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Language Politics and Communities in the United States: The Case of Pre-Statehood New Mexico, 1846–1912

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New Mexico was the most populated of the territories annexed by the United States in 1846. With an overwhelming Hispanic population until the twentieth century, New Mexico has been the western U.S. territory with the highest percentage of a Spanish-origin community for its entire history of over one hundred and fifty years of American sovereignty. By 1912, when the territory of New Mexico was finally admitted to the Union of states (Larson 1968), native New Mexicans—el pueblo nativo—had been resisting cultural assimilation for over half a century, in the face of a growing number of Anglo American immigrants. At the same time, these Neomexicanos managed to sustain, during the last decades of the territorial period, their self-representation through a print culture of their own, publishing, reading, and circulating thousands of Spanish-language newspapers well into the twentieth century. The Spanish-language readership gave form and content to a Neomexicano community and expressed their own political and social voice.

The Hispano community of pre-statehood New Mexico shaped the ideas about language, and specifically, the support for preserving Spanish as the vernacular language of Neomexicanos on one hand, and the push for English as the dominant language of the U.S. society or “national language” on the other (Fernández-Gibert 2005; Meyer 1996, 14–15). Approximately between the 1880s and the 1920s, a score of Spanishlanguage newspapers, mostly in weekly format, was being published as New Mexico progressively abandoned its traditional and isolated ways of life to be incorporated into the United States fold. At the same time, there were voices among Neomexicanos that vindicated Spanish, the ancestral language of the land, and alerted against cultural erosion.

Based on primary sources, mainly Spanish-language weekly issues of La voz del pueblo, published between 1890 and 1912, this work will address some important issues concerning the language politics and the social and cultural development of the Neomexicano community prior to statehood: 1) A historical account of New Mexico's population and the development of a culture of print; 2) The role of citizenship and race in the building of the Neomexicano community; 3) The cultural resistance and accommodation of Neomexicanos in forming their own identity; and 4) The language of Neomexicanos in the texts of the Spanish-language press as a reflection of their transitional culture.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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