To a crowd of roughly 25 students, Monica Muñoz Martinez GRD ’12 , an assistant professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University, said that the United States has yet to grapple with the violence against ethnic Mexicans by Texas Rangers in the early 20th century.
At a talk on Tuesday in William L. Harkness Hall, Martinez discussed her new book, titled “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in the Texas Borderlands.” The talk, hosted by the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration, was a part of the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration 20th anniversary Latinx Speaker Series. In her lecture, Martinez covered the violent acts of Texas law enforcement against ethnic Mexicans between 1910 and 1920.
“It’s an injustice that never leaves you,” Martinez said, referencing the real meaning of the title of her book. “The descendants of the victims are a part of this history.”
Martinez spoke about the effort by 20th century historians to justify the violence against both American citizens of Mexican descent and Mexican nationals living in the border region between Texas and Mexico. Her book documents not only the violence that occurred but also the way such actions were depicted in historical accounts.
Martinez called the prevailing historical approach up until now the “progress narrative.” Historians considered that violence against Mexicans as a form of progress for Texas as it protected its borderlands from a population believed to be racially inferior and violent. One of these historical accounts was that of Walter Prescott Webb. In 1935, Webb offered the first comprehensive history of the Rangers, in which he justified racial violence against ethnic Mexicans. Many Americans believed Webb’s glorified depiction of law enforcement officers and honored them in cultural institutions, such as the Arlington, Texas baseball team the Texas Rangers.
“Historians have also fallen into this trap of thinking that this phenomenon [of violence against ethnic Mexicans] has ended,” Martinez added.
But racial violence against ethnic Mexicans continues until today, she said.
Martinez noted that she began her book with the 1918 murder of Miguel Garcia’s son Florencio, whose case was emblematic of the violence against Mexicans at the time. When Florencio disappeared, Garcia approached the authorities but was met with disinterest. Later, Florencio’s body was found just outside of Brownsville, Texas. Evidence from the scene suggested that Texas Rangers had shot him in the back three times, Martinez said.
Historians estimate that hundreds of ethnic Mexicans were murdered between 1910 to 1920, Martinez said. But there is no systematic way of recording their deaths. Florencio Garcia’s death was only officially confirmed when Mexican authorities became involved.
For her book, Martinez conducted interviews with the descendants of victims of racial violence in Texas. She emphasized that the injustices committed have an impact even a century later.
Martinez explained that her book’s title, “The Injustice Never Leaves You,” was drawn from a quote from an interview she conducted with Norma Longoria Rodriguez, a descendant of two men murdered by Texas Rangers in 1918. In the quote, Rodriguez described the ongoing ramifications of this violence that occurred to her relatives a century ago.
Still, much of the public understanding about racial violence against ethnic Mexicans during this period has not changed since it occurred in the 1910s, Martinez contended. She said she is driven by a desire to change this narrative through book talks, art exhibitions and memorial gatherings along the border region.
“I’m more determined than ever,” she asserted.
Martinez also co-founded the educational nonprofit organization Refusing to Forget, an activist group that raises awareness about racial violence in Texas.
According to Professor Alicia Schmidt Camacho, the chair of the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program, the issues that Martinez discussed are particularly relevant today.
“[Martinez] is coming at a time when these topics intersect powerfully with the interests of our students and the larger community,” Camacho said.
Sandra Sanchez GRD ’24, an attendee interviewed by the News, said, as a fellow student of the Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, she felt inspired by Martinez.
Sanchez added that she cried while reading Martinez’s book, noting that the author brings the accounts of the individuals depicted in her book to life through extraordinary detail.
“It’s always really amazing to see Yale graduates, especially women of color, doing such inspiring work,” Sanchez said.
Maria Plascencia GRD ’24, a graduate student in American Studies, expressed a similar sentiment. She said she was inspired by Martinez’s ability to both conduct extensive research and get out into the field to make change.
“What was most valuable was hearing how she was a graduate student here,” Plascencia said. “It’s hard to find academics who are doing this kind of work.”
Martinez’s book was published by Harvard University Press.
Gabriel Klapholz | firstname.lastname@example.org .