This dissertation argues that Mexican people have made the Southern Plains into one of their homelands since the late eighteenth century. Since then, ethnic Mexicans have shaped the region’s continually changing economy, physical infrastructure, and social-cultural milieu. My research, thus, counters the depiction of ethnic Mexicans as only recent immigrants to the United States and asserts their long-term presence beyond the Southwest. In so doing, my work contributes to the ongoing scholarly project of expanding Chicana/o history outward from the core Southwest to include other regions, such as the South and the Great Plains, where the settlement of ethnic Mexicans has shaped the way these regions and societies have developed and changed over time. Overall, my research demonstrates how Chicana/o history is a fundamental part of American history from before the concept of the United States was imagined to the present-day.
Initially, Mexican people crossed ethnic and national borders to exchange goods, gifts, captives, and bloodlines with Plains Indians. To a large extent, the Southern Plains’ economy and society functioned through ethnic Mexican captives and traders. Moreover, Mexicans hunted bison and grazed livestock on the plains. They formed their foodways, economy, and various parts of their folk culture via the plains. When the U.S. Army dispossessed Plains Indians of their territory in the 1870s, ethnic Mexicans from New Mexico were among the first to build communities deep in the region. Throughout the twentieth century, Mexicans became the laboring class of much of the Southern Plains, building the region’s rail and road infrastructure along with growing its agriculture. During the 1960s and 1970s, ethnic Mexicans joined the Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement and worked towards achieving social justice in their communities by way of student activism, protests, political participation, and in particular, anti police brutality activism. By the 1980s, Mexicans started becoming the majority in communities from southwest Kansas to the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles.
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Zapata, Joel, "The Mexican Southern Plains: The Making of an Ethnic Mexican Homeland" (2019). History Theses and Dissertations. 7.
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