The Shadow out of Spain — Part 3

However, we saw the town, and it’s worth seeing alright, especially to anyone not familiar with Spanish style architecture. It’s much like towns I have visited in old Mexico, with the exception that it is much cleaner and neater. In cleanliness it compares with any town I ever saw. The native population is, of course, predominantly Mexican. Or as they call them out there, Spanish-Americans. You or I would be Anglo-Americans according to their way of putting it. Spanish-American, hell. A Mexican is a Mexican to me, wherever I find him, and I don’t consider it necessary for me to hang any prefix on the term “American” when referring to myself.

– Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, July 1935 (AMTF2.872; CL3.352-353)

The summer of 1935 saw Robert E. Howard and his friend Truett Vinson driving through New Mexico, and in his lengthy letter to Lovecraft describing the journey, he took especial interest in the difference exhibited by the Hispanic populations in New Mexico, Old Mexico, and Texas:

The town itself is interesting enough in a conventional sort of way, and I may have said, much resembles the towns of Old Mexico, but is cleaner, and more law-abiding. It doesn’t have, for instance, or at least we didn’t see any of those dives so popular in Mexican border towns, where naked prostitutes of both sexes and various Latin races first dance before the customers, then copulate with each other, and then indulge in various revolting perversions for the entertainment of the crowd, which is generally made up of tourists.

The State seems predominantly Catholic and Mexican. We went into the capitol and I made a point of counting the Mexican names among the legislators. The legislature wasn’t in session at the moment, but each man’s name was fastened to his desk on a placard. The majority were Mexican. Chavez, Otero, Bacca, Roybal, especially Chavez, are the names which appear most frequently in the population. There seem to be as many Chavez’s in New Mexico as there are Gonzaleses in South Texas. I might also add that the State capitol looks about as big as a good-sized Texas county-courthouse. Speaking in general, the Mexican population of New Mexico seems much further advanced, more prosperous and better educated than the Mexican population of Texas and Oklahoma. There are plenty of school-houses, and the Mexicans we saw seemed quicker, more intelligent in general than those in my own State. I admit it seemed strange to me to see Mexicans being treated on the same footing as white people. You can certainly tell the difference in the bearing of Mexicans, Indians, negroes and other dark races the instant you cross the Texas line. Texas, whatever its virtues or faults, is a white man’s state, and that fact is reflected in the manner of the non-white races. They know their place. (AMTF2.875; CL3.356-357)

This examination of a new Hispanic population prompted Lovecraft to ask questions and offer his own experiences of different Hispanic groups he had encountered in Florida:

Your observations on New Mexico as a whole are extremely interesting—revealing an environment in some respects absolutely unique. I suppose that nowhere else in the United States is the Spanish-speaking element so numerous. In Florida a great many of the St. Augustine families linger on—Sanchez, Ponce, Segui, Usina, etc.—but they are without exception English-speaking…although still Catholic in religion. In the end, the New Mexican Spanish-speakers will probably be Anglicised—such being the general trend whenever a foreign region is incorporated into the continuous fabric of an Anglo-Saxon land. It was so in Florida—and has proved so with the French in Louisiana. […] Puerto Rico stays Spanish partly from such patriotic resistance and partly because its unsettled territorial status and West Indian insularity hinder the natural. By the way—is New Mexico legally bi-lingual as Quebec is—so that legal notices, official signs, etc. have to be in both English and Spanish[?] […] Regarding the Spanish-speaking population of New Mexico—isn’t it a fact that the better elements of it are really different from the low-grade ? Indian peon stock usually known as Mexican? I had an idea that the high-grade population of the Spanish Southwest—N. M.—Arizona—California—was pretty surely European in blood, and that in New Mexico it has survived without much change. That would surely create an element vastly different from the greasy peon stock—a group of solid middle-class Spaniards well-born and well-descended, and just as racially Aryan, though in a Latin way, as we are. Such a population could hardly mix much with the typical Mexicans. As you know—the newly appointed U.S. Senator from N.M. is a Chavez. Am I wrong in this impression? I’ll admit that I haven’t any specific documentary evidence to back it up—but I merely picked up the notion somehow. I may remark that the Spanish of St. Augustine come most emphatically under this head. They are all pure European white—no mixture of any sort having affected them. They are now, of course, freely intermarrying with the Anglo-Americans—have been, indeed, since the advent of U.S. rule in 1819. Florida is as much a white man’s state as Texas—with a rigid colour-line against niggers, and with the tribal, swamp-dwelling Seminoles utterly separate—but the ancient Genevors and Garcias and Menendez’s of St. Augustine are so proudly and obviously pure white that no one begrudges them a place on the right side of the line. This perfect equality does not, however, hold good for their fellow-Spaniards from Cuba, who are beginning to immigrate into southern Florida. Except in Key West, which was always half-Cuban, the Spaniard from the West Indies occupies about the same place that the omnipresent Italian occupies in the north. He uses the white man’s compartments in stations, coaches, etc., but is definitely regarded as a foreigner. The Cuban negro and mulatto, of course, is segregated with other blacks. Just now Miami is worried about its growing Cuban colony. It used to be extremely Anglo-Saxon; but as Cuba gets more turbulent and Key West gets more poverty-stricken, more and more Cubans flock to the South Florida metropolis. Tampa has an enormous Cuban quarter (very quaint—I’ve explored it) called Ybor City. (AMTF2.888-889)

