Mexican Americans by wulinqing

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                                           C     H    A     P   T   E   R   8

                                      Mexican Americans

                                           BIG PICTURE QUESTIONS
                                   How does capitalistic globalization contribute to
                                  Latin American immigration to the United States?
                                     What role have Mexican Americans played in
                                  building up this country’s wealth and institutions?
                                           What are the societal consequences of
                                      discrimination by European Americans against
                                                   Mexican Americans?


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        206      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

               ot long ago, three men were drinking beer             origins (or whose ancestors’ national origins) are in
               in suburban San Diego. After a while, these           the countries of Latin America—that is, much of the
               Anglo whites* decided to “shoot some aliens”          Caribbean, Central, and South America, in the Unit-
        at the U.S.–Mexico border. Using a rifle, one man            ed States, a figure that was estimated to have grown
        killed a Mexican youngster who was crossing the              by the mid-2000s to 42 million, about 27 million of
        border. The killer was sentenced to only two years in        whom were Mexican Americans.2 U.S. Latinos are
        jail. The life of the immigrant was not considered           now one of the two largest groups of Americans of
        valuable by his killer or, indeed, by the judge. In          color, along with African Americans. The umbrella
        recent years, hostility toward Latin American immi-          term Hispanic which was coined by the U.S. gov-
        grants has reached intense levels—with new white-            ernment relatively recently, is widely used to desig-
        dominated citizen groups, such as the Minutemen,             nate persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban,
        patrolling the Mexican border. One group demon-              Dominican, and Central or South American her-
        strated and burned a Mexican flag in front of a Mex-         itage. Yet Hispanic is an English word derived from
        ican Consulate in Arizona. In addition, the U.S.             Hispania, the Roman name for Spain. This term em-
        Congress passed billion-dollar legislation to create a       phasizes Spanish heritage while ignoring other (for
        700-mile security fence between the United States            example, Indian and African) backgrounds. Latino
        and Mexico. Anti-immigrant hostility has been fed            an alternative collective designation, recognizes the
        by highly stereotyped assertions about Mexican im-           complex Latin American origins of these groups. It
        migrants by poorly informed politicians and media.           is a Spanish-language word preferred by many
        These assertions have helped to spur white suprema-          Spanish-speaking scholars and others.3 Though
        cists and nativists, who have even made death                each term has its critics, both are widely used not
        threats against Latino leaders, such as Los Angeles          only by members of this group but by outsiders.
        Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, because of their speak-          The use of these terms also reflects a new collective
        ing out on behalf of undocumented immigrants.1               consciousness among these groups that did not exist
            Many Americans have historically held stereo-            until recently. The relatively new idea of a Latino
        typical views of the people in Mexico as sleepy farm-        group is an example of the “emergent” character of
        ers with big sombreros, “wetbacks,” mustachioed              ethnic and racial identities that William Yancey and
        banditos, or ignorant people involved with magical           his associates suggested in their analysis of adap-
        religious views. Popular images are supplemented             tation patterns of earlier European immigrants (see
        by negative treatments of Mexicans and Mexican               Chapter 2).
        Americans in schoolbooks that distort the history of             Note too that combining the various national-
        the Southwest, as in the historical myths that glori-        origin groups into one Latino or Hispanic category
        fy heroic white Texans in the 1830s confronting a            masks their significant diversity. Most people are
        backward Mexican government and army. In addi-               likely to name their own group first and foremost
        tion, popular and scholarly accounts of U.S. history         in terms of its national origin, such as Mexican,
        by European Americans frequently omit significant            Cuban, or Puerto Rican. Latino groups differ eco-
        references to Mexican American contributions to the          nomically, politically, in their histories, and in cer-
        past and present development of the United States.           tain cultural forms—for example, food, religious
            The last (2000) census counted just over 35 mil-         practices, music, and political inclinations. Al-
        lion Latinos (Hispanics), persons whose national             though the Latino population is increasingly dis-
                                                                     persed, geographic distinctiveness remains. Eight
                                                                     in ten live in the southwestern states or in Florida,
        *The terms whites and Anglos are generally used in this      Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. Mexican Amer-
        and other chapters as shorthand for “European Ameri-
                                                                     icans are disproportionately concentrated in the
        cans,” or what the U.S. Census Bureau calls “non-Hispan-
        ic whites.” A recent survey of 2900 Latinos indicates that
                                                                     Southwest; Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean
        a significant majority, and more than 80 percent of Mexi-    Latinos, in the Northeast; and Cuban Americans,
        can Americans, do not prefer the term white for their        in the Southeast.
        group when given a wide range of choices. The largest            In this and the following chapter, we examine
        percentage prefer Hispanic/Latino. Cases where they opt      three large Latino groups: Mexican Americans, main-
        for a “white” identity will be discussed later.              land Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans—all

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                                                                               CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans         207

            of whom have diverse histories and heritages as well     the United States, racist attitudes of these immi-
            as different experiences in U.S. society. Today, about   grants toward native-born Mexicans, and the resent-
            63 percent of U.S. Latinos are Mexican Americans; 15     ment of immigrant slaveholders toward Mexican
            percent are of Central, South American, or Domini-       antislavery laws. Until recently, relatively few U.S.
            can origin; 10 percent are mainland Puerto Ricans; 4     analysts have been inclined to see the Texas revolt as
            percent are Cuban Americans; and 8 percent fall into     territorial aggression by U.S. citizens against another
            an “other” category.4 This chapter focuses principally   sovereign nation, which it was, but have excused
            on Mexican Americans.                                    the behavior of the Texans and blamed the Mexican
                                                                        Myths about the revolt that praise white Texans’
            The Conquest Period, 1500–1853                           heroism persist. The most widely known is the leg-
                                                                     end of the Alamo, which portrays 180 principled
            Beginning in the 1500s, Spaniards conquered and          native-born white Texans courageously fighting
            sought to Catholicize the indigenous population in       thousands of Mexican troops. Actually, most of the
            what is now Mexico and the southwestern United           men at the Alamo mission, located in what is now
            States and to concentrate this population in agricul-    San Antonio, were newcomers, not native Texans.
            tural and mining communities for economic ex-            Many, such as James Bowie and Davy Crockett,
            ploitation. Because only very modest numbers of          were adventurers, not men of principle defending
            Spanish women migrated to the Americas, sexual           their homes. The Alamo was one of the best forti-
            liaisons, often forced, between Spanish men and in-      fied sites in the West; its defenders had twice as
            digenous women were common. The offspring,               many cannons, much better rifles, and better train-
            sometimes called mestizos (“mixed peoples”), soon        ing in riflery than the poorly equipped Mexican
            outnumbered Spanish colonizers, and they usually         recruits.8
            occupied a middle social position in colonial soci-         The Texas rebellion was a case of U.S. colonizers
            ety, below the Spanish immigrants but above Indi-        going beyond an existing U.S. boundary and inten-
            ans, persons of mixed Indian and African heritage,       tionally trying to incorporate new territory. The 1845
            and enslaved Africans. It is also important to re-       annexation of Texas precipitated a war. Provocative
            member that many of the Spanish colonizers had           U.S. troop actions in a disputed boundary area gen-
            some African ancestry before they arrived, because       erated a Mexican attack, which was followed by a
            of Spain’s long centuries of contact with, and inva-     U.S. declaration of war and victory. Mexico fell vic-
            sion by, peoples from Africa.5                           tim to what was in effect a U.S. conspiracy to seize
               After centuries of exploitation, Mexico won inde-     its territory by force. In 1848 the Mexican govern-
            pendence from Spain in 1821. Before the invasion of      ment was forced to cede a huge area (now the U.S.
            Anglo-American immigrants in the 1830s, Mexicans         Southwest and West) for $15 million. Mexican resi-
            had established numerous communities in what is          dents had the choice of remaining or moving to
            now the southwestern United States. Several thou-        Mexico; most stayed, assured on paper of legal
            sand, with a Mexican way of life and a self-sufficient   rights by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.9 How-
            economy, lived on Mexican land grants in what            ever, white immigrants used both legal and illegal
            would become the U.S. state of Texas. Thousands of       means to take much of the land still owned by the
            European Americans from the United States moved          existing Mexican occupants.
            into the area, and in a few years the new migrants
            outnumbered the Mexican population.6
                                                                     California and New Mexico
                                                                     In the early 1800s the 7500 non-Indian residents of
            The Texas Revolt: Myths and Reality                      California lived mostly on Mexican-run ranches.
            Mexican government actions, including freeing            After gold was discovered in 1849, U.S. whites
            enslaved people and placing restrictions on U.S. im-     poured into California, once again taking lands from
            migration, angered U.S. immigrants. The causes of        Mexicans.10 At the time of U.S. acquisition, the 50,000
            the 1836 Texas revolt included the growing number        Mexicans in what became New Mexico had long
            of immigrants coming illegally from what was then        maintained their cultural traditions. Established

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        208      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        villages—Santa Fe dates from 1598—provided the                Several hundred thousand Mexican workers and
        organization to withstand some effects of the U.S.        their families entered the United States in the 1920s.
        invasion. Initially, Mexican American landholders         Improved canning and shipping technologies
        in these western areas continued to play an impor-        opened markets for agricultural produce. U.S. busi-
        tant role in commerce and politics.11                     ness interests opposed restrictions on immigration.
           Soon, though, many lost their lands to invading        The 1924 Immigration Act, which barred most
        whites. By the mid-nineteenth century, the U.S.           southern and eastern European immigrants, did not
        system of private land ownership was replacing a          exclude Mexicans, for Mexico had become a major
        Mexican system that included significant commu-           source of low-wage labor for U.S. employers. Still,
        nal lands. Despite U.S. treaty promises, old land         white nativists then objected strongly to this grow-
        grants were ignored; communal land was treated as         ing Mexican population, which they feared would
        U.S. government land. Everywhere Mexican land-            create a “problem” that was greater than, as they put
        holders lost much land. The invasion of the South-        it in their racist framing, “the negro [sic] problem of
        west was not a heroic period in which U.S. “settlers”     the South” and thus would threaten white racial
        appropriated unused land, but rather a period of im-      “purity” here.15
        perialistic expansion and colonization of Mexicans            The Border Patrol of the Immigration and Natu-
        who had long been resident in the area.12                 ralization Service (INS), created in the 1920s, has
                                                                  played a major role in the lives of immigrants. In
        Past and Present Immigration                              1929, legislation made illegal entry a felony. Al-
                                                                  though it was given authority to keep out undocu-
        Estimates of Mexicans within the expanding United         mented workers, the Border Patrol has historically
        States range up to 118,000 for the 1850s. In the          tried mostly to regulate the number, allowing
        decades that followed, millions entered the United        enough to come in to meet the labor needs of U.S.
        States, pushed by political upheavals and economic        employers. In times of economic recession, however,
        conditions in Mexico and pulled by expanding              the Border Patrol has sometimes conducted exclu-
        economic opportunities in U.S. fields and factories.      sion or deportation campaigns. Then, in better times,
        Peak immigration periods have been 1910–1930,             more immigrant workers have been allowed in, and
        1942–1954, and 1965 to the present. Immigrants have       enforcement of immigration restrictions has been
        included (1) those with official visas (“legals”);        less rigorous.16
        (2) undocumented immigrants or illegals (immi-                During the Great Depression of the 1930s, feder-
        grants without legal immigration papers); (3) braceros    al enforcement of literacy tests and local white hos-
        (seasonal farm workers on contract); (4) commuters        tility greatly reduced the number of immigrants.
        (those with official visas who live in Mexico but work    Considerable pressure was put on Mexicans already
        in the United States); and (5) “border crossers” (those   here, whether citizens or not, to leave. Many were
        with short-term permits, many of whom become do-          forcibly deported in massive campaigns; thousands,
        mestic workers).13 Exclusion of Asian immigrants by       including U.S. citizens, were expelled in organized
        federal action (see Chapter 11) and the pull of World     caravans by agencies eager to reduce government
        War I–era industrialization sharply decreased the         expenditures for relief during the Depression.17
        number of U.S.-born laborers available for agricul-
        tural work in the Southwest, and Mexican workers
        were thus drawn there. Under pressure from U.S.           Braceros and Undocumented Workers:
        employers, federal authorities waived immigration         Encouraging Immigration
        restrictions, allowing many thousands of Mexican          In the World War II era, a 1942 Emergency Farm
        workers to enter legally during World War I.14            Labor (Bracero) agreement between the United States
           This was an indication of the globalizing charac-      and Mexico again provided Mexican workers for
        ter of capitalism. U.S. employers went beyond the         U.S. agriculture. Over two decades, nearly 5 million
        U.S. labor pool to secure low-wage workers from           braceros were brought in at the request of U.S. em-
        outside. Recruitment of overseas labor by U.S. em-        ployers, who were once again going beyond U.S.
        ployers has for a century been a major source of          borders for low-wage labor. This government
        racial and ethnic diversity.                              program stimulated the migration of yet more

