Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Book Review: The Injustice Never Leaves You

786 The Journal of American History December 2019

The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas. By Monica Muñoz Martinez. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018. 387 pp. $35.00.)

Using a transgenerational lens, Monica Muñoz Martinez cogently narrates a supplementary corrective to the history of the Texas Rangers from the bottom up. Since the early twentieth century, families who suffered the cold-blooded violence of this agency petitioned authorities in the United States and Mexico for legal justice. More recently, the progeny of these victims contested the way the state of Texas whitewashed its inglorious past. (Image of Texas Rangers over the bodies of killed Mexicans. Univ. of Texas Brisco Center for American History)

Martinez’s central thesis demonstrates “the long legacies of violence” in Texas (p. 8). In the process, the author informs readers that only within the last forty years have historians exposed the Texas Rangers and the outfit’s white supremacist enablers, in and out of public institutions, for what it was, a legalized terrorist organization. The hagiography of the historian Walter Prescott Webb in The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense (1935), however, continues to dominate the public’s imagination via the popularity of the radio program turned television series The Lone Ranger during the 1930s and 1950s as well as with the recycled fiction in the action drama show Walker, Texas Ranger (1993–2001).

Martinez also persuasively contends that the Texas Rangers criminalized ethnic Mexicans through the organization’s use of the bandit trope to justify its extrajudicial killings. This label would be refashioned with the “illegal alien” slur after the passage of the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 and creation of the Border Patrol. In fact, former Rangers often joined this new agency and in doing so defined its propensity for merciless violence against Mexican immigrants.

But as Martinez states, “this book also highlights the long efforts to reckon with loss and shows that mourning can be a practice of resistance, passed from generation to generation, continuing even a century later” (p. 9). Adroitly, the author supports this claim in the discussion of vernacular-history making practiced by the descendants of Antonio Rodriguez, who was lynched (actually, burned alive), the shooting in the back of Jesus Bazán and Antonio Longoria, and the massacre of fifteen ethnic Mexican men and boys at Porvenir, Texas. In the pursuit of justice, family members from the 1920s onward pressed transnational investigations. By the creation of alternative accounts in the Spanish-language press, an oral tradition, and the more recent use of the Internet, the offspring of both witnesses and victims embarked upon vernacular-history making that compelled Texas state museums and commissions to mark the names of the victims and survivors of Ranger terrorism. In the process, vernacular historians persuaded officials, appointed and elected, to revise Texas’s official history.

Masterfully researched and argued, Martinez demonstrates how history matters. With the zeal of vernacular historians in the lead and the open-mindedness of scholars, policy makers, librarians, and museum directors, the portrayal of a truer and more inclusive narrative of the past is possible. The Injustice Never Leaves You is recommended for educators at all levels and venues of learning.

Frank P. Barajas
California State University Channel Islands Camarillo, California
doi: 10.1093/jahist/jaz598


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