Though he is not the first to examine intermarriage in communities of the American Southwest, in Sanctioning Matrimony: Western Expansion and Interethnic Marriage in the Arizona Borderlands, Sal Acosta provides an intriguing new take on the subject. Challenging ideas that intermarriage declined in Tucson, Arizona, especially from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, Acosta uses quantitative and qualitative data analysis to argue that intermarriage persisted and that previous historians’ assessments have been incomplete because of scholars’ tendency to focus on whites in the intermarriages regardless of class. For Acosta’s study of the Tucson community, the most detailed data allows for a critical focus on the 1880s to the 1930s. Acosta divides his work into sections that analyze the history of Arizona’s miscegenation laws, the context of manifest destiny, prevalence and forms of intermarriage in Tucson, marriages between Mexican women and Chinese and African American men, and, finally, the workings of interethnic marriage and divorce. The first two chapters provide a solid historiographical foundation as well as important historical context for his study. Arizona had various miscegenation laws in place from 1865 to 1962, and while the first law began when Arizona was part of the New Mexico Territory, the laws persisted much longer than the New Mexico laws. Acosta notes that the laws on the books did not always accurately reflect their practice in courtrooms and in communities, and thus he provides a detailed look at the actual workings of the miscegenation laws. Adding nuance to the ideas of manifest destiny, Acosta points to the contradictions that allowed white men to marry Mexican women if they were elite and viewed as white by courts, but that also allowed lower-status Mexican women to marry African American or Chinese men. In this discussion, Acosta concludes that the rhetoric of manifest destiny did not always match the ideas that male migrants brought to Arizona. This rich context is very helpful to the reader, but there are times that additional historical context concerning the impact of major political and social events or influences in Arizona could offer a deeper understanding of the experiences of interethnic families in Tucson. For example, the role of religion could be examined in more detail. The role of Catholicism in divorces, or in discouraging divorces, is examined late in the book. Of course, a major point in the book is that despite other political and social changes the incidence of intermarriage did not decline. Acosta notes that his book looks more deeply at intermarriage than do such classic scholarly works as James E. Officer’s Hispanic Arizona, 1536–1856 (1987) and Thomas E. Sheridan’s Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854–1941 (1986). These works’ authors viewed intermarriage as declining in Arizona by the late 1800s. In addition, Acosta’s work builds upon the many community studies by scholars of the borderlands and Mexican American history. More specifically, Acosta’s scholarship fits with the works of scholars such as Deena J. González (Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820–1880 ) and María Raquél Casas (Married to a Daughter of the Land: Spanish-Mexican Women and Interethnic Marriage in California, 1820–1880 ). While these scholars as well as others have examined intermarriages and changes experienced by Mexican women in the American Southwest, primarily in New Mexico and California, expanding the complicated examinations of intermarriage to include Arizona is an important contribution. Acosta uses a variety of sources but depends most heavily upon census documents, marriage records, divorce proceedings, and newspaper articles. This mix of documentary evidence allows Acosta to produce quantitative data to support his assertions as well as stories that help the reader understand the human experiences. Acosta presents the quantitative data in charts that are easy to comprehend, and the documentary evidence provides compelling stories. Other historians have used census data to examine demographics and marriage, but Acosta offers a new view of this data. Instead of presenting intermarriage rates by examining all white men in Tucson, for example, Acosta looks at white men who arrived in Tucson unmarried. To arrive at these numbers, Acosta has to speculate somewhat, so the numbers are not exact but rather reasonable assumptions. Another complication is that Acosta has to rely heavily on using Hispanic last names, and these names do not always accurately reflect ethnicity, as he notes. Acosta’s work is an important contribution to borderlands historiography as well as the historiography of the American West. This detailed study reminds historians to continue to dig deeply into documents to understand the experiences of all community members rather than just those of the elite, who tended to leave behind more documents. On a broader level, the conclusions from this study should inspire historians to ask similar questions about other borderland communities. Of course Arizona’s persistent miscegenation laws might mean that this information was easier to attain for Tucson than for other borderlands communities, or it might mean that Tucson was different than other places that did not have miscegenation laws for the same length of time. Nonetheless, this work should be a call to historians to reevaluate their assumptions about intermarriage and the rhetoric of manifest destiny. Finally, Sanctioning Matrimony brings women to the forefront of the story of intermarriage in the Southwest. The Mexican women in this study exercised choice in marriage. Acosta shows that the gender demographics in the Mexican communities of Tucson were relatively even, so when women chose non-Mexican spouses they were exercising their own prerogatives to do so. He also indicates that these women maintained their strong connections with their families and communities, and this is an important takeaway. In sum, asking new questions and interpreting documents in innovative ways works for Acosta in his effort to shed light on interethnic marriage in Tucson. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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