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                                                                              CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans        209

            undocumented workers. Mexico, with the largest           grow food for export, thereby taking over large
            Spanish-speaking population of any country, has          amounts of land and driving off small farmers who
            been the major supplier of immigrant workers for         traditionally farmed the land to feed their families.
            U.S. employers for decades.18                            U.S. corporations’ expropriation of agricultural land
               Today, most such workers are not rural migrants       and other resources in Mexico has forced many
            but come from urban areas in Mexico. Mexican             Mexicans to move from rural areas to large cities in
            workers’ entry has periodically met intense opposi-      Mexico, where jobs are scarce. These urban workers
            tion. Union officials have called for restrictions to    often seek work in the United States in order to sup-
            protect the jobs of native-born Americans. Growing       port their families at home. Indeed, a large propor-
            concern among nativist groups led finally to the in-     tion of Mexico’s total revenues comes from money
            clusion of restrictions on legal Mexican immigration     sent home to Mexico by immigrant workers in the
            in the 1965 Immigration Act, which got rid of earlier    United States.22
            immigration quotas but then set an annual limit of          Since the 1960s, U.S. manufacturing and indus-
            only 20,000 per year for Mexican immigrants, there-      trial corporations have built many factories in
            by making it more difficult for Mexican immigrants       Mexico. Many companies have built maquiladoras,
            to join relatives in the United States legally. Subse-   manufacturing operations in northern Mexico near the
            quent U.S. legislation has attempted to limit undoc-     U.S. border, where they can take advantage of low-wage
            umented immigration.19                                   labor and weak environmental standards while avoiding
               The U.S. economy, however, depends heavily on         certain tariffs and duties. International trade agree-
            immigrants from Latin America. Undocumented              ments such as NAFTA (the North American Free
            workers are the “backbone of Dole, Green Giant,          Trade Agreement) have accelerated U.S. investment
            McDonald’s, Stouffers, Burger King, the Octopus car      and manufacturing in Mexico. One consequence of
            wash chain, Del Monte, Chicken of the Sea, Heinz,        the border plants is that workers who migrate from
            Hunt’s, Rosarito, Campbell’s m-m-m good, Wendy’s,        southern Mexico to border areas learn that wages
            Taco Bell, Lean Cuisine, Dinty Moore, Hormel, mid-       are far higher across the border, and some leave for
            night shifts, front lawn raking, pool scrubbing, gas     the United States. The increased number of low-
            station back rooms, blue-jean stitching, TV assem-       wage jobs in border plants has not benefitted most
            bly, [and] athletic-shoe sole gluing.”20 Mexican         Mexican workers. The era of “free trade,” which was
            workers and U.S. employers are closely linked.           supposed to bring economic benefits to most Mexi-
                                                                     can workers, has mainly benefited a modest num-
                                                                     ber of affluent Mexicans and U.S. capitalists.23 The
            Migration and U.S. Involvement                           Mexican government has made little effort to stop
            in Latin America                                         cross-border migration, which relieves poverty pres-
            U.S. involvement in Latin America has long in-           sures in Mexico. This Mexican perspective and
            volved the U.S. government and major corporations,       increased U.S. hostility toward undocumented
            and the goals often have been political and econom-      immigrants have created major political tensions
            ic colonization—the expansion of the U.S. empire to      between the U.S. and Mexican governments.
            the south. The U.S. military has intervened many            The number of Mexican workers entering illegally
            times in Latin America to protect U.S. interests. In     for permanent residence is less than U.S. media
            addition, the growing U.S. economy has created           accounts and anti-immigrant groups suggest. One
            much demand for low-wage workers in sectors such         major study found that most of the Mexican border
            as construction, agriculture, and food services.21       crossers apprehended annually “are temporary
                On the one hand, most immigrants are attracted       labor migrants who are caught more than once by
            by U.S. jobs. On the other, many are pushed by se-       the INS and who do not intend to live in the U.S. in
            rious economic problems in their home countries,         any case. . . . A large reverse flow into Mexico goes
            and the U.S. government or corporations are some-        virtually unnoticed and unreported.”24
            times implicated in these economic problems. For            The best estimate for the current number of un-
            decades, U.S. corporations operating in Mexico have      documented immigrants in the United States by the
            helped to generate out-migration. Some U.S. firms        mid-2000s was about 12 million, with a bit more
            have built large farming operations in Mexico to         than half of these coming from Mexico. We should

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        210      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        note that a large proportion come from elsewhere—               Many analysts feared that the IRCA would
        from Europe, Asia, and other Latin American coun-            encourage employers to discriminate against any-
        tries. In the decade of the 2000s, an estimated 500,000      one who looked like an immigrant, especially an
        to 600,000 undocumented immigrants have entered              immigrant of color. One federal study found that
        annually. A substantial majority are male workers—           numerous firms were discriminating against U.S.
        which contrasts with legal immigrants, who are               citizens in hiring to ensure that they were not hir-
        majority female. One study of undocumented work-             ing undocumented workers. Other researchers
        ers found that most had friends or relatives in the          have found a similar response by many employers
        United States through whom they found employment.            and “an IRCA-induced decline in job opportuni-
        The low-paid, often impermanent jobs available to            ties” for “unauthorized-looking natives.”29 A 1990
        most undocumented immigrants offer limited eco-              Immigration Act was passed to correct some of
        nomic opportunities. They work hard and rely most-           these problems, but employer discrimination against
        ly on their personal resources.25                            “immigrant-looking” native-born workers contin-
           Most pay considerably more in income and other            ues to be reported.
        taxes than they receive in government benefits such as          Debates over regulatory legislation have periodi-
        Social Security, food stamps, or schooling for their chil-   cally revived anti-immigration arguments. Many
        dren. Research studies indicate that undocumented            native-born whites have long been concerned that the
        immigrant workers work mainly in low-wage jobs               country could not absorb so many immigrants, even
        that most U.S. workers consider undesirable, and             though the ratio of immigrants to the native-born pop-
        thus they have little effect on, or in some cases even       ulation was higher in the early twentieth century,
        increase, the employment rate of native-born workers         when southern and eastern Europeans were immi-
        as a whole. The major exception is in urban areas,           grating to the United States. In 1910 the foreign-born
        where there are many unemployed workers of color.            represented 14.6 percent of the population; today that
        Native-born workers in the lowest-wage job cate-             figure is only about 12 percent, giving the United
        gories in these areas are sometimes displaced by un-         States a smaller percentage of foreign-born than some
        documented Latin American workers.26                         other nations.30 Given its long history of successful ab-
                                                                     sorption of immigrants, it is unlikely that the United
                 How has U.S. capitalism shaped                      States will soon be overwhelmed by these immigrants.
                 Mexican migration and employment                    Implicit in many discussions of these new immigrants
                 patterns?                                           is a racialized concern that most are from Latin
                                                                     America and Asia—that is, that they are not whites of
                                                                     European origin.
                                                                        Anti-immigrant stereotypes and political actions
        The 1986 Immigration Act, the 2006 Secure                    have been commonplace in recent decades. One
        Fence Act, and Undocumented Immigrants                       white legislator in California distributed a racist
        Growing concern over the presence of undocument-             poem titled “Ode to the New California” to state leg-
        ed immigrants led to passage of the 1986 Immigra-            islators that mocked Mexican immigrants with lines
        tion Reform and Control Act (IRCA). It authorized            such as “I come for visit, get treated regal. So I stay,
        (1) the legalization of undocumented immigrants              who care illegal . . . . We think America damn good
        resident continuously in the United States since             place. Too damn good for white man’s race.”31 Many
        1982; (2) sanctions for employers who hire undocu-           newspaper and web commentators have claimed
        mented aliens; (3) reimbursement of governments              that these immigrants cause employment problems
        for added costs of legalization; (4) screening of wel-       for many Americans, significantly increase crime,
        fare applicants for migration status; and (5) pro-           and seriously overburden government services.
        grams to bring in agricultural laborers.27 Just over         Some white politicians and citizen groups forced the
        3 million undocumented immigrants applied for                anti-immigrant Proposition 187 onto the California
        legalization by the deadline; 1.7 million applications       ballot, and it passed with a substantial majority
        were accepted for adjustment to legal residence.             in 1994. Proposition 187 sought to restrict undocu-
        Mexican immigrants made up three-fourths of those            mented immigrants’ access to public services and
        legalized.28                                                 required public employees to report undocumented

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                                                                               CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans          211

                         Farmworkers harvest grapes in California.

            immigrants. After legal challenges, it was over-         for hard-working undocumented immigrants long
            turned in 1999. In 2004 Arizona voters passed a sim-     resident in the United States, were postponed.) From
            ilar measure, which has also faced major legal           1994 to the mid-2000s punitive actions in border
            challenges. The Arizona effort created a national        states had already cost an estimated four thousand
            group that is working to get anti-immigrant propo-       lives of undocumented men, women, and children
            sitions on other state ballots.                          trying to cross the U.S. border, yet political pressures
                In 1996 the U.S. Congress passed yet another act,    from conservative elements and a looming 2006 con-
            the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant             gressional election resulted in a rush to pass this
            Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). This law established        restrictive legislation especially targeting Mexican
            regulations restricting legal immigration as well as     immigrants.33
            undocumented immigration. The IIRIRA increased              The punitive immigrant legislation of recent
            the number of border control agents and imposed a        decades has been motivated in part by a concern that
            substantial income requirement for families that         immigrants become dependent on public welfare
            wish to sponsor immigrant relatives. These require-      programs. Yet much research on Mexican and other
            ments discriminate against prospective Latino spon-      Latino immigrants contradicts these often stereo-
            sors because their family incomes are, on average,       typed notions. Generally, Latino immigrants are
            significantly lower than those of white families.32      employed at higher rates, and use social welfare
                In fall 2006, after more months of immigration de-   programs less often, than other major racial and eth-
            bates, Congress passed another piece of punitive im-     nic groups. Thus, the notion that Mexican immi-
            migration legislation, the Secure Fence Act, which       grants come to the United States just to get on welfare
            was estimated to cost taxpayers $35 billion. The law     is contradicted by the high proportion (69 percent)
            again increased the number of border enforcement         of Latinos in the labor force. This is higher than for
            personnel, as well as surveillance technology on the     the non-Latino population (66 percent). Indeed,
            border. It required construction of physical barriers    today Latinos rank second only to white Americans
            to Latin American immigrants, including a long,          in total number of workers in the workforce.34
            double-layered border fence to be completed by              In the twenty-first century Latin American immi-
            2008. (Other immigration reforms, such as amnesty        gration has become, as in the 1930s, a major political

