Juan Ramos.
8/13/1679-5/5/1691 Monterrey. Documents concerning the Freedom granted by Diego de Ayala to Mulatoo slave named Jeronimo.
I have been involved in family history research for about twenty years. I have both an Alonso de Trevino and Diego de Ayala among my ancestors, in that time period and in that location. It touches me to think that my ancestors were among those who recognized the sacredness of freedom.
With Hispanic and indigenous roots in Texas, going back to the founding of San Antonio, I was well aware of my southern European, Mexican and indigenous connections. As I slowly became aware of the historical black presence in those areas as well, I sought out opportunities of expanding on that awareness.
In November 1995, our organization, the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research, SHHAR hosted a joint meeting with the African-American Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, enlarging on our mutual understanding and factual connections.
Thus I was delighted when in 1999 Bobby McDonald, Executive Director of the Black Chamber of Commerce in Orange County, California asked if I would help on the project of gathering information on the subject. This was an opportunity for sharing what I was beginning to see as a continuing historical connection that had existed among the European, black, and indigenous in the development of Mexico, the Spanish Southwest and the United States.
In 1998 The Institute of Texan Cultures granted permission to The TXGenWeb Project to bring this very important collection of early Texas source material to the Internet. Currently, volunteers have made available considerable information, but much is still to be done.
Vol. 1 - Statistical Reports of Texas, 1783 - 1820, and Census Reports of Texas, 1782 - 1806
Vol. 2 - Census Reports of Texas, 1807 - 1834
Vol. 3 - Census Reports of Texas, 1835, and General Manuscripts Series, 1603 - 1803
Acknowledgements and Preface
Vol. 1. Statistical Reports of Texas, 1793-1820, and Census Reports of Texas, 1782-1806.
Vol. 1 contains demographic, statistical and qualitative data on Americans,Blacks, Europeans, Indians, Mestizos, and other populations in Texas and specifically in San Fernando de Bexar; Presidio of San Antonio de Bexar;Capistrano Mission; Concepcion Mission; Espada Mission; San Jose mission; Valero Mission; Presidio of La Bahia; Espiritu Santo Mission; Rosario Mission;Refugio Mission; Nacogdoches; and Eastern Side of the Sabine. Statistical Reports of Texas, 1783-1820
The Black Latino Connection is the last file in this information. The document does not include all of the graphics. I advise, if this topic is new to you that you read through the booklet first. The information was assembled with the hope that teachers and youth leaders would find it easy to abstract information.
Click to go directly to the Black Latino Connection.
As Editor of the monthly e-magazine Somos Primos.com, and president of the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research, I was asked to assist in organizing a 2004 conference at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., "Hispanics and the Formation of the American People".
(For more on the conference, go to Dec.04 issue of Somos Primos.
One of my presentations was dedicated to the Black Latino Connection. Below is the material shared. I plan to continue adding information on the topic to this site.
I surely welcome any information that readers might want to submit. Somos Primos.com is available free. There are currently 62 full issues online which can be accessed from the home page. You will find articles touching on the Black Latino connections and/or historical data for black research in almost every issue.
Mimi Lozano, Editor
Somos Primos E-magazine
President, Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research
P.O. Box 490, Midway City, CA 92655-0490
"Hispanics and the Formation of the American People"
National Archives and Records Administration,
BLACK LATINO CONNECTION
"When a society or a civilization perishes,
Introduction: June 19, 1865, the date when the "Emancipation
Proclamation" reached the ears of the slaves in Galveston, Texas.
Lincoln had issued the proclamation three years earlier, January 1,
In addition to the BLACK LATINO CONNECTION, abstracts of information gleaned from the internet or newspapers were shared as a part of that presentation. I was told by a NARA staff archivist that, to her knowledge, this was the first time a presentation on the subject, was ever given in Washington, D.C..
ON THE SUBJECT OF SPANISH SLAVERY
Spanish slavery was . . . . more enlightened than that practiced by the British, Belgium's, Dutch and other Europeans. A slave under Spanish arms had rights and could marry; and despite their status as slaves, the marriage was deemed a holy, inviolate union. Contrasting slavery in the U.S., a Spanish owner could not separate a husband from a wife, or a mother from her children. Scholars William Mason and James Anderson from the L.A. Museum of Natural History state that "Slaves in Mexico could petition the government for their freedom if mistreated, and their pleas were often granted - a policy almost unheard of in the United States. Moreover, "A slave woman could be freed if raped by her master."
The Spanish slave, too, was thought to possess a soul, and human dignity - an English slave, on the other hand, was considered only property, with no rights, no dignity, no soul, no human worth, and no future.
In Spanish America any murder, or other crime against a slave, was considered a crime against a child of God and was punished accordingly.
By the 17th century Mexico City had become the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, with over 200,000 citizens. Of these 200,000 inhabitants 72,000 were European Spaniards, 80,000 were Native Americans, and 10,000 were Africans, slave and free. The Spanish instituted a race color caste to distinguish between these races.
At the top of the social ladder was the Peninsular, meaning a citizen born in Spain on the Spanish Peninsula. Next was the criollo, which was an individual of pure Spanish blood born in the New World, and was therefore, because of birth in the New World, considered inferior to his European - born cousins. Next there were the mestizo, who was a citizen of Spanish and Indian blood, a mulato was a child of a parents of European and African blood.
Conversion of the natives was a major theme of communication between
Ferdinand and Isabella.
". . . . since in all ways it is right and important that respect be paid to the service of God our Lord and to the praise of our holy Catholic faith; there their highnesses, desiring that our hold Catholic faith be enlarged and increased, order and charge the said admiral, viceroy, and governor in all ways possible to seek and work for the conversion of the inhabitants of the said islands and mainland to our holy Catholic faith."
Source: The Spanish Tradition in America, edited by Charles Gibson, Harper Torchbooks, 1968
Gasper Nyanga, a native of Gabon, West Africa, was brought to Veracruz, Mexico, as one of the over 200,000 enslaved Africans shipped to the country's gulf and pacific coasts to work the sugar cane fields and mines controlled by the Spanish crown during the mid 16th and late 17th century.
As with other instances of slavery throughout the new world, no sooner did the initial ships disembark in 1537 that the first uprisings began. Throughout Mexico, Africans and Indigenous alike escaped the mines and haciendas to create "maroon" societies in the mountains.
After one of Mexico's most brutal rebellions, it was to the mountains of Veracruz thatCaspar Nyanga led 500 other self-liberated peoples. For more than thirty years this community lived off goods secured through raids on caravans in route to Mexico City. As the community grew and the raids became more frequent, Nyanga became an increasingly hunted man: So fierce was this hunt that over 500 armed men ware sent to destroy his colony.
Nyanga and hundreds of men living in the highlands of Veracruz battled against the troops sent to capture them by order of the Spanish Crown. With hopes of causing enough destruction to force the Spaniards into negotiations that would help protect his people, Nyanga sent a message via a prisoner captured by his men. This message asked that a free homeland be granted upon fertile soil for his community of self liberated Africans and African descendants to settle.
At the end of a battle that suffered many casualties on each side, Nyanga and those under his care arranged a move to the lowlands of Veracruz. All African descendants and their offspring who had liberated themselves prior to 1608 were granted legal freedom to settle in this town, San Lorenzo de los Negros. In exchange, Nyanga assumed the position of mayor and agreed to pay taxes to the Crown as well as turn away any enslaved peoples seeking refuge within the city. Thus, Nyanga and his townsmen became the settlers of the first free town for Africans in the western hemisphere, later renamed Yanga, for its forefather.
8. The Spanish Colonial System
a. Population Development http://www.bartleby.com/67/908.html
By 1570 the Caribbean had 56,000 inhabitants of African origin, easily surpassing the Indian and white population.
The uneven distribution of the sexes and the harsh conditions of slavery made reproduction and the formation of slave families difficult. Nevertheless, slaves formed unions with native women, which increased the size of the mixed population. Children of these unions were born free, since the child's status derived from the mother. Between 1651 and 1760, slave traders shipped some 344,000 slaves to Spanish dominions. Between 1761 and 1810, in response to the booming plantation economy, 300,000 slaves were imported, mainly into Cuba and Puerto Rico. However, by that time most of the black population in Spanish domains was free. 4
Predominantly male migration at the beginning of colonization promoted unions between Spanish men and native women, which led to the growth of the mestizo population. Some were incorporated into the Spanish group, but illegitimate births were common among the mixed population. The mestizo rate of growth quickly surpassed that of the Indian population. 6
Mortality rates began to fall around the end of the 18th century. In
1803, Francisco Javier de Balmis
Society in Spanish Florida
By Jane Landers Foreword by Peter H. Wood
Blacks under Spanish rule in Florida lived not in cotton rows or tobacco patches but in a more complex and international world that linked the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and a powerful and diverse Indian hinterland. Assisted by the corporate nature of Spanish society, by Spain's medieval tradition of integration and assimilation, and by the almost constant threat to Spanish sovereignty in Florida, multiple generations of Africans leveraged linguistic, military, diplomatic, and artisanal skills into citizenship and property rights.
In this remote Spanish colony, blacks became homesteaders, property owners, and entrepreneurs, enjoying more legal and social protection than they would again until almost two hundred years of Anglo history had passed.
Chosen as a Choice Magazine's Outstanding Academic Book for 1999; co-winner of the Francis B. Simkins Award for 2001 from the Southern Historical Association
JANE LANDERS, an assistant professor of history at Vanderbilt University, is the author of Against the Odds: Free Blacks in the Slave Societies of the Americas and African American Heritage of Florida.
PETER H. WOOD, a professor of history at Duke University, is the
author of Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670
through the Stono Rebellion. A volume in the series Blacks in the New
World, edited by August Meier and John H. Bracey
and Sanctuary in Colonial Florida
by Jean M. West
Florida: Sanctuary for Slaves
The English colonization of the Carolinas and Georgia threatened Spanish Florida. English raiders enslaved and killed thousands of Native Americans, so Spain fought back by offering sanctuary to English slaves.
Several hundred English slaves fled by foot, horse, and boat to the sanctuary of Spanish Florida. Although Spain provided some soldiers to the presidio (military post) of St. Augustine, there were not enough regular soldiers to defend Florida. By 1683, St. Augustine’s black and mulatto residents had formed a militia company. They pledged to "spill their last drop of blood in defense of the Great Crown of Spain and the Holy Faith, and to be the most cruel enemies of the English." These units distinguished themselves during English and Native American raids.
The first eleven fugitive slaves from Charleston, South Carolina arrived
by boat in October 1687; they were
granted refuge by Governor
Bernardo de Galvez
September Somos Primos 2004, Galvez Patriots
Communities in Colonial America
By Michael Kolhoff
The Melungeons were driven from their farms in the Shenandoah
Valley by the mid 18th century. Other tri-racial groups were driven
deeper into the mountains and swamps. In the period prior to the Civil
War, tri-racial people were classified as "free persons of
color", a classification which has led many researchers to
erroneously identify tri-racials as freed slaves.
of the Costa Chica
by Bobby Vaughn
The purpose of this website is to introduce readers to the culture and unique experience of Mexicans of African descent. If you are like most people, you probably have never heard of Afro-Mexicans and are completely unaware that they exist. If you fall into this category, this page will hopefully be quite a learning experience for you.
As a cultural anthropologist, I am interested in how issues of race, color, and nationalism make the Afro-Mexican experience what it is, today, and hopefully, I can come to some general conclusions as to larger issues of race and ethnicity.
Perhaps the question most central to my thinking about the topic
could be expressed succinctly as: "How do black people in Mexico
understand and live their black identity?" This question fascinates
me primarily because issues of blackness and race are rarely talked
about in Mexico, and the black population is extremely small there.
Afri-Am Genealogical Society Guide to African Ancestor Research
Genealogical Resources on the Internet
It is interesting to note that, beginning in 1781, a document called a "cedula" could be purchased which would officially change one's racial designation. Many such records can be found at the Bancroft Library in San Francisco and at other California libraries, museums and historical societies. In addition, although Old Mexico had previously used a variety of terms to describe blood quantum similar to Louisiana's methods, once a couple reached California to the north, any of their children born there were automatically classified as Spanish if one parent was Spanish. For all practical purposes, early California could truly be described as a melting pot.
Californians like to think of their states as a freewheeling,
tolerant place, one that entered the Union back in 1850 unbesmirched by
the stain of slavery. But evidence to the contrary. Though California
was admitted to the Union as a "free state," slavery still
existed in 1850s California, and Joe Moore is leading a project to shed
light on its contradictory history.
library in Santa Fe Argentina
This is a request for donations of books to an Afro-Argentine library in Santa Fe, Argentina. Contrary to popular opinion Afro-Argentines are still very much in existence. There is a small community in Santa Fe north of Buenos Aires in the interior. Santa Fe was devastated last Spring by flooding. A library run by an organization called Casa de la Cultura Indo-Afro-Americana was severely damaged by the flooding. The director of the organization Sra. Lucia Dominga Molina is trying to rebuild the library. Some of the materials may be irreplaceable because they were materials pertaining to Afro-Argentine history and culture, but there is a general need for works dealing with African Americans in the US and the Afro-Latin experience throughout the hemisphere. She has asked me particularly for books dealing with Afro-Argentines and Afro-Uruguayans, but stresses that she is also very interested in receiving books on the US, the Carribbean and other parts of Latin America. She can accept books in English and Spanish although books in Spanish would be particularly welcome. I didn't ask her but I would suspect if you have books in Portuguese on Brazil that those would be welcome too.
Sra. Lucia Dominga Molina
Casa de la Cultura Indo-Afro-Americana
LaMadrid 2956 (3000)
Santa Fe, Argentina
Source: Robert J. Cottrol Harold Paul Green Research Professor of
Law, and Professor of History and Sociology George Washington University
family history conference event, February 28th, Georgia.
By Jennifer J. Howard
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sponsored the Atlanta Black History Leadership Symposium in an attempt to help people find their roots. "The life stories of one’s ancestors weave the fabric of families and communities, and should be cherished and preserved for future generations," said Colleen Olsen of the Roswell Georgia Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Roswell’s branch of the church has been active in helping people of all beliefs and races find their roots. Tom Daily, of Roswell, started his research at LDS Family History Center, located at 500 Norcross St. in Roswell. He has traced his lineage back to the early 1700s to a man named Maximillian Colin, his great-great-great-grandfather who was a prominent land owner in the Mobile, Ala. area.
"Spanish baptism records don’t indicate a mother and father for Maximillian. My belief is that he was the son of one of the Bodins by one of the slave women. I feel certain that’s the case," Daily said. He basis this belief on evidence that Maximillian, a half-white, half-black slave, inherited a substantial amount of land from Monluis Bodin.
"Mobile had a more open society in terms of racial mixing under the French and Spanish colonists, before Alabama became part of the United States," Daily said. "Although they were slaves, they had a very open society. They began to tighten up on the non-white population in the early 1900s when Alabama began to pass a series of laws restricting relationships and activities."
August, Somos Primos 2004
In 1896, the Supreme Court made segregation legal in Plessy v. Ferguson. By the mid-1920's, black Americans everywhere were glued to a sensational, yearlong divorce trial involving a black woman named Alice Jones and Leonard Rhinelander, scion of one of New York's richest families. The Rhinelanders believed Alice had hidden her racial background to get at the family fortune. Alice was forced to disrobe in court, so that the jury could see the skin beneath her clothing.
White Americans are generally surprised when they encounter stories like this — of an African-American with a proud heritage who nevertheless decides to leave blackness behind. But just about every black family in the United States knows of a light-skinned person who decided to avoid the penalties associated with blackness by becoming white. Hundreds of thousands of these people set sail into whiteness — leaving behind black parents, siblings and children — and were never heard from again. The people who abandoned their families were described as "passed" —
a euphemism for dead.
Too dark to pose plausibly as northern European, black people of Mrs. Connolly's color passed as Italian, Greek, Spanish or Portuguese — anything to escape segregation and the penalties associated with blackness. No one knows when she decided to leave blackness behind, or whether her white husband knew her secret.
