HM - October 2018 - Monreal

Classroom Applications


No Me Puede Arrestar Por Nada (You can not arrest me for nothing): Using Film to Investigate the Lasting Consequences of Westward “Expansion” in the Early 19th Century

By Timothy Monreal, University of South Carolina

Krufta et. al. suggest that many history teachers teach Mexican and Mexican-American history from a Eurocentric perspective that romanticizes the imperialistic actions of the United States throughout the nineteenth century. As a result, military provocation toward Mexico culminating in the Mexican-American War becomes an apolitical episode of Westward “Expansion,” rather than an example of contested conquest.The unproblematized moniker Westward “Expansion” obscures the enduring socio-cultural negotiation of a war whose legacy can be viewed on a spectrum from glorious achievement to illegal invasion. From a perspective aligned with the latter end of the spectrum, Chicana feminist and philosopher Gloria Anzaldúa asserts:
Their [Anglos] illegal invasion forced Mexico to fight a war to keep its Texas territory. The Battle of the Alamo, in which the Mexican forces vanquished the whites, became, for the whites, the symbol of the cowardly and villainous character of the Mexicans. It became (and still is) a symbol that legitimatized the white imperialist takeover.
Viewing Westward “Expansion” and the Mexican American War from a perspective like Anzaldúa’s does at least three major things:
1) Provides a counter-narrative teachers can use to illustrate that “history is interpretive…people construct different accounts of the same event which are shaped by their perspectives—their ideas, attitudes, and beliefs.”4 This is in line with Dimension Two of the C3 Framework. 
2) Showcases the process of racialization towards Mexicans and Mexican-Americans that both justified the United States “expansion” and shaped life henceforth in the Borderlands. Not only did a belief in Manifest Destiny assume cultural and social superiority, “Mexicans lost their own land, culture, language, and religion as they were seen as inferior.”5
3) Reveals how the legacy of an historical event can shape social relations many years after its conclusion. In the case of Mexicans and Mexican-American in the borderlands such as Texas, they lost land, but also social status, rights, and political power. Mexicans and Mexican-American were transformed into a foreign and inferior group of people in a land that was once their own. It is especially this last point that makes the following lesson worthwhile for teachers.            