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        212      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        issue that is hotly debated in the media and by politi-    to Georgia and South Carolina have seen particular-
        cians. Undocumented Mexican immigrants have                ly rapid growth in Latino populations, especially of
        been constructed as a major threat, as numerous U.S.       foreign-born male workers filling low-wage jobs in
        politicians and media commentators accent new ar-          these areas.
        guments about “homeland security” and an “unpro-
        tected southern border.” Yet, the often hysterical
        language about immigrants and security is rarely           Stereotypes and Related Images
        extended to the even longer border that the United
        States has with Canada—a sign that racialized think-       Early Images
        ing about the skin color and culture of those immi-        In the 1830s and 1840s, U.S. whites migrating to
        grating may be central to much renewed opposition          the Southwest generally did not react favorably to
        to these immigrants. In addition, the increasing bar-      the people already living there. Most whites com-
        ricading of the U.S.–Mexican border since the 1980s        ing from eastern and southern states applied the
        has led to some unintended consequences—such as            white racial framing and its stereotypes, which
        actually increasing the number of undocumented             they had developed previously for African Amer-
        workers living in the United States because the large      icans, to the resident peoples of the Southwest,
        number who are interested in working in the United         including Mexicans and Indians. For example,
        States for only part of the year cannot easily go home     they attributed laziness and backwardness to what
        to Mexico.                                                 they saw as a distinctive “Mexican race.” Most
                                                                   Mexicans in what would become the U.S. South-
                Have recent immigration laws                       west were of mixed ancestry, the descendants of
                contributed to discrimination                      Spaniards, Indians, and mestizos from farther
                against Mexican Americans?                         south, and many had some African ancestry. (Some
                                                                   scholars estimate that a majority of Mexicans then
                                                                   had some African ancestry because of the African
                                                                   ancestry of some of the original Spanish invaders
        Population and Location                                    and because of centuries of African slavery in
        Today the umbrella group termed Latinos is currently       Mexico.) European American immigrants brought
        the fastest-growing major racial-ethnic segment            with them a well-developed racist framing already
        of the U.S. population, numbering more than 42 mil-        rationalizing the subordination of African Americans
        lion, about one-seventh of the population. The ma-         and making it easy for them to stigmatize the gener-
        jority are Mexican Americans. Although immigrants          ally darker-skinned Mexican Americans also as
        make up a substantial portion of this population, the      racially inferior.
        majority of Mexican Americans today have been                 Apparently, few white colonizers saw Mexicans
        born and raised in the United States. The Latino,          as “white,” but compared them to black or Indian
        mostly Mexican American, population of just one            groups. They placed Mexicans at the bottom of the
        metropolitan area, Los Angeles, is now larger than         old white-racist continuum. In the words of one land
        the total population of numerous states. Latinos           agent, Mexicans were “swarthy looking people re-
        (mostly Mexican Americans) are more than one-              sembling our mulattos, some of them nearly black.”
        third of the residents of California, the largest state,   Sam Houston, a leader of white immigrants coming
        and growth in Latino communities has been sub-             to Texas, called them inferior “half-Indians.” The
        stantial in other states in recent decades. Primarily      widespread white view that Mexicans had a “filthy,
        because of recent growth in Latino and Asian pop-          greasy appearance,” as one traveler wrote, proba-
        ulations, California and Texas now have population         bly led to the derogatory epithet “greaser” for
        majorities that are not European American. In addi-        Mexicans.35
        tion, U.S. Census Bureau and other data for the last          In the 1850s, John Monroe reported to Washing-
        decade reveal that the Mexican American popula-            ton that the people in the New Mexico area “are
        tion is increasingly becoming dispersed, for large         thoroughly debased and totally incapable of self-
        numbers are now neighbors of other Americans in            government, and there is no latent quality about
        every region. Indeed, southern states from Arkansas        them that can ever make them respectable.”36

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                                                                               CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans        213

            Ironically, these Mexicans’ knowledge of ranching         leaders. George Murphy, former senator from
            and mining laid the foundation for successful eco-        California, argued that Mexicans were “ideal for
            nomic development by later white immigrants.              ‘stoop’ labor—after all, they are built close to the
               Later on, increased Mexican immigration after          ground.” 42 In 1965 a leading historian, Walter
            1900 triggered more attacks. White-supremacist            Prescott Webb, wrote that “there is a cruel streak in
            groups raided labor camps and beat workers. A             the Mexican nature. . . . It may and doubtless should
            “brown scare” hysteria developed in California be-        be attributed partly to the Indian blood.”43
            tween 1913 and 1918 amid fears that the Mexican              In recent decades, overtly racist stereotyping by
            Revolution would spread to the United States.             whites, especially those in elites (see below), has
            Whites characterized Mexican immigrants as a              often changed for the better, but there are still many
            menace to communities’ health, and pressure for           who assert and act on negative anti-Mexican im-
            deportation mounted.37 In the 1920s a white mem-          ages. For example, speaking at a meeting on border
            ber of Congress stereotyped Mexicans as a mongre-         issues and Mexican immigration in the 1990s, a
            lized mixture of Spanish and “low-grade Indians”          California state senator argued that public education
            plus some African slave “blood.” In 1928 an “ex-          should not be provided to the children of undocu-
            pert” witness testified to the House Immigration          mented immigrants: “It seems rather strange that
            Committee and branded the “Mexican race” a                we go out of our way to take care of the rights of
            threat to the “white race.”38 Nativist writers ex-        these individuals who are perhaps on the lower
            pressed fear of “race mongrelization.” A Princeton        scale of our humanity.” Latinos who criticized the
            professor spoke fearfully of the future elimination       senator’s comments were themselves attacked in
            of Anglo-Saxons through interbreeding in “favor of        the media.44
            the progeny of Mexican peons who will continue to            For many decades, numerous public commenta-
            afflict us with an embarrassing race problem.”39 In-      tors and scholars have stereotyped Mexicans or Mex-
            terestingly, an explicit category of “Mexican race”       ican Americans as passive or fatalistic. Some social
            was used in the 1930 census, the only census ever to      science studies have reinforced the view that Mexi-
            include such.                                             can culture is one of fatalism, “machismo,” and a too-
               Much public commentary since the 1920s has             extreme family orientation. Oscar Lewis and William
            stereotyped the Mexican American male as crime-           Madsen, thus, portrayed what they thought was a
            oriented. For example, a report by a white lieutenant     folk culture of fatalism and familism in Mexican
            in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department after the         villages, a view later extended to Mexican American
            1943 “zoot suit” riots (discussed later) alleged that     communities.45 Numerous social scientists have
            the Mexicans’ desire to spill blood was an “inborn        pointed out the errors in such stereotyped assump-
            characteristic,” a view endorsed by his superior.         tions. Many analysts have overlooked the substantial
            Then as now, stereotypes linked assumed social or         diversity in Mexican American culture and commu-
            cultural traits to alleged biological inferiority: “The   nities from Texas to California—and, more recently,
            Mexican was ‘lawless’ and ‘violent’ because he had        in midwestern and southern states. A characteristic
            Indian blood; he was ‘shiftless’ and ‘improvident’        such as the assumed male domination in Mexican
            because that was his nature.”40                           families varies significantly with the class and edu-
               Since the 1920s, the results of so-called IQ testing   cational background of Mexican Americans, just as it
            have often been used to argue for the intellectual        does among other racial and ethnic groups.46
            and group inferiority of Mexican Americans and               Drawing still-negative images from the media,
            other Latinos, as well as of black Americans. A ver-      political speeches, and other sources, many people
            sion of this highly stereotyped view of Latinos was       often stereotype Mexican Americans and other
            expressed in a best-selling 1990s book called The Bell    Latinos.47 Thus, in one 1990s survey, white college
            Curve (see Chapter 7).41                                  students expressed the belief that Hispanics were
                                                                      more likely than whites to be physically violent,
                                                                      dirty or smelly, uneducated, poor, and criminally
            Contemporary Stereotypes and Prejudices                   inclined. These respondents felt that, compared
            Negative stereotypes and prejudices can be found          with whites, Hispanics placed less value on learn-
            at all class levels, including economic and political     ing, mature love, physical fitness, and economic

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        214      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        prosperity.48 A majority of white respondents in a       said that illegal immigrants should be allowed to
        National Conference survey regarding interethnic         stay under some government program. In addi-
        attitudes believed that Latinos “tend to have bigger     tion, when asked how to stop illegal immigration,
        families than they are able to support.” One-fifth       the largest proportion of respondents (49 percent)
        of whites felt that Latinos lacked “ambition and the     thought that penalizing employers was best, while
        drive to succeed.”49 In contrast, an examination of      33 percent preferred increased border patrolling
        data from twenty-one surveys of Mexican Ameri-           and just 9 percent thought a border fence was a
        cans and European Americans found that Mexican           good idea. We should note too that surveys of Lati-
        American workers were not less work-oriented             nos have found that they are much more support-
        than European Americans; the former had a strong         ive of the current level of immigration than the
        work ethic and were productive in their work-            general population.51
        places.50                                                   In numerous local areas, especially in Arizona,
                                                                 Nevada, Indiana, and North Carolina cities that have
                What are important commonalities                 experienced substantial Mexican immigration, anti-
                in stereotypes targeting Native                  immigrant sentiment is often stronger. Two-thirds
                Americans, African Americans,                    of the respondents in a survey in North Carolina,
                and Mexican Americans?                           where the Latino population has increased signifi-
                                                                 cantly in recent years, felt their neighbors would not
                                                                 accept Hispanics into the neighborhood. Just over
                                                                 half said that they themselves were not comfortable
        Views of Immigration and Immigrants                      around Spanish speakers. Fear of job competition
        In spite of increasing anti-immigrant discussions        appeared to fuel these negative attitudes.52
        across the country, recent surveys have found that          Moreover, in the mid- to late 2000s numerous
        a majority of Americans still prefer to see legal im-    demonstrations against Latin American immigrants
        migration kept at the current level or increased.        were held by white-supremacist groups, including
        Yet, there is substantial concern about Mexican and      Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and neo-Confederate
        other immigration among a substantial number             groups, Today, on numerous websites as well as in
        of Americans. In one recent national survey, 52 per-     videos and books, these and other white-supremacist
        cent agreed with a statement that immigrants             groups describe Mexican and other Latino immi-
        today are a “burden because they take jobs, hous-        grants as a “cultural cancer,” a “wildfire,” or a “gang
        ing,” while 41 percent preferred instead the state-      of illegals” making the country “less beautiful.”
        ment that immigrants “strengthen the U.S. with           (They also portray African Americans with similar
        their . . . talents.” Nonetheless, only 21 percent of    viciousness.) Since the early 2000s some whites have
        these respondents also said that immigration was a       created violent video games with which one can
        “very big” community problem. Even with politi-          play at killing undocumented immigrants coming
        cians making immigration a major issue, only             accross the U.S.–Mexico border.53
        4 percent volunteered immigration as the most               Using less flamboyant language, Harvard Profes-
        important problem facing the country. Numerous           sor Samuel Huntington argues that Latin American
        other issues, such as dissatisfaction with govern-       immigrants are a serious danger to Anglo-American
        ment and concern with terrorism, were listed             culture. In his generally ethnocentric view, certain
        ahead of immigration, There is also a lot of varia-      immigrant groups are dividing the country because
        tion in how Americans see ending illegal immigra-        they and their allies “deny the existence of a com-
        tion. In this same survey, just 27 percent of the        mon culture in the United States . . . and promote
        respondents said that all illegal immigrants should      the primacy of racial, ethnic, and other subnational
        be required to go home, with no temporary worker         cultural identities and groupings.” He is explicitly
        program being provided by government as a                concerned that today the problematical immigrants
        substitute. Another 25 percent said that these un-       are people of color, “overwhelmingly from Latin
        documented immigrants should be required to              America and Asia.” Yet, as we will show below, most
        return home but that such a temporary program            of these immigrants either desire to return home
        should be provided, while yet another 40 percent         after working for a while in the United States or

