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“El Otro Lado” (The Other Side): Geographies, Boundaries, and Imaginations of Space

Invention of Mexico and Mexicans

The history surrounding the ever-fluctuating borders of the U.S. empire has always depended on two concepts: land and race—two concepts complementing and reinforcing each other through the certainty that the supremacy of those with the “visionary” mind to explore, exploit, and expand the empires’ lands must reign supreme. In the expansion of the land, the unknown wilderness was transformed into the frontier and later reconstituted as The West to rectify the puritan and entrepreneurial spirit of the nation in its violent nineteenth-century expansion. Art historian Kirsten Pai Buick elaborates:

“The concept of “wilderness” did not travel with the Puritans from England but was instead born out of the American wild itself... The wilderness was the home of Indians, witches, as well as the devil. It was disorienting – literally be-“wild”-ering – a space that could turn men of God into the very entities that they were born to contest. Moreover, westward expansion was antithetical to New England conceptions of society as an organism rather than an aggregate made up of individuals whose movement threatened the integrity of the organism. Therefore, Puritans developed the concept of the West to distinguish wilderness (a place where moral and spiritual exercises take place) from frontier (movement away from society for primarily commercial purposes).” 1

By the 1830’s, the frontier was inhabited, not only by Native Americans, but also by “Mexicans” effectively solidifying Anglo-Americans as the race divinely chosen to civilize, and develop the West. More specifically, the period surrounding the so-called Mexican American War, or as it is known in Mexico, The North American Invasion, saw the development of Mexicans as an inferior race. This also constitutes a continuation from the Enlightenment-era rendering of Catholic Spanish peoples as inferior to the Protestant British. Rendering those in the way of colonial expansion as inferior is a tactic of empires. Fueled by the desire to expand the U.S. territories from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and in spite of three hundred years of countless broken treaties with Native Americans, U.S. authorities aimed to expand the concept and territorial boundaries of “The West,” rendering Mexicans as savages and obstacles to the God-sanctioned expansion of the country. In Race and Manifest Destiny, historian Reginald Horsman asserts that:

“In confronting the Mexicans the Americans clearly formulated the idea of themselves as an Anglo-Saxon race….In the 1830s and 1840s, when it became obvious that American and Mexican interests were incompatible and that the Mexicans would suffer, innate weaknesses were found in the Mexicans. Americans, it was argued, were not to be blamed for forcibly taking the northern provinces of Mexico, for Mexicans, like Indians, were unable to make proper use of the land.” 2

As such, this guide was created to expand the entanglement of how U.S. and Mexican histories and conflicts engendered the concept of “The Mexican.” From maps before, during and after the North American Invasion; to expedition journals, and illustrations portraying the newly conquered territories of what today constitutes the Southwest, these sources aim to nuance the concepts of the frontier and border in conjunction with the invention of “the Mexican” as a political category that authorized expansion and colonization.

The following resources contextualize the U.S. Government inventions of “The Mexican” as America expands West. With the intent of nuancing the ever-expanding boundaries of the empire from ideas of wilderness toward the ideological articulation of our present political borders.

Prelude to the Mexican American War

This section looks at documents that give context to the events leading to the invasion of Mexico. These documents map the ways in which people from Mexico began to be viewed as the enemy during the U.S. initial attempts to push West.

Louisiana Purchase: Primary Documents in American History

The Louisiana Purchase treaty was ratified by the Senate on October 20, 1803. This guide provides access to digital materials at the Library of Congress, links to related external websites, and a print bibliography.

Invasion of Mexico

Battles such as Palo Alto are seldom mentioned by scholars working on the myth of the border. However, the war tactics and the dissemination of these and other battles throughout the U.S. reveal much of the ways the ideology surrounding the border between the U.S. and Mexico is dependent on these events.

After the War (Maps)

As the U.S. gained so much territory after the U.S. invasion of Mexico, a project of delineating the new borders began. These maps illustrate this project, demonstrating the ever-fluctuating nature of borders and frontiers.

Travelers and Explorers

The definition of a group of people as an “other” to the needs of an expanding empire is dependent on direct experience. As such, the mapping of the borders runs contingent on the ways people perceived the new members of this nation. The reports and map here presented show precisely how the project of othering is dependent on many factions of the U.S. government.


  1. Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981).
  2. Kirsten Pai Buick, Child of the fire : Mary Edmonia Lewis and the problem of art history's Black and Indian subject (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).