Why is Spain's role as a colonizing power in the Americas overlooked by scholars of white settler colonialism? If European ventures in such disparate places as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the United States, Angola, and Algeria can all be viewed through the scholarly lens of white settler colonialism, why not Latin America? In this essay, I attempt to answer these questions through an analysis of the confrontation of racial ideologies that occurred between Mexicans and Anglos in the U.S. Southwest. Legally, Mexican Americans were considered part of the “white” race after 1897, but how did Mexican Americans understand this putative whiteness, especially given their racial inscription as mestizos under Spanish colonial and Mexican postcolonial law? I examine the desegregation cases brought on behalf of Mexican American plaintiffs between 1929 and 1954, in which Mexican American litigators argued that as Mexicans were racially white, schools and juries in the Southwest violated their due process rights by segregating them or discriminating against them in jury selection. Chicano historiography has derided this generation of civil rights activists as race traitors. However, I examine the court records, letters, and speeches of these legal activists, as well as Américo Paredes's George Washington Gómez, to see how these civil rights activists challenge the very meaning of “whiteness” when they claim it in the face of racial exclusion and violence.

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