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by Frank Zoretich
Reporter for The Albuquerque Tribune
Charles Truxillo, a professor of Chicano studies at the University of New Mexico, suggests "Republica del Norte" would be a good name for a new, sovereign Hispanic nation he foresees straddling the current border between the United States and Mexico.
The Republic of the North -- he predicts its creation as "an inevitability" -- would include all of the present U.S. states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, plus southern Colorado." Stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, it would also include the northern tier of current Mexican states: Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. Its capital would probably be Los Angeles.
Truxillo, 47, has said the new country should be brought into being "by any means necessary." But in a recent interview at a coffee shop near the UNM campus, Truxillo said it was "unlikely" civil war would attend its birth. Instead, he said, the creation of the Republic of the North will be accomplished by political process, by the "electoral pressure" of the future majority Hispanic population throughout the region rather than by violence.
"Not within the next 20 years but within 80 years," he said. "I may not live to see the Hispanic homeland, but by the end of the century my students' kids will live in it, sovereign and free."
Truxillo said it's his task to help develop a "cadre of intellectuals" to begin thinking about the practicalities of how the Republic of the North can become a reality.
In the past, of course, wars have erupted when states seceded from either parent nation -- including the U.S. Civil War to keep the South in the Union and, in Truxillo's quick description, "the Alamo and all that" when Texas declared itself independent of Mexico.
Truxillo said the U.S. Civil War settled the question of secession militarily but not in a legal sense. States do have the right to secede, he maintained, if -- as was untrue in the 1860s -- the rest of the country is willing to let them go.
Professors asked for comment in other departments at UNM were skeptical that politics alone would find a way to make his proposed new nation possible. But, they said, given 100 more years -- well, who can say for sure?
"How realistic is it? That's one of the key issues," Truxillo said. "It's not unfeasible as a premise -- and a realistic possibility when you consider global geopolitical trends. It could happen with the support of the U.S. government."
He listed a number of international developments that he said would have seemed "far-fetched in the 1950s," including the breakup of the Soviet Union, the breakup of Yugoslavia, the apparently imminent creation of an independent West Bank Palestinian state agreed to by Israel, and ballot-box separatist movements aimed at achieving a Quebec independent of Canada.
The "tide of history" is moving the U.S.-Mexico border region toward political autonomy, Truxillo said.
Why does he think there should be a new Hispanic republic?
It's an idea that has been suggested before. In the 1960s, during the height of Chicano activism, something similar -- a sovereign Hispanic homeland to be called Aztlan -- was proposed by Rudolfo Gonzales and others.
When Truxillo was 14, he first met Reies Lopez Tijerina, leader of a group of New Mexicans who seized the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, the Rio Arriba county seat, in 1967. It was a protest against Spanish land grants being taken by the federal government and set aside for national forests.
In October, Truxillo was a speaker during a ceremony at UNM's Zimmerman Library honoring Tijerina when he contributed his personal archives to the library's Center for Southwest Research.
At the event attended by about 300 people, Truxillo said it was from Tijerina that he had learned "that I was a member of a people with a country that had been taken from them by war, a land that was our own by treaty."
He listed a number of Spanish and Mexican treaties dating back to 1494 and ending with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, by which Mexico granted to the United States -- after the Mexican-American War -- possession of parts of what are now California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
"None of the rights of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were fulfilled," he told Tijerina. "None of the obligations were upheld. You told us this was our country, our patria, and that we should fight for our rights, that all colonized and exploited peoples should rise up in struggle for independence.
"We will one day be a majority and reclaim our birthright by any means necessary -- and we shouldn't shy away."
Truxillo's tone was more scholarly during the coffee-shop interview. He said New Mexico is the first "minority-majority state" in which Hispanics and Indians and other minorities on a national level outnumber non-Hispanic whites. (U.S. census estimates of New Mexico's 1998 population: 52 percent Hispanic, Indian, Black and Asian; 48 percent non-Hispanic white. The Hispanic population alone was estimated at 40.3 percent. The 2000 census is expected to provide more precise figures.)
Texas is likely to become the next minority-majority state, Truxillo said, adding Hispanics are already in the majority in the border regions of all the Southwest states, largely because of a long and continuing immigration from Mexico.
The "overwhelming bulk of Mexican immigrants are attracted by the American economic way of life," Truxillo said. "Not as attractive to them is the American cultural way of life, but they are willing to make the exchange of economic security for cultural anarchy."
Hispanics in the American Southwest "have been ruled by three empires, Spain, Mexico and the United States," Truxillo said. "Under all three systems, we have failed to achieve self-determination.
"Among native-born American Hispanics, there is the feeling that we are strangers in our own land," he continued. "We remain subordinated. We have a negative image of our own culture, created by the media. Self-loathing is a terrible form of oppression. The long history of oppression and subordination has to end. There has to be an alternative."
Truxillo, who describes himself as a Chicano, said he was born in Albuquerque. He attended public schools in Albuquerque and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from UNM, majoring in Latin American, borderlands and Asian history.
