Making Mexico: Legal Nationality, Chinese Race, and the 1930 Population Census
Law & History Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2009
53 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2007 Last revised: 8 Jun 2015
'Take the census; make the country. Let's do both together!' cajoled one bold, bright poster in the days before May 15, 1930 when census takers dispersed across Mexico to count its inhabitants. In government propaganda, the 1930 census made Mexico and drew its inhabitants into the national fold, an ongoing, delicate project after the fratricide of the 1910 Revolution.
In its nation-building effort, the 1930 Mexican census purported to count individuals by legal nationality not by race. Data taken directly from census ballots for Sonora, the state which hosted the largest Chinese population, nonetheless demonstrate powerful social constructs of identity in contest with the census ballot's elision of race. The census ballot in turn contests constructions of the Mexican nation found in the legal categories of nationality and marital status. Analysis of the count of Chinese in Sonora demonstrates the difficulties individuals, census enumerators, and civil service employees had in agreeing on what made someone Mexican. Although it purports not to, by referencing and reifying race rather than strictly counting by nationality, the 1930 census transforms some Mexicans into Chinese, and thus challenges both the power of law to make citizens and the ease with which race can be officially discounted in government-sponsored, nation-building endeavors.
Keywords: legal history, Mexico, race, census, Chinese, citizenship, nationality
JEL Classification: K19, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation