Remarks on Opening the Display of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

These opening remarks were given by History Colorado's Executive Director Dawn DiPrince on February 3rd, 2023, to commemorate the opening of the display of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo at the History Colorado Center in Denver.

It is impossible not to acknowledge the pain of lost homeland in these words and, on this day, as we gather to witness original pages from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. 

175 years ago (yesterday) the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in Mexico on the main altar of the Basilica of Guadalupe in Villa Hidalgo near the site where the Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego. 

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo significantly transformed the land and the lives of those living in what was then northern Mexico.  It marks a decisive moment in the history of North America, the United States, Colorado and in the families of many of you who are here today. 

  • It established a new international border.
  • It required Mexico to relinquish more than half of its territory – a total of 525,000 square miles of land.
  • And, it brought an end to the Mexican American War.

The Mexican American War was a tangible embodiment of the ideal of Manifest Destiny, which was seen as the divine purpose of the US to spread democracy and capitalism across the continent. The War was provoked by President Polk who campaigned on acquiring parts of Mexico. Ulysses S. Grant who fought in the War later acknowledged, “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.” 

Often Manifest Destiny was justified by a mythology of empty, virgin lands. But, of course, these lands were home and homelands to civilization, including numerous Indigenous Tribal communities and around 100,000 Mexicanos. 

Between the fall of 1847 and winter of 1848, the Treaty was negotiated and eventually signed between the US and Mexico. No Tribal governments or leadership were parties to the Treaty, but it was a pivotal moment in Indigenous US history. It sets the stage for monumental historic chapters, such as: the Gold Rush, the Transcontinental Railroad, and the Sand Creek Massacre. It ignited passions around the expansion of slavery in the West and accelerated conflicts that led to the Civil War. 

I have been working with this history for a very long time and it is stunning to me that there are so many who do not know the power and importance of the Treaty’s history. It is a critical document in understanding our national geography, border politics, and regional identity. The Treaty has been foundational in countless court cases. And, while the Treaty is significant on an international scale, I always want people to understand its powerful impact on the smaller scale too – on communities and families. 

Our exhibitions and statewide initiative on the Borderlands of Southern Colorado explore exactly that – the implications of the Treaty on the lives of those who were living in this land of shifting empire that we now call the American Southwest. 

New borders meant that families, without immigrating, found themselves as residents in a new country. Despite some theoretical protections in the Treaty, Hispanos and newly proclaimed Mexican Americans faced:

  • a loss of political power;
  • segregation (Maestas case) and discrimination (Garcia v. Vilsack);
  • shifting economics and labor needs;
  • ambiguity in identity;
  • and long-lasting dispossession of property in the face of changing laws, prejudice and corruption. (Land Rights of La Sierra)

Mexican American families in Colorado and throughout the American Southwest state, “I didn’t cross the border; the border crossed me.” In our exhibit, we have a video of George Autobee from Pueblo County, who notes how his ancestors went from landowners to farm workers and the resulting loss of generational wealth over these many years.  

There was and is resistance too: the formation of mutalistas, the ongoing fight for land rights, the preservation of traditions and rejection of assimilation, the rise of La Raza . . . to name a few. This resistance is formative to Colorado too. 

I encourage you as you witness these original pages of the Treaty this morning, that you contemplate the human impacts and forces as much as the geo-political ones. When you see the handmade fibrous paper, the carefully hand-scripted text, the smudge of a fingerprint, the shape and weight of the signatures, the imperfect wax seals of the Treaty, you will remember that human hands made this document. Even more, you must remember the human-forged conquest and terms that moved international boundaries and disrupted lives. And, please too remember those ancestors – including the ancestors of many of you in this room today – whose lives were changed forever. 

Curators are inside the gallery right now installing the Treaty pages. You will see pages that include Articles 14 and 15, which relate to debt forgiveness, and Article 17, which reconciles the Treaty with early agreements. There is also the signature page featuring US signature Nicolas Trist, Chief clerk of Secretary of State James Buchanan, as well as three Mexican negotiators. 

Before we all go in, members of the media will go in with their cameras for a few minutes. Then, we will all be able to go in. 

Until then, please continue to enjoy spending time together. Thank you.