He was an assistant professor of history at New Mexico Highlands University from 1992 to 1997, but after being denied tenure there, he began teaching in the Chicano Studies Program at UNM where he is now a visiting professor on a year-to-year contract.
Truxillo said Hispanics who have achieved some positions of power or who are otherwise "enjoying the benefits of assimilation" are most likely to be in the vanguard of opposition to his concept of the Republic of the North.
"There will be the negative reaction, the tortured response of someone who thinks, 'Give me a break. I just want to go to Wal-Mart.' But the idea will seep into their consciousness, and cause an internal crisis, a pain of conscience, an internal dialogue as they ask themselves: 'Who am I in this system?'"
Along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border "there is a growing fusion, a reviving of connections," Truxillo said. "Southwest Chicanos and Norteño Mexicanos are becoming one people again."
Cautious views taken on the possibility of a Republic of the North
Several professors at the University of New Mexico and a prominent local Hispanic activist were contacted for comment on UNM Professor Charles Truxillo's concept for a new Hispanic nation called the Republic of the North.
The professors were asked in particular about Truxillo's contention that U.S. states retain the right to secede.
Truxillo said the states had that right under the Articles of Confederation of 1777, in which each state retained its own "sovereignty, freedom and independence."
He said the Articles of Confederation were not superseded in that regard by the U.S. Constitution of 1787 and added that, although the North's victory settled the question of secession militarily, it was never resolved by court ruling.
Daniel Feller, professor of history: "To say that language in the Articles of Confederation is not specifically negated and therefore still effective is a very implausible argument.
"The Constitution does supersede the Articles of Confederation -- it takes no notice of the articles and is not presented as bearing any relation to them. The Constitution does not declare, recognize or in any way acknowledge the right to secede."
Even if the articles were not superseded, Feller noted, their full title was "'Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.' To say on the one hand that each state remains sovereign, but on the other that the union shall be perpetual -- well, you've got to take the baby with the bath water."
Feller said he would "say nothing about the desirability of a separate Southwestern nation."
"But is it possible? Does a state have the right to leave? By its nature that's a political question. It's outside the realm of legalities.
"The bottom line: What's possible is what people want to be possible. If five states wanted to secede and the rest of the country wanted to let them go, it could happen."
Joseph Stewart, professor of political science: "You can't ever say it won't happen. The Supreme Court did in the Reconstruction Era say that the union was indestructible. That was Texas vs. White 1869. The Constitution looks to an indestructible union. But, obviously, the court can change its mind on those things."
Stewart also said he was "somewhat skeptical in the sense of minority politics" about a possible Republic of the North.
"It seems to me that what you're getting is more cultural homogenization. There's at least some some evidence that the Mexican-American population is becoming diffused much more broadly geographically in this country. At least in the United States, I don't see that Hispanic population becoming more distinct but in fact becoming less distinct."
Stewart also said many of the global independence movements cited by Truxillo are so far unsuccessful "or being violently resisted" by the parent nations of the would-be new countries.
"Not to say he's wrong," Stewart said. "But you can list me as a skeptic."
Felipe Gonzales, professor of sociology and director of UNM's Southwest Hispanic Research Institute: "As a concept or theory, the idea that the Southwest could someday revert back to the descendants of former Mexicans who lived here before holds a little bit of theoretical water."
Gonzales said there is "a certain homeland undercurrent among many Hispanics in New Mexico, a lot of resentment on different levels. There was so much land ripped off, in their interpretation. The United States reneged on promises made in international treaty -- at some point an international body may recognize a violation of rights. And people who come in from other parts of the country are suddenly supervisory over locals who have been working here for years."
But for a Republic of the North to come into being, "there would have to be much more widespread support. Educated elites are going to have to pick up on this idea and run with it and use it as a point of confrontation if it is to succeed."
"The problem is that even with a situation like in New Mexico, where the economy is peripheral compared to the booming economy in other states, the commitment to dominant institutions is still more important than what would be needed to make people want to break away."
Juan Jose Peña, Hispanic activist and vice chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable: "This is not a new topic."
Peña recommended a book, "Mexicanos vs. Americans: Mexicano Resistance in the Southwest," by Robert J. Rosenbaum, that reviews previous separatist movements in the region.
And Peña, who was national president president of the Partido de la Raza Unida about 20 years ago, said he'd written his own (unpublished) study of Hispanic separatist movements.
"We discussed the issue then of whether there should be a separate Chicano nation," he said. "I knew armed rebellion would never succeed -- we just didn't have the firepower."
Today, he said, "there's not enough political consciousness among Mexican-Americans" to succeed in the political task of forming a separate nation.
"Right now, there's no movement capable of undertaking it. But Charles could very well be right. It could happen. There are any number of political scenarios that could make it happen. But it would take Mexican-Americans getting organized enough to do it.
"I've studied lots of civilizations. The United States is just like any other empire. It's not going to live forever. Eventually it will break down because of stresses."
© The Albuquerque Tribune.