How the Irish, Germans, and Czechs became Anglo: race and identity in the Texas-Mexico borderlands



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This dissertation argues that Texas, a border region influenced by the disparate cultures of Mexico and the southern and western United States, developed a tri-racial society, economy, and polity in which individuals were designated "Anglo," "Mexican," or "Negro." When the Irish, Germans, and Czechs immigrated to the state in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they did not fit comfortably into these categories. They were always viewed as white, but certain traits kept them from being considered Anglo. Language, religion, the use of alcohol, and a real and reputed willingness to ally themselves with their black and brown neighbors set them apart. The Know-Nothing movement, the Civil War, Reconstruction and an 1887 prohibition referendum brought them significant hostility, even occasional violence. Their experiences in 1887 sparked efforts to "become Anglo," shedding or downplaying their prior identities. Even in the early twentieth century, the idea of Irish, German, and Czech "races" remained current; such thinking contributed to harsh federal immigration restrictions in the 1920s. But in Texas, the extension of Jim Crow-style segregation to Mexican-Americans during that period also extended the Anglo designation to all those who were not black or brown. The two world wars furthered Anglicization, making it undesirable to be identified as German-American and giving all Texans a taste of the wider world. Between the wars, the discovery of oil on land owned by some Irish helped make them Anglo. In the post-World War II era, education reform and other developments sounded the death knell for crucial Czech and German language use, while Mexican-Americans began to seek the privileges of Anglo-ness as a reward for service to their country, without having to become Anglo. Revelations of Nazi atrocities helped change understandings of race and the concept of ethnicity gained in popularity. By about 1960, most Texans considered the Irish, Germans,and Czechs Anglo. During the next decade, as legal restrictions based on race were repealed and black and brown Texans embraced their racial identities, the Irish, Germans, and Czechs not only embraced their Anglo-ness but once again began to celebrate their ethnic attributes as well.