“Economical Roots: Mexican Migration, Railroads and Mining”

A review of Michael M. Smith, The Mexicans in Oklahoma. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma press, 1980).

Smith gives a brief description of the relations between the United States and Mexico; the US had work to be done and Mexico provided the people to do it. Smith provides the early history of Oklahoma and the first Europeans to set foot in the plain states, telling the story of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado looking for the Seven Cities of Cibola in search of gold, and the expedition set off by the Spaniards toward Gran Quivira.  \Smith pays homage to the relationships between Mexicans and Kickapoo Indians who have a rich history in Oklahoma and there are quite a few scholarly pieces written on Mexican-Kickapoo, this book provides a beginning to these relationships which eventually created a people who are still present in Oklahoma today.  The earliest Mexicans in Oklahoma however are recorded as kidnapped Mexican boys who were rescued from the Comanches by Taum Lawrie an agent of the Kiowa Agency, the story and a photograph are included in this book. 

The history of railroads and mining in early 20th century Oklahoma is given, Smith says, “Between 1900 ad the depression, Mexican immigrants played an increasingly viral, yet largely ignored role in the economic development of Oklahoma.” (Smith, 1980. p. 35). Smith gives pay rate information for the railroad companies compared to what the Mexican immigrants would have made in their home country.  An obvious number of Mexicans were present in Oklahoma by early 20th century and Smith includes immigration patterns and practices before the Great Depression and includes census data for each county that had Mexicans living in Oklahoma for those time periods. 

Several pictures and recounts of life are provided giving the reader an anecdotal account of how life was like for Mexicans who immigrated to Oklahoma in the early 1900’s, families who may still be present here today. 

The book in 75 pages and includes six chapters titled, Oklahoma and Mexico: A Distant Relationship, Historical Antecedents to Mexican Migration, Migration and Settlement in Oklahoma, Mexican Labor in Oklahoma: 1900-1945, social and Cultural Adjustments: 1900-1945, and The Mexican Experience Since World War II. Given that much of Mexican-American history has been ignored and the lack of available primary resources prevents us from knowing more, this book should be included in Oklahoma history courses or included in Ethnic studies curriculum in Oklahoma. 

One scholarly review given by Ralph H. Vigil, Department of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln says that some of the statements given in the book, “may be questioned”, stating,

“What evidence exists that “one of the most significant differences between the Mexican community of Oklahoma and those of the American Southwest was the overwhelming degree of assimilation which the second- and most assuredly the third-generation would undergo in the postwar years” (p.62)? Leo Grebler notes that in 1963 about 25 percent of all marriages of Spanish-surnamed persons in Los Angeles County “involved a person who married a spouse outside the ethnic group.” Does this also hold true for Oklahoma?”

I believe that the answer to this question can be investigated and reported, given the obvious Mexican presence that we have in Oklahoma today.  Many of us do have surnames, but this may be due to preference and not assimilation.