By Jean-Benoît Nadeau & Julie Barlow
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Source:  Public Domain U.S. Government

February 2nd marks the 165th anniversary of the signature of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. It ended the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, but also forever changed the U.S.’s relationship to the Spanish-speaking world.

The treaty allowed the United States to annex the territory that now encompasses New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, most of Colorado and sections of Wyoming and Kansas. It also defined the border of Texas, annexed to the United States in 1845 (the event that provoked the war in the first place).

The 1848 annexation had a tremendous impact both on geopolitics and on language in both Mexico and the United States. In the United States, it increased U.S. territory by a third. As luck would have it, nine days before the signature of the Treaty, James Marshall struck gold in California, inaugurating the second gold rush of the modern era – after Brazil’s in 1690.

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 2

Source: Public Domain U.S. Government

Linguistically, the treaty brought the United States into the Spanish-speaking world in one clean stroke, making the U.S. a major player in the Spanish Language sphere of influence. Before it became part of the United States, the new territory – the future Texas, New Mexico and California – had a mixed population of about 100 000 Mexicans. It had Spanish missions and ranches, embryos of industry, and even Spanish language publications. And it had an extensive and well-developed ranching culture, the impact of which would be tremendous on the United States.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the Spanish and Mexican colonial structures, California could never have absorbed the quick population growth brought on by the Gold Rush (nor would Texas have done so in the decades that preceded its annexation). The year after the annexation, in 1849, California’s population quadrupled from 14 000 to 60 000. California could only sustain this increase because before the gold miners arrived there was already a food supply chain in place. (Mines weren’t the only source of gold in California. When the gold rush started, Spanish ranchers jacked the price of cattle 50 times over, to as much as 75$ per head in San Francisco).

Of course, the small Mexican population in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico was quickly overwhelmed by the influx of Americans. Yet the presence of the Spanish language continued to increase. For the rest of the century, the Mexican-American border was nothing more than a line in the sand. So until the 1910s, people circulated freely – to work in Arizona’s mines, to dig in Texas’ oil wells or to pick California’s fruit.  Between 1850 and 1900, the number of Hispanics in the United States increased five fold, to half a million. By 1940, it had doubled again to 2 million. The U.S. Border Patrol was created in 1924, then the Bracero program, which set quotas for migrant workers, in 1942. But the border still remained inconsequential until the 1970s.

Though the idea of “Tex Mex cuisine” entered popular vocabulary in the 1970s, Mexican food had been part of the social make up of the Southwest for two centuries before that. The words enchilada, guacamole, frijoles and Tex-Mex itself entered basic English vocabulary between the middle of the 19th century and the early 20th. Other 19th century borrowings included bunco, cafeteria, fiesta, guerrilla, macho, mañana, marijuana, nada, poncho and patio, as well as hoosegow (from juzgado, a panel of judges) and reefer (from grifo, smoker of marijuana).

In fact, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was just one among many diplomatic agreements that solidified the presence of Spanish in the U.S. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty (Florida), the 1853 Gadsden Purchase (Southern Arizona), the 1898 Treaty of Paris (Puerto Rico, Cuba, The Philippines and The Marianas) and the 1903 Hay-Brunay-Varilla Treaty (Panama Canal Zone) all drained the Spanish empire, or its successor states, of former possession –further reinforcing the Spanish personality of the United States.

The Story of SpanishMore information about Spanish in the United States can be found in our new book, The Story of Spanish, to be released in May 2013, St. Martin’s Press.