Mrs. Watt thought that she knew her friend pretty well. She then stumbled upon a startling secret. Mrs.
Connolly had once let the secret slip to strangers but, for most of her life, she had apparently seemed intent on carrying it to the grave.
Mrs. Connolly, who had straight dark hair and swarthy skin, explained her appearance throughout most of her life by describing herself as Portuguese. The disguise began to crumble as she moved into her 90's and became too ill to care for the straight black hair — which turned out to be a wig. When it slipped away, Mrs. Watt recalls, the hair beneath was revealed to be short and coarse to curly. Combined with the darkish skin she had attributed to a Portuguese heritage, it gave her an African-American appearance.
This finally made sense when Mrs. Watt received her friend's meager possessions. They included old photographs, showing Lydia posed with family members. There was also a leather-bound book
handwritten by Wallace Turnage, her father. It contained his account of his life as a slave in Alabama.
Je'rome De La Ranzie Santiago Walker~Brown
April, Somos Primos March 29th, 2004
Hi, I know its been a long time since I last emailed you, but things are going great.
I found some old census records and on one record, they had my race down as Mexican, on another record and mulatto. I'm not sure if it was just something they called Mexicans back then or not.
I just got back from New York I'm a model and actor so that's why I'm always out of town. Your book really is a great help, and I tell every one to get it.
So far I'm Mexican, Spanish, African, Cuban, Creo, Hawaiian, and Indian . . I really feel more complete now in my life. And so does my family there is still more to find out like I'm going to Mexico some one said they think after my grandfather was killed they took his body back there.
I'm excited because my career is going really good. I'm going to be playing a racially mixed character in a lot of the movies they have me working on. And before I went on a search to find who I was I would have never been able to be the person I am. Your book is what I have to thank for a lot of that.
Well I just wanted to check in I have to go I'm at a photo shoot.
Thank you for everything
Sterling Je'rome De La Ranzie Santiago Walker~Brown
March 30, 2004
In the middle of my search I found out that my uncle had sent off for me to go to an acting agency, it was like he was helping me do my dreams even when he was gone.
So I left and went to Chicago for an audition for IMTAhttp://www.imta.com.
There were lots of people at the audition. I was number 400. They had told me that there was only 65 people getting in. So when it was my turn to audition for the judges, in my head I'm thinking they won't let me in. I had tried to make my dreams come true earlier, but felt I needed to take time off to find out who I was.
I heard someone say once, you will never know who you are until you know were you came from.
The next day they called me and told me I had made it. I was in. I feel like I would not have been here if I I had not searched for myself. I feel like I could have never been here unless I had searched for my self.
Everyone can see me July28th, I'll be at the IMTA competition.
I'm a little nervous because I'll be interviewed by famous acting and modeling companies.
I'm sorry for going on and on but I really am thankful because your book really has helped me find my cultures and has made me a greater actor and model.
Please let me know if I can help more.
Always a friend, God bless . . . .
Sterling Je'rome De La Ranzie Santiago~Brown
I felt I should add my ancestor's name to mine.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Racial and Ethnic Self-Identity: Three
A thesis submitted in partial satisfaction
of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts
in Afro-American Studies
Alva Moore Stevenson
Alva Moore Stevenson
|The thesis of
Alva Moore Stevenson is approved.
Walter R. Allen
Juan Gomez-Quinones, Committee Chair
University of California, Los Angeles, 2004
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Brief History of
Afro Mexicans in Mexico and California 1
Biographies of the First Generations: James and Adeline Thornton
And Daniel and Tráncito Thornton 7
Daniel Thornton’s Migration to Mexico 8
The Afro-Mexican Community in Nogales, Arizona 11
Lydia Esther Thornton: Biography and Early Racial Self Identification 12
Influences on Racial Self Identification and Transmission of Culture 14
Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School 19
Influences upon Racial Identification in Early and Later Adulthood 21
Self Identification in Lydia’s Adulthood 23
Advantages and Disadvantages of Spanish Language Fluency for Lydia 24
Imparting Race and Culture to the Third Generation 26
Lydia: Fitting into or Falling out of Existing Theories of Race and Ethnicity 27
Rosalva Edna Thornton Murphy: Biography and Early Racial Self
Edna’s Perceptions of the Advantages and Friction Caused by Spanish
Language Fluency 37
Edna’s Interactions with African Americans and Mexicans 39
Edna: Fitting into or Falling out of Existing Theories of Race and Ethnicity 41
María Elena Thornton López: Biography and Early Racial Self Identification 43
Lydia and Edna’s Perceptions of Daniel II’s and William’s Self Identification 49
Self Identification of Daniel Thornton and William Thornton 52
Conclusions about Self Identification in the Third Generation of the
Thornton Family 68
Conclusions about Self Identity in the Second Generation of the Thornton Family 71
LIST OF FIGURES
DOCUMENTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
Photograph of James Thornton n.d 95
Photograph of Adeline Thornton n.d 96
Photograph of Daniel Thornton c.1890. 97
Photograph of Tráncito Perez de Ruíz Thornton, c. 1932 98
Photograph of Lydia Esther Thornton, c. 1924 99
Photograph of Lydia Esther Thornton, c. 1939 100
Photograph of Edna Thornton, c. 1940 101
Photograph of María Thornton, c. 1935 102
Photograph of William Thornton, c. 1950 103
Photograph of Daniel Thornton, II, c. 1945 104
Photograph of Lydia Thornton, 6888th CPD (Central
Postal Directory) United States Army, c. 1943 105
Group Photograph of 6888th CPD (Lydia in bottom row, third from left)
Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina, c. 1944 106
Photograph of Tráncito Perez Thornton (95 years old) 1987 107
Photograph of (from left to right) Edna Murphy; Flora Goudeau,
Lydia Moore and María López in 1991 108
Photograph of Victoria Reyes Díaz c. 1940s 109
Photograph of Rosenda Elizabeth Moore, 2004 110
Photograph of Alva Moore Stevenson, 2004 111
|I wish to thank my
family for all their support during this long project: my parents Alfred
and Lydia Moore, sister Rosenda Elizabeth Moore, aunts María López and
Edna Murphy, cousin Victoria Reyes Díaz; my husband Pancho, daughter
Julie, son Richard and mother-in-law Berta Stevenson. Also to Professors
Walter Allen, Aziza Khazzoom, and Abel Valenzuela; and to Carlos
Vásquez of the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico: your
support and criticism was appreciated. A special thank you to my thesis
committee chair and mentor Professor Juan Gomez-Quinones. Many thanks
also to the staff of the UCLA Bunche Center for African American
Studies, especially Lisbeth Gant-Britton. Finally a thank you to my many
friends and colleagues in the Oral History Program and at UCLA for
supporting my work.
All photographs courtesy of Lydia Thornton Moore.
Afro-Mexican Racial and Ethnic Self-Identity:
Three Generations of the Thornton Family in Nogales, Arizona
Alva Moore Stevenson
Master of Arts in African American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles, 2004
Professor Juan Gomez-Quinones, Chair
Research on biracial identity in the U.S. (i.e., Rockquemore and Brunsma, Maria P.P. Root ) focuses upon persons of Black and White descent. Scant attention has been given to biracials of two historically-marginalized groups. Several scholars including Bobby Vaughn (Colby College) and Sagrario Cruz Carretero (Universidad Veracruzano) have explored the issue of Afro-Mexican self-identity in Mexico. No research exists however on the multi-generational self-identity of American-born Afro-Mexicans.
Oral interviews were conducted with members of the Thornton family in the second and third generations. Readings in existing identity theories determined how similar or divergent the Thorntons were from those models. Thirdly, existing works on the history and identity of Afro-Mexicans and Afro-Latinos in the U.S. and Latin America were read.
Self-identity among the second generation of the Thornton family varied according to gender, parental and external push and pull factors. Cultural and racial identification of the parents proved to be salient to their children’s self-perception in varying degrees. Third generation self-identity either mimicked their parents or took other paths Speaking Spanish was salient in articulating towards or away from a Mexican-Indian or Latina self-identity. The self-identity of the second generation Thorntons is a potpourri of existing models of biracial identity. No one fits neatly into any one model. They exemplify Black identity as inclusive of all parts of their heritage. This can mean not articulating solely to a Black identity or not racially self-identifying at all. The Thorntons creatively redefine race as it makes sense to them and maximizes their quality of life.
BRIEF HISTORY OF AFRO MEXICANS
IN MEXICO AND CALIFORNIA
The self-identity of of Afro Mexicans cannot be discussed without situating them in a historical context. Scholars such as Ivan Van Sertima (They Came Before Columbus) assert that Egyptians and Nubians came to Mexico in the Pre-Columbian period (c.1200 BC). The Olmec civilization may be descended from or had contact with Africans, he asserts. He cites as evidence the African facial features of the Olmec heads at La Venta, Tabasco and San Lorenzo. Van Sertima’s research is controversial and not widely accepted by mainstream historians. Those in the field would probably agree that Blacks who accompanied the conquistadors were the first persons of African descent in Mexico. One of the earliest was Juan Garrído who accompanied Hernán Cortes (c.1519) and participated in the fall of Tenochtitlan. . He was also credited with introducing wheat into the Americas. Afro Mexicans in the 16th century fell into three categories: slaves; unarmed auxiliaries (servants and slaves) and armed auxiliaries such as Garrído who obtained their freedom. According to Matthew Restall, "it is primarily after this date  that armed black servants and slaves begin to play significant military roles in Spanish conquest enterprises."
The first Africans brought to Mexico as slaves came with the party of Pánfilo de Narváez also in 1519. They replaced Indios in the early 1500s because of European-imported diseases that had decimated the indigenous population. In the period between the mid-16th and the mid 17th centuries, the numbers of Africans at times exceeded the indigenous population. For a very short time, more Africans were imported into Mexico than any other part of the Americas. As in other parts of Latin America, African slaves in Mexico resisted their oppression. The runaways called maroons or cimarrones were reported to have fled and settled in such places as Coyula, Cuaxinecuilapan and Orizaba. One of the more famous was Gaspar Yanga, reportedly descended from a royal family in Gabon, he led a revolt on the sugar plantations of Veracruz in 1570. Yanga led his followers into the nearby inaccessible mountains and kept the forces of the Spanish Crown at bay for many years. Unprecedented in Mexican history, the Crown acceded to a treaty in 1630 which included freedom for the Yanguícos; self-government; and a farmable land grant.
The import of African slaves had all but ceased by the mid-16th century. What the Spaniards were confronted with in Mexico was an increasingly mixed society racially due to miscegenation. These castas or person of mixed blood not only blurred and crossed racial lines but economic ones as well. As discussed by Douglas Cope in The Limits of Racial Domination, this created a dilemma for the Spaniards:
|"Stunning wealth and
wretched poverty, elegance and squalor, and sophistication and ignorance
all existed side by side...Hispanic order [was imposed] on a
recalcitrant population. In short the elite faced a rising tide of
mixed-bloods, blacks, Indians and poor Spaniards that (in their view)
threatened to submerge the city into chaos."
|The Spanish-casta dichotomy gave way to a social dichotomy based on culture and economics not race. To reinforce their exclusive class, a sistema de castas or caste system was instituted in Mexico as a method of social control. This was a hierarchical ordering of racial groups according to their limpieza de sangre or purity of blood. That is—their place in society corresponded to their proportion of Spanish blood. According to Cope, the castas for the most part eschewed the sistema:|
|"[By the late 16th
century] Africans and Afro-Mexicans created a
‘sphere of relative autonomy.’ Their unity and boundaries didn’t shield
them from ‘ideological or structural oppression.’ Through these multiple identities they structured social relations and built boundaries of kinship
Black boundaries were characterized by interactions between ethnic
Africans, Africans and Creoles, Negros, Mulatos, And Moriscos. In turn
this reflected a wide range of African and Afro Mexican identities.
Persons of African descent were only united though contact with the
non-African ‘other.’…This did not mean Africans...left their
culture behind. Rather they molded it to fit circumstances. [In the New
|Martha Menchaca (Recovering History, Constructing Race) discusses the reasons behind the northward migration of Afro Mexicans and other non-white Mexicans:|
|"Blatant racial disparities
became pain-fully intolerable to the non-white population and generated
the conditions for their movement toward the northern frontier, where
the racial order was relaxed and people of color had the opportunity to
own land and enter most occupations."
|In the period up to
1848 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the sistema "which
was designed to ensure the maintenance of caste…quickly disintegrated
on its northern frontier, allowing persons of African ancestry
remarkable social fluidity."- Like the castas in that
time period in Mexico City, early Afro-Mexicans in California were
"uninterested in the complexities of the sistema de castas"
and it did not dictate daily life. The ambiguity of the sistema made
possible the success of Andrés and Pío Píco. Pio Píco
was the last Mexican governor (1831, 1845-46) of California. A
"consummate politician and ‘revolutionist’ "Pío Píco was
also a wealthy landowner, military commander and Los Angeles city
councilman (1853). His brother Andres represented California at the
signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga (1847) ending the Mexican War in
California. He also served as state senator (1851, 1860-61). Not only in
California but across the southwest, "afromestizos were part
of the population that founded Nacogdoches, San Antonio, Laredo, La
Bahía, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara."--
Several of the pobladores recruited by the Spanish Crown to settle Los Angeles in 1781--were of African descent. Of the afromestizos in the group some hailed from Rosario, Sinaloa—a town where many of the residents were of African descent. Indeed the Píco family also hailed from Rosario. Among the Afromestizo families who became prominent landowners and politicans in Southern California during the late 18th-early 19th century were the families of Luís Quintero; María Rita Valdez; Juan Francisco Reyes and José Moreno.
In contemporary Mexican society the sistema no longer functions overtly but Afro Mexicans remain largely marginalized and occupy places at the lowest rung of the economic ladders. Bobby Vaughn, a scholar of Afro Mexican Studies, asserts that issues of race in Mexico have "been so colored by Mexico’s preoccupation with the Indian question that the Afro Mexican experience tends to blend almost invisibly into the background, even to Afro Mexicans themselves." The national focus on Mexican identity as a dichotomy of Spanish and Aztec-Mexica-Maya or indigenismo-mestizaje effectively excludes them. Anani Dzidzienyo characterizes it as follows, "mestizaje ignores Blacks to such an extent that it would make all Blacks mestizos of some sort."
The history of Afro Mexicans in Mexico and in California is
emblemmatic of the American Southwest. I have laid the groundwork for
the story of the Thornton family in Nogales, Arizona who were neither
isolated nor unique. The Thorntons must be viewed through the larger
historical context of Afro Mexicans in Mexico and the American
Southwest. In the early years of this century they followed in a long
line of Afro Mexicans—indeed of Afro Latinos in the Spanish-speaking
Americas--from the most northern reaches of Alta California to the
southern countries of Latin America. African-descended peoples in the
Americas responded to the inhumanity of their beginnings with vigorous
self-determination in their identities. With this as a backdrop, I hope
to tell their story in their own words how the Thorntons--straddling two
racial and cultural worlds—self-identify. Perhaps most importantly how—like
their forebears in the Americas--their path to self-identity differed
widely among each member of the second and third generation of the
Thornton family. The historical family background of the first and
second generation Thorntons is significant because their life
experiences profoundly impacted the succeeding ones. In this case
slavery, revolution, migration and flight not only informed the identity
of those who experienced it—but their children and grandchildren as
well. It is a story of how Tráncito and Daniel—he of African American
and she of Mexican descent—raised their children racially and
culturally. More importantly how the second and third generations
self-identified in ways which were both congruent with and divergent
from their upbringing. For some of the second and third generation
Thorntons external social, cultural and racial factors were more
salient to their self-identity. In concluding this story I will
demonstrate how the Thorntons exercised agency in their self-identity.