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                                                                               CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans        215

            aggressively seek to adapt to the dominant U.S.           U.S. magazines and newspapers, especially those
            “common culture.”54                                       outside the entertainment industry. Marco Portales,
                                                                      a Mexican American scholar, has noted: “Since the
                                                                      1950s, when I grew up, I have periodically observed
            Negative Images in the Mass Media                         that pictures of Hispanic people are not selected for
            As a result of protests from Mexican American com-        the covers and inside pages of national and region-
            munities, the use of some extreme stereotypical           al mainstream magazines, advertisements, and pro-
            depictions of Mexican Americans in advertising and        motional brochures in the United States.”58 By such
            the media has decreased in recent years. Organized        omissions, members of this subordinate group are
            protests and the recognition of the increasing impor-     made less visible by members of the dominant
            tance of Latino viewers has led U.S. media elites to      group.
            present more positive images in the movies and on            Newspapers and magazines communicate nega-
            television, in part by featuring more Latino actors,      tive images in the routine language and metaphors
            such as Jennifer López, Eva Longoria, Edward James        they choose. Analyzing everyday language used in
            Olmos, and Javier Barem.                                  a major newspaper, linguistics scholar Otto Santa
                However, serious problems remain in the mass          Ana has shown that editors and reporters often write
            media. One mid-1990s’ study of the portrayal of           racialized reports on Latino immigrants. His exam-
            Mexican Americans and other Latinos in television         ination of articles written around the time of Propo-
            programming found that most shows ignore Lati-            sition 187 (see above) documents frequent use of
            nos or present them disproportionately as criminals.      negative language, especially metaphors, that por-
            Though the percentage of Latinos as actors on tele-       trayed Mexican and other Latino immigrants as
            vision shows has increased, an early 2000s study          animals, invaders, or disreputable persons. Numer-
            found that they are still only 2 percent of regular       ous articles characterized public programs as “a lure
            television characters and are still often portrayed       to immigrants” and have spoken of the electorate’s
            as criminals or, more recently, in law enforcement        appetite for “the red meat of deportation,” INS
            occupations. Another study of local television news       agents catching “a third of their quarry,” Proposi-
            shows also found a bias, with Latinos being much          tion 187 supporters who “devour the weak and
            less likely to be shown as defenders of the law than      helpless,” and the need to “ferret out illegal immi-
            whites.55                                                 grants.” The articles’ use of strong metaphorical lan-
                Numerous Hollywood films remain problemati-           guage—words such as burden, dirt, disease, invasion,
            cal as well. One media scholar has commented: “The        or waves flooding the country—conveyed an image of
            way we are treated in movies represents a way that        Latino immigration as threateing or dangerous.59
            we are marginalized in the larger society. In that way       As with the mock Spanish we discuss next, such
            it is a very accurate portrayal.”56 For decades,          metaphorical language, which non-Latinos often use
            Hollywood films, such as Dirty Harry (1971) and           without thinking, bolsters a negative view of immi-
            Falling Down (1993), as well as numerous theater and      grants and plays down the humanity of immigrants,
            television crime movies in more recent years, have        who are human beings mostly seeking to make bet-
            portrayed Latinos disproportionately as criminals,        ter lives for themselves and their families.
            drug users, or welfare mothers. In addition, the
            absence of Latinos in Hollywood films has been
            serious. A study of G-rated family films produced         Mocking Spanish
            between 1990 and the mid-2000s, many of which are         Anthropologist Jane Hill has examined the wide-
            still widely viewed on DVDs in homes, found that          spread use of a mocking type of Spanish by other-
            only 1.9 percent of the speaking characters were          wise monolingual (in English) whites across the
            Latino, far less than the Latino proportion in the U.S.   country. Mock Spanish includes made-up terms
            population over this period. Whites were substan-         such as “no problemo,” “el cheapo,” “watcho your
            tially overrepresented.57                                 backo,” and “hasty banana,” as well as the use of
                Media stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimina-        phrases such as “numero uno” and “no way, José.”
            tion are often subtle, as in the absence or infrequency   On the surface these terms often seem light-hearted,
            of positive pictures and images of Latinos in many        but they subtly incorporate “a highly negative image

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        216      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        of the Spanish language, its speakers, and the cul-         level Mexicans have a history of stigmatization, eco-
        ture and institutions associated with them.” Mock           nomic exploitation and racial exclusion in Califor-
        Spanish, which is common in gift shops, in board            nia and the Southwest.”62 In recent decades, Mexican
        rooms, at country club gatherings, and in the media,        Americans, including recent immigrants from Mex-
        especially in the Southwest, is mostly created by           ico, have inherited this historical burden of being
        college-educated whites. These whites also create           racialized in negative terms by a majority of whites.
        greeting card texts, coffee cup slogans, video games,          Today the terms Mexican and Mexican American,
        children’s cartoons, and other cartoons that mock           as used by those outside the group so designated
        Spanish speakers. Movies such as Terminator 2 use           (especially by those in the dominant white group),
        “adiós,” “hasta la vista, baby,” and similar Spanish        usually involve a view of Mexican Americans as
        terms in an insulting way not common among na-              being distinctive in racial and ethnic terms. Recall
        tive Spanish speakers. In a society in which openly         that a racial group is one that is socially constructed
        racist talk is often frowned upon, mock Spanish is          centrally on the basis of physical characteristics con-
        used to perpetuate negative images of Mexicans and          sidered important by the dominant group, and an
        Mexican Americans: “Through this process, such              ethnic group is one that is socially constructed mainly
        people are endowed with gross sexual appetites, po-         on the basis of cultural or national-origin characteris-
        litical corruption, laziness, disorders of language,        tics. Today, research evidence indicates that a
        and mental incapacity.”60                                   substantial majority of whites view Latino groups
            Such language mocking, like that mocking African        as racially distinctive and as not white. We recently
        American vernacular English, is much more serious           gave a questionnaire to 151 white college students
        than occasional light-hearted joking about numerous         asking for them to place a long list of racial and eth-
        other languages and accents because it is linked inti-      nic groups into “white,” “not white,” and “other”
        mately to racialization and institutionalized discrim-      categories. Overwhelming majorities classified each
        ination. Social science and linguistics researchers have    Latino group listed—including Mexican Americans,
        demonstrated how certain accents in English are used        Cuban Americans, and Puerto Ricans—as definitely
        as markers for this racialization. While native speak-      not white. The majority of these well-educated whites
        ers of languages such as French or Gaelic-Irish do not      are operating with a white framing and racial-
        generally face job or other serious discrimination          status continuum in mind when they place various
        because of their accents when they speak English,           U.S. groups into racial categories. For most, all
        many speakers of Spanish-accented English do face           groups of color are viewed as much closer to the
        such discrimination, especially at the hands of white       black (or nonwhite) end of the old racial-status con-
        native-English speakers. As one scholar has noted,          tinuum than to the white end; no group among the
        “It is crucial to remember that it is not all foreign       many groups of color is, as yet, significantly
        accents, but only accent linked to skin that isn’t white,   “whitened.” In addition, late 2000s television news
        or which signals a third-world homeland, that evokes        discussions of Latino immigrants reveal clearly that
        such negative reactions.”61 Certain accents are closely     leading white news commentators think of Latinos
        linked to the stigmatization of groups such as Mexican      in racialized terms, such as by periodically alluding
        Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban American.               to them as a “race.”63
                                                                       Today, non-Latinos may use language, accent, or
                                                                    surname as well as physical characteristics to identi-
        A Racialized Identity:                                      fy a person as Mexican American or Hispanic/Latino.
        The Contemporary Situation                                  This typically means that most of the latter who are
        Historically, Mexicans and Mexican Americans have           lighter-skinned will usually be identified by Anglo
        been socially constructed by most Anglo whites as a         whites as Hispanic/Latino—and therefore as not
        distinctive, inferior racial group. Regardless of how       European American or white.
        they saw, or see, themselves, they have typically              A subordinate group’s reactions to the experience
        been racialized by the dominant group as inferior           of being socially constructed by the dominant group
        and not white. As David López and Ricardo Stanton-          adds yet more layers to the social reality. Typically,
        Salazar explain, “However ambiguous on the indi-            a subordinate group comes to see itself in certain
        vidual level for Mexican Americans, on the group            racial or ethnic terms, yet this view is often not the

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                                                                               CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans        217

            same as that constructed for them by the dominant                 What methods of resistance are
            white group. Subordinated racial groups, including                linked to the racialization of
            Mexican Americans and other Latinos, often resist                 Mexican American identity?
            the racialization imposed by whites in various ways.
            Some may insist that they are “white” just like Eu-
            ropean Americans. This strategy is often painful and
            may involve alienation from relatives and other           Conflict and Protest
            members of the group, but it does make some psy-
            chological and social sense, for “white” status carries   Oppression and Resistance
            with it privileges, power, and no racial subordina-       Coercion was a fundamental factor in white domi-
            tion. A small percentage of Mexican Americans rec-        nation in the Southwest in the nineteenth century.
            ognize the significant African ancestry of many           Mexican land and agricultural development were
            people born in Mexico and assert their kinship with       taken over by theft and force. Many Mexicans and
            African Americans, while many others assert a dis-        Mexican Americans resisted. Folk ballads along the
            tinctive Mexican American identity of their own that      border have long praised the Mexican “bandits,”
            does not recognize this African ancestry. The latter      who were often rebel Mexican leaders unwilling to
            often view themselves as part of a proud la Raza          bear quietly the burdens imposed on their people.
            Unida and/or identify with a broader Hispanic/Latino      Their resistance actions are regarded as “crimes” by
            community. Indeed, the Chicano movement since the         those in the dominant group, but often not by those
            1960s (see below) has accented la Raza and thus ac-       subordinated. Mexican rebels (for example, Pancho
            celerated the willingness of many to identify them-       Villa) were protected and praised by Mexican peo-
            selves as part of a mestizo group, which is not white     ple on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border. More-
            and has some Indian ancestry. Today, surveys sug-         over, much land theft and other oppression of
            gest the diversity of Mexican American (and other         Mexicans in the Southwest had an official or semi-
            Latino) responses to their societal situation. One        official status. Law enforcement officers such as the
            1990s Houston-area survey found that the majority         Texas Rangers terrorized Mexicans and Mexican
            of Hispanic respondents, including nearly two-            Americans. The commonplace myth of heroic Texas
            thirds of the U.S.-born, did not consider Hispanics to    Rangers covers up the oppressiveness of a police
            be part of the “white race.” Similarly, an early-2000s    force that was long used to repress the Mexican
            national survey of 2900 Latinos by the Pew Hispan-        American population.66
            ic Center found that a substantial majority of Lati-         Over the next century Latinos suffered violence
            nos, and of Mexican Americans, preferred to classify      by whites throughout the Southwest. For example,
            themselves as something other than “white” or             in Los Angeles in the summer of 1943, violent
            “black,” with only 17 percent of Mexican Americans        attacks by white sailors on Mexican American
            consistently preferring “white.”64                        youths, particularly those dressed in baggy attire
               However, when forced by the 2000 census to cat-        whites called “zoot suits,” marked the beginning
            egorize themselves only in terms of a very limited        of white-generated “zoot suit” riots. Groups of
            racial-group listing—white, black, Indian, Asian, or      whites roamed Los Angeles beating up Mexican
            other race—about half of those who self-identified as     Americans, and the latter sometimes organized
            Hispanic or Latino chose a racial category other than     retaliatory attacks. The local media exaggerated
            white. However, the fact that 48 percent of self-         Mexican American crime, and police harassment
            identified Hispanics/Latinos did designate them-          of Mexican Americans was common. The years
            selves on this limited census continuum as “white”        leading up to the riots had seen a sharp increase in
            (few chose “black”) may indicate the strength of          the Los Angeles Times’s use of “zoot suit” to refer to
            social pressures to appear white, as well as the          Mexican Americans. Such derogatory labeling
            complexity of chosen racial-ethnic identities today.      fostered white hostility toward local Mexican
            The white-imposed system of racial categorization,        American residents.67
            running from white to black, is generally viewed             Over more recent decades, to the present, some
            as problematical by Americans of Latin American           whites have continued to use violence against Mex-
            descent.65                                                ican Americans and other Latinos. We cite elsewhere

