Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History

By Margaret M. McGuinness; James T. Fisher | Go to book overview

TWO
Latino Catholics in the Southwest

Timothy Matovina

Spanish-speaking Catholics have been continuously present in what is now the southwest United States for almost twice as long as the nation has existed. In 1598, eight Franciscans and other members of the Juan de Oñate expedition crossed into present-day El Paso, Texas, and established the initial Catholic foundations in the region. Two and a half centuries later, the war between the United States and Mexico (1846–48) resulted in Mexico’s loss of nearly half its territory: the present-day states of Texas, Nevada, California, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming. Subsequently Francis Baylies, who had accompanied the victorious U.S. forces on their march through Mexico, wrote a book that clearly reflected U.S. views on the history of the region and the U.S. takeover of the former Mexican territories. Baylies applauded the Spanish missionaries who worked in the Texas missions to convert Native Americans during the eighteenth century, but claimed that after Mexico won independence from Spain

everything went to decay. Agriculture, learning, the mechanic arts, shared the common
fate; and when the banners of the United States were unfurled in these distant and
desolate places, the descendants of the noble and chivalric Castilians had sunk to the
level, perhaps beneath it, of the aboriginal savages; but it is to be hoped that the advent of
the Saxo-Norman race may brighten, in some degree, the faded splendor of the race
which has fallen.1

While many Latinos and other observers assert that the U.S.-Mexican War resulted in an unjust conquest of Mexican lands,2 Baylies’s depiction of Mexican backwardness and

-43-

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