Lovecraft was more prone than Howard to use the somewhat outdated terms mestizo and mulatto (and even more archaic terms like quadroon in some letters), and neither word appears in any of his surviving letters, though mulatto appears in Howard’s unfinished tales “The Last War” and “The Hand of Obeah.” For that matter, Howard only uses the term “colored” once in his letters, in an early epistle to Lovecraft (AMTF1.44; CL2.76), though that would have been a popular and accepted term during the 1930s to refer to any and all persons not considered “white.” The distinction, in terms of the Hispanic populations of Florida and the Southwest, at least as far as Lovecraft saw it, was in terms of assimilation: he held the belief that white Europeans of different nationalities could, by denying their own culture and accepting American culture, be assimilated as Americans. The “Anglicisation” of the Spanish families in St. Augustine, in adopting English and American customs, was seen by Lovecraft of proof of this belief. Howard replied:

You are probably right in assuming that the Latin population of New Mexico will eventually be Anglicized. But it will be a slow process, for migration into the State is comparatively sparse, and probably more than balanced by the drift of Latins from Mexico. To the best of my knowledge New Mexico is legally bi-lingual, though all the highway signs I remember seeing were in English. As for that matter, you could say the same for San Antonio, as far [as] the store signs are concerned. You ask concerning the different classes of Latin New Mexicans. Of course, I wasn’t there long enough, and didn’t see enough of New Mexican society to make any positive statements about conditions. But the higher class New Mexicans are undoubtedly of a purer and superior stock than the ordinary peons—more Spanish blood and less Indians. But I doubt (though I can’t swear to it) if the upper classes in New Mexico are as purely Spanish as those of Florida. It must be remembered that New Mexico was colonized, not directly from Spain, but from Old Mexico, where an intermingling with Aztec strains had already been going on for some years; that for many years New Mexico was an isolated region with little chance of contact with other European colonies; and that the region’s native Indians were peaceful and semi-civilized, offering no great barrier to the mixing of their race with the conquerors. I have an idea that the Spaniards of early New Mexico mixed a great deal more with the Indians than did those of Florida. However, there is probably a strong Anglo-Saxon strain in many of the better families, for in the early days of American rule, a good many Americans settled there, first as traders and trappers, later as soldiers and cattlemen, and married Mexican women. By the way, the first European colony in Texas, Ysleta, was settled by people from Santa Fe, fleeing an Indian revolt in 1680. (AMTF2.900-901; CL3.381-382)

In a following letter, discussing the ethics and moralities of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (with its parallels to the European conquest of the Americas), Lovecraft perhaps unknowingly tied in this notion of assimilation and cultural autonomy—the idea that different national cultures, which were in part dependent on race, should maintain themselves apart without mixing—with Howard’s old fantasy of the conquest of Mexico:

As a whole, Mexico has enough of an established Hispanic civilisation to win it a place in the instinctively favoured category, but that is not true of all its parts. When at various times the U.S. took sections of its southern neighbour, these sections were among the least settled and civilised—hence the gradual Americanisation. But if we were to conquer the entire country in some future war, it seems certain that the intensively developed central area containing the capital would be granted a cultural autonomy like that enjoyed by Puerto Rico. (AMTF2.930)

It is perhaps fitting that in this letter, which is essentially the last word on the subject in Howard and Lovecraft’s correspondence due to Robert E. Howard’s suicide soon after, Lovecraft for the first and only time in these letters uses the word “Hispanic” to describe the peoples they had been discussing, off and on, since 1930.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5