visiting the water street bridge and the santa cruz community
As Ms. O’Connell detailed in her interview, rationales of supposedly invasive Mexican culture still permeate Santa Cruz’s culture because many whites are apparently terrified about of losing their cultural dominance. In frighteningly similar language to the Item’s, graffiti discovered just four years ago in a UCSC bathroom reading “Stop the invasion: Kill a Mexican!(6:30 in video)” reveals the continuing fear of incursion by Mexicans and their culture. Even today, some in Santa Cruz still speak of Mexicans like they do pests; namely invasive and needing to be exterminated to keep the integrity of the culture alive. As regards her Mexican heritage, Ms. O’Connell still feels uncomfortable and threatened even though the “actual threat of death isn’t present.” To her, the message in the bathroom still feels violent because it conveys that one is “not wanted, or less than” the dominant culture. Evidently, fear of losing one’s cultural hegemony transcends decades of racial progress, with these sentiments still present in a such a seemingly peaceful and liberal environment.
Eerily similar to the sentiments that surrounded the Water Street Bridge lynching, fear of a “Mexican invasion” pervades Santa Cruz today. Whites approved of the lynching of Arias and Chamales because they feared losing cultural hegemony, a sentiment that endures in Santa Cruz, as evidenced by the incident at UC Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz, Mexicans still are perceived by many as intrusive and threatening to dominant culture.
In an editorial piece published on May 4, 1877, shortly following the deaths of Chamales and Arias, the Santa Cruz Local Item lauded the lynching as necessary for the town’s “security from the lawless classes that roam at large over the country(1).” In the eyes of the writers, these “classes,” evidently Mexicans, “infest[ed] the outskirts of the settled localities to prey upon their inhabitants(2)” in the eyes of the writers. The influx of “vagrant idlers(3)” made whites feel vulnerable that their culture would become “overrun (4)” by lawless, lazy Mexicans, essentially deemed to be pests, rather than human beings. Thus, in addition to Manifest Destiny rationales, the mob lynched these two Mexicans because they felt their culture was becoming infested with inferior, undisciplined, and dangerous people. Moreover, it served as a warning to the “swell[ing] number of…reckless and desperate (5)” Mexicans to stop encroaching on their dominant culture and established order. Whites in Santa Cruz would not have any of this supposedly intrusive and wild Mexican culture, a sentiment that still endures in the city today. (read left section below, then right)
In short, nearly 140 years later, the same xenophobic attitude still exists in Santa Cruz, an attitude driven by fear. Much of human action is driven by insecurities surrounding change,, and the words in the Item and many years later at UCSC drive this point home. The action of lynching and the words in the bathroom have the same effect upon society’s collective psyche and are driven by the same feelings.Fear that the established order will be upset leads some to desperate, violent action in order to prevent the order from collapsing. As a state, the only thing we need to fear, and thus combat, is fear itself.
1. “The Murder of Henry de Forest.” Santa Cruz Local Item, May 4, 1877. Microform.