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        218      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        the recent attacks by whites on undocumented im-          were strongly critical of the local police department
        migrants crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, as well         and disagreed that “most Los Angeles police offi-
        as the numerous websites with violent anti-immigrant      cers are hard-working and honest.” Many support-
        video games or intensely racist commentaries on           ed active oversight of the Los Angeles Police
        immigrants and Spanish speakers. Hate crimes              Department by federal monitors.71
        against Mexican Americans and immigrants seem                 Incidents of police brutality trigger protests and
        to be on the increase. Recently, in the San Diego area,   riots. In the major 1992 South Central Los Angeles
        a restaurant owned by a Mexican family was fire-          riot—many called it a rebellion—large numbers of
        bombed, and racist grafitti were sprayed on its wall.     Latinos joined black residents in aggressive and vi-
        In Houston, a Latino teenager was attacked and            olent protest against general racism, police brutali-
        raped by two white youths, who reportedly were            ty, and oppressive living conditions (see Chapter 7).
        shouting racist comments.68                               And in 1996, Riverside County (California) sheriff’s
                                                                  deputies were videotaped, and condemned for,
                                                                  clubbing a Mexican woman and man, both undoc-
        Protests Since the 1960s                                  umented immigrants, with batons in the process of
        During the 1960s and 1970s, dozens of Mexican             arresting them.72
        American protests against discrimination took place           Widespread anti-immigrant sentiment and the in-
        in southwestern cities. Young Mexican Americans,          troduction of anti-immigrant ballot measures have
        including groups such as the Brown Berets, took to        stimulated Mexican Americans to organize and take
        the streets to fight back against police harassment       action. In some communities Mexican Americans
        and other discrimination. East Los Angeles protests       have responded to anti-immigrant nativism with
        were among the most important. In August 1970,            school walkouts and protests. A large Los Angeles
        police attacked demonstrators at the end of a Na-         demonstration against one proposition (Proposition
        tional Chicano Moratorium on the Vietnam War              187) illustrated broad-based community support for
        march, in which 20,000 Mexican Americans took             Mexican American political concerns. In the fall of
        part. (Activists in the 1960s and 1970s preferred the     1996, about 30,000 Mexican American and other
        term Chicano to Mexican American. Today the term          Latino demonstrators in Washington, D.C., de-
        Chicano is still used occasionally, mainly by activists   nounced restrictions on immigrants and called for
        and academics.) Hundreds were arrested. Other             an increased minimum wage, better educational
        Mexican American protests during a Mexican Inde-          programs, and an end to discrimination.73
        pendence Day parade resulted in one hundred in-               Over the first decade of the twenty-first century,
        juries and sixty-eight arrests.69                         anti-immigrant attitudes and legislation have con-
            Local governments have sometimes used their           tinued to generate numerous large-scale marches,
        police forces, which historically have included few       demonstrations, and strikes by hundreds of Mexi-
        if any Mexican Americans, to counter legal strikes        can Americans and their allies in other racial and
        and protests by Mexican Americans. From the 1960s         ethnic groups in cities from Washington and New York
        to the present, the common practice of preventive         to Miami, to Chicago and Denver, to San Francisco and
        police patrolling in Mexican American communi-            Los Angeles. Thus, in the spring of 2006, hundreds of
        ties, with its “stop and frisk” and “arrest on suspi-     thousands of (some estimated a million) demonstra-
        cion” tactics, has led periodically to unfavorable        tors from numerous Latino and other groups partic-
        police contacts for Mexican Americans. Two-thirds         ipated in the largest public demonstrations in
        of Latinos in one early-1990s Los Angeles poll re-        Chicago and Los Angeles history. Participants de-
        ported that incidents of police brutality were com-       manded social justice, fair treatment, and legaliza-
        mon. At public hearings, an independent citizens’         tion for undocumented immigrant workers and
        commission investigating the Los Angeles Police           their families. Speaking at the demonstration, the
        Department heard testimony from Mexican Ameri-            mayor of Los Angeles and the son of Mexican im-
        cans that the department “acted like an army of oc-       migrants, Antonio Villaraigosa, asserted that “We
        cupation,” treating them as the “enemy.”70 This           cannot criminalize people who are working, people
        pattern has persisted to the present. In a more re-       who are contributing to our economy and contribut-
        cent Los Angeles Times poll, 31 percent of Latinos        ing to the nation.” On May 1, 2006, International

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                                                                              CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans          219

            Worker’s Day, many millions of workers and ac-          the early 1900s, many white-run agricultural firms,
            tivists in some two hundred cities boycotted routine    mining companies, and other firms openly paid dif-
            school, work, and shopping activities as part of a      ferential rates for “whites” and “nonwhites”; the
            national protest against the treatment of immigrants.   latter category included Mexican Americans. The
            Not surprisingly, recent surveys of Latinos have        constant availability of undocumented workers
            found that more than 60 percent think the pro-          allowed white employers to keep wages low. Many
            immigrant protests signal a social movement “that       white-controlled unions also discriminated against
            will go on for a long time” and that over half say      Mexican American workers. Attempts to create farm
            that they would participate in future protests.         labor unions for Mexican American and other low-
            Numerous analysts have viewed these very large-         income workers date back several many decades,
            scale movements as a sign of something new in U.S.      but they were not successful until the 1960s.77
            protest history—protests that are clearly linked to        By the 1940s there was some improvement, but
            transnationalism, border crossings, and the global-     discriminatory barriers kept most Mexican Ameri-
            ization of modern capitalism.74                         cans in low-wage positions. In 1943, President
                                                                    Franklin Roosevelt’s antidiscrimination order and
                                                                    the tight labor supply temporarily opened some jobs
            The Economy                                             at decent wages to Mexican Americans, but virtually
            Recall that Mexicans were initially incorporated into   none moved up into skilled positions. Poorly paid
            the U.S. economy by often violent conquest and          jobs and housing discrimination restricted most to
            takeovers of Mexican lands. Some 2 million acres of     segregated urban areas sometimes called barrios. Re-
            private lands and 1.7 million acres of communal         strictive housing covenants were used by whites to
            lands were lost to Anglos between 1854 and 1930 just    exclude Mexican Americans from better housing
            in what is now New Mexico. Across the Southwest,        areas. Since World War II, many Mexican American
            those who lost land often became landless laborers.     workers have occupied secondary-labor-market
            In the 1850s, one-third of Mexican Americans in the     positions as farm workers, laborers, domestic-
            rural south Texas labor force were ranchers and farm    service workers, or other service workers and earned
            owners, one-third were skilled laborers or profes-      wages far below those of whites.78
            sionals, and one-third were manual laborers. By 1900       Beginning in the 1960s, U.S. firms began building
            the proportion of ranchers and farm owners had          labor-intensive manufacturing plants (maquiladoras)
            dropped sharply, to 16 percent, while the propor-       in the northern border region of Mexico to take
            tion of laborers—many working on white-owned            advantage of low-wage Mexican labor. By the 1990s,
            ranches and farms—had climbed to two-thirds.75          approximately 1800 U.S.-owned maquiladoras
               Note that Mexican Americans were the original        employed half a million people in furniture, elec-
            vaqueros (Spanish for cowboys) on ranches across        tronics, food processing, and other industries. Wages
            the Southwest, and large numbers became agricul-        in maquiladoras have been far lower than in similar
            tural workers there. From the late 1800s to the early   U.S. plants. Large numbers of Mexican workers in
            1900s working conditions in agriculture were often      border cities today live in shacks without water,
            so severe and the pay so low that few whites com-       electricity, or sanitation facilities.79 Many migrate to
            peted with Mexicans for these jobs. Women were          border areas to work in the maquiladoras just long
            concentrated in agriculture, domestic service, and      enough to earn money to migrate to the United
            manufacturing, particularly in the garment indus-       States.
            try and canneries. Mexican American workers gen-           Many employers in the southwestern, southern,
            erally earned less than whites and were usually         and midwestern states have long sought out undoc-
            assigned the more physically demanding tasks.76         umented Mexican workers because they will work,
                                                                    today as in the past, for low wages and can often be
                                                                    exploited more easily than U.S.-born workers. For
            Stratification and Discrimination
                                                                    example, if undocumented workers protest oppres-
            in the Workplace                                        sive working conditions, an employer can report
            Thus, Mexican Americans have long faced individ-        them to immigration authorities. Agricultural and
            ual and institutional discrimination. Beginning in      service-sector employers frequently rely heavily on

