by Amaury Nora
A couple of years ago, I addressed the Reconquista myth because this myth was making it rounds among hard-core right-wing pundits. It seems the same conspiracy theory is once again making those rounds again. One of the approaches xenophobic conservative pundits use to stir up fear so people are willing to support tough immigration policies is race baiting. Given the history of race relations in the US, history has shown repeatedly that this nation is willingly to act aggressively in punishing minorities.
The same right-wing populist fears that fueled the Cold War anti-communism, rallied against the Civil Rights Movement and brought about the armed citizens militia movement in the 1990s have reappeared with an elaborate conspiracy theory about the reconquering of America – La Reconquista – the idea that Mexicans are invading America to reclaim it for Mexico.
Recently, Media Matters reported that G. Gordon Liddy, on his nationally syndicated radio show, stated that undocumented immigrants from Mexico “want to reconquer America.” From Liddy’s June 5 radio show:
LIDDY: Well, now, America’s a free country. And everyone who is here legally has the protections of the Constitution, and one of them is the right to gather together peacefully to petition government, you know, with respect to any grievance that you might have. Now, I don’t have any problem with that. What I have — the problem —
LIDDY: Now, wait a minute. Now, the problem that I have is with people who come over here and instead of wanting to become Americans, you know, fly the American flag, learn English, and so forth, they want to fly the Mexican flag, they want to speak Spanish, you know, and other varieties of illegal alien. And that’s — that is what distinguishes these people from the previous immigrants. Previous immigrants said, “Man, we can’t wait to get out of” — you know, whatever the country was they came from. “We can’t wait to get to the United States. We want to be Americans, we want to learn English, and, we want, you know, the best for our children,” and what have you. And they proudly displayed the American flag. Not so, especially these illegal aliens up from Mexico and what have you. They want to reconquer America, they say. They have this outfit called the Reconconquista [sic] or something of that sort, whatever it is in illegal alien.
The tone of the national debate over immigration is being set by organizations deeply rooted in hate. Too many people, from the media to community leaders, have stood aside with other hateful sources updating their tactics of Jim Crow for the more sophisticated media environment of the 21st century.
Millions of Americans are exposed to the conspiracy theories, either through television or through the Internet. The question is where did the â€œreconqueringâ€ idea originate? One possibility could be traced back to 1917 when Arthur Zimmermann sent his infamous telegram to Mexico’s President Venustiano Carranza, at the height of World War I, known as the Zimmermann Telegram. The telegram offered to form an alliance between Germany and Mexico, while trying to remain neutral with the US. However, if US were to enter the war, the Mexican government would agree to enter the war to support Germany, while trying to persuade the Japanese government to join the new alliance. Germany also promised to provide Mexico with financial assistance and the restoration of its former territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to Mexico. It was in this telegram that the word reconquer was used.
We intend to begin on the first of February, unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we propose an alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. [emphasis mine]
You will inform the President [of Mexico] of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves.
Please call the Presidentâ€™s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Most people assume that it was the sinking of the Lusitania that brought the United States into World War I. However, some will ague that was this message that helped draw the U.S. into the war. The military alliance’s main purpose was to keep the US out of the European conflict by convincing Mexico and Japan to attack the US.
The sentiment at the time, both anti-German and anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States was high â€“ Americans where still angry over the loss of Americans lives in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 by a German U-boat and because of Pancho Villa’s recent raids into US border towns. The idea that the part of United States would possibly go back to Mexico, had Mexico complied with offer, was not very popular with the American people and did not bode well for President Woodrow Wilson.
Maybe one possible explanation for the strains between Latinos and Whites, especially in the Southwest, could be that Carranza did consider Zimmerman’s offer. Carranza assigned a general to consider the realities of a Mexican takeover of their former provinces. The general concluded that it would not work because taking over the three states would definitely cause problems and possibly war with the US; Mexico would also be incapable of accommodating a large Anglo population within its borders; and Germany would not be able to supply the arms needed in the hostilities that would surely arise. On April 14, Carranza declined Zimmermann’s proposals, by which time the US had already declared war on Germany.
Currently, nativist pundits associate “reconquista” with El Plan Espiritual de AztlÃ¡n, the manifesto that is considered to be founding document of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA). However, according to Jorge Tapia, MEChA has its founding based on a conference held in Santa Barbara, CA, El Plan de Santa Barbara, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan and ideas from other student organizations. In fact, “El Plan Espiritual de AztlÃ¡n” was not just instrumental in the founding of MEChA, but it also became the framework of the Chicano movement.
In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud historical heritage but also of the brutal “gringo” invasion of our territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlan from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare that the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable destinyâ€¦.With our heart in our hands and our hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation.
In reality, El Plan is a manifesto that appeals to nationalism as a way to achieve a self-awareness and self-esteem. El Plan never asked for the return of lost territories back to Mexico. So where did the idea of “AztlÃ¡n” come from? The concept of AztlÃ¡n began with the poet Alurista in a 1969 Denver Youth Conference that was organized by Corky Gonzales. He was one of the first poets to establish the concept of Aztlan in his writings. In an interview, Alurista said:
And while still calling California “occupied Mexico,” the poet disavows any lingering territorial claims. “People call California, Arizona, Nueva Mexico and Colorado AztlÃ¡n, but really, AztlÃ¡n is wherever we are. We don’t recognize borders. It’s more a matter of cultural/political identity. When I say this is our land, I don’t mean that we own it. Who owns anything?”
AztlÃ¡n was a spiritual concept, which was meant to unite all Chicanos/as. The reality is that Latinos are not a homogenous group and throughout the US one can find divisions within the same Latino sub-groups in the Southwest. There are considerable differences between Latinos in each State because each sub-group has their own history of discrimination and oppression. Because of this, there are consequences. Such as, Tejanos see themselves differently from those in New Mexico, Arizona and California. Maybe because Mexico lost Texas first, this probably explains why the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo is not celebrated in the state. Nuevo Mexicanos, in New Mexico also view themselves different from those in Arizona and California and vice versa, however these states have a common history, they were established from the Treaty. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
In other words, “AztlÃ¡n,” is a spiritual concept that we, as Latinos/as, have a spiritual homeland.
It is not just right-wing pundits who are fanning the flames of strife; there are prominent anti-immigrant activists such as Barbara Coe of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, John Vincent of the American Immigration Control Foundation, and Rick Oltman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform who are avid supporter of the reconquista conspiracy theory and are vehemently anti-Latino. The growing backlash against illegal immigration is creating an atmosphere of antagonism toward all Latinas/os. And many of these hate groups are eager to exploit mainstream fears.
When a society is undergoing change or turmoil, social movements can arise out of an idea that the idealized nation as being destroyed by foreign ideas. This can involve with the idea that the subversion is part of a conspiracy. In a healthy society, only a handful of people will actually consider conspiracy theories seriously. However, when conspiracy theories create a mass following, as a society, we should view this as a red flag because it is a clear indication that something is amiss in society.
Conspiracy theories about Mexico re-conquering lost territories have already seeped into conservative circles. It is just a matter of time it will make its way into progressive political circles. This not only is a waste of time and energy, but it undermines the struggle for human rights. It is important for people of all political stripes to denounce conspiracy theories as toxic to democracy.