Good Neighbor in the American Historical Imagination: Mexican American Intellectual Thought in the Fight for Civil Rights

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 |   Texana Room, Fondren Library Center, 6404 Hyer Lane, SMU   |  12 noon to 1 pm  |  No registration necessary.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Mexican American intellectuals Carlos E. Castañeda and George I. Sánchez used World War II and the Good Neighbor Policy to argue for a historically-grounded pan-Americanism that fought against both fascism abroad and the discrimination Mexican Americans experienced at home. Speeches they delivered to educators and academics reveal that both men used historian Herbert E. Bolton’s narrative of American history—a western hemispheric approach—to domesticate foreign policy: they used the Bolton thesis to argue that American held a hemispheric, rather than solely national, meaning, and in mapping this narrative onto US-Latin American relations, they asserted that Mexican Americans ought to be a central priority in the Good Neighbor Policy. This talk will examine the writings of Castañeda and Sánchez to show that historical narrative was (and continues to be) a distinct characteristic of Mexican American intellectual thought, one that provided leaders with a compelling way of arguing for full citizenship and treatment as Americans.

Natalie Mendoza is an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Clements Center David J. Weber Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America. She earned her PhD in United States history from UC Berkeley in 2016, and specializes in Mexican American and Chicanx history, US Latinx history, US civil rights history, the history of race and racism in the US, and history pedagogy. Natalie’s current book project, Good Neighbor at Home: Mexican American Identity and Civil Rights during World War II, examines the impact of geopolitics and war on intellectual thought, identity formation, and civil rights activism within the Mexican American population in the pre-Chicano period.

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