At first glance, the movie at the center of the lesson, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, seems to have little connection to the Mexican-American War and Westward “Expansion,” but a closer inspection reveals why it is a powerful film to investigate the lasting impact of such events. The movie, produced by Moctesuma Esparza and Michael Hausman and directed by Robert Young, reveals the ever-increasing social antagonism that occurred after the Mexican American War. Although Cortez was born on the Mexican side of the border, many of his peers had lived in what was now the United States their entire life. Even though these people may have been United States citizens by birth, they rarely enjoyed common standing with their fellow white Texans. This type of second-class citizenship and racialization in a land that was once their own makes plain the long lasting “open wounds” felt by many from Westward “Expansion.”6
The Ballad of Gregorio recounts the chase for Gregorio Cortez who stands accused of killing a local sheriff as a result of miscommunication in 1901. After the sheriff erroneously accuses Cortez of horse theft, Cortez says, “No me puede arrestar por nada” (You can not arrest me for nothing). Highlighting the racial tensions of the period, it is interrupted as "No white man can arrest me."7 While nobody disputes the fact that Cortez shoots the sheriff, Cortez claims he acted out of self-defense and flees for fear of his life. Although he is eventually caught, Cortez becomes a folk hero for Mexican-Americans because he stands up against perceived injustice. From the perspective of many Mexican and Mexican-Americans, the treatment of Cortez was seen as a visible symbol to the ongoing racial, cultural, and political tensions that did not end with the Mexican-American War.8
On a deeper level, teachers can push students to think through the ways we treat Mexican-Americans today. To what extent does the Mexican-American War still reach On a deeper level, teachers can push students to think through the ways we treat Mexican-Americans today. To what extent does the Mexican-American War still reach into contemporary social relations? For example, scholar Leo Chavez writes at length about the construction of the “Latino Threat” complete with a narrative that Mexicans are working for the “Reconquista” (reconquering) of the Southwest.9 Furthermore, it is common to hear far right wing pundits assert that Mexican-Americans refuse to integrate with United States culture or learn English due to a covert desire to turn the U.S. into Mexico.10 Even President Trump’s constant call for a border wall explicitly calls attention to a belief that immigrants, mostly from Latin America, are besieging the country. By invoking this type of language, contemporary anti-Latino discourse looks back to the open wounds of the Mexican-American War and Westward “Expansion” to ignite fear and stoke racist nativism.11 Such claims rooted in the long-standing belief that Mexican-Americans are criminal threats, not unlike Gregorio Cortez, continue to shape legislative policy and social relations.12 Understanding of how past events are significant in shaping the present are in step with the National Council of History Education’s Habits of Mind and the NCSS’s push for disciplinary ways of thinking.
Thus, the lesson uses film to interrogate the unequal racial and power relations in the borderlands that continued many decades after the end of the Mexican-American War.13 The lesson is created with a belief similar to Mirandé’s claim that, “from the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to the present a dual standard of justice, one for Anglos and the other for Chicanos, has existed to maintain and perpetuate the social, economic, and political oppression of the Mexican-American people.”14 However, in investigating the central character, Gregorio Cortez, both in film and through the historical record, students can come to a conclusion about whether they agree with arguments such as Anzaldúa’s and Mirandé’s. Although a detailed description of the lesson follows, the lesson centers on two movie clips from The Ballad of Gregorio to give opposing viewpoints of the initial shooting, one from the perspective of the law authorities and the other from Gregorio Cortez. In order to encourage critical thinking and inquiry, the lesson engages students to separate fact from fiction within the movie using the general structure of a strategy called Hollywood or History.15 This strategy calls for students to use a variety of primary and secondary sources, along with a graphic organizer, to gauge the historical accuracy of the depiction presented through film. Students will also create a summative dialogue poem based on their understanding.
Lesson Name
No Me Puede Arrestar Por Nada (You can not arrest me for nothing): Using film to investigate Westward “Expansion” and the Borderlands at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Grade                              Subject                                                              Topic
Middle/High School U.S. History Borderlands History, Westward “Expansion”
Estimated Time Needed for Lesson                                    
120+ minutes, the lesson is broken up into two 60-minute periods
Selected State and Common Core Standards
State Standard Standard Standard
Texas Social Studies, Grade 8, 6 Social Studies, Grade 8, 29A U.S. High School History Studies 29A
North Carolina 8.H.3.1 AH2.H.3.2 AH2.H.3.3
California 8.12
Common Core CSSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.8 CSSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.9  
Common Core CSSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 CSSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3  
NCHE Habits of Mind
Grasp the significance of the past shaping the present
Read critically, to discern differences between evidence and assertion and to frame useful and appropriate questions about the past
Handouts/Materials/Web Links
Handout/Materials: Hollywood or History? Graphic Organizer
Web Links:
        a.   Link to Film Clip(s):
  Clip 1: 17:03 - 21:43
  Clip 2: 1:10:23 – 123:00
b.  Primary Source(s):
Gregorio Cortez Cabinet Card16
Big Man Hunt in Texas, New York Times 190117
Fifty Years for One Murder, New York Times, 190118
c.  Secondary Source(s):
El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez11
Guiding Questions
All Grade Levels:
  • What are the enduring legacies of Westward “Expansion” on Mexicans/Mexican-Americans/Chicanos/Tejanos?
  • How have perceptions of Mexican, Mexican-Americans, and Latino/as changed and/or stayed the same in the United States over time?
Additional Questions:
  • What are borderlands?
  • What social issues affected Mexicans and Mexican-Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century?
Lesson Procedures
1. Warm-up: Display a map of the United States. Ask students to point out borderland states and areas. Ask students about current issues or disputes about border policies in the United States and/or the world.