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        220      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        undocumented workers and circumvent laws that            given job offers as Latino applicants without a crim-
        prohibit hiring them.80                                  inal record.83 Many urban employers in Atlanta, Los
           In recent years, investigative reporters have         Angeles, Detroit, and Boston have admitted that
        discovered numerous immigrants working under             stereotypes about the personality traits and behav-
        slavery-like conditions. In New York, deaf immi-         ior of Latino and black workers influence their hir-
        grants were forced to sell trinkets for very low wages   ing decisions. Many employers believe that workers
        and live in extremely crowded conditions. Yet, the       of color are suitable primarily for lower-paying jobs
        few exploited workers who come to public attention       regardless of their skills, and they seldom consider
        represent a small portion of those forced to work        such workers for skilled positions. Even before they
        under extreme conditions. Many restaurant employ-        have specific knowledge, many employers stereo-
        ees work long (for example, fourteen-hour) shifts        type Latino and black applicants as less likely than
        for less than the minimum wage. Large numbers of         whites to possess skills of interpersonal communica-
        domestic workers, housekeepers, and nannies from         tion; thus, these applicants are less likely to be
        Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean work in       hired.84
        affluent U.S. households. The “maids and servants”          Recent research by Millard and Chapa in several
        category of workers in the United States has long        midwestern areas found significantly less job, hous-
        been racialized. In recent years this occupational       ing, and school integration of Latinos and Anglos
        racialization has developed a global dimension as        than they expected. “The two groups are quite sep-
        affluent U.S. families purchase household and other      arate in all sectors of the workplace, including fac-
        services from workers from poor countries, especially    tories, commerce, and services . . . . Anglos generally
        Latin American countries. These workers tend to work     pay little attention to the newcomers, who are often
        long hours for less than minimum wage. Interviewing      left to the practices and prejudices of an Anglo mi-
        153 Latina domestic workers, Pierrette Hondagneu-        nority that exploits them and another, larger group
        Sotelo found that these women pay a high price for       of Anglos that rebuffs them.” Discrimination by a
        their employment: “the loss of dignity, respect, and     minority of Anglos took place regularly in the con-
        self-esteem; the inability to even live with their       text of majority Anglo indifference.85
        [own] children; and the daily hardships of raising          In a San Diego survey, two-thirds of Mexican
        families on poverty-level wages.” These immigrant        American youth reported that they had personally
        workers are among the most economically and              faced discrimination. One young woman reported
        politically oppressed members of this society.81         that as a high school senior, despite a good job inter-
           Over the last decade or so, Mexican American          view over the phone, she failed to get the job. She
        and other Latino workers in several New York com-        noted that “I guess they heard me over the phone,
        munities have cited numerous incidents of employ-        and I guess I sounded kind of white. Once I got to
        ment and housing discrimination at the hands of          the store, I saw there were only white girls working
        local whites. For example, a “quality of life” group     there. Well, they never called me back.”86 Additional
        in Farmingville, New York, has been described as a       forms of discrimination often await those workers
        “hate group” concerned mainly with keeping immi-         who are hired. A survey of Mexican American and
        grants out. Indeed, in 2001, Farmingville’s county       other Latino workers in Los Angeles found that 31
        executive and legislative body vetoed a proposal to      percent had faced racial discrimination in the work-
        fund a new and safer immigrant laborer hiring site       place recently. Discrimination included racial slurs
        and community center. The beating of two immi-           at work and being denied a job or promotion be-
        grant laborers, apparently by local white suprema-       cause of their racial background. Recent national
        cists, was not enough to secure action for improved      surveys of Mexican Americans and other Latinos
        hiring conditions for workers desired by local           have found that 38 percent view discrimination as a
        employers.82                                             major problem in the workplace, with an additional
           Mid-2000s employment testing has documented           37 percent saying it is a minor but still present prob-
        continuing discrimination against Mexican Ameri-         lem. More generally, 58 percent think discrimination
        cans and other Latinos, as well as for black Ameri-      is a major problem in securing success in U.S. soci-
        cans. Indeed, white job applicants with felony drug      ety, with another 24 percent thinking it is a minor
        convictions are about as likely to be called back or     problem. Majorities also report that Latinos face

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                                                                                            CHAPTER 8         Mexican Americans              221

             TABLE 8.1         Civilian Employees in Executive Branch Agencies, September 2004
                               (Percentage by Job Category and Group)

              Latino civilian employees in the executive branch of the federal government are most heavily represented in the “Other
              White-Collar” category, in which Latinos make up significant percentages of Border Patrol agents, nuclear materials
              couriers, and correctional officers. Relatively few hold professional positions. The percentage of Latino workers is highest
              at low pay levels and lowest at the highest pay levels.

                                                                                         Latino                             White

                All white-collar workers                                                   6.8%                              69.0%
                Professional                                                               4.8                               80.7
                Clerical                                                                   8.3                               55.9
                Other                                                                     17.0                               61.3
                Blue-collar workers                                                        7.4                               68.2
                Pay plans
                General schedule
                GS 1–4                                                                     7.9                               56.7
                GS 14–15                                                                   3.9                               80.7
                Senior pay levels                                                          3.5                               86.0

            Source: Office of Personnel Management,, September 30, 2004.

            discrimination in schools and housing and that de-                   right to fire an employee for speaking Spanish. A
            bates over immigration have increased anti-Latino                    Mexican American employee of a lumber company
            discrimination.87                                                    was fired for answering a fellow employee’s question
                                                                                 in Spanish. The Court reasoned that Title VII of the
                     In what ways are Mexican American                           1964 Civil Rights Act did not equate national origin
                     workers exploited economically?                             with primary language and that language discrimina-
                                                                                 tion was in this case permissible.89 In a 1988 case, the
                                                                                 Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came to the
            Continuing Language Discrimination                                   opposite conclusion after evaluating an English-only
            Language discrimination in the workplace involves                    rule: “The cultural identity of certain minority groups
            treating people unfairly because they speak a lan-                   is tied to the use of their primary tongue.” Referring
            guage that is not English, or because they speak a                   to EEOC regulations, the court stated that “English-
            dialect of English that is not in favor. The Equal Em-               only rules. . . can ‘create an atmosphere of inferiority,
            ployment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has re-                       isolation, and intimidation’ [and] can readily mask
            ported increases in complaints against employers                     an intent to discriminate on the basis of national
            who bar Spanish-speaking employees from speak-                       origin.” This case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme
            ing Spanish in job-related or private conversations at               Court, but the parties reached a settlement before the
            work. English-only rules are common in job settings.                 Court considered it.90 In 1991 a federal district judge
            Many legal scholars feel that such practices consti-                 in California ruled that an English-only requirement
            tute national-origin discrimination and thus violate                 for employees in a meat-packing plant was discrim-
            Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. EEOC regula-                 inatory. Fluency in English had not been a require-
            tions state that an English-only rule is discriminato-               ment when the employees were hired.91
            ry unless the employer can show a strong business                        Lawsuits over language discrimination against
            necessity for it.88                                                  Mexican Americans and other Latinos have become
               Court decisions have varied. In García v. Gloor                   more common in recent years. A few federal courts
            (1981) the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an employer’s                   have knocked down English-only laws aimed at

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        222       PA RT I I     A Nation of Immigrants

        restricting Spanish speech in government settings,          American workers are more highly concentrated in
        on First Amendment grounds. In 2000 the Court of            low-wage job categories than are white workers.
        Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided Sandoval           Census data treat some Hispanics as white and pre-
        v. Hagan and knocked down Alabama’s English-only            sent both a “white” category and a “non-Hispanic
        driver’s license examinations as a violation of the         white” category. Data here labeled “European
        1964 Civil Rights Act. However, in the summer of            American” represent the latter census category and
        2001 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the deci-            do not include Hispanics. Notice that although
        sion on the grounds that the applicable law did not         there is a significant proportion of Mexican Amer-
        allow a “private right of action,” but the Court did        ican workers in the white-collar (sales) category,
        not rule on the argument that language discrimina-          Mexican American workers are heavily concentrat-
        tion was national-origin discrimination. Moreover,          ed in the production, transportation, construction,
        in the spring of 2001 a Catholic university in Texas        natural resources (farming), and service-worker
        reached a $2.4 million settlement in an EEOC lawsuit        categories, whereas European Americans are more
        brought by cleaning personnel. Latino housekeep-            heavily concentrated in white-collar positions. In-
        ers charged that they were called “dumb Mexicans”           deed, Mexican American workers make up 20 to
        and told by their supervisor to speak only English,         30 percent of the workers in numerous blue-collar
        even at lunch and on their breaks.92 The federal law        and service categories.94
        on language discrimination is still developing, but            Mexican American incomes have been consistently
        bars to Spanish speaking are viewed as discrimina-          low compared with those of white Americans.
        tion under EEOC guidelines and a few federal court          Table 8.3 compares family income levels and poverty
        decisions.                                                  rates as determined by the Census Bureau in its most
           Language discrimination has periodically drawn           recent survey for Latinos of Mexican, Puerto Rican,
        organized protest from Mexican Americans. In a              and Cuban origin with figures for the European-
        demonstration of intragroup solidarity in La Puente,        origin population. On income and poverty measures,
        a Los Angeles suburb, local Mexican American                Mexican Americans as a group ranked as the poor-
        women organized with Mexican immigrants to stop             est, followed by (mainland) Puerto Ricans. The
        school board attempts to replace their district’s bilin-    median income for Mexican-origin families was less
        gual program with an English-only policy.93                 than 54 percent of that of European-origin families.
                                                                    Mexican American families were more than three
                                                                    times as likely as European-origin families to be
        Unemployment, Poverty, and Income                           poor. In addition, the fact that many Mexican Amer-
        Unemployment rates for Mexican Americans have               ican workers hold relatively low-wage or temporary
        been relatively high for decades. Mexican Ameri-            jobs has meant that economic slowdowns bring an
        cans’ unemployment rate for early 2006 (6.2 percent)        actual decline in wages for workers in these fami-
        was significantly higher than that of non-Latino            lies. Many of the poorest families include workers
        whites (4.1 percent). As we see in Table 8.2, Mexican       who immigrated from Mexico in recent decades

          TABLE 8.2           Employment Distribution (2004)

                                                                               European                Mexican
                                                                               American                American
              Managerial and professional specialty                               35.6%                   14.0%
              Sales and office occupations                                        25.5                    20.4
              Natural resources, construction, maintenance                        11.3                    20.2
              Production, transportation, materials moving                        12.4                    21.1
              Service occupations                                                 15.2                    24.4
              Total                                                              100.0%                  100.1%

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                                                                                           CHAPTER 8         Mexican Americans               223

             TABLE 8.3          Family Income Levels and Poverty Rates (2003)

                                                                Rican                Mexican               Cuban              European
                                                                Origin                Origin               Origin              Origin
                 Median family income (2003)                     $34,519               $32,263              44,847               $59,937
                 Percentage of:
                   Families with incomes of                       17.2                  12.7                 20.4                29.8
                    $75,000 or more
                   Families below poverty level                   24.1                  23.7                 14.4                 8.2
                   Children less than 18 years                    31.6                  32.8                 16.9                 9.8
                    old below poverty line

            with little in the way of educational or economic                  Problems of Economic Adaptation
            capital. To make matters worse for these and other
                                                                               Some analysts have suggested that the processes of
            Mexican American families, there are dramatic dif-
                                                                               adaptation for later immigrant groups, such as Mex-
            ferences in the reported wealth of Latinos (Mexican
                                                                               ican immigrants, are, or should be, similar to those
            Americans and other groups) and European Amer-
                                                                               for early-twentieth-century groups, such as Italian
            icans (see Table 8.4).95 According to 2002 data ana-
                                                                               immigrants. However, the first large groups of
            lyzed by the Pew Hispanic Center, the median net
                                                                               Mexican immigrants and their children—those who
            worth of Latino households, at $7932, was less than
                                                                               came between World War I and the 1950s—did not
            10 percent of that of the median net worth for white
                                                                               achieve the same socioeconomic mobility as south-
                                                                               ern and eastern European immigrants because of
                                                                               discrimination, economic exploitation, and segrega-
                      Are covert methods used by some
                                                                               tion. Later groups of Mexican immigrants, those
                      whites in discriminating against
                                                                               who have come since the 1960s, have also faced
                      Mexican Americans?
                                                                               different circumstances. The white southern and

             TABLE 8.4          Percentage Distribution of Household Net Worth by Group and Amount
                                of Net Worth, 2000

              In the most recent data (2000), more than one-quarter of Hispanic households had zero or negative net worth, and the net
              worth of an additional 15.9 percent was less than $5000. Four in ten white households had a net worth of $100,000 or
              more, compared with one in six Hispanic households. Just 5.1 percent of Hispanic households had a net worth of $250,000
              or more, compared with a fifth of white households.

