sánchez and pita on 1848 and 1948


Rosaura Sánchez, Beatrice Pita, ‘Rethinking Settler Colonialism’, at the end of their guest issue in American Quarterly 66, 4 (2014).

The year 1948 was the Nakba, the year of catastrophe for Palestinians. For Mexicans in the US Southwest, Nakba came in 1848, with Mexico’s loss of almost half of its territory and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that subsumed the northwest of Mexico into the United States. There is much that we, the people of Mexican origin in the United States, share with the Palestinians living in Israel as well as those living in the West Bank and Gaza. Significant differences notwithstanding, what we do have in common is the dispossession of lands as well as a history of living a second-class status under a hegemonic state power imposed by historical circumstance. History has much to teach us in this regard, both in terms of commonalities and in terms of divergences.

We want to start by noting the marked differences between Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine and the situation of the contemporary Mexican-origin population in the United States, so as not to conflate the two situations. First off, an important distinction needs to be made between an indigenous population, like the Native Americans or the Palestinians, and a colonist settler population, like the Spanish Mexicans in the US Southwest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; there is also an important historical difference between the apartheid wall that separates the West Bank from Israel and, for example, the border wall that separates Tijuana from San Diego/San Ysidro. While both were clearly erected to divide, we must understand that they are barriers of different orders. Revealing parallels aside, while it is true that the Mexican-origin population suffered—and continues to suffer—acts of violence, racism, aggression, and xenophobia at the hands of the occupying dominant Anglo population since 1846, the Palestinians have been subject to far greater injustices under more recent Israeli colonialism. Moreover, racial profiling, segregation, and denial of equal rights in the United States have never been restricted solely to people living under settler colonialism in occupied territories, as is evident in the history of nineteenth-century Chinese workers, African Americans, and women in the United States. A look at these substantive differences begs a brief historical overview of the two geographic areas and of the issue of settler colonialism and its consequences.

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