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Becoming Part of the United States

The first Mexicans to become part of the United States never crossed any border. Instead, the border crossed them.

Spanish-speaking people have lived in North America since the Spaniards colonized Mexico in the sixteenth century, and Mexicans have always played a crucial role in the continent's culture and history. Mexican culture brought many firsts to North America: The first Thanksgiving took place in either New Mexico or El Paso; the first university in North America was founded in Mexico City; the first printing press on the continent arrived in Mexico in 1538, more than a century before printing came to New England.

Mexicans first arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598 and founded the city of Santa Fe in 1610. By 1800, Spain had governed Mexico as a colony for almost 300 years. Although Spaniards held positions of power, the people of Mexico were primarily mestizos--people of both Spanish and indigenous heritage.

The northern sections of Mexico, especially the lands north of the Rio Grande, were lightly populated well into the 19th century. Mexican government officials, merchants, and a few trappers and hunters from the U.S. lived in small settlements, mostly around a series of mission churches. This arrangement remained largely undisturbed after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821.

The Land Changes Hands

In 1846, everything changed. War broke out between the U.S. and Mexico over the U.S. annexation of Texas. Mexico was defeated, and in 1848 the two nations signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty gave the victorious nation an enormous amount of land, including what would later become the states of California and Texas, as well as parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, in exchange for a token payment of $15 million.

One more important piece of land changed hands in 1854, when the U.S. bought what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico from the Mexican government for $10 million. This land deal, known as the Gadsden Purchase, brought the U.S. a much-coveted railroad route, and helped open the West to further expansion.

With two strokes of a pen, the larger nation had expanded its size by one-third. And almost overnight, tens of thousands of Mexican citizens had become residents of the United States.



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