Who they are does not fit neatly into any existing models. They shatter
these models and create ones of their own--of creative
self-identification which maximizes their quality-of-life.
the First Generations: James and
James Thornton (1835-1911), of mixed Native American and African American lineage, was born a slave in Versailles, Kentucky, owned by one of the prominent white Thornton families of Woodford County. James obtained his freedom by mustering into the Union Army on July 22, 1864. During the Civil War he served at Camp Nelson in the 12th Heavy Artillery regiment of the United States Colored Troops. He, along with other African American soldiers, was court-martialed for attempted mutiny. James’s sentence was to be shot by musketry—later commuted to hard labor at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off the Florida coast. He was dishonorably discharged from the army on January 17, 1866. Along with his sons, Abe and Clarence, he migrated to Kerr County Texas in the late-1860s with his two sons.
Adeline Joyner Thornton (1852-1940) was born a slave in Tallahassee, Florida and migrated with her mother Mahala and Uncle Theodore to Kerr County, Texas with the Thompson family that owned them—they were later given or sold to the Charles Ganahl family. According to Edna Thornton Williams (Adeline’s daughter) her mother was thirteen when Emancipation came (1865).
James and Adeline married at Turtle Creek Texas in 1871. He was
reportedly the first Black landowner in Kerr County, buying a parcel of
land along the Guadalupe River from John Parsons in 1884. They raised
thirteen children, including my grandfather Daniel was born in 1876.
Adeline and James counseled their children to seek employment outside
the United States rather than endure the racism suffered by African
Americans in the post-Civil War time period.
Daniel Thornton’s Migration to Mexico
Some of Daniel’s siblings went to Canada, while others stayed in the U.S.—he migrated to Guadalajara, Mexico in 1901:
[Southern Pacific] encouraged a lot of Black Americans to go to Mexico
because they could help in the translation of the orders given by the
|Black workers who learned Spanish became crucial communication links between non-Spanish speaking White management and non-English speaking Mexican workers. Daniel did just that and became a foreman supervising Mexican workers:|
|"I don’t know why he went
[to Mexico] but it’s true that they
encouraged a lot of Black Americans to go to Mexico. Because they
could help in the translation of the orders given by the White higher-ups
in the railroad. [This was] translation between Black Americans who
spoke English and the men that were in charge of the railroad which was American [Whites]. The Whites couldn’t communicate with the Mexican workers." 2
|He certainly follows in the footsteps of other persons of African descent who were interpreters and translators such as Estevaníco the Moor, a scout in the party of Cabeza de Vaca in the 1530s who led the first expedition into the American Southwest (Arizona):|
|"Estevaníco was especially
gifted in languages
and became fluent in several Indian dialects."3
|Daniel joined the ranks of many African Americans who, dispirited with racism in the United States, migrated to Mexico in search of employment. James Hughes, father of writer Langston Hughes was in that number:|
|"To James Hughes, a bitter
man, the United States was so much
sandpaper on his nerves…In 1909 he moved toToluca [Mexico]
to begin working for the American-owned Sultepec Electric Light
and Power Company. His brown skin, knowledge of American and Mexican law, and fluency in Spanish made him especially valuable."4
admittedly was in a higher class, having amassed some property and
status in Mexico. The fact remains, however, that such opportunities for
Blacks in that time period were quite rare in the United States.
Daniel had been immersed in the Mexican culture since his migration from Texas to Mexico. As a foreman and translator for the Southern Pacific Railroad he had gained a measure of occupational security. However short-lived—it was something few Black men would have aspired to or achieved during Reconstruction in the United States. More importantly he had earned respect from Whites as well as Mexicans. In marrying Tráncito, Daniel now had a more salient connection with his adopted culture.
Tráncito Perez de Ruíz (1892-1991) was born to Rosenda Pérez Ruíz, a housewife, and Jorge Sauceda, a miner, in San José de Grácia, Sinaloa near the town of Rosario. During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) she was sent from her home because the Revolutionary soldiers often kidnapped the young girls and raped them. Tráncito’s escape to safety was through a network of "safe houses:"
|"They used to hide the
girls. They had a communication means.
In one ranch house—if they saw the troops— they would send all
the girls to a station. Far as they could get—but the people knew
they were coming. They would stay until it was safe. And they would
send somebody to send them on. A lot of times they never came home—they just kept going."5
|Her family also endured the horror of her brother’s Cástulo’s [Aceves] execution by firing squad perpetrated by the federales. By 1911 Tráncito worked in the army of General Plutárco Elias Calles as a cook and babysitter and was immediately forced to take a vow of silence because of the conversations and secrets of the army that she was privy to:|
|"Tráncito, from now on you
are blind, deaf and mute.
It will cost you your life if you say anything."6
|Yet one of Tráncito’s fondest memories was serving breakfast on one occasion to Generals Cálles, Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregón. In 1911, at the age of nineteen, she met Daniel. They were married in 1914. When asked how her parents’ interracial marriage was received in Mexico, Lydia relates:|
|"They said the people were
friendly and anyone that spoke their language was alright with them. At
that time it was a revolution—everybody was
so glad to have somebody to help them. And food was very scarce—so whatever one person had—they all had.7
|Speaking Spanish was a unifying factor and seemed to transcend race in this instance. The realities of war seemed to outweigh any misgivings one might have had over Tráncito and Daniel’s interracial marriage. The Southern Pacific provided Daniel with a caboose in which he and Tráncito lived:|
traveled to different parts of Mexico as they built all the way…
into Mexico. When they finished the railroad [Daniel and Tráncito] came back north to Arizona."8
The Afro-Mexican Community in Nogales, Arizona
Daniel and Tráncito migrated north to Nogales, Arizona on the U.S.-Mexican border in the late teens of the century. They joined a small Afro-Mexican community—within a slightly larger African American community. These families, including the Clarks, Irvings, Jacksons, Jennings, Kisers and Reeds, consisted of African American fathers—many soldiers from nearby Fort Huachuca (formerly Camp Stephen D. Little). The wives were Mexican women from across the line. They joined African American families not of Mexican lineage such as the Biggs, Simpsons and the Jelks to form a small, tightly-knit enclave from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Tráncito and Daniel had nine children: Soledad, Lydia, Rosalva, Flora, María, Delia and Rosenda, William and Daniel II. Soledad Laíja was Tráncito’s daughter by her first marriage. Délia and Rosenda died in childhood. Daniel worked at various times as caretaker at the Nogales City Cemetery; mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service; worker at the Tovrea meat packing plant and owner of a shoeshine parlor. Tráncito owned a restaurant for a short time but gave it up to raise her children. She was ordained a minister in the El Mesías United Mexican Methodist Church in 1947. Tráncito outlived Daniel (who died in 1957) by forty-four years.
Lydia Esther Thornton—Biography and Early Racial Self Identification
Lydia Esther was born on February 19, 1922 in Nogales to the Thorntons—the third oldest daughter. She attended the segregated Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School and Nogales High School. She enlisted in the Womens Army Corps during World War II and served in the only all-Black women’s regiment: the 6888th Central Postal Directory 9or the "Black WACs" as they were called. Lydia’s unit served in England, Scotland and Rouen, France. After the war she migrated to Los Angeles, California and married Alfred Scott Moore. They have three children: Alva Phoebe, Alfred Scott II (deceased in 1975), and Rosenda Elizabeth. Lydia returned to school and obtained her bilingual teaching credential. She taught in both public and parochial schools before retiring. When asked when she became aware of skin color or racial differences:
|"I was really
aware of skin color as long back as I can remember. I discovered it on
my own and also my parents taught us the different
relatives and the difference in their color"10
|Lydia learned early on that their Afro Mexican family did not exist in isolation but was part of a larger "micro" community within the larger African American Nogales community:|
that in our neighborhood most mothers were Mexican
and fathers were Afro American. Most of the fathers were military
men or men that had gone to Mexico and worked on the railroad."11
|Neither of Lydia’s parents specifically discussed the fact of their mixed-racial heritage or other issues of race. Daniel did instill—though—a strong sense of Black pride in his children and told Lydia and her siblings they should always be proud of who they were. Tráncito’s Mexican family readily accepted her Afro-Mexican children. This is contrary to findings in a study, though in the contemporary time period, by Lawrence Bobo and James Johnson, "prejudiced attitudes are a function of the Mexican tradition, which is not one of tolerance…Hispanics bring with them prejudices towards blacks from their own countries. Spanish and Mexican cultures have historically denigrated dark skin…"12 Peter Skerry also states that, "like whites, many Hispanics hold negative stereotypes of blacks." A visit from friends of Tráncito during Lydia’s childhood is perhaps revealing of her views and her recognition of the African roots of some Mexicans:|
|"some very dark Mexican
people that came from other states like Guanajuato..that were very dark
with wavy hair. And my mother would
say, ‘they are colored people who settled there. [Mexico]" And she said, ‘everybody is not the same color—but we’re all Mexicans. She [Tráncito] told us that she [the visitor] had ancestors that came from Africa"13
|The reasons for Tráncito’s views on race and her relatives’ acceptance of her children might be explained by a point made by Carlos A. Fernández in La Raza and the Melting Pot:|
|"Latinos, and especially
Mexican Americans, have been conditioned
by their history, however imperfectly and unevenly, to accept racial ambiguity and mixture as ‘normal"14
|But Lydia also cites something her mother said which is contradictory as well:|
|"I remember one time she
said something —I don’t know why she
said it—Whether deep inside of her she thought like that or whether
—we were talking about somebody and she said, ‘so-and-so is so cute—but she’s so dark.’ So I don’t know if she felt dark people
are not as good-looking. Or whether she was talking about somebody
in the family or what."15
Influences on Racial Self-Identification and Transmission of Culture
Lydia speaks of how the cultures of her parents were transmitted to them. Tráncito—who exerted her Mexican identity and chose not to learn English—taught her children Spanish as their native tongue. Since Daniel spoke Spanish fluently; they did not converse in or were taught English at home. The children learned Mexican history through the first-person accounts of Tráncito’s role (heretofore mentioned) during the Revolution of 1910. The culture was further inculcated by teaching skills for finding edible foods in the wild; herbs as curative agents and folktales:
|"The wild fruits—they had
like—we would go to the hills and get what they called ajos- just like
garlic only. They had purple flowers and we used to eat seeds—the
outside it tasted very good. And then we used to have covenas — they
were some little flowers and we used to eat the roots too. But they
tasted different from the ajos. And then we used to have sallas — they
were some roots that we would dig up the whole plant and eat the roots.
We used to have black walnuts to eat and mesquite they're the —
We used to have black walnuts to eat and mesquite they're
the — it's a tree and its gets long beads and it has to stay on the tree on the trees for us to eat them. You would chew them and they're very sweet. And wild bananas — you know these macho bananas about this little?
Well we had those. We waited till they were ripe —
they were very good."
|"We had ruda—that’s
very green on the order of parsley.
And that was for—you put it with oil—and put it on the ears
for earache. And then mint for stomach[ache] and cramps.
And there was té de comadre that would be a tea out of
different—the seed of a nutmeg and whole cloves and
cinnamon and two kinds of anise—anise estrella and the
plain anise. You would boil them and make tea with them.
And for hemorrhoids you would take chamomile –the dry
flowers—and put it in a little cup—it has to be fireproof—
with a little oil and mix it up and put it on a sanitary napkin
and put it on your hemorrhoids and it would cure them."16
|Daniel regretted the geographic distance of his family in Texas but did transmit the African American culture to his children by telling them of the foods he had eaten in Kerrville, Texas:|
|"[My father Daniel] ate
Mexican food but then he would
tell us about cornbread and lima beans and blackeyed peas.
here were some other African American foods that we didn’t
eat because they didn’t smell so good and we weren’t used to
them like chittlins’. He told us about using salt pork to season
|She and her siblings—though--would learn much about not only the Thornton family history but African American history:|
|"He told us his father
[James Thornton] had gone to live with
the Indians I think. I don’t know if there were children born
of that time or not. Anyway in one of the courthouses in Texas
—I think it was Kerrville—I’m not sure. It would be your great
-grandfather [James Thornton]—left a statement with a dedications
‘my children—be good citizens…’ You saw a copy of that and
[it] had all the children right after she died. She stayed there to
live. The dress she had to be buried; she had made it 30 years
before to be buried in"18
|Daniel, by relating
the history and culture of his family, also related the history of
African Americans to his children. More importantly--and what influenced
Lydia’s self-identity--was a strong pride in being Black. That pride
instilled by Lydia’s father was positively reinforced by others such
as her elementary school teacher Florence Mills.
There were also negative experiences in Lydia’s childhood related to her African descent:
|"There were a few—well
all the neighbors were friendly—children
didn’t know prejudice unless you teach them. They were just as
friendly as if we had had the same color and had the same hair as
they did. One thing I remember is curly hair— some people would
touch it and say, ‘China, its very, very curly and you can’t even comb
it.’ I remember that my mother couldn’t comb it—she didn’t know how.
So we could— your grandfather would cut it just like a man’s haircut. That’s the way we used to wear it."19
|Lydia perceives that the limits to her social interactions in Nogales were more informed by low socioeconomic status than her color. Lack of money meant they could not afford to patronize restaurants or other businesses. This socioeconomically-driven lack of contact with Whites and others in Nogales meant they experienced few racial slurs or racism. In fact the sisters were simply referred to as the "Thornton Girls." In a publication, The Grand Avenue/Frank A. Reed School, Nogales, Arizona the author discusses racism against African Americans in Nogales:|
against Blacks in Nogales was prevalent, but never
discussed. Everyone knew it existed. Some students recall
seeing "WHITE ONLY" and "COLORED ONLY" signs at
businesses and there were restaurants where Blacks weren’t
allowed to eat. Still others recalled that the signs read, ‘We
reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.’ (actually it meant
the same as ‘no blacks allowed’).There existed no hair salons
in Negates where Black women and girls could get their hair
According to one student, you could go across the line to the
market. When you came back, you could sit in La Placíta and
have a cold drink (horchata) [or some] bírria,churros and other
treats. If you were older and had a car, you could go to El Molino
Negro in Nogales, Sonora past a gas Station with an airplane
propeller on the top of the building and be served drinks."20
|"He said his
mother told them [him and his siblings]—like in a
gathering--‘You will never be treated right in this country. Go
and work some place—but don’t stay here [the United States]’
And so I don’t know if that was the reason he was recruited [
to work the railroad in Mexico] or whether he had seen a lot of
segregation [and discrimination]."21
|The following narrative from Daniel’s sister Edna Thornton Williams articulates not only the family’s history but (in the first line) her own attitude towards slavery:|
|"Those times, slavery had to
be,’" said Edna Williams, as she
talked of her mother and grandmother. ‘My grandmother and
Theodore Blanks, that worked here, was sister and brother.
Her name was Mahalia [Mahala]. My mother’s name was
Adeline. My grandmother and mother were slaves brought to
Center Point [Texas] by Charles Ganahl. My mother was
thirteen or fourteen when they were freed. My father’s name
was Thornton, but that wasn’t his real name, it was the name
of his captain. His mother’s name was America."22
Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School
In the South and other parts of the country Black children attended segregated schools—Nogales was no different. Lydia attended the Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School (c.1928-c.1952) which was built in Nogales to accommodate the children of Black soldiers serving in the 25th Infantry including the Afro-Mexican children discussed herein:
|"With the Black soldiers by
this time (late 1920s) leaving
[Camp Stephen D.Little or "Campo De Los Soldados"] and
transferring to Fort Huachuca [200 miles east of Nogales],
there weren’t enough students to maintain the school. In 1929
the Grand Avenue School opened. Why the decision was made to
segregate all Black Nogalian students in one school including those
of non-military families is unknown."23
|Although no segregated schools for Black children had existed in the Nogales area previously; a decision was made to do just that when large numbers of Black and Afro-Mexican children came of school age in the late-1920s:|
|"But as long back as I can
remember the schools were separated.
