One hundred and seventy years ago on February 2, 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed between the United States and Mexico, thus ending the U.S.-Mexican War, or as known in Mexico, the War of North American Aggression. Ironically, the Treaty that cemented the United States as an imperialist nation was proclaimed by Congress on July 4, 1848. Perhaps as a symbolic gesture legitimizing the brutal act of aggression that allowed the United States to greatly expand its borders, the Treaty fulfilled the American obsession for Manifest destiny.
Whether through media, historical writing, or colloquial concepts such as “manifest destiny,” American spin doctors have been able to whitewash what otherwise was a land-grab and occupation of a sovereign country. Manifest Destiny, or the belief that Americans had the God-given right to rule from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast and from North Pole to South Pole, provided an indirect defense for American military aggression against Mexico. After all, this expansion was inevitable and was reflective of God’s will.  Who can argue with that view? The United States saw itself as the “City on the hill,” thus rules, morals, and/or ethics were inherent in it actions, or so goes the view.
Countering this self-righteous perspective were the experiences of veterans who served in combat during the war. Before becoming the leading general of Union troops during the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant served as a junior officer during the U.S.-Mexico War.  In his latter years he reflected on his time in Mexico: “I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” (Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters Personal, Memoirs of U.S. Grant Selected Letter 1839-1865, 41) He added, “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war…I thought so at the time when I was a youngster, only I had not moral courage enough to resign.” (General Grant, 69) Grant like many other Americans saw the U.S.-Mexican War as an opportunistic act to widen American territory while also expanding the interests of the Southern slave states.
The war, which was the first American war fought in foreign territory, had unanticipated consequences for the U.S. The newly acquired territories rushed Americans into the divisive debate of whether to amplify slavery or not. The dispute proved to be too much to bear and just a dozen years later contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. Mexico also continued a tumultuous path that included a civil war between liberals and conservatives and culminated in a French occupation between 1861-1867. Both countries suffered countless deaths from direct and indirect consequences of the U.S.-Mexican War.
Also deeply impacted by the U.S.-Mexican War were the thousands of new citizens throughout the Southwest that now had to adopt a new identity. Mexican Americans were born out of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and their conquest.  Yet, Mexican Americans were seen as foreigners on their homeland and the overwhelming majority lived as second-class citizens. Despite the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo securing the equality of Mexican Americans, given their history of honoring treaties Americans did not respect its terms. Even worse, the version that Congress ratified omitted Article X which had been previously agreed upon by both countries and that protected land grants that had been awarded throughout the Southwest by the Spanish crown and Mexican government.
During the 1960s, decedents of the Tierra Amarilla land grant among other land grants in New Mexico attempted to reclaim their properties. La Alianza Federal de Pueblos Libres, a group led by Reies Lopez Tijerina, attempted to appeal their claims to the American government. Notwithstanding the endless research efforts by Tijerina and his tireless organizing, the government did not acknowledge the group’s claims, leaving the land struggle alive and continuous.
 It is within this historical context that Chicanos emerge in the U.S. The Mexican American experience has a legacy of inequality, inequity, and poverty. This treatment starts with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and its unequal treatment of Mexican Americans and the lack of enforcement of its terms that subjugated Mexican Americans to a second-tier standing. Yet, despite the social, racial, and political strife, Mexican Americans continue to serve the U.S. in multiple capacities and remain loyal advocates of democracy. History is often murky and complex, and by not respecting the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo the U.S. not only further darkens its legacy, but continues a path of disparity, and perpetuates a nation divided.