                                                                                 White                                Hispanic
                 Negative or $0                                                    11.3%                                 27.6%
                 $1–$4,999                                                          7.2                                  15.9
                 $5,000–$24,999                                                    12.4                                  17.2
                 $25,000–$99,999                                                   24.6                                  22.8
                 $100,000–$249,000                                                 22.2                                  11.4
                 $250,000 or over                                                  22.2                                   5.1

            Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Asset Ownership of Households, Table 4, Characteristics: 2000,” published January 28, 2005,

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        224      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        eastern European immigrants did not experience            a school dropout problem, teenage pregnancy, and
        the high levels of job, residential, and school segre-    long-term drug use—has been accepted by some so-
        gation and the racist stereotyping that have long         cial scientists and media analysts as a way of ex-
        been experienced by Mexican and other Latino im-          plaining the impoverished conditions of certain
        migrants. Most Europeans came during a period             racial and ethnic groups, including African Ameri-
        of rapid industrialization and had access to blue-        cans and Mexican Americans. Assessing Mexican
        collar jobs that required little education. These usu-    American and other Latino communities in cities
        ally enabled white immigrant workers and their            from Los Angeles to New York, several social scien-
        children to advance economically.                         tists have examined these communities’ cultures and
           In contrast, today the United States has a predom-     strengths, as well as their problems.98 Even in the
        inantly service-work-dominated economy with in-           face of substantial poverty and political and eco-
        creasingly few industrial jobs. Most well-paid jobs       nomic discrimination, these communities generally
        today require more than a high school education.          maintain strong family and community support
        Unlike European immigrants in the early 1900s,            structures, community organizations, and enclave
        many more recent Mexican and other Latino immi-           economies. For example, an analysis of social and
        grants, especially those with relatively little formal    economic conditions in Laredo, Texas, found that
        education, have mostly been able to find only low-        the city’s border location facilitates illegal drug traf-
        paid jobs with little chance of mobility. Thus, seg-      ficking, yet the area’s strong Latino extended fami-
        mented assimilation describes the experience of           lies and residential stability have created “a strong
        many Mexican American workers and their chil-             sense of community structure and identification.”99
        dren. The children of these immigrants, second-           In several cities, small local businesses and off-the-
        generation Mexican Americans, today often do not          books enterprises such as street vending have pro-
        move up the socioeconomic ladder as the second            moted the economic vitality of numerous Latino
        generation of earlier white immigrant groups did.         communities.
        This is substantially the result of the U.S. economy          The movement of large numbers of immigrants
        no longer providing enough decent-paying blue-            into many Latino communities has also buttressed
        collar jobs, as it did for much of the twentieth cen-     local economies and maintained a demand for busi-
        tury for white immigrants and their children.             nesses that provide Latino goods and services. The
           Recent research shows two divergent patterns           concentration of the poor that underclass theorists
        of economic mobility over the first few generations       emphasize as negative can be positive. Thus, resi-
        of Mexican American adaptation. Researcher Zulema         dential concentration of immigrants in cities like
        Valdéz has shown from census data that “earnings of       Houston has stimulated development of an enclave
        low-skilled, foreign-born Mexicans decrease as            economy, reinforced job and housing networks, and
        immigrants reside in the United States longer. . . . In   provided a supportive cultural setting. Recent re-
        contrast, the earnings of high-skilled, foreign-born      search continues to confirm the strengths of fami-
        Mexicans increase as immigrants reside in the             lies, religion, and organization in Mexican American
        United States longer...” Immigrant status, level of       communities, with their still large populations of
        education, and continuing discrimination all make         working poor.100
        a difference. Elsewhere Valdéz suggests that data             Contrary to conventional underclass notions,
        indicating a large economic gap between Mexican           researchers do not find just one pattern of respons-
        Americans and whites and a persisting “intergen-          es to poverty conditions. The character of poverty
        erational, low-wage, low-skilled Mexican labor-           varies from community to community, but each has
        ing class” are not surprising for a country that          used its oppositional culture and social, economic,
        has “a racialized and gendered labor market,              and religious resources for survival. Although many
        growing wage inequality, tougher immigration              of the characteristics associated with the convention-
        policy, and an upsurge in anti-Mexican-immigrant          al underclass portrait can be found, such conditions
        sentiment.”97                                             do not fundamentally define the character of these
           Moreover, as we saw in Chapter 7, the concept of       communities. Extended family and other networks,
        a troubled “underclass”—one characterized by              as well as strong cultural frameworks, remain at the
        multigenerational poverty, high violent-crime rates,      core of these communities; these are reinforced by

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                                                                                 CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans         225

            religious organizations and, frequently, additional        for generations. Audit studies using Latino and
            community organizations.                                   white testers in San Antonio and Fresno have found
                                                                       substantial rates of housing discrimination. More-
                                                                       over, in the summer of 2000, a large apartment man-
            Immigrant Workers: Targeted
                                                                       agement firm in Orange County, California, paid
            for Discrimination                                         $226,000 in damages and penalties to settle a case
            Mexicans and Mexican Americans are now the                 brought by the county’s Fair Housing Council that
            neighbors of other Americans in all U.S. regions. For      charged the company with discrimination against
            the most part, Mexican and other Latin American            Latino and black renters in eight apartment com-
            immigrants work hard under difficult conditions            plexes.103
            and often for little pay. They perform much hard              Not surprisingly, given these patterns of inten-
            labor shunned by others: harvesting crops, building        tional discrimination in housing, coupled with the
            and cleaning houses, cutting lawns, and washing            desire to live with fellow Latinos who have similar
            dishes in restaurants.                                     experiences and backgrounds (including knowledge
                However, when it comes to having these work-           of how to cope with discrimination), more than 40
            ers as neighbors, many other Americans treat them          percent of Latinos now live in Latino-majority neigh-
            as unwanted outsiders. Growing numbers report              borhoods. This U.S. proportion is high, though
            housing and related discrimination by their white          somewhat less than that for African Americans, and
            neighbors. Local officials periodically enforce local      increased between 1990 and the late 2000s.104
            housing codes so as to discriminate against Latino
            workers. A lawsuit by landlords in the Babylon area
            on Long Island accused town officials of using rental      Politics and Protest
            permits and apartment regulations to drive out
            Latino immigrant workers. An organization repre-           Before 1910 only a few Mexican Americans, usually
            senting Mexican American and other Latino farm-            hand-picked by whites, held office in territorial and
            workers in Riverside County, California, reached a         state legislatures in the Southwest. White ranchers
            settlement with county officials resolving complaints      and those who controlled railroads, mining inter-
            of discrimination in code enforcement there. A U.S.        ests, land companies, and other large enterprises
            Department of Housing and Urban Development                dominated local and state politics.105 By means of a
            (HUD) investigation confirmed that county officials        poll tax, an all-white primary, and threats of vio-
            had used discriminatory code enforcement to ex-            lence, these interests kept Mexican American voting
            clude Latino residents from mobile home parks.101          strength low. Similarly, between 1910 and the 1940s,
            HUD also cited officials in Elgin, Illinois, for violat-   few Mexican Americans voted in the Southwest.
            ing an agreement to end discrimination in local code       Over subsequent decades, voting strength was ex-
            enforcement. In 1999 the city had settled complaints       panded by legal victories in the form of the Twenty-
            filed by Latino families, but officials failed to honor    Fourth Amendment, which banned poll taxes, and
            their promises to change code enforcement and              a California court case that knocked down an
            accept HUD monitoring. These represent only a few          English-only literacy requirement for voting.
            of many such cases. One recent report shows that at            In some areas the gerrymandering of voting dis-
            least thirty towns have considered, and six have           tricts has continued to dilute Mexican American vot-
            passed, some type of local legislation aimed at dis-       ing strength and prevent the election of Mexican
            criminating against immigrant workers. In addition         American political candidates. Lawsuits, for exam-
            to housing discrimination, various new or proposed         ple, Garza v. County of Los Angeles (1990) and Williams
            laws attempt to deny business permits to employers         v. City of Dallas (1990), have challenged intentional
            who hire undocumented workers or to require the            discrimination against the Latino voting population,
            language of business or government to be only in           such as the discriminatory use of at-large city coun-
            English.102                                                cil elections.106 These lawsuits have forced some
                In many cities, housing discrimination by land-        white-controlled governments to create single-
            lords plagues Latino families, both immigrant fam-         member districts that allow for the possibility of
            ilies and those whose members have been citizens           elected Latino political officials.

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        226      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

           Voter registration and voter turnout among Mex-             Since World War II, the total number of Mexican
        ican Americans and other Latinos have risen sub-           Americans serving at all political levels has in-
        stantially over the past three decades. In this period     creased gradually but significantly, to about 5160 in
        the number registered to vote “increased from 2.5          2006. Gradually, the growing numbers of registered
        million to more than 10.5 million. In fact, the num-       Latino voters have brought the group greater polit-
        ber of new Latino registered voters increased by           ical power. Mexican Americans and other Latinos
        over three million between the presidential election       currently constitute the largest voting bloc in Miami,
        of 2000 and the presidential election of 2004.”107         San Antonio, Los Angeles, and New York.111 Sever-
        However, as of late 2006, only about 39 percent of         al cities, small and large, have had Mexican Ameri-
        Latinos were U.S. citizens over the age of eighteen        can mayors. In 1981, Henry Cisneros, who later
        and thus eligible to vote—which was much less than         served as secretary of housing and urban develop-
        the 77 percent of whites who were eligible. Latino         ment in the Bill Clinton administration, was elected
        voters only then made up 8.6 percent of all U.S. vot-      mayor of San Antonio, the first Mexican American
        ers, albeit a figure growing significantly each year.108   mayor of a large city. His victory was the culmina-
        Large numbers of potential Latino voters are, as yet,      tion of ten years of organization. Cisneros was elect-
        too young or have not yet become citizens.                 ed by means of a political alignment between a
                                                                   white business elite and the city’s new Latino mid-
                                                                   dle class. In 2001, a young city councilmember, Ed
        Growing Political Representation                           Garza, was elected as San Antonio’s mayor with a
        Recent surveys indicate that Latinos are very com-         similar coalition. Such coalitions of Anglo business
        mitted to working together to increase Latino polit-       elites and the Latino middle class have been success-
        ical participation and political power. Numerous           ful in several cities, including those along the
        examples of slowly expanding, sometimes regress-           U.S.–Mexico border. The most successful Latino
        ing, political participation can be seen in the coun-      politicians since the 1980s have tended to be busi-
        ties and cities of the Southwest and other regions,        ness- or professional-oriented rather than communi-
        from the late 1940s to the present. Los Angeles, with      ty activists or labor leaders. In the early 2000s, five
        the largest Mexican American population of any U.S.        major cities had Mexican American mayors (San José
        city, elected its first Mexican American city council      and Santa Ana, California, El Paso and San Antonio,
        member in 1949. However, the city had no Mexican           Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico); four of these
        Americans on its council between the early 1960s           had a business or professional background. In 2000,
        and the early 1970s. In 1991, Gloria Molina, the           Antonio Villaraigosa, the son of Mexican immi-
        daughter of a Mexican immigrant laborer, became            grants, was elected mayor of Los Angeles, the coun-
        the first Mexican American, and first woman,elected        try’s second largest city.112
        to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.109             Between the 1960s and the mid-2000s, the number
            The National Association of Latino Elected and         of Latinos in state legislatures increased significantly,
        Appointed Officials Educational Fund has become            with the largest numbers in Texas, California, and
        one of the important organizations seeking to em-          New Mexico. As of 2005, Texas had about 2000 Latino
        power Latinos. The organization’s thousands of             officials, the largest number of any state; these includ-
        members come from all government levels; the               ed about 19 percent of Texas House members and
        organization has played a major role in increasing         about 23 percent of the Texas Senate, most of
        Latino voter registration and turnout. A study of 435      whom were Democrats. California had nearly one-
        congressional districts found that one-fourth have a       fifth of all Latino elected officials (1080), including
        Latino population percentage of at least 12 percent,       about one-quarter of all state legislators, most of
        enough to be politically significant. In recent years,     whom were also Democrats. New Mexico had the
        many of these districts have had Republican mem-           third largest number of Latino elected officials
        bers of Congress. Given that a majority of Latino          (668).113
        voters—with the exception of Cuban Americans—                  Still, the number of Mexican American and other
        still vote Democratic, the future translation of now-      Latino elected and appointed officials at the state
        young Latino Americans into voters may bode well           and national levels remains low relative to the Latino
        for Democratic Party candidates.110                        population percentage. Only a handful have ever