But that was after the army troops came to Nogales and
segregation is supposed to have started then."24
|It is worth noting here that in several of the Afro Mexican families including the Thorntons and the Reeds--Mexican mothers had children by previous marriages to Mexican men. Those children, by virtue of having a Black stepfather, were mandated to attend the segregated school. The two-room school (one room for primary grades and one for secondary) was staffed by African American teachers and had, not only substandard physical premises, but inferior textbooks and other resources. The order to desegregate came in 1952. A discussion of the school is salient to a discussion of Lydia’s self-identity. She recalls the positive affect of Mrs. Mills:|
|"In school we had a teacher
named Mrs. Florence Mills
(taught at Reed School from 1928-1942) And She always
made us feel very important. She would say—especially
if you were a good student—(and I was a very good student).
She would say, ‘I wish I could speak Spanish and English.
You are very smart—you speak two languages and you
write two languages.’ Because my mother taught us from
the beginning how to read and write Spanish. So anyway
Mrs. Mills would tell us, ‘Be very proud of yourself—learn
all the English you can and all the Spanish you can.’ And it
was positive. And this teacher I met her—I kept in touch
with her until she died. She lived here in Los Angeles."25
Social experiences with other Afro Mexican and Black students offered her friendship and camaraderie by virtue of a shared racial background. As for dating and social relationships Lydia states that the pool of available Afro Mexican and African American men was quite small. Dating Mexicans or Whites was an unstated taboo.
Rather than experience bias or racism when she attended Nogales High School; Lydia remarked that she, along with other native Spanish-speaking students, were actually held to a higher standard. This was perceived by white students as favoritism:
|"And the high school was
mixed. We had never really
dealt with large numbers of white people as our equals.
We just had the teachers and one of the Spanish teachers
was Magdalena Espinoza(sp?)And she addressed this to
the Spanish-speaking students., ‘there is no reasons why
you can’t learn Spanish very well. You have the ability
—you brought the language from your home.’ At those
times we could take Spanish 1,2,3,4.. So anyway she
made sure if we made a mistake in Spanish—there was
no excuse. We had to do the work over.And she always
—the white students thought that she was giving us too
Influences Upon Racial Identification in Early and Later Adulthood
Lydia graduated from Nogales High School in 1945, and along with all Nogalians--Black, White or Mexican--unemployment loomed:
|"There was nothing to do in
Nogales as far as jobs.
I never applied to any like stores because I didn’t see
anybody asking to go to any jobs. And I did take a civil
service typing test and I didn’t pass it. I typed 72 words
–but somehow got nervous and I didn’t pass it. So after
that I said well—I’d seen the ads for the WAC [Women’s
Army Corps] so I applied."27
|Entering the 6888th CPD (Central Postal Directory) or the "Black WACs" during World War II was Lydia’s first real encounter with racial bias:|
|"I think that was the first
time I came across real
segregation. When they called me to go—I had to
report to Tucson to recruiting. And then from there
they took me to Tucson—there were a few other
Black women. They took us to Phoenix and where
we had to wait was like a house that black people
owned—sort of like a hotel. So we stayed there
and there were no whites.
That was the first time-- After that I couldn’t speak
English that well—but anyway I was doing the best
I could. Anyway I met a very nice lady—she was
much older. She started speaking to me. She said
her husband was in the army and she had orders
to go to Des Moines. She had enlisted in the service.
She said we can become friends on the way.
So anyway we did and she told me a lot of things.
I was dumb—I didn’t know too many—she told me
|Lydia’s encounter with the aforementioned Black servicewoman, who took her under her wing, was one of the experiences which informed her racial self-identification:|
|"Some women in the
service--one was from Panama [one]
from Jamaica, New York, and one from Puerto Rico. And
they had their act together. They had grown up being proud
and they had a strong Black heritage. I appreciated that and
wished I had the same experience. It’s a good thing that I came
in contact with people like that. It gave me more incentive
to go ahead. You could still learn."29
|She felt a racial and
cultural similitude with these Afro-Latino servicewomen with whom she
served in World War II. Their example motivated Lydia to succeed.
Self-Identification in Lydia’s Adulthood
In her adulthood, friendships with other Afro-Latinos (Carmen Patton Williams, the Jorríns and others) have reinforced her self identity as have the biannual reunions of the Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School:
|"Since we started going to
those reunions, I really —its really
my thing. We actually met people to identify with."30
|When Lydia was asked how she has self-identified over her lifetime she says:|
|"Well I can truly say that I’m
both Mexican and Black
and just as proud of one as the other… When you’re
younger, looks like you can tell the difference with
your feelings [and] from your feelings--what you think
you’re getting deprived of. As you grow older and
you realize you have something to be proud of
—then you start looking for things and ways that you
have that are valuable. And [you] appreciate them and
try to improve. So when you have your children—they’ll
have something to be proud of. It wasn’t all bad"31
|Lydia’s dual self-identity as Black and Mexican makes her perceptions on other Afro Mexicans in Nogales worth noting:|
|"The Jackson family was—the
father taught them to be very
proud Black. And they all have done very well. The father
taught them the importance of education and the rest will take
care of itself."32
In fact the family—and in particular David Jackson --have led the effort in recent years to see that the story of…Afro Mexicans [and other Afro Nogalians] is an enduring part of the historical record.
From her vantage point years later Lydia observes Afro Mexicans in Nogales who consciously self-identified as non-black such as the Irvings who articulated to a Mexican identity. They legally changed their names and encouraged their children to marry Mexicans (and they did). In denying their African descent—they in effect "became Mexican." The Maxie family—according to Lydia—as well did not identify as Black. And they indeed had the social tools to do so: light complexion and a higher class status—the father was an engineer on the Southern Pacific railroad. Lydia further relates that the daughter Berta was allowed to attend the White school because of the parents’ persistence. Other Black Nogalians could have done the same—Lydia feels. They did not because many were from the South—where challenging the White status quo could have disastrous consequences. Therefore—Lydia felt—they "went along with the Program."
Advantages and Disadvantages of Spanish Language Fluency for Lydia
Fluency in the Spanish language was one of the many
positive legacies Daniel and Tráncito passed onto their children. Their
father—throughout his life--personified the advantages of bilingualism.
Similarly, being a native Spanish speaker had distinct advantages for
Lydia at various times in her life. One of those was during World War II
as a member of the Black WACs:
|"After I finished basic
training [to be a WAC]… I think
it was sort of an edge--speaking Spanish. Because they
assigned me to a hospital unit working in the admitting
office registering and filling out papers—helping the soldiers
before they went to the hospital. It was a battalion of Puerto
Ricans who didn’t speak English. I don’t know if they were
volunteers. So you had to be Spanish-speaking and translate."33
|In later years African American students would question her presence in Spanish classes—her superior performance apparently a threat. More than that—puzzled to encounter a Black person who was fluent in Spanish:|
|"In certain classes when I
was studying--I would pick
up courses because I need [them] for my major. And
there were some Black students that sort of like insulted
me saying, ‘why would I like to be in a class when
they’re other people who can’t perform as well as I did?’
and I would answer, ‘I need this class for my major.
They didn’t quite say ‘what are you?’ They would say,
‘where did you learn [Spanish]? These questions came
from other Blacks. The Mexicans were pretty friendly
—it didn’t seem to bother them [my color]. They were
glad they had somebody to communicate with."34
So Lydia’s high achievement in Spanish elicited questions not of "what are you?" But rather, "how and why can you Spanish so well?" At the same time her Spanish-speaking ability made possible linkages with Mexicans which crossed racial lines. Her Spanish-speaking ability afforded her an edge—not always—but many times. Lydia would later become a bilingual teacher in the Los Angeles City and County school districts as well as in the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese.
Imparting Race and Culture to the Third Generation
Lydia imparted her racial heritage to her children with some compromises made to accommodate her husband Alfred’s wishes to raise their children as African American:
|"When I was raising my
children I wanted them to
have both importance—the black heritage and the
Mexican. Both of my first two children were Christian
in the Catholic Church and my oldest daughter Alva
went with her godmother [Carmen Patton Williams]
to Catholic mass every Sunday until my husband said
she can’t go anymore because I’m Black and she should
go to the Methodist Church because I’m Methodist. I said
okay so we all went to the Methodist Church. And as
far as heritage for Mexico—I always stress the point—
I always visited my mother and took my children. And
we always ate Mexican food together with American
In further commenting on how the Black and Mexican heritage were imparted to their children, Lydia remarks on whether she and Alfred clashed in these decisions:
|"No—except that I think now
I should have spoken
my mind better on the language [Lydia did not teach
her children Spanish] because your father always said.
Well in those days he was a teacher and there was no
bilingual anything. Evidently he said it was not good
for me to be talking one thing and doing another thing
[the wisdom at that time in the 1950s in educational circles
said that a child should not be taught a foreign language
as their native tongue]."36
She perceived the Spanish language as an important part of
the Mexican culture, but deferred to her husband in the raising of their
into or Falling out of Existing Theories of Race and Ethnicity
It is important to note at this juncture that Black-White biracials deal with two heritages—one of which (White) is perceived as superior. The racial dynamic is different in the case of the Thornton second generation. Both Blacks and Mexicans are historically-marginalized groups:
|"Persons of color mixing with
other persons of color—such
as American Indians and Blacks, Filipinos and Native Americans,
Latinos and Blacks…This mixing does not conventionally threaten
the border between White and non-White.37
So what we may confront is the person’s choice between that part of themselves which is Black and that which is as G. Reginald Daniel states, "just a little less Black and thus a little less subordinate."
Kerry Ann Rockquemore and David L. Brunsma in Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America38 say that, "racial identities are socially constructed and maintained to support existing social relations." They suggest that outside appearance or "whether or not biracial people appear black" is less important than their own self-understanding. Particularly important for our understanding of Lydia is Rockquemore and Brunsma’s assertion that both peers and family outweigh appearance in the construction of identity. Simply stated, "parental socialization and peer influences proved to be more influential." Both childhood and adult socialization and the transmission of norms and values is critical. Rockquemore and Brunsma discuss how being biracial has multiple meanings in the form of either border, singular, protean and/or transcendent identities39. William Gross suggests a nigrescence model of biracial identity. The basis of his model theorizes a reference group orientation rather than a group identification. The biracial individual participates and enjoys the culture of both the Black and white [for purposes of this thesis—Mexican] communities—somewhat like the border identity. Gross further states that there may be an overidentification with the White parent as the symbol of the dominant majority resulting in rejection of the Black parent and—further—negative feelings about Blacks. G. Reginald Daniel theorizes a blended identity as that which resists "both the dichotomization and hierarchical valuation of African American and European American cultural and racial differences. Individuals with an integrative identity, according to Daniel, reference themselves within two different racial communities. Variations on the theory are synthesized integrative where the person feels equally comfortable among both groups and functional integrative meaning that they not only feel comfortable but function and identify in both settings. With a functional integrative identity the person feels a stronger acceptance and orientation to one race. Marc Pizarro in his essay on Racial Formation and Chicana/o Identity delineates the many different components of a person’s identity—familial,, ethnic, academic and occupational. Each of these is interwoven into the person’s outcome and is linked to their sense of social self. Like Rockquemore and Brunsma, Pizarro believes that family identity is an important precursor to social identity. School identity is also important but heavily influenced by familial and social identification.
Lydia’s identity does not strictly fall into any of the biracial models I’ve described. Her identity falls tenuously within both the singular and border models, the nigrescence model as well as the functional integrative identity. The admonition of her father Daniel to be proud in her Blackness was strong. In relating the Thornton family history, he transmitted African-American history and culture to his children. Lydia admits that she wished the orientation towards a pride in Blackness had been even stronger. Just as salient in forming her identity was her mother Tráncito. In terms of transmitting the Mexican culture—her mother taught food preparation, knowledge of herbs for curative purposes and perhaps most importantly the Spanish language. To look at it simplistically—Lydia received more identification/culture molding from her mother. This combined with her light skin coloring meant she could have identified—perhaps lived—as a Mexican. But her father’s influence was more salient. Lydia says that she identifies dually as Mexican and Black and is proud of both. I perceive as in Gross’s functional integrative identity—that she does feel a slightly stronger acceptance and orientation towards Blacks—largely due to the influence of her father. Or as María Root cites in Racially Mixed People in America:
"Psychological identification with the beliefs and
Also important for understanding Lydia is Pizarro’s take on the role of class in identity. He states that:
"[Chicanos] viewed class as part of their ethnic and
racial experience…Either consciously or sub-consciously [class]
Lydia clearly states that the businesses they could not frequent was not due to racism and discrimination but because they were poor—that economics was more salient than color.
Beyond the salience of Daniel’s influence; I believe Lydia is more strongly oriented towards a Black identity for the following reasons: marriage to an African American and deference to his culture and feeling comfortable in that space, lifelong friendships with other Afro Latinos—the Black servicewomen during World War II and later in her life. She experiences a consciousness of kind as discussed by Cookie White Stephan which begins with "commonalities of culture, such as language, religious beliefs, and styles of living." A research study by David Demo, Stephen Small, and Ritch Savin-Williams concludes:
|"the quality of interpersonal
relations with family and friends
positively influences both racial self-esteem and feelings of
closeness to other blacks."42
|The factors I cited may bear out a functional integrative identity but not totally. Lydia also has lifelong friendships with Mexicans and other Latinos not of African descent and she maintains ties with Tráncito’s family. I believe speaking Spanish is a link which transcended any misgivings either these friends or family may have had. This was also demonstrated when Lydia taught in a parochial school:|
|When I was working in a Catholic
school [as a teacher]
and the rule was is that the children can’t even look at TV
because it will go against them. They have to think American
and everything. I got around that—the children knew that
I was teaching them in English but I never said anything
about not looking at TV and parents found out that the
teachers spoke Spanish. I wasn’t supposed to talk to
parents but they would wait outside you know when I would
get off. They’d say, ‘we’re glad to meet you and we would
be glad to talk to you, you’re welcome to come to our house.’
Because I knew to them it was important as when I was
Lydia’s self-identifies without qualification or apology
and she has not wavered at any time In her narrative she wishes the
influence or orientation towards Blackness had been stronger in her home
(page 16, paragraph 2). Lydia articulates towards a Black identity
precisely because of her bicultural upbringing. What a Black identity
means for Lydia is inclusive of both her heritages. As Paul Spickard
states in The Illogic of American Racial Categories, "A mixed
person should not be regarded as Black or White [in this case
Mexican], but as Black and White [Mexican] with access to both
parts of his or her identity." I think Lydia embodies this very well.
Rosalva Edna Thornton Murphy was born in 1926. She attended Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School but did not pursue advanced education at that time. Among the companies at which Edna was employed were the La Tomatera Plant, Artley Music Company, Frank Laboratories, Occidental Electric Company, and the C.D. Conn Instrument Company in Nogales, Arizona. She lived in Cleveland, Ohio and Los Angeles, California before settling in Tucson. Edna studied to be a nurse and was employed at Tucson Medical Center (TMC) until retirement. Edna married Donald Murphy but is now widowed.
Edna confirms Lydia’s recollection that the subject of race and skin color was not discussed by Daniel and Tráncito in their home. Unlike her sister she places their color on a continuum with Indians being much darker in hue. Here also is one of many references to how the Thornton girls were perceived as pretty--something which neither Lydia nor María referred to:
|"There was never nothing like
that at home [talk
about differences in skin color]. They always thought
we were so pretty (the visitors from Tucson and Phoenix).
Especially grown up Mexican people would say
"los negros" and of course the children followed.
Some would get a whipping for saying that. Actually
our skin color wasn’t that dark at all—there were Indios
who were darker like Yáqui Indians from Nogalítos
used to come to the house. People were black—there
were darker people than we were—Mexicans or Indians.
Even somebody who had very curly hair like this cousin
from Mexico (Maria Elena from Sinaloa)"44
|Edna recalls the
following statement by her mother: "My mother used to say, "oh
my kids are so ugly." But it was a term of endearment."45
Lydia questions whether Tráncito really thought darker people were not as attractive (see page 8, paragraph 3). While her sister has doubts—Edna is quite specific that it was her children that her mother spoke of but it was not meant to be denigrating.
