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October 2002

Release Date: October 10, 2002

Just Published De León Work Explores 'Racial Frontier' in Frontier West

In a new book published by the University of New Mexico Press, Angelo State University history professor Dr. Arnoldo De León examines how minorities shaped the American frontier and how, in turn, they and their cultures were shaped by the frontier experience.

"Racial Frontiers: Africans, Chinese and Mexicans in Western America, 1848-1890" is the 15th book published by De León, the C.J. "Red" Davidson Professor of History at ASU. The book, the latest volume in the University of New Mexico Press's "Histories of the American Frontier" series, covers the racial frontier in western Texas and in the other states west of the Mississippi River, except for the slave states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri.

De León examines how each of these minorities adapted to an American West dominated by Anglo Americans and their institutions. The book explores the history and historiography of Africans, Chinese and Mexicans, who cumulatively never totaled more than 10 percent of the western population during the period covered in the book, yet made a significant impact on the west. De León identifies the similarities and the differences in the experiences of each minority group.

De León says that the convergence of Africans, Chinese, Mexicans and Anglos in the West created a "racial frontier" that "dictated a balancing act between hostile competition and coexistence as all involved maneuvered for position and advantage in a setting deemed a place of new beginnings."

He argues that while all four groups were motivated by greater opportunities and better lives, if not for themselves then most certainly for their children, the minority groups had a more difficult time realizing their expectations because of the indelible marks of their "skin color and physiognomy."

De León writes that "western people of color accepted tenets of other cultures, but their loyalty generally remained with the way of life that nourished them in segregated areas and defined them as a racial unit."

In spite of the challenges they faced, De León finds that the story of minorities and their success, such as Chinese entrepreneurship, African perseverance and Mexican adaptability, to be uplifting. Their imprint on the West far exceeded their number, writes De Leon, "for unquestionably the frontier took the shape of many colors."

The author concludes that some of the lessons about 19th century America may perhaps be "applicable to a contemporary world where a multitude of races and cultures live in juxtaposition, sometimes harmoniously but sometimes contentiously."