On May 15, 1848, my ancestors and other Spanish-speaking residents living in Laredo, Texas suffered a catastrophic experience that changed their lives forever.  

That’s because everyone living between the lower Rio Grande and the Nueces River (then part of Tamaulipas) were annexed by the U.S. The region was then added to Texas as South Texas.  

Sadly, close-knit family members living on the west bank of the Rio would henceforth be separated from immediate family members on the east bank by an invisible, but inviolable political boundary. Incidentally, I often call the current U.S.-Mexico border a permanent Mason Dixon Line, because it still divides Spanish Mexican heritage families to this day.  

Sufficient to say that all of northern Mexico, from Texas and throughout the Southwest were affected. Yet, the consequences were most devastating for families living on both sides (ambos lados) of the lower Rio Grande, who up to then had considered the Rio Grande as a local river. The question is, why did it happen?  

The answer is that U.S. President James K. Polk had planned for and triggered the 1846-48 U.S.-Mexico War to satisfy U.S. Manifest Destiny expansionists’ aggressive appetite for land. In other words, it’s how the U.S. “won the west” and spread its wings from sea to shining sea.

What was the war’s effect on daily life in the previously cohesive communities, such as Laredo? Overnight, their unified town ceased being a community split by their beloved Rio Grande (el Rio Bravo). Abruptly, crossing the Rio again meant going to another country — another world.  

On that fateful day in 1848, parents said farewell to their children, as did siblings, cousins, grandparents, godparents, and close friends. Tougher still, meeting again the next time would be more difficult, only made possible with the approval of stern customs officials. 

Beforehand, “El otro lado” (the other side) just meant crossing the Rio either east or west as locals went about their daily lives. After having crossed the Rio without much thought before, life as they had known it for 100 years no longer existed.   

In short, the Rio Grande became a barrier guarded by “Papers please” customs officers, whose tendency was perceived by residents to be to intimidate, challenge, and suspect, not to dignify border-crossing families.

In short, the end of the 1846-48 U.S. Mexico War was all in favor of the U.S., with Mexico losing over half of its sovereign territory. The war’s land-grab objective is the reason why both Presidents Lincoln and Grant called it unjust and entirely provoked by the U.S.   

How does the above relate to Puerto Rico? On December 10, 1898, only 50 years after the U.S. absorbed Northern Mexico, the Spanish-speaking citizens of Puerto Rico were informed that their island was being annexed by the U.S.   

Hard to believe during today’s official U.S. offensive conduct toward Puerto Rico, the U.S. considered the island a must-have piece of real estate. What could explain the U.S.’s determination to claim it?  

The answer is that U.S. naval war strategy thinking of the day taught that if the U.S. planned to enhance its influence as a world-class nation, the take-over of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean was a must. Adding motivation to the U.S. belligerent behavior was capitalists’ ambition to control the lucrative sugar cane industry.

As it had done in the 1846-48 U.S.-Mexico War, the U.S. found a way to provoke the 1898 Spanish-American War. In fact, the playbook was basically the same, with one big exception. Unlike President Polk who orchestrated the war with Mexico, U.S. President William McKinley prudently refused to be swayed by the anti-Spanish propaganda campaign in the U.S. press.  

Yet, U.S. warmongers eventually forced President McKinley into signing a resolution demanding Spanish withdrawal from the Caribbean. The mysterious explosion aboard the U.S.S. Maine docked in Havana, Cuba was the excuse pro-war promoters had been waiting for.  

After a ten-week war, Spain was forced to sign the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. As with the war with Mexico, the U.S. was the big winner. Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. and relinquished control of Cuba, The Philippines, and other possessions.

While the U.S. got its prize, interaction has been strained from the beginning. For example, the U.S. central role in the island is still viewed by Puerto Ricans as dehumanizing colonialism. Why? Most major decisions are one-sided, benefiting just U.S. interests; adversely affecting the Puerto Rican people’s well-being, economic, environmental, and related issues.  

One example is offered. Displaying only its self-interests and ignoring Puertoriqueños’ will, the U.S. chose the pristine island of Vieques as a military bombing range. First, U.S. officials bullied sugarcane land owners into selling their estates. Second, productive sugarcane fields, the main source of income, were destroyed. Third, field workers living on the island were evicted.  

Eventually, popular protests by Puerto Ricans themselves forced the U.S. to close its bombing target practice range for good in 2003. Sadly, emphasizing the vast amount of damage to the island’s bio-environmental health, cleanup of hazardous waste materials continues today.    

After all was said and done, the U.S. paid no attention to the people. For example, on paper, Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship, as were Spanish Mexican-descent residents of the Southwest in 1848. 

  • Thus, the U.S. agreed to their right to practice and preserve their culture, but did a poor job educating its Anglo Saxon and Nordic-descent citizens of that entitlement.  
  • Hence, the U.S. sowed the seeds of animosity in 1848 and 1898 that are now sprouting mainstream white society’s hatred toward Spanish-speaking U.S. citizens, who have yet to be accepted as equal U.S. citizens. 
  • Incidentally, that disgusting point was recently demonstrated by our government’s less-than-full support for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

In summary, by subsuming Puerto Rico, the U.S. betrayed and bit the Spanish hand that generously fed it. How? The answer is ironic. While it’s true that the U.S. colonies achieved their independence from England’s King George III, Spain’s King Charles III greatly helped to make it happen. Below are Spain’s vital contributions to U.S. independence:  

  • (l) Acted as the U.S. banker. 
  • (2) Used its extensive gold reserves in Cuba to finance the last military operations of the 1775-83 U.S. War of Independence, and 
  • (3) Last but not least, Spanish General Gálvez and his 7,000 strong army-navy force beat England in several major battles along the Gulf of Mexico.        

By the way, 1898 was a profitable year for U.S. seizing of lands that belonged to somebody else, such as arbitrarily annexing Hawaii. In a bizarre hypocritical twist, the congressional resolution was signed on July 4th (U.S. Independence Day), simultaneously ending independence for native Hawaiian people.  

Finally, in conquering other people’s homelands, the U.S. has vigorously focused on one particular detail. That is, it has tried to strip the identity, dignity, and respect of Native Americans, Southwest Spanish Mexican (Mestizo) residents, Puerto Ricans, Alaskans, and Hawaiians. Lamentably, that horrid blueprint still drives U.S. mainstream society’s hostility toward minority-group U.S. citizens today.  

“Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows a photo of San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Source: Wikipedia)