Lydia cited a few instances of overt racism or discrimination while Edna is adamant that she experienced none:
|"I never did. I used to be
with Tomás Clark46-- He was
a Mexican he used to fight for everybody. The other
children used to call us snowballs—they were riding
on the bus--Tomás used to call them shitballs. They
were Mexicans and Whites—I don’t think there was
anything wrong with that---it was just children playing
roughnecking or rough playing. Most of the Blacks in
Nogales knew Spanish. Everybody was everybody but
we were just friends. There were the ones [African
Americans] who didn’t want to be Black—the Owsleys,
Irvings, Vaughns and the Mays—they kept to themselves.
We never mingled with white children."47
Edna accepts the name-calling as child’s play and not directed at her due to race or skin color. And notice too her perception of African American children who stayed to themselves because they shunned being Black. The irony of this Black-on-Black discrimination obviously lost on Edna.
While quite sure that she experienced no discrimination; Edna cites bias against other Afro Mexicans and African Americans. Her own mother even witnesses an incident:
Simpson 48 was dating Mr. Bennett [later her
husband] and they went to the Cavern [Restaurant in Nogales,
Sonora] They put a card at their table saying they didn’t’ serve
blacks after they sat down to be served. Mildred did get a job at
Kresge--but washing windows."
"When my mother attended a church convention
|Edna’s recall of the culture her father taught them was much more detailed:|
|"My father—he used to make
a syrup for whooping
cough (lemon, molasses and red onions) He used to
cut the lemons in half he used to boil the whole thing.
He used to give me that at night for a cough. He used
to make biscuits every morning at 3 am. The little piece
of dough used to fluff up—it used to be a very beautiful
biscuit and tasty. On the holidays they used to cook
together (my mother and father) We were poor—we
were hungry at times—but there was food on the table.
He used to roast—put chickens in the oven in a roaster.
He used to make pork and beans and Boston baked
beans. He used a lot of slab bacon. He liked limburger
cheese. Green beans with ham and potatoes."50
|She also vividly remembers her father’s defiance of racism:|
|"He was a natural guy—he
hated for anybody to say anything
about Black people. He defended people no matter what. There
was nothing like that [racism or discrimination] in Mexico
[ where he lived from 1901-14]. So there were all kinds of people
—White, Mexican, Black. This lady from Tucson [stayed at our
home]—she had been there three weeks—he finally got fed up
And told her if she didn’t like him because he was Black and my
children--you have no business sleeping in my house, eating my
food. I think its time for you to go. He used some bad language
but he was a gentleman.. My father used to be a pro when it came
to the Spanish and English language."51
|Edna is cognizant of the way her father kept alive his African American culture and connections and as she remarks:|
|"My father used to subscribe
to Life and all kinds of magazines
like Ladies‘ Home Journal. He used to subscribe to Black
magazines too because he wanted us to be aware of issues
related to us. We were aware of the incident when the Black
girl wanted to attend the white school [Linda Carol Brown
in Topeka Kansas—Brown v. Board of Education] and when
George Wallace blocked the school door at [University of ]
|She was asked if being Afro Mexican affected her dating relationships. That is—was she able to or in fact did date Mexicans or those of other races:|
"Being Afro Mexican didn’t affect my dating
Edna would probably say that her race had no bearing upon who she could or could not date. Her narrative—though--somewhat bears out what Lydia states earlier about dating and courtship in her youth being confined to their own racial group.
Daniel’s bicultural grounding coupled with a strong cultural and historical orientation emanating from Tráncito manifests itself in very different ways in Lydia’s and Edna’s racial identity.
Lydia self-identifies as both Mexican and Black. Although grounded in both cultures-- she has a stronger orientation towards African Americans and feels acceptance and comfort there. There is no stridency in her statement of identity. Edna, on the other hand, is forthright and almost defiant when asked how she has self-identified racially over her lifetime. You will notice that Edna does not categorize herself as either Black or Mexican nor does she allow others to do so:
|"For me it is the same way it
was when I was a little girl.
A lot of people have tried to change me by labeling me.
I’m proud in the same way that my mother and father
brought me up.. I don’t feel anything different. There are
It is most interesting that Edna has the greatest, detailed recollection of her father’s strong Black identity and of discrimination and racism which occurs to those around her. Yet she does not self-identify in expected ways given the sum of her experiences and influences.
Edna’s Perceptions of the Advantages and Friction
Caused by Spanish Language Fluency
Florence Mills, one of the African American teachers at the Grand Avenue/Reed School took special interest in Edna. More importantly—Mrs. Mills went out of her way to learn Spanish:
|"Mrs. Mills learned Spanish
and she noticed my voice and taught
me how to harmonize. She told me how to change my voice and
we sang for the Elks and veterans groups and Knights of Columbus
and women’s groups. She also used to come to my mother’s house
and try to speak Spanish with my mother."55
|In agreement with her sister Lydia, Edna views her native Spanish language fluency as a distinct asset and advantage:|
|"It is an advantage and an
asset. We knew what we were
talking about in Spanish. My father, mother and sister Sally
corrected my Spanish."
"Spanish really helped when I worked at TMC [Tucson Medical
The doctor used to get on one phone and me on the other lines
He said ‘if you hadn’t been here--I wouldn’t have let them touch
Edna’s fluency in Spanish makes her race a non-issue it seems. It creates a buffer zone within which she receives respect based on her abilities. There is still conflict with both Blacks and Mexicans which is described in the next section.
Edna’s Interactions with African Americans and Mexicans
Edna wished to distance herself from any one racial group and avoid being labeled as part of them. She describes this in her interactions with Blacks while working at Western Reserve Electronics in Cleveland:
|"Black people—there were
some who were very nice and sweet—
they wanted me to join a strike for more pay and I wouldn’t—they
were so mad. There was just a fight amongst them. I was invited to
their homes but I never went. There were very nice [Black] people
and very ugly people. I was walking from the store on Cleveland Avenue--this was during voting time—one Black guy threw his coat
on the floor so I could walk on it. It was a parade for [Mayor] Louis
Stokes during election time. I was going in the building— it was an
honor and he [the man] bowed at me."57
|In discussing her position at Tucson Medical Center Edna relates her perceptions of friction with other Mexicans. Edna’s interactions are similar to those with African Americans:|
"There was a lot of jealousy [from other Mexican
In later years the granddaughter (Socorro) [to the racist
|Edna claims not to have encountered discrimination or segregation. But notice that while relating details of Black-imposed segregation—she also notes an instance of the White—imposed variety as it related to the Irving daughter:|
|"The segregation was done by
the black people. Paulina Pearson
— her mother (an Indio) lived with a Black man—a serviceman.
Mr. Wilson had a job way out of town on the Tucson highway.
She rode the bus. I think maybe a lot of us could have ridden the
bus. The Irvings oldest daughter—she was Mexican and she went
to the Black school. Having a segregated section in the Nogales cemetery—black people started doing it themselves. One Black
family was buried in a certain section and other Blacks followed suit.
When they were going to bury my brother (Daniel)–they put another
section in the back—then they would rebury him in the veterans
section when they had room—they never did. There was no rule
|She also perceptively comments on why Black soldiers stayed in Nogales after their terms in the military:|
|"It was different being Black
in Nogales. They found out that Black
people got along better in Nogales rather than going to Alabama
[or other places in the South] This is why many of them stayed for
years. These Black people were dressed like they did in the East
—with suits. You don’t have to be black and be in the dumps."60
Edna: Fitting into or Falling out of Existing Theories of Race and Ethnicity
Edna recalls more of Daniel’s African American culture and the way he self-identified. Yet it is not borne out in a strong Black self-identification or a singular identity. Her narrative also recalls incidents of racial bias in detail—indicating that they remain salient in her memory. Edna typifies the transcendent model, which vehemently rejects racial categorization, as well as the border and blended identity model. She, like other Afro Mexicans and persons of mixed descent, are pressured to identify in accordance with the concept of hypo descent or the "one drop" rule. This holds that persons with any stipulated or recognized amounts of African ancestry are relegated to the African American caste by whites. For purposes of this thesis--also by Blacks and Mexicans. In fact Rockquemore and Brunsma state that Blacks, as much as Whites, buy into the "one drop" rule. Edna resists this pressure in self-identifying. We should also pay attention to the concept of specialness discussed by María Root and referred to by Edna in her narrative:
"Everybody was amazed--they would stop me on the
|The concept of specialness is characterized by the way in which a biracial person is subject to constant questioning about his or her identity and the accompanying disconfirmation of disbelief:|
"As the object of other people’s distorted
|One could speculate that one of the few African Americans she does socialize with may have also encountered this due to his appearance. But he also treats her as an anomaly—wanting her to "perform":|
Richard Mills—an astronomer—he was black. When he was
I don’t think specialness for Edna is a pathological condition as it relates to her biracialism—it actually empowers her. It is a coping mechanism for interacting with Blacks as well as Mexicans and has really helped maintain her psychic health. It is also a tool for negotiating her identity in these larger social spaces. I detect a real pride as Edna discusses her identity. Edna maintains her non-racial self-identity without needing validation from anyone but herself. Janet Helms discusses the concept of naming oneself as it applies to biracial individuals, "In essence, to name oneself is to validate one’s existence and declare visibility." In the act of refusing to be labeled and categorized, Edna is in actuality naming herself and establishing her place in society.
María Elena Thornton López : Biography and Racial Self-IdentificationMaría Elena Thornton López was born in 1917. She attended Camp Stephen D. Little School and Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School from 1928-34. María did not attend high school, but became a housewife and piano teacher, living throughout the Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Brownsville, Texas, Tucson, Arizona and Los Angeles, California. She has three daughters: Victoria Díaz, María Elena López and Carmen Díaz.
Like her sisters Edna and Lydia, María says that the subject of race was not discussed in the Thornton home during their childhood. Like Edna she is firm on the fact that there was no discrimination—either in Mexico or Nogales:
|"My skin color
was the same as along as I can remember—
I don’t remember. I don’t recall it being brought to my attention
by others. [In our home] we didn’t understand or talk about our
skin color being different. My mother’s [Tráncito]family stayed
with us. They spoke Spanish and were Mexican. "I was accepted by everyone in school.
I had Mexican friends. My colored friends were nice to
Mexicans at school got along fine and sometimes Blacks
|She contradicts herself on whether discrimination existed (also related by her sister Edna) though not actually attributing this incident to Mildred Bennett’s race:|
|"What I saw one time—A
colored girl was looking for a job. She
wanted a store sales job and they gave her a cleaning job instead. I wondered much later why they did not give her the job she wanted. [Mildred Simpson Bennett]"65
|María, much as in Edna’s narrative, praises their father Daniel;|
|"My father told us to be
proud. My father was a very intelligent
man in Nogales. He got a janitor’s job, a job at the post office,
and at the [Grand Avenue] school… He used to work for
Mr. Irving [African American engineer on Southern Pacific]
My father used to play the violin—he used to sit by the trees
|Her narrative is interspersed with phrases such as "I don’t remember," ‘Some things are hard for me to recall," "I don’t know," and "Its hard to remember." But in fact María recalls some aspects of her family history in great detail:|
|"My mother’s grandparents
came from Spain.Jorge [Sauceda]
was his name. My grandmother [Rosenda Perez Ruíz] and
grandfather were separated and she came to live with us in
Nogales. My grandparents were Indians—Mocorito [a town
in the state of Sinaloa]--from Mexico. It is hard to recall.
Sometimes adults did not let kids know certain things back then
about family history…My grandfather’s family was from Spain—
my grandmother’s (Rosenda) family was Frenchand Indian—
both were from Sinaloa. My grandmother had some relatives—
one was named Minandita Rosita Ortíz. They were from Mexico.
Dona Josefa Dominguez Ortíz 67 was a hero. Rosita was supposed
to be related to Benito Jurarez 68. She [Dona Josefa] was related
to Rosenda’s side of the family. I read a story of her in a Mexican
magazine. She went to a town where they were fighting." "Many
things of my father’s history I don’t remember. My father went to
Mexico in 1901 where he met my mother. He went to Guadalajara
and Mexico City too. My mother was working as a maid with
[General Plutárco Elias] Calles. He spoke very correct Spanish.
I didn’t find this out until my father’s funeral.. I don’t know much
about my grandmother [Adeline Joiner Thornton] other than some newspaper clippings. Adeline started funeral plans twenty years
before she died. She made her funeral dress many years before
she died. My grandfather [James Thornton] on my father’s side
was in the Civil War and died in 1911. Uncle Edward [Thornton]
died in 1945. I went to visit him with the girls [María’s daughters:
Victoria, María Elena and Carmen]. My grandfather [James Thornton]
had two half-brothers—Abe and Clarence. My Aunt Edna [Williams]
used to send me the newspapers and photos. I don’t know much
about my father’s childhood."69
What is it that María doesn’t remember and what does she recollect very well? Would she rather forget her Black heritage and remember the Mexican? It would be presumptuous for me to speculate since she acknowledges her African descent.
When María is asked how she self-identifies or questioned about her personal encounters with racism or discrimination; her answers are short. Notice how she moves away quickly from that subject to discussing her Aunt Edna—Daniel’s brother:
|"I am colored
and Hispanic. I never denied my race. My father’s
sister Edna [Thornton Williams] came to Nogales in Everyone was
nice to her when she visited. They cried and wanted her to stay.
We used to write each other all the time and she sent us photos.
She was a very nice person."70
|I wonder if María feels she needs to qualify her statement regarding her identity. The tone of her narrative is one of non-conflict--she got along with everyone. In fact she uses the phrase "got along" several times throughout. Like Edna--María says she experienced no discrimination:|
experienced no discrimination]. We grew up in the Mexican Methodist
Church. All our friends were Mexican—boys and girls.
If there was any discrimination—I don’t’ remember."71
|She was keenly aware that bias happened to others—now admitting this is what happened to Mildred:|
|"I did not see any other
discrimination other than Mildred not
getting that job. In the summer some girls went and applied for
hotel-type jobs and would not be hired, only for cleaning and
|María relates that her interactions with others don’t change in her adulthood:|
"We got along with both races—also in school. I
grew up and
Let us refer back particularly to Edna’s narrative about Daniel and Tráncito and the tolerance that was part of their personas. This was transferred to María—indeed to all their children. Each of them to a greater or lesser degree interacted amiably with people of various races. This "getting along" with people regardless of color and the general absence of discrimination is a string throughout the narratives of Edna and María. Both of them acknowledge that it happened to others--not them. Tolerance was taught to them by their parents’ example. Lydia is tolerant but also straightforward and critical about what she perceives—whether its her own identity or those of her siblings and other Afro Mexicans in Nogales.
There is a parallel between Edna and María’s perceptions of discrimination and a study of mixed-race Canadians conducted by Tina Hancock:
|"Regarding their racial
identities, none of those interviewed
remembered their parents distinctly talking to them about
potential problems of racial discrimination outside the home.
Instead, most had simply felt implicit attitudes of tolerance and
acceptance from their parents and which reverberated with them
on a more personal level in everyday interaction… attitudes and
perceptions were formed more ‘by osmosis than anything.’
attitudes of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, not only
within the home but also outside, were cultivated by such things
as the fact that his mother had been actively involved with a
multicultural group in the community."74
There are many similarities here--from the lack of discussion on race in the home to the tolerant attitudes towards people of different races, cultures and ethnicities that Tráncito and Daniel had fostered by their own example.