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                                                                                        CHAPTER 8        Mexican Americans       227

                         In a 2001 election, former California Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa came close to being
                         elected the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles.

            served in top state executive positions, such as gov-           bureaucracies, including as officials and teachers in
            ernors. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed              school systems, significant educational and other
            Lauro Cavazos as secretary of education, the first              socioeconomic advancements (such as high school
            Mexican American (and Latino) ever appointed to                 graduation) have been demonstrated recently.115
            a presidential cabinet. President Bill Clinton appoint-
            ed two Mexican Americans to cabinet posts, and in
            2001 President George W. Bush appointed one Latino,             Support for the Democratic Party
            a Cuban American, to his cabinet. In addition, as of            In national elections since 1990, a majority of Latino
            late 2006 there were twenty-three Latino members of             voters nationwide have supported Democratic Party
            the U.S. House of Representatives (nineteen of them             candidates. In the 1996 election, Latino voters, the
            Democrats). This representation marked a signifi-               majority of whom were Mexican American, for the
            cant increase over recent decades, but the Latino               first time voted at a rate greater than the national
            percentage (5.3 percent) of House members was well              rate. This Latino turnout had an important impact
            below the Latino percentage (14 percent) of the pop-            not only on the presidential election but also on local
            ulation. By late 2006 there were also three Latinos in          and state elections from New York to California.
            the U.S. Senate (from New Jersey, Florida, Colorado)            Most voted for Democratic candidates, although one
            and one Latino governor (New Mexico).114                        survey revealed that the percentage voting for the
               These growing numbers are politically significant            Democratic presidential candidate (Bill Clinton) de-
            in many ways. For example, the international                    clined from 93 percent of the first-generation (immi-
            concerns of many Mexican Americans have helped                  grant) respondents to 75 percent of the fourth
            to expand the political involvement of Mexican                  generation.116
            American and other U.S. leaders in the internation-                In the 2000 presidential election, an estimated 63
            al arena, including the U.S. government placing a               percent of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate.
            greater emphasis on relations between the United                Significantly, both that Democratic candidate, Al Gore,
            States and Mexico. Moreover, where Mexican Amer-                and the Republican victor, George W. Bush, spoke
            icans and other Latinos have been elected to office             Spanish during the campaign and actively sought
            and increased their numbers in state and local                  Latino voters, a first for presidential elections. In his

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        228       PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        first year in office, Bush became the first president to      many citizens. In these and other states, the pool of
        give a White House address in Spanish. Moreover, in           jurors has until recently been selected by whatever
        the 2004 presidential election, exit polls suggested that     method has suited (usually white) jury commission-
        44 percent of Latino voters had given their votes to          ers. Recent research in major Texas cities has shown
        President Bush for reelection, an increase since 2000.        that Latinos make up less than 10 to 13 percent of
        However, in the 2006 elections for the U.S. Congress,         those called for jury duty in cities whose populations
        the Latino vote increased for Democratic candidates           are at least 30 percent Latino. Many juries included
        across the country, as Latino voters apparently showed        no Latino jurors. Thus, Mexican Americans charged
        their negative reaction to the moves of the Republican-       with crimes have frequently been judged by juries
        majority Congress to support anti-immigrant legisla-          containing few if any of their peers. Courtrooms in
        tion. Surveys of registered Latino voters revealed that       which no one understands Spanish present a prob-
        just 19 percent were planning to vote for Republican          lem for some defendants. Besides facing an absence
        candidates in congressional elections. In recent decades      of Spanish interpreters, defendants have been sub-
        a majority of Latinos have voted for Democratic Party         jected to excessive bail, poor legal counsel, and
        candidates in most state, Local, and federal elections.       stereotyped views of white judges. In some cases,
        Clearly, latino voters are now having a significant           white prosecutors have successfully excluded
        influence on U.S. politics.117                                Latinos from juries on the basis of language. One
                                                                      1990s Supreme Court decision upheld a prosecutor’s
                                                                      exclusion of bilingual Latino jurors who had hesi-
        The Courts and the Police                                     tated before agreeing to accept the official English
        Mexican Americans have long been underrepresent-              translation of the Spanish-language testimony in a trial.
        ed in the U.S. judicial system, as jurors, judges, and        In contrast, a judge in San Diego County, California,
        prosecutors. In Hernández v. Texas (1954), the U.S.           dismissed indictments by a grand jury because
        Supreme Court upheld an appeal of an all-white                the pool from which jurors were selected did not
        jury’s conviction of a Mexican American defendant             represent a fair cross section of the county.120
        on the grounds that Mexican Americans were                       Moreover, a recent survey of Latinos found that
        excluded. The judge noted that the lack of Mexican            only 35 percent felt that Lations usually or always
        American representation on any jury over a period of          “receive fair outcomes when they deal with the
        twenty-five years in a county that was 14 percent             courts” in their communities, which compared to
        Mexican American was evidence of discrimination.118           57 percent and 21 percent, respectively, of white and
            Not until the 1960s was the first Mexican American        black respondents. Latino and black respondents
        federal judge appointed. Since the 1970s the number           also had substantially less favorable views of the po-
        has slowly increased, but it is still relatively low today.   lice in their communities than did whites. Early
        Mexican Americans are underrepresented in most                2000s data for San Diego police officers stopping mo-
        historically white police departments. Over recent            torists showed that Latino and black motorists were
        decades, numerous Mexican American applicants                 overrepresented in comparison to the driving-age
        have been denied police positions by the indirect dis-        population and were more likely to be searched
        crimination of height requirements and by English-            when stopped. The same pattern of racial profiling
        language requirements, as well as by too-low scores           characterizes other major cities. In 2006 a national
        on conventional English-language examinations.                survey of local residents’ views of police behavior
        Today all Latinos taken together make up about 11             found that a significant percentage (45 percent) of
        percent of police officers, but only 6 percent of first-      Latino respondents felt that their local police offi-
        line supervisors in police agencies. They make up             cers were stopping people without good reason and
        only 3.5 percent of lawyers and 6 percent of various          were engaging in racial profiling.121
        judicial workers. Very few Latinos have ever served
        at the higher levels of federal law-enforcement agen-
        cies, although in 2007 the U.S. attorney general,             The Chicano Political Movement
        Alberto Gonzáles, was a Mexican American.119                  Disenchantment with the accomodationist perspec-
            Arizona, California, and Colorado have required           tives of some middle-class Mexican American lead-
        jurors to be able to speak English, screening out             ers led to the emergence of the 1960s’ Chicano

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                                                                                 CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans         229

            Political movement, a social movement that sought          as members of the International Ladies Garment
            greater political power and less discrimination for Mex-   Workers Union. In addition, mutual-benefit associ-
            ican Americans. Lacking influence in mainstream            ations developed early. These included worker
            political parties, many Mexican Americans joined           alliances that pooled resources and provided indi-
            the La Raza Unida Party (LRUP). The LRUP’s goals           vidual and group support. The League of United
            included significant representation in local govern-       Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was organized in
            ments and pressing the latter to better serve the Lati-    southern Texas in the 1920s. Oriented toward civic
            no community. LRUP’s major electoral and political         activities, LULAC also pressed for an end to discrim-
            successes occurred in Crystal City, a Texas city pop-      ination.124
            ulated mostly by Mexican Americans. During the                After a Texas cemetery refused to allow the bur-
            1960s the LRUP became a leading political force, and       ial of a Mexican American (World War II) veteran,
            by 1970 Mexican Americans had won control of the           the American GI Forum was established to organize
            school board and city council. However, white offi-        Mexican American veterans and work for expanded
            cials cut off state and federal funding, almost bank-      civil rights. In Los Angeles the Community Service
            rupting the city, and then blamed the Mexican              Organization worked to organize voters. Two
            American leadership for the difficulties. By the           groups that formed about 1960—the Mexican Amer-
            1980s, Mexican Americans were no longer identified         ican Political Association in California and the Polit-
            with the LRUP but rather with the state Democratic         ical Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations
            party. Yet, the LRUP had brought democratization           in Texas—focused mostly on political goals. Protests
            to some southwestern communities and a substan-            intensified in the 1960s. Youth organizations includ-
            tial increase in political participation.122               ing the Mexican American Youth Organization and
               Mexican American women held a range of im-              the Brown Berets worked for better education,
            portant leadership roles within the LRUP. Most of          employment, and housing. A new ideology of
            those elected to office in the Crystal City area were      Chicanismo that espoused a philosophy of self-
            women. This feminism came “easily for Chicanas             esteem and antiracism developed in many circles.
            because of the woman’s traditional role and strength       The Alianza Federal de Mercedes was founded in
            as center or heart of the family. . . . The tradition of   1963 by Reies Lopez Tijerina after he had researched
            activism inherited from women’s participation in           old Mexican land grants. In July 1966 a group of
            armed rebellions in Mexico and in the political life of    Alianza members marched to Santa Fe, New Mexi-
            Mexico has also strengthened the Chicanas’ posi-           co, and presented a statement of grievances about
            tion.”123 Mexican American feminists have faced            Anglo theft of Mexican land grants in the state.125
            major barriers. For decades, many issues of great             Since the 1980s, the Southwest Voter Registra-
            concern to them, including poverty and discrimina-         tion Education Project and similar groups have
            tion, have not been central to the mainstream (white)      participated in many voter-registration campaigns
            women’s movement.                                          and joined in filing lawsuits to dismantle discrim-
                                                                       inatory election systems. The Mexican American
                    What is the long-term significance                 Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF),
                    of growing political participation                 founded in 1968 to address problems of jury dis-
                    among Mexican Americans?                           crimination, police brutality, and school segrega-
                                                                       tion, is another active force for change. MALDEF
                                                                       has filed numerous class-action lawsuits targeting
                                                                       discrimination and has worked to increase politi-
            Other Organizations and Protest                            cal representation. 126 With the recent growth in
            Union organization has a long history among Mex-           Mexican American and other Latino populations
            ican Americans. The first permanent organization           in states outside the Southwest, MALDEF has ex-
            was the Confederación de Uniones Obreras Mexi-             panded its civil rights efforts to the east coast,
            canas (CUOM), organized in California in 1927 with         opening an Atlanta office in 2002, where another
            3000 members. One CUOM strike was stopped by               Latino organization, the National Council of La
            deportation to Mexico and numerous arrests. Mex-           Raza, has also recently set up a regional office.
            ican American women participated in early strikes          Discrimination targeting Mexican Americans and

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        230      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        other Latinos in the southeast has influenced the
        expansion of antidiscrimination efforts by these
        important civil rights groups.127
           Today, Mexican American women remain active
        in grass-roots organizing. For example, Mothers of
        East Los Angeles is an effective grass-roots organi-
        zation that works to defend its community’s quality
        of life against environmental racism and corporate
        pollution. At a neighborhood meeting, MELA mem-
        bers confronted an oil company representative seek-
        ing to build a pipeline through a Latino community
        in Los Angeles:

           “Is it going through Cielito Lindo [former President
           Ronald Reagan’s ranch]?” The oil representative
           answered, “No.” Another woman stood up and asked,
           “Why not place it along the coastline?” Without
           thinking of the implications, the representative re-
           sponded, “Oh, no! If it burst, it would endanger the
           marine life.” The woman retorted, “You value the
           marine life more than human beings?”128

        Unions for Low-Wage Workers
        In the 1960s, Jessie López, Dolores Huerta, and César
        Chávez created the Agricultural Workers Organizing
        Committee (AWOC) and the National Farm Work-
        ers Association (NFWA). