At the outset of Blood Oranges, Timothy Bowman lays out what he describes as a simple thesis: “twentieth-century South Texas history unfolded the way it did because Anglo-Americans colonized the region after 1848” (p. 2). However, his argument is more nuanced than this short statement suggests. Bowman maintains that the colonization of the South Texas borderlands and the marginalization of the ethnic Mexican population began in 1848 but intensified considerably in the early 1900s with the arrival of the railroad, the influx of white immigrants from the American Midwest, and the expansion of citriculture. To support his argument, he incorporates elements of agricultural history, economic history, environmental history, immigration history, transnationalism, borderlands, and Chicano studies. Many contemporary scholars of American history or the history of Latin America regard colonialism as a somewhat dated model, and there is nothing wholly original about incorporating colonialism into the study of Mexican American history, borderlands history, or the history of the American Southwest. However, Bowman’s application of colonialism to one specific region is persuasive. He lays out the beginning, the growth, and the decline of colonization in South Texas, and he highlights significant connections between South Texas colonialism and a broader story of American imperialism. He also acknowledges the very real limitations to his model. Although Bowman notes in the conclusion that South Texas remains an internal colony today, he spends comparatively little time elaborating on the continued persistence of that structure. With good reason, Bowman treats 1848 as a pivotal year. American victory in the war with Mexico not only settled the dispute over the location of the Texas-Mexico border but also formally (re-)opened the borderlands to white immigrants. These immigrants, in turn, transformed the region from what Bowman defined as a pastoral space of Mexican-owned ranches into a capitalist society of citrus-based agriculture. For that reason, Blood Oranges dates the racialized colonial structure in South Texas to the end of the Mexican-American War. However, Bowman treats 1904 as a year of equal importance. The arrival of the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railway triggered a dramatic increase in boosterism, immigration, and land speculation (which, in turn, stimulated the nascent citrus industry and propelled the region’s colonization). Thus the colonial structure in South Texas grew up alongside the rails and owed much of its initial expansion to those rails. Although the book’s theoretical foundation, colonialism, is generally well developed, the text includes a few factual missteps. These generalizations or misstatements are infrequent and relatively inconsequential, but they remove nuance from a regional history that needs to be told more fully. For example, white Texans were not without a colonizing agenda in the mid-1820s, but Bowman’s portrayal is simplistic. Blood Oranges is also repetitive at times, and it does not always flow smoothly from one point to another. However, the book’s problems are more stylistic than substantive, and they do not undermine the validity of what Bowman is trying to say. Historians need to examine and to deconstruct the processes by which preconceived ideas of political and racial inferiority among white immigrants led to the dispossession and oppression of ethnic Mexican communities. Bowman has done that. He has also explored how political and social borders worked in tandem to shape a framework of racial oppression in South Texas, and he has (albeit briefly) probed the implications of this colonial structure along both sides of the modern-day border. In doing so, Bowman has written a book that contributes meaningfully to a conversation about race, money, and power that will only become more important to this state and this country in the years to come. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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