It is hard to categorize María’s identity. Although she self-identifies as "colored and Hispanic," we know from the narrative of her daughter Victoria that the family’s Black heritage was discussed in negative terms. In helping to form the identity of her daughter, she emphasized the Mexican-Indio lineage of Victoria’s father. We can perhaps gain a window into her self-identity by the presence and absence of memory in the language of her narrative. She remembers Tráncito’s family history in great detail. I would suggest that her references to a possible familial connection to Benito Juárez and Dona Josefa Dominguez Ortíz may be meant to emphasize the value María’s places on her Mexican-Indian-French lineage. She recollects her non-Black heritage with a fair amount of detail but Black or African American as racial identifiers are never used. In the narrative about her mother’s family she mentions the specifics of Indian, Mexican and French lineage. Nowhere in her recall of her mother’s family is there any statement of forgetting or not remembering. In discussing Daniel’s family there are several instances. In the subtleties of her narrative may lie clues to María’s self-identity. I would surmise somewhat tenuously that her identity is probably singular as defined by Rockquemore and Brunsma:
|"Being biracial means merely
acknowledging racial categorization
of a person’s birth parents. At the extreme, respondents did not
deny the existence of their opposite race parent, but it was not
salient in defining their self-understanding and may not have been
offered as identifying information unless specifically requested."75
Where I would diverge with this definition as it applies to María in that I think her Black heritage was very salient to her self-identity. It was a contributor to the identity crisis referred to by Victoria and the reason why she forgets in her narrative.
Lydia and Edna’s Perceptions of Daniel II’s and William’s Self Identity
Daniel Thornton II served in the army during World War II. He received the Purple Heart for injuries received at Guadalcanal. Daniel passed away in 1948 from complications of his wounds. William Thornton served in the Air Force and afterwards worked in the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. He was a professor of Anthropology at Pima College (West Campus) in Tucson, Arizona. William committed suicide in 1972. Lydia comments on how each self-identified:
remember when he went into the service before
WWII he and two other black students— about his age. Oscar Bridges—he’s dead--also Bill Bailey. All three of them went into
the service. So they went to Fort Huachuca and they joined.
That’s what your Uncle Daniel went to Bougainville and then he
was wounded there. And then he came back and married a Mexican woman from across Mexico [the border] that’s Danny’s [Daniel
Thornton III] mother.
He had to identify as black and then when he came back—I don’t
know how he self-identified —he married a Mexican woman"
"[Your] Uncle Billy identified as Black— he looked black. He
spoke very good Spanish and very good English. And he went to—
he joined the Air Force and he went to— one of the places he was stationed was in Kansas. So after the war—I don’t know if he
went in the war or not. He joined the Air Force and he—I think
his time was up.So he stayed in Kansas [Topeka] and went to
college and he finished and he met Miriam [his wife] I think--
There are some instances since he spoke Spanish—he made friends
easily with Mexicans. I don’t really remember any Black friends
that he had. When he was living in Kansas—going to school—he
had a friend named Dennis—you know white— [inaudible] Air
Force. He even took him to Nogales to meet my mother and
everything which was alright. There was a very good friend I think
his name was Colonel Cromwell or something and he [William]
took Miriam to introduce to them. They visited us here and he
would get those hops—those flights—he would always visit us
here and he would go and see my mother. And when he had some
friends in Nogales that were Mexicans and he would visit them too.
And then when he went to live in Tucson— he worked at the Indian Reservation. He befriended a lot of the Indians."76
|Edna describes William in non-racial terms much as she has described herself. She does admit that he encountered an incident of racism:|
|"Uncle Billy was so very
intelligent. He was always so smart always liked the nice things Billy was
friends with Johnny Jackson--didn’t say anything about black people—he
got along with everybody. Everybody in high school liked him. He had a
particular Mexican friend, Smiley Rodriguez, whose father owned a produce
market. He befriended a white man named John "Juanito Davis" but
his wife didn’t’ want any black people in her home. She found Billy
there one day not knowing he was related to her (she was a second cousin
to Trancito) He thought of himself as everything he was—both his mother
and his father. He had my mother’s ideas and patience and was generous
and a very kind person and a good man like my father"77
|Lydia perceived that
after William’s stint in the Air Force, he felt being Mexican had
distinct advantages over being Black. She felt he initially identified as
Black. His travels around the country and seeing racist treatment and
discrimination against Blacks caused a change in his perception and
self-identification. Lydia felt that he definitely experienced some
internal conflict over his African ancestry. In her narrative on William,
there is an unstated tone which seems to points towards his general
gravitation or orientation towards non-blacks. The following statement by
G. Reginald Daniel is relevant:
|"Some individuals tend to deny
or deemphasize the Black
aspect of their identities because of the continuing stigma
attached to Blackness in American society and culture."78
|It is similarly difficult to say how Daniel II self-identified. Both Edna and Lydia remember that, like William, he did have Black friends in his youth and young adulthood (Tito Allen, Richman and Oscar Bridges and Bill Bailey). Furthermore he served in the 25th Infantry--which was a Black unit—during World War II. As Edna relates it, Daniel came close to marrying a Black woman:|
|"He was engaged to a Black
--who owned a beauty shop in New Orleans. Until he went
across the border and married a Mexican woman named Lucía"79
|Edna suspects that Lucía—the Mexican woman he did marry-- may have been of Black heritage due to strong African facial features and the fact of being from Veracruz—possibly an island near there. His close social relationships, though, were with Mexicans:|
|"He [Daniel] loved the
cowboy/western life. He was always
coming home with a horse. He had a lot of Mexican ranchero
friends…he loved Mexico and he just loved that. He helped
around the house. He used to rope us [and]…lasso us on the
horse. My brother was everything (Black and Mexican) but
he spent most of his time with Mexicans—with poor people.
Mascarena—he was one of his best friends in Mexico.
Pimienta—owned a liquor store and they spent a lot of time
together and many others."80
|Although Daniel had
close friendships and interactions with Blacks during his service in World
War II, the narratives of both Edna and Lydia seem to indicate social
interactions gravitating towards Mexicans.
Self-Identification of Daniel Thornton and William Thornton
Coming to some conclusion about how William Thornton self-identified is problematic. We have the perceptions of his sisters Lydia and Edna, but not his first-person self-understanding. Did he typify a protean identity which shifts between Black and Mexican (in this case) dependent upon the social context or what Maria Root and Cookie Stephan call situational race? Lydia observed that he seemed to move well within both White and Mexican social circles but did not seem to have any Black friends. After observing bias against Blacks (I don’t know if he experienced any firsthand) might he have articulated to a singular identity? What Lydia recollects would suggest that William gravitated towards non-Blacks—particularly Mexicans—but also Whites and Native Americans. He appears to not have socialized with Blacks other than his own relatives. Or perhaps William is best described in an article by Charles Jaret and Donald Reitzes:
|"… that people shift into or
claim racial-ethnic identities that
increase their political, economic, or social benefits or minimize
their disadvantages, though admittedly there are personal, situational,
and structural restrictions on the feasibility of some people’s choice
of racial-ethnic identities"81
|A question that will
be forever unanswered is what role, if any, William’s quandary over his
self-identity play in his decision to commit suicide
Daniel’s self-identity had elements of the integrative and the synthesized integrative models. He was situated in and had a comfort level in both Black and Mexican cultures. His identification at the same time seemed protean. Much like his brother William, Daniel was able to shift his "self" (or what María Root has called fluidity) according to the cultural context he found himself in. It would seem that in some sense both William and Daniel’s self-identities were an ongoing process similar to that described in the study of identity formation in Canadians of mixed race:
|"The process of identity
formation itself occurs in a series of stages
in which bonds to different racial or cultural groups are independent
of each other. Therefore, mixed race individuals may simultaneously maintain both strong and weak ties to both heritages…Certain
aspects of racial and ethnic identities are highlighted in particular
contexts and at different times."82
Self-Identity in the Third Generation: Rosenda Elizabeth Moore,
Alva Moore Stevenson and
Victoria Reyes Díaz
Rosenda and Alva (Lydia’s daughters) and Victoria (María’s daughter) self-identify racially and culturally in ways which both mirror their mothers and diverge from them. We must also consider that Lydia and María came of age—childhood, adolescence and adulthood in the 1920s-1940s—a time in our nation still fraught with racial tensions,contentiousness indeed violence towards Blacks. Though Daniel taught his children Black pride; being Black had not yet become beautiful. By the time Rosenda, Alva and Victoria were young adults (1960s-1980s); the situation though not perfect had changed considerably. But did the social climate have any bearing on their self-identity?
Perhaps—but familial, peer and other external influences--as you will see--appear to be more salient.
Rosenda Elizabeth Moore was born in Los Angeles, California, December 20, 1962. When she was nine years old the family moved from their mostly-African American neighborhood in Mid-City Los Angeles to the mostly-White Culver City. Rosenda attended at various times schools which ranged from mostly-Black to mixed to mostly-White. She graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, California with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing . For the last fifteen years she has worked as a Bookeeper in the financial department of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. Rosenda is also a certified tax preparer.
Rosenda’s self-identity is profoundly influenced by her mother Lydia’s:
|"I have always identified
only as black. At no time did I change
my self-image in that way. I think perhaps because I never fluently
learned Spanish in my life, that really prevented me from ever seriously identifying as a Latina, also. I feel comfortable around Latino people in general, and I do now recognize certain traditions we learned from our mother [Lydia Thornton Moore], such as certain foods, those little
stories we talked about the other day. [such as La Llorona82]
I just remembered one: did she ever tell you how some
Latino men "they like their women barefoot and pregnant,
and chained to the kitchen stove"? She told me that when I
was about eight or nine when she said it was real important
that I finish school and learn things about how to take care
of myself. But as I said before, because I did not attain
fluency in Spanish, perhaps that is why I did not identify as
Latina at all."83
|There is a similitude
between the way Lydia’s racial self-identification was influenced
by her father Daniel, and how she in turn influenced Rosenda’s. Rosenda has articulated to a Black identity informed by her Mexican heritage. She attributes the lack of identification as Latina with the failure to learn Spanish. Language is one of those commonalities of culture that Cookie White Stephan discusses as contributing to an identification with a particular ethnic group. We must remember too that Rosenda is the product of Alfred--who is a strong Black nationalist and has raised his children with a monoracial identity defined as identification with only one race. And Lydia who—though she self-identifies with both races—has articulated towards a Black identity
Rosenda articulates how her parents’ self-identity has affected her own:
|"I think it was very
important, instrumental really, in how I
have identified racially myself, throughout my entire lifetime.
Even though I knew Mom was also of Mexican as well as
a Latina woman. I didn't really think of her mixed heritage
|She may be one of those individuals who Michael Thornton describes in Hidden Agendas, Identity Theories, and Multiracial People:|
|"who consider themselves
multiracial but do not identify themselves
by every component of their heritage. They may not feel close to
all or any part of their heritage, and they have not been exposed
to one or all the components of it."85
|Rosenda’s lack of identification as a Latina was not at all due to lack of exposure to that part of her culture. Rather it was an almost total orientation towards a Black identity. In the Moore home, there was definite pressure on Rosenda to identify as Black:|
|"From inside the family yes
[there was pressure to identify as Black].
From Mommy somewhat, in her gentle way, but most definitely from Daddy. I always felt a big push from him,
from childhood on until this very day at my age of 39. I've felt a
strong pressure from him, in positive reinforcement as well as negative
reinforcements and criticisms of myself and my actions. For instance,
At about the same time, he also did occasionally criticize me for
More recently he has made the comment to me "You've been hanging
|The Moore family moved to a mostly-white neighborhood when Rosenda was nine years old. This led to friendships with Whites and an orientation towards "White" culture (at least in her father’s perceptions). I would characterize these experiences as a stage in the formation of Rosenda’s identity. This is described in Rockquemore and Brunsma in their discussion of identity formation:|
|"progressing through a variety
of exploratory and experimental
stages that culminate in a decision, or commitment…the formation
of racial identity may follow a process similar to the formation of ego
identity because individuals explore and make various levels of
commitment over time."87
|Her father Alfred was adamant that his daughter be Black and not "White." What might have happened had Rosenda learned Spanish and articulated to a Mexican identity? One can only speculate. Rosenda given the racial orientation—if you will—in her home should have emerged a fiery Black nationalist like her father. Her Black identity is primary but moreso because of the influence of Lydia’s dual identity (but articulating to a Black identity) than Alfred’s staunch nationalism. Rosenda self-identifies as Black with her Mexican heritage as a subtext, in contrast to her mother for whom it is a duality. Alfred’s questioning of Rosenda’s authenticity or "Blackness" strikes an angry chord. Her father’s influence upon her identity is less salient and she rejects his rigid definition of Blackness. Lydia has transmitted two influences: the Mexican culture passed on to her from Tráncito; and her Black identity passed on from Daniel and reinforced by Alfred after her marriage. In so doing she has helped produce Rosenda who fundamentally experiences the world as a Black person but with a multiracial mindset:|
|"Individuals who are
socialized as multiracial usually benefit
from their heritage. Their families provide them with a cultural
education that is broader than that of monoracial children,
giving both a larger knowledge base and a more well- rounded
sense of the world. They have an enhanced sense of self and
identity, and greater intergroup tolerance, language facility,
appreciation of minority group cultures, and ties to single-heritage
groups than do mono-racial people."88
|Rosenda had been socialized from a relatively early age in mixed—but often largely-White environments. But she perceives that articulating towards a mostly Black self-identity has endured despite the social groups she has moved in:|
|"The only advantage I can
think of is, although I am proud of
being Black and also of Latino heritage, is that because I have
had a strong self-identification no matter what race of people
I have been around at work, in school, and in the various
neighborhoods I have lived in. I really have had no problems
with any particular race or nationality of people I meet in life.
Frankly, the meanest things anyone has said to me to my face
have been from other Black men and women over the years,
but only occasionally. And none of those people knew me well
enough to know that I am proud to be a Black woman, regardless
of what I look like to others, how I speak, where I go, or how
."The advantage of never losing my self-identity [is] no matter
what type of people I am exposed to is a very good thing in
my mind. But I don't know if you would consider that
specifically an advantage of how or what I have identified myself
as--or more an advantage to my point of view, and how
I see my place in the world, [and] locally in the community."89
Blacks questioning—including her father--her
authenticity echo the experiences of her Aunt Edna—and to a lesser
extent—her mother Lydia. And like Edna in particular Rosenda doesn’t
require external validation of the path she’s taken in her
self-identity. Where the similarity ends is that Rosenda is more
identifiably Black Proficiency in the Spanish language provided Lydia and
Edna a tool for social and racial negotiation that Rosenda didn’t
have. But I believe Rosenda self-identifies as Black—and that identity
is informed by a multiracial mindset. It is the sum of various push and
pull factors: family, friends and peers.
My mother influenced my pride in being Black "in her gentle way." She bolstered my self-esteem in the face of much sustained external criticism. There was "strong pressure" from my father to be Black and to be so in a certain fashion from my earliest recollections as a child. I was eight years old when my sister was born and came home from the hospital during Christmas week in 1962. I saw Rosenda for the first time and matter-of factly stated, "Oh—a Mexican baby!" With her olive skin and jet black hair—that’s exactly what she looked like. I don’t recall exactly what my father said but he was quick to correct me and say that she was Black. As we grew older, his version of being Black didn’t include, among other things, having White friends or listening to "White" music. What I would say is that his proselytizing to us on being Black was relatively louder than my mother Lydia—but definitely didn’t drown her out. Like her mother Tráncito she inculcated the Mexican culture by cooking the food; relating folktales and songs. Another strong influence were the yearly summer visits to visit my grandmother Tráncito in Nogales. For a sustained period of time each year what my mother transmitted to us was duly reinforced. The visits also afforded us the opportunity to interact with our grandmother’s relatives such as her sister—our Tía Ramona. It was also distinguished by the fact that, for the most part, only Spanish was spoken.
The path to my self-identity as an adult is similar to my sister Rosenda’s. To the extent that we both were plucked from an African American neighborhood and from our Black social networks—it is the same. Then the path diverges: there were other factors which weigh into the equation of my identity. Very light skin color; shyness and being overweight had an impact on my social networks before ever attending the mostly-white Pasteur Junior High School. Like Rosenda, I had mostly-White friends because that was the environment into which I was placed. I perhaps shied away from Blacks—who had not treated me the best—and towards Whites who seemed friendlier. Had I been thin, more outgoing or darker-skinned—maybe I would have fit into Black social networks—but that is conjecture. My middle and high school years were excruciating: not only did Black students question my authenticity but my own father did. There seemed to be no recognition on his part that the decision to place me at a mostly-White school for political reasons (i.e., to desegregate it and that it was supposedly better academically) had made me "less-Black."
Like my sister, I have gone through the same and decidedly different experimental and exploratory stages on the road to my self-identity. In my senior year in high school I even went through a "Black nationalist" phase when I attempted to revive the BSU (Black Student Union) at my high school. This was an attempt on my part to counter charges by two young African American classmates that I was, "a[n] [Uncle] Tom to my heart" I had made the grievous mistake of criticizing one of their brothers who was running for student body president. The implication was that I was "not Black enough" and had no right to do so.
Within one year after high school graduation in June of 1972 began a search or quest-- if you will--towards my self-identity which consisted of three pivotal events or influences. The first was attending West Los Angeles Community College. I began to interact with African Americans who were not at all concerned whether I spoke, acted or was "authentically" Black. This was really the first time that my self-identity as Black was validated externally by other African Americans.
The second event to occur which affected my self-identity was my marriage in 1973. My mother-in-law (Berta) is a member of the Clark family—belonging to the Afro-Mexican community in Nogales. My father-in-law (Jesse Stevenson) is of Mexican-Osage heritage whose stepfather was Black. I entered a social and family circle where my identity was not questioned but value was placed on skills and abilities, one’s character--indeed me as a person. I received validation as a Black person but I didn’t’ have to be "authentic." My husband (Richard) and his brothers (Jesse and Steve) had been brought up in Black and multiracial neighborhoods and attended mostly Black and multiracial schools. Their identity formation was informed by parents whose own self-perceptions and identity are what I would categorize in the range from Black-to-multiracial-to-non-racial. As a result the sons have negotiated their identities well within various social networks comprising various racial groups. This has extended to their marriages and courtship as well. None of this was lost on me and has definitely influenced my self-perception. Self-identity, though the theories state that it should be pretty well-formed by adulthood, can be an ongoing process throughout one’s life.
Thirdly, in 1978 following the birth of my daughter Julie,I began researching my family genealogy, a process that would continue through the 1990s. Beginning with the genealogy of my father Alfred, I discovered that his side of the family was both quite African American on the one hand with my paternal grandmother Elizabeth Braden Moore’s descendants traced back to Portuguese West Africa. But at the same time my paternal grandfather Fields Robert Moore’s side revealed Native American and European-American roots. During Reconstruction my great-grandmother Mary, listed as mulatto on the 1880 Lewisburg, Tennessee census, gave birth to my grandfather and his siblings while a cook in the household of John Moore. He was the father and supposedly of Irish-Jewish descent. Considering the many non-black components of my father’s lineage; it is ironic that he expected his daughters to adhere to such a narrow definition of being Black.
But what really signaled both a turning point and a revelation in my self-identity was when I started researching my mother’s side of the family in the late 1980s-early 1990s (the details earlier stated in this study). Discovering my Afro-Mexican lineage really filled a void and helped me to pin down more closely what my self-identity really is. Throughout my life I was "knocked over the head" with my Black identity by my father while my mother quietly reinforced that--but also taught us our Mexican heritage. Even when I articulated to a Black identity in early adulthood—there was something lacking. At various times in my childhood, youth and adulthood I’ve sensed that my self-identity was not fully formed.
What role has my physical appearance played in my self-identity? Like my mother and her siblings, I am very light-skinned with a combination of African and Mexican physical features. Several relatives and friends liken my appearance and mannerisms to my grandmother Tráncito but also the women in my grandfather Daniel’s family. My light skin color really was not a primary source of tension with other Blacks. It was moreso that I did not act "Black-enough" in terms of the cultural aspects such as my speech, what music I listened to and my social networks—who my friends were. But my light skin color didn’t help the situation in my interactions with Blacks. One recurring personal experience during my adulthood has been a twist on a momentary crisis of racial meaning in my interactions with Mexicans or Latinos. This term coined by Omi and Winant in Racial Formation in the United States refers to meeting a person and their attempts to ascertain your correct racial categorization. What usually happens is that a person of Mexican or Latino descent will immediately speak to me in Spanish—the assumption of my race already made. I’m not a native speaker like my mother but have some facility in the language. Sometimes I can "pull it off" and if I can’t; I just tell them (in Spanish) that I speak very little. Many times they will say that they thought I was Mexican or Latino because of the way I look. During my earlier days when I was trying very hard to be "Black" there was some misplaced annoyance when these incidences occurred. Annoyance has been replaced by pride in a mixed heritage and its advantages. I can only recount one instance where a Black person didn’t know how to "place" me. He said that he didn’t know whether to say, "Hello" or "Que Pasa?." I’ve heard many Black people say that they can spot one of their own anywhere—in any crowd. Maybe they can spot that "one-drop"?
Victoria Reyes Diaz was born in Alameda, New Mexico on July 7, 1941. From age nine to fourteen she lived with her maternal grandmother [Tráncito Pérez Thornton] and attended Nogales, Arizona public schools. At age fifteen she went back to live with her biological mother [María Thornton López] and attended public school in Tucson. Victoria graduated from the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and a Master of Arts in Organizational Management. For the past twenty-seven years she has worked as a Nurse Manager and Mentor in the health maintenance industry. Victoria is certified in the fields of Phlebotomy, intravenous therapy, and notary public work
The self-identity of Victoria’s mother María has an effect upon her own. Victoria states that their Black heritage was always discussed in a negative light:
"My self-identity perceptions as a child were
difficult and confusing
|As a youth, Victoria’s self-identity seemed to be confused and in flux but she begins to articulate to her father’s identity and continues so as an adult:|
"As a youth, my self- identity perceptions were still
"As an adult, I have developed very strong cultural
self-awareness and sensitivity to my Mexican-Indian heritage. But at the
same time I have learned to appreciate my maternal heritage as a
contributing factor to
|A Mexican-Indian identity is obviously where Victoria has received the most external validation and is a social space where she feels comfortable. But she does note that Black people seem to be "drawn to her":|
"I conclude that my Mexican-Indian heritage as well
as my Black
"Being three-quarters Mexican-Indian the Southwestern
part of the
That Victoria has chosen a largely Mexican-Indian identity
from her youth is not surprising. The salient influences have been her
mother’s reinforcement; her marriage and the fact that she’s fluent
not only in the Spanish language but knowledgeable in the Mexican-Indian
culture are all pull factors in her self-identity. The push
factors away from a Black identity were the confusing period of her
childhood and early youth. As an adult Victoria has now been able to
integrate all parts of who she is into a healthy self-identity.
Furthermore she has raised her three sons in that same manner. She has met
the challenge for biracials articulated by Roger Herring and Jewelle
Taylor Gibbs, "[To] successfully integrate dual racial and/or
cultural identifications while also learning how to develop a positive
self-concept and sense of competence." Although the Herring/Gibbs
challenge refers to adolescents—it applies equally well to adults.
about Self-Identity in the Third Generation of the Thornton Family
The ways in which Rosenda, Alva and Victoria have chosen to self-identify racially and culturally are each different among them. We must look at the similarities and the differences in influences and outcomes. The self-identities of both Rosenda and Victoria were profoundly influenced by the way their mothers—in particular—perceived themselves. In Victoria’s case the conflicts her mother María experienced in coming to terms with her Black heritage were transmitted to the second generation. During her youth she articulated to the Mexican-Indian heritage of her father— encouraged by her mother. Therapy was eventually required to help Victoria come to terms and make peace with her self-identity. This in turn enabled her to foster healthy self-perceptions in her own children.
Rosenda self-identifies as Black influenced heavily by her mother Lydia’s identity. Her mother transmitted the Mexican culture but Rosenda never learned the Spanish language. The Mexican heritage therefore has been an underlying, not unimportant, but less salient part of her identity. Rosenda’s father Alfred is a Black nationalist and admonished her to embrace an African American identity. One of the push factors which prevented Rosenda from embracing a truly singular Black identity was her father’s policing of her Blackness. The sum of her mother’s influence including transmission of Mexican culture and experiences with peers and friends of many races informs her identity. Rosenda self-identifies as Black but informed by a multiracial mindset.
How would I categorize my own self-identity? Like Rosenda
and Victoria my parents were a profound influence—each in different
ways. As stated earlier, my mother influenced me in the following ways:
transmitting the Mexican culture and her own dual self-identity which
articulates to being African American. My father’s rigid definition of Blackness
was a push factor away from a singular African American identity.
But his unwavering social activism influences my identity. Like Rosenda I
perceive that self-identity as a Latina was precluded by my not speaking
Spanish. Like other members of both the second and third generation—my
self-perception is complex in that I don’t fit into a neat model of
biracial identity. Above and beyond my parents, the experiences and people
which inform my self include such diverse elements as: my family
history which includes descendants who were slaves as well as those who
played a role in the Mexican Revolution; the diverse nature of my husband’s
family; and interacting with people of various racial and ethnic groups in
the course of my academic and professional life. I have a clearer picture
of my self-identity today than ever in my life. Basically I articulate
towards a Black self-perception informed by my Mexican lineage. I’d like
to change—though—what Black means to be more inclusive of my
Mexican, European and Native American roots. Ideally I would work
towards a border identity which incorporates all of one’s various
heritages into a unique "hybrid" identity that does not specify
identification with one particular race.
Conclusions about Self-Identity in the Second Generation of the Thornton Family
One of the legacies that Tráncito and Daniel passed along to their children and grandchildren was tolerance for people of other races, ethnicities and cultures:
|"There was no black church in
Nogales. My mother used to
take all of us--family and friends-- to the Mexican Methodist
Church. They used to have services at the Grand Avenue
School on Sundays. John Sunny (an African American) used
to have services at his home—he had a sunrise service one
Easter. His property was connected with Stewart Granger
(the actor) in Yerba Buena."
"She [Tráncito] opened a restaurant in Nogales—the place
was full because Camp Little was there—the[Black] soldiers
used to go there and have breakfast. She met a lot of people.
As time went on the restaurant customers kept visiting my
mother. The reason she left the restaurant is that she said her
children needed her. She decided she would be a seamstress
at home. So they were the wives and girlfriends of the soldiers
from Camp Little. They used to go dancing (like the Butler
sisters; Anita Oliver and Maria Fuller). She made all kinds
of dresses for dances and church. The house was always full
of Black people"95
|Also the transmittal of race and culture. By the time Daniel returned to the United States in 1914—he was grounded in two cultures: one his native African American and the other his adopted Mexican. In learning the language (in an unconventional manner) he had also formed strong bonds of friendship during his years in Mexico (1901-14) and learned much about the culture:|
|"In the case of my father, he
said the way he learned [Spanish]
I guess you would call it bad words. The reason they learned is
because the Mexicans and Blacks were friendly . One of the
teach him how to say bad words. So my father learned the bad
Daniel not only learned Spanish but the Mexican culture. At the same time—he retained a strong Black identity and culture. Tráncito chose to retain Spanish as her native language and not learn English. At the same time she was ever respectful of Daniel’s culture and strong Black identity. From infancy Tráncito taught her children the Spanish language and Mexican culture through foodways; song; folktales and curative herbs. Just as important were what Daniel taught: the African American foodways; Thornton family and Black history—and very salient in Lydia’s case—Black pride.
He and Tráncito were also obviously adept at cross-racial and cross-cultural friendships. The skill—if you will--involved in such relationships was passed onto their children. It is aptly described by Cookie White Stephan in Mixed-Heritage Individuals states that:
|"there are benefits of
mixed-heritage status, including increased contact with members of one’s
heritage groups, enjoyment of the cultures of one’s heritage groups,
facility in languages spoken by one’s heritage groups, and intergroup
These many factors may explain why Edna, María, Daniel and William self-identify either non-racially or ambiguously. Furthermore they may have contributed to their decisions to self-identify uniquely in ways which defied the notion that they could only be Black. Lydia, though, chooses an identity which acknowledges a dual identity but articulates more towards a Black identity. The second generation Thorntons have negotiated social spaces and resultant identities within and among each of their racial heritages.
I want to explore the differences between the way Lydia has self-identified and her brothers and sisters—in particular Edna. Though they were all brought up together—the sum of their parents’ influences and values and their own experiences—they have self-identified in divergent ways. One explanation could be that Lydia had more opportunities to develop what Stanford researcher Bobby Vaughn terms a marked Black identity. Afro Mexicans on the west Mexican coast region of Costa Chica self-identify largely as Mexican as opposed to Black. Dr. Vaughn theorizes that they have not had the chance to be exposed to the Black nationalist currents of the Caribbean like Afro Vercruzanos for instance. Lydia was exposed throughout her life to such influences: her father Daniel; elementary schoolteacher Florence Mills; her Afro Latino friends during WWII and in her adult life. Edna, María, Daniel and William had varying degrees of exposure to African Americans. As stated elsewhere in this study, the influence of family and peers is salient in identity.
There are both historical and contemporary parallels in the second generation’s self-identity and the way they view race external to themselves. R. Douglas Cope in The Limits of Racial Domination discusses the sistema de castas as it relates to the castas or mixed-race residents of Mexico City in the 17th century. This hierarchical caste system, which privileged lighter-skinned peoples over darker, was eschewed and largely ignored by the castas:
|"[The castas] demonstrated
their creativity by redefining race in a way that made sense to them and
served their purposes."98
This is precisely what operates in the self-identities of both the second and third generation Thorntons. They are active agents in asserting who they are in racial terms. Their agency relatively speaking had varying outcomes—some tragic—as in the case of William.
Edna and María state rather firmly that they experienced no discrimination or bias because of their color. Their perceptions echo findings by Sagrario Cruz Carretero in a study of Afro Mexicans in the towns of Las Iguanas; El Coyolillo; and Mata Clara in the early 1990s. What Carretero discovered in interviews with residents is that "definitely they deny to be Black, they prefer to be called morenos which means colored. She found that Afro Mexicans in these towns readily identify others as Black and always as darker in skin tone than themselves."99 You’ll recall that Edna perceived her skin color (and that of her siblings) "wasn’t that dark at all." (see page 26, paragraph 1) It is interesting to note this similitude in self-perceptions connecting Afro Mexicans born both in Mexico and the United States. The varying ways in which Lydia, Edna, María and their children see themselves mirror the Afro Mexicans during the colonial period in Cope’s study.
What role does the stigmatization of blackness play in their self-identification? Neil Foley explains how Mexicans have fought the stigma of their race by equating, "Americanness with whiteness and therefore embarked on a strategy of dissociating themselves from African Americans."-- That stigma is described by Foley as:
|"Neither black or white,
Mexicans were usually regarded as a
degraded ‘mongrel’ race, a mixture of Indian, Spanish, and African ancestry, only different from Indians and Africans in the degree of
their inferiority to whites. Indeed many Whites considered Mexicans
inferior to Indians and Africans because they were racially mixed, a
hybrid race that represented the worst nightmare of what might become
of the white race if they let down their racial guard."—
Several of the Thorntons—particularly Edna, William and María were probably, "exasperated by the idea that their ethnic backgrounds—as Irish, Mexican, German, etc.—are obliterated by the necessity to maintain ‘blackness’"--
What role did physical appearance play in how the Thornton second generation self-identified? Historically phenotype—a fundamentally flawed determinant—has been used to classify one’s race:
"According to the commonsense assumption that race is
a biological as opposed to a socially constructed reality, individuals’
physical traits determine racial group membership."100
|For a biracial person there can exist a great chasm between their self-understanding and how society identifies them due to their physical appearance. In her narrative Edna discusses her appearance as the cause of confusion over her identity (the "what are you?" question). Blacks seem to claim her as their own but it is Mexicans who seem to concern themselves with her African ancestry. Perhaps the following passage is instructive:|
|"when people place others,
they engage in a complementary placing of themselves so that each actor’s
‘place’ is relative to he ‘place of others.’ When people respond
to others’ appearance, they respond to their own appearance as
The stigmatization of Blackness manifests itself in Mexican attitudes towards African Americans and can be traced to a historical way of thinking imported from Mexico. It is a sort of cultural baggage that is not dissimilar from the American variety. Both Blackness and Mexicanness are constructed as inferior to whiteness. On a relative scale, though, being Mexican trumps being Black.
Many Blacks with whom Edna has interacted have "placed" her as African-American. Mexicans do not claim her and attempt to "place" her lower than themselves (see page 32, paragraph 2) by calling attention to her African ancestry as something which is undesirable. Because Edna eschews a strict racial identification for herself—this "placing" by others has no effect. Lydia and María do not discuss their physical appearance per se in their narratives. Lydia might have entered exclusively Mexican or non-black social circles—facilitated by her Spanish language fluency--but chose not to. Speaking Spanish for María on the other hand allowed her to negotiate a non-Black/Mexican identity--regardless of how she may have been "placed" racially by others.
And what role, if any, does colorism play in this discussion of the Thornton second generation’s physical appearance? Colorism is defined as bias or discrimination based on the color of one’s skin. The term has recently come into play in describing intra-racial discrimination among African Americans based upon lighter or darker skin tones. Does it apply here to biracial individuals? It is hard to say whether their light skin color afforded Thorntons a tool for negotiating their social spaces with various racial groups. The literature indicates that biracial women may have a more difficult time accepting their African physical features than men.102 As earlier stated (page 11, paragraph 1), Lydia had the hurtful experience related to her curly hair and how Tráncito could not comb it. To solve the problem, her father Daniel cut their hair in a boy’s style. For women and young girls, others’ perception of one’s appearance can profoundly affect self-esteem. Lydia does characterize this as a negative experience. Edna, on the other hand, relates how pretty others think she and her siblings are from childhood. If there were any negative experiences related to appearance—she doesn’t say. María does not discuss her appearance at all. If the implication is that men have a less difficult time accepting their own African physical features; perhaps this facilitated William and Daniel’s functioning in society. And by extension—their self-identity.uisite for their functioning in society and forming a self-identity.
In studying the second generation of the Thornton family (Lydia, Edna, María, William and Daniel) it becomes readily apparent that the self-identity of each varies widely. Kerry Ann Rockquemore and David Brunsma come to a similar conclusion in Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America when they state, "people with the same parental background (one black and one white [in this case Mexican] parent) can make very different choices about their identity(ies)." That the variations have occurred within the same family and of the same mother and father is even more intriguing. . How do we account for the variations? I have also discovered that none of the self-identities of the second generation fall within one neat, tidy, biracial identity model. I have considered such factors as family, peers and other external influences in the self-identification of the Thornton second generation. I would like to explore more thoroughly what bearing those external influences have on their identity in the role of push and pull factors103
William and Daniel: both exhibited elements of the protean as well as the integrative and functional integrative identity models. Both were able to shift who they were racially according to the social context or situation. But was this really a result of the biracial dynamic? We’ve observed through the narratives of the Thornton daughters that their father and mother were adept at social interactions with both races. It may have been simply a function of the tolerance I surmise was passed from the first generation to the second—possibly a push and pull factor. In speaking of their brother William, each comments on how he saw himself, filtered through the lens of their own self-identity. Lydia believes he identified as Black and Edna will only say that "he thought of himself as everything he was—both his mother and his father." In reference to Daniel, Lydia believes he self-identified as Black but registers some doubt since he married a Mexican woman. Edna only says that he was "everything"--both Black and Mexican. Buried in each’s narrative on their brothers are inadvertent clues that may belie or betray their perceptions of them. Lydia thought that William self-identified as Black but she couldn’t recall any Black friends he had. Similarly Edna recalls that Daniel was both Black and Mexican but relates that most of his social relationships were with Mexicans. Although there is little upon which to base a solid conclusion—Daniel entered the military in the years previous to Truman’s desegregation order in 1944. Unfortunately we are not privy to whether he encountered any racism or discrimination while in the service. We do know, according to the narratives of his sisters, that he formed close friendships with other African Americans while in the all-Black 25th Infantry. At the same time—his social relationships gravitated towards Mexicans. Nor do we know if William faced racism in the Air Force. When he enlisted, the desegregation order had been in place for some years. Bearing out what Lydia said about William’s social relationships—his close friends in the military were also White. Were there factors pushing both Daniel and William away from a Black identity and pulling them toward a Mexican or non-black one? On the face of the information: there seemed to be more pull factors towards a Mexican or non-Black identity. The influence of their father Daniel and close friendships with other Blacks simply were less salient. Perhaps the words of New York City Council member Guillermo Linares—the first Dominican U.S. elected official—is apropos here, "Where you gravitate to speaks so loudly."104
Because María was not as forthcoming with specifics of how she self-identifies, I tenuously assigned her a singular identity. The narrative of her oldest daughter Victoria revealed that she had a difficult time reconciling or coming to terms with her African descent. That confusion—by her daughter’s admission—had keenly affected her children’s self-esteem. Debate exists in the literature on biracial identity formation on the relationship between identification with a low-status group and low self-esteem. Rockquemore and Brunsma in Beyond Black cite that studies in the sixties and seventies by researchers such as Gordon (1964); Henriques (1974); and Ladner (1977) "found that biracial youths have low self-esteem, confused racial or ethnic identity, and psychological or behavioral problems." A newer study by Jewelle Taylor Gibbs and Alice Hines (1992) revealed that "biracial respondents…had a positive sense of self esteem." Yet another study by Lynda Fields showed that "no difference existed between biracial, black and white respondents in their sense of self-worth." The aforementioned studies have applied almost exclusively to the biracial who is Black/White. What about biracials of two marginalized and historically-stigmatized racial groups? The answer may be in the concept of overidentification whereby ‘biracials…identify themselves exclusively as one race or the other." There may be a range of feelings from merely negative to outright rejection of the race with which the person does not identify. The biracial person whose heritages are of two marginalized groups (in this case Black and Mexican)—might choose identification with the group they perceive to be less-marginalized and stigmatized. It may very well be that a non-black identity—be it White, Mexican or Indian—is easier to negotiate socially than a Black identity. María might fit that definition but I would be hard pressed to say that Lydia, Edna, William or Daniel do. We must also consider that María left home and traveled to Texas, New Mexico and California during her marriages. She was not forthcoming with details of her marriages—all to Mexican men—and what the dynamic was with regards to her self-identification. Or if she faced racism and discrimination from others. It would seem that there were many factors pushing María away from a Black identity and towards a Mexican one.
Edna typifies elements of the transcendent, border and blended identity models, all of which reject strict racial categorization. She views herself in strictly non-racial terms and has fought external attempts to label her. The social space in which Edna found herself once she left Nogales is in what Rockquemore and Brunsma term the, "chasm between…self-identification (as biracial [Black and Mexican]) and society’s identification…(as black)"105 In essence her self-identity was a response to Blacks and Mexicans (in particular) attempts at classifying her. The push and pull factors probably have no salience to her identity.
Lydia’s self-identity has elements of the singular, and border, nigrescence and functional integrative models. She self-identifies as Black and Mexican but fundamentally experiences the world as a Black person. Simply stated—there were more push and pull factors that informed the difference between her self-identity and that of her siblings. Those pull factors toward a Black identity were earlier stated in this study: her parents, peers, friends and husband. Lydia didn’t speak of any push factors away from a Mexican identity. That is in fact a non-issue since her Mexican heritage (particularly her Spanish language fluency) is really a subtext and a fundamental part of her self-identity.
Lydia, Edna, William and Daniel were children in the 1920s and coming into adulthood in the early 1940s— just out of Reconstruction and at a time when Blacks still experienced brutality and oppression due to their color. Earlier in this study I mentioned the fact that racism and discrimination existed in Nogales but was quietly tolerated and never discussed. This is borne out in the narratives of Lydia, Edna and María. Although Edna and María deny that they personally ever experienced any racism or discrimination—they state that it did happen to others. I think that Edna, María, Daniel and William must have encountered racism once they left Nogales. Lydia relates her first experience with discrimination in the military—but it was not overt such as a personal assault. It was institutional racism in the form of a segregated regiment which was basically pegged to perform duties that whites would not. And we must remember that Lydia was given a choice whether to join the white or the Black women’s regiment. Why was she given an option when other Black women were not? Was it because of her light skin color—Lydia says it was not—but because her English was poor. She chose the Black regiment because she perceived an affinity with the other Black women. Is it possible that the experiences of her siblings with racism and discrimination in the real world were as benign? Its very possible, but I have to wonder why Lydia articulated to a Black identity and her siblings did not. Did negative experiences with racism that we are unaware of act as push factors away from a Black identity? Their facility in the Spanish language may have provided a tool for negotiating their social space and racial identities Perhaps Spanish fluency afforded Lydia, Edna, María, William and Daniel a relative buffer against racism and discrimination—but it varied among each of them and was not total. It allowed them facility or latitude in how they self-identified with mixed results. Edna, María, William and Daniel were able to articulate towards a non-racial or non-black identity. What we don’t know is if that translated into a good quality of life for each since we know there was some internal identity conflict for both William and María.
What about the fact that racism and discrimination was never discussed in the Thornton home? Did this have a positive or negative bearing on how each of the second generation interacted socially and, by extension, self-identified? In a passage cited earlier in this study (see page 40 paragraph 2) biracial individuals whose parents did not discuss racism and discrimination in the home; learned tolerance and acceptance towards diverse groups by "osmosis" or example from their parents. This was definitely the experience in the Thornton home and the example set by Daniel and Tráncito. But there is discussion in the literature about the adverse effects:
|"When the family fails to
provide adequate preparation for the racism extant in society and/or fails
to provide the developmental experiences necessary for more general
emotional health, one possible result is a disordered sense of
self-importance or self-denigration."106
I could not say with certainty that this applied to any of the second generation except María—and even that would be conjecture. As stated earlier, explicit discussion of being mixed-race and the racism and discrimination they might encounter in society did not occur in the Thornton home. For Lydia, Edna, William and Daniel, it apparently was not a prerequisite.
I would like to return to a discussion of the chronological time period in which the Thornton second generation were becoming adults and fully forming their identities
(1940s). The notion of hypo descent or the "one-drop" rule was firmly in place and remains so to this day. As Rockquemore and Brunsma have stated, Blacks, whites and biracial have historically bought into "the one-drop rule. Unquestioned acceptance ended when the multiracial movement challenged that norm during the debate over adding a multiracial category to the 2000 census." I believe that Edna, María, William and Daniel eschewed the one-drop rule (and for Edna and María continue to do so) at a time when that was simply not done. This was facilitated by each being able to speak Spanish. Lydia, on the other hand, opted for an identity which articulates toward Black but not because she specifically believes in the one-drop rule. At this juncture it may also be pertinent to talk about validation. The term identity "refers to a validated self-understanding that places and defines the individual; it establishes what and where an actor is socially."107 The earliest influences upon Lydia’s racial identity were Daniel and Tráncito. A self-identity which articulated towards Black had its genesis in her father and was further validated as she grew older in interactions with aforementioned significant others. This does not mean that the influence of her mother was less salient—it was just as strong but less-validated. For Edna, María, William and Daniel I believe the validation of their self-identity came from Mexicans, Whites, Indians and less so or not all from Blacks. Each therefore has self-identified in ways which are either non-racial (Edna) or though seeming to articulate towards a particular race (i.e. Mexican) are nonetheless ambiguous.
It should also be considered that African Americans had the least amount of racial maneuverability. Their racial status was entrenched and—unlike Mexicans—they were afforded much less flexibility in their self-identity. This may also explain why Edna, María, William and Daniel identified as they did. Taking into account practical realities in those time periods; identifying as Mexican, non-Black or ambiguously simply maximized their quality of life.
I believe the self-identities of the second generation remained mostly constant over their lifetimes. That is not to say there wasn’t conflict-- particularly for María and William. Not knowing with which race to identify is not uncommon among biracial individuals. The basis for each’s identity was laid early in life. The variance in their self-identity was due to synthesizing the parental/family culture and values with other factors such as gender and external influences such as friends, peers and societal expectations regarding their identity.
Many articles in the popular media have addressed the double-bind Afro Latinos face with regard to their identity. Delina Pryce, an Afro-Costa Rican who migrated to the U.S., articulates this well in a Hispanic magazine article108 when she states that, "being labeled ‘black’ in the United States carries a heavy burden of stereotypes that many black Latinos would rather not deal with." She states that a racial hierarchy still exists in Latin American countries with those of European ancestry at the top, and those of African ancestry one notch below the indigenous or Indio. Pryce goes on to say that Blacks in Latin America believe they can "overlook" their Blackness and be Hispanic. I must think that such attitudes carryover into the U.S. Gabriel Escobar describes the dilemma in an article in the Washington Post on Afro-Dominicans in the U.S. (The Washington Post, May 1999), "the complex and confused world of black Latinos…at once very black but not quite black enough for many African Americans, very Latino but not light enough to matter to most Hispanics." In Escobar’s article Dominican writer Junot Díaz puts it simply, "African Americans are allowed to be black because they don’t speak Spanish; but I’m not allowed to be black because I speak Spanish." Each of the Thornton second generation dealt with this quandary in their own way. To say that the road any of them took is preferable is simplistic and ignores the right of personal choice. The third generation was born at a time (1940s-1960s) when racial stratification was still very firmly in place. But as they grew into adulthood there were more choices of self-identification than for their parents. The same factors were salient: the influence of family, friends and peers. I believe added to the equation is a society slowly thinking outside of the box when it comes to a fixed racial identification.
Each member of the second and third generation Thorntons ultimately refashions what it means to be Black in a society that in the 21st century still tries to force individuals into a singular racial identification. For some of them this may mean a self-identity which articulates decidedly away from Blackness; is really not Black at all; or is completely non-racial. Or it means articulating strongly towards a Black identity but very much informed by Mexican culture particularly language. Omi and Winant in Racial Formation in the United States assert that the diversity within racial groups is lost be categorizing (African Americans for instance) in ethnic terms. That is—within the Black racial group no accommodation is made for Afro-Mexicans or Afro-Asians, Afro-Europeans etc. This is what the second and third generation of the Thornton family have confronted and dealt with through their creative self-identity.
The term multicultural is defined as of or including several cultures or ethnic groups. In recent years it is used to characterize the melangé of races, cultures and ethnic groups that make up American society. We hear much talk in the media about the multiculturalism; the tensions and conflict; and whether the U.S. is a melting pot or a salad bowl. We also know that there are increasing numbers of interracial marriages and biracial children. Is all of this a recent phenomenon? It certainly is not. Multiculturalism is not isolated nor is its genesis in the 20th and 21st centuries. Mixture of the races dates to antiquity. African facial features abound in cultures from the Greeks and Romans-- to the Chinese. Indeed African DNA has been detected in the Chinese phenotype-- Similar findings implicating the widespread nature of racial and cultural intermixture must be apparent globally. Ultimately the interracial marriage of Daniel and Tráncito and their mixed-race offspring were more commonplace than unique. They left a legacy making it possible for succeeding generations of their family to self-identify in ways that maximized their quality of life and continue the legacy of both their African American and Mexican cultures. Indeed Daniel, Edna, Lydia, María and William self-identify racially and culturally in ways divergent from the established norm and which challenge the one-drop rule which has held sway for hundreds of years. As discussed in Omi and Winant "at the micro-level, race is a matter of individuality, of the formation of identity. The ways in which we understand ourselves and interact with others, the structuring of our practical activity – in work and family, as citizens and as thinkers (or "philosophers") –these are all shaped by racial meanings and racial awareness."-- The Thorntons self-identified in these different ways but it was not open or overt—such as those involved in the biracial movement to change the U.S. census--but just in the ordinary course of their daily lives. In their story Edna, Lydia and even I have taken note (somewhat judgmentally) of Afro Mexicans who have eschewed their African descent and this one-drop rule. We are subscribing to the one-drop rule which stipulates that they must identify as Black. As hard as it may be to admit—they too are exercising agency in their racial and cultural self-identification. Are the Thorntons unique? Not at all—just one family of many which have existed and will exist over time.
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