Friday, February 19, 2010

The Mexican-American War

About a year or two ago the Museum for Mexican History opened a second wing across the Paseo Santa Lucia. I had a visit to the new wing in mind when I knew I was going to stay over a weekend in Monterrey, Mexico.

On Saturday I headed for the city center. After a brief walk through the old part of the museum where nothing has changed much since my last visit several years ago, I cross to the new wing via a glass-enclosed bridge. The content of the new wing is nearly totally dedicated to the history of northeast Mexico where Monterrey is located and the influence of the southern United States on this region.

Museum for Mexican History with the original musuem building on the left and the new wing on the right, which look like uneven stacked concrete blocks on top of each other.

As with nearly all museums in Mexico the taking of photos is strictly forbidden and enforced. Around just about every corner and in every nook and cranny a museum employee was lurking. The place is certainly a great employer seeing that so many people stand around to prevent damage to exhibitions and people taking photos, or they are just very protective of their content. Because I brought my camera with and no bag to put it in and had to carry it in the open, I was approached by about 5 people to tell me no picture please. Quite ridiculous!

Nevertheless, what I took from my visit was that the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 had a much bigger impact on both countries than what I previously thought. Granted, I knew about the war and about the Texas annexations of 1845, but the new wing of the museum focused a large section on this war I knew little about.

By 1846 several factors were on the mind of President James K Polk, 11th President of the USA (1845-1849). Foremost was the territorial expansion of the USA. Polk was a great supporter of the Manifest Destiny, which in the 19th century, prescribed that the USA had a right, even divinely, to expand across the whole North American continent, including Canada, Mexico and Central American territory. The 1845 Texan annexation got the ball of the war rolling. The Mexican government never recognized the Texas declaration of independence of 1836 and had always maintained that there will be war if the USA annexed Texas. But Mexico never had a chance. Small American forces quickly overtook California from the north, General Zachary Taylor cross the Rio Grande to fight Mexican forces around Monterrey and others under General Scott landed on the Mexican Gulf at Veracruz and marched from there to Mexico City, on the way they routed the Mexican forces.

Eventually, with most of its cities occupied and American forces camping out on the lawn of the Presidential palace, the Mexican government had little choice but to agree to peace and “sell” most of their territory. For a mere $18 million dollars (about half a billion in today’s money) the Mexican government signed away a whopping 55% of its country and enlarged the USA by 33%. The USA got all the modern day states of California, Utah, Nevada, and large parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. Furthermore, the USA now got complete control over Texas and established the border at the Rio Grande. Proof again, that one does not have much negotiating room with a gun to one’s head.

On the other hand, the more things change the more they stay the same, because border issues between the USA and Mexico, granted, with slightly different circumstances, are still with us today, just like 160 years ago.

After my Mexican history lesson and intellectual stimulation I played the tourist, snapping away pictures of statues, buildings and general scenery while slowly making my way back to my parked car down Dr Goss Avenue. I walked passed El Neuquen, an Argentinean restaurant that makes excellent empanadas and the best chimichurri sauce. My mouth watered, but my car was metered-parked and I had no more small coins left to extend the time limit, and it was still only 4:30 PM, not dinner time yet. Too early for dinner in Mexico!

I came cross the tiny church as I meandered my way back from the Museum to my car.
The tiny church has the loveliest name: Capilla de los Dulces Nombres (Chapel of the Sweet Names)

A view of Monterrey's Macro Plaza from the Mexican History Museum with the Justice Palace on the right, the statue of Benito Pablo Juárez García, Mexico's first Amerindian President (1858-1872) in front of the Palace and on the left, the high clock tower of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Roble.  

Monterrey skyline with its layers of mountains surrounding it.


Boer said...

As liefhebber van geskiedenis, was hierdie nou vir my uiters interessant en kon ek iets leer van 'n deel van die geskiedenis at ek baie onkundig oor is. Die VSA het darem ook ongelooflik baie geraamtes is die kas waaroor daar meeste van die tyd geswyg word...

BluegrassBaobab said...

Elke land het maar sy geraamtes. Of dit nou gister of 500 jaar gelede gebeur het.