2.  Historical knowledge and background. Teachers give students the secondary source, El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez (electronic or paper copy), Also, give each student three sticky notes. Previewing the text, students will write one question they have about the event on a sticky note. Teachers then ask the students about the questions they have. After reading half of the text, teachers will have students write one question they have about the event on a sticky note. Teachers then ask the students about the questions they have. Finally, at the end of the text, teachers will have the students write one question they have about the event on a sticky note. Teachers then ask the students about the questions they have and engage in any discussion that results. Students will write notes in the secondary source portion of the graphic organizer.
3.   Teacher shows clip 1, which describes the Gregory Cortez incident from the side of the Texas law enforcement authorities. Teacher shows clip 2, which describes the incident from the viewpoint of Gregorio Cortez. Students will then takes notes in the Graphic Organizer. After filling in the organizer, teachers will lead a short discussion about the opposing views. Teachers can ask some of the following questions: How does each side explain what happened? Whose narrative is considered to be the truth and why? How do power relations affect whose story is accepted? How do the two viewpoints present what life was like in South Texas/Borderlands at the turn of the nineteenth century?
4.   Students share their graphic organizers so far in pairs or small groups. Teacher walks around for informal observation/assessment.
5.   After reviewing previous day’s lesson the teacher leads a whole class investigation of the three following sources:
Gregorio Cortez Cabinet Card
Big Man Hunt in Texas, New York Times 1901
Fifty Years for One Murder, New York Times, 1901
After reading each source out loud, the teacher asks students to engage in a Think-Pair-Share over the following two questions: What image does each source create of Gregorio Cortez? What viewpoint does this perpetuate? Students also fill in the graphic organizer.
6.   Teachers instruct students to utilize the three parallel columns of the graphic organizer to develop one-two paragraphs explaining Hollywood’s depiction of the Gregorio Cortez event (Each teacher is recommended to create their own criteria for the paragraphs).
7.   Students will work on/complete a dialogue poem20  representing the opposing views of the Gregorio Cortez event.
The questioning strategy outlined in step two helps students first preview a text and then engage with the text as they continue reading. The lesson also has opportunities for Think-Pair-Shares before working towards the dialogue poems and completion of organizer.
ESL Interventions:
Gregorio Cortez is the focus of a famous corridio, Corrido de Gregorio Cortez.21 The song is sung in Spanish. Teachers can encourage Spanish speakers to listen to the song before the class or lesson. In this way their language skills are viewed as a strength, and they can help lead the class in the lesson. A popular version of the song, El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez, is by Ramón Ayala and can be found through most streaming services.
Similar to the ESL interventions, students can closely examine the words of the famous corridio, El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez and investigate why Gregorio Cortez became a famous folk hero for Mexican and Mexican-Americans. Spanish-English translation of El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez can be found here: 22
1.Krufta, Dan, and Michael Milton. Episode 55: Teaching Mexican-American Histories with Maribel Santiago. Accessed August 13, 2018.
2.Acuña, Rodolfo F. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 2nd edition. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1981. Mirandé, Alfredo. The Chicano Experience: An Alternative Perspective. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985. Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005.
3. Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 4th edition. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 2012: 28.
4. National Council for the Social Studies. Social Studies for the Next Generation: Purposes, Practices, and Implications of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. 2013.: 47
5. Rumbaut, Rubén G. "Pigments of our imagination: On the racialization and racial identities of “Hispanics” and “Latinos”." In How the United States Racializes Latinos. Routledge, 2015: 25-46; Molina,
Natalie. “The Power of Racial Scripts: What the History of Mexican Immigration to the United States Teaches Us about Relational Notions of Race.” Latino Studies 8, 2 .2010.: 160.
6.  Anzaldúa. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza.
7. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. “Texas in Focus: Early Photographs from the State Archives | Card Photos | TSLAC.”
8. Ibid.
9. Chavez, Leo. The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation, Second Edition. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008.
10. Huntington, Samuel P. “The Hispanic Challenge.” Foreign Policy, no. 141 (March 2004): 30.
11. Pérez Huber, Lindsay. “Using Latina/o Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) and Racist Nativism to Explore Intersectionality in the Educational Experiences of Undocumented Chicana College Students.” The Journal of Educational Foundations 24, no. 1/2 (2010): 77–96.
12. Rodriguez, Sophia, and Timothy Monreal. “‘This State Is Racist . . ’: Policy Problematization and Undocumented Youth Experiences in the New Latino South.” Educational Policy 31, no. 6 (2017): 764–800.
13. Young, Robert M. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. Comedy, Drama, 1982.
14. Mirandé, The Chicano Experience: An Alternative Perspective, 70.
15. Monreal, Timothy. “Chicano Power and Youth Resistance: Walking Out for Civil Rights.” In Hollywood or History: An Inquiry-Based Strategy for Using Film to Teach United States History, edited by Scott L. Roberts and C.J. Elfer. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2018. Roberts, Scott L. “Effectively Using Social Studies Textbooks in Historical Inquiry.” Social Studies Research and Practice 9, no. 1 (2014): 119–128. Roberts, Scott L., and C.J. Elfer, eds. Hollywood or History: An Inquiry-Based Strategy for Using Film to Teach United States History. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2018 
Texas State Library and Archives Commission. “Texas in Focus: Early Photographs from the State Archives | Card Photos | TSLAC.”
17. New York Times. “BIG MAN HUNT IN TEXAS; State Rangers and Sheriff’s Posses After Mexican Murderers. Southwestern Part of State Aflame and Mexicans Flock to Towns for Protection.” The New York Times, June 18, 1901.
18. New York Times. “FIFTY YEARS FOR ONE MURDER.; Trials for Two Others Confront Gregorio Cortez, the Mexican.” The New York Times, August 1, 1901.
19.  Rodríguez, Juan Carlos. “El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez.” Handbook of Texas Online, June 12, 2010.
20. Tedick, D.J. “Dialogue Poems.” In Proficiency-Oriented Language Instruction and Assessment: A Curriculum Handbook for Teachers. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, 2002.
21. Center for American Music. “Corridos.” University of Pittsburgh Library System. Accessed May 1, 2017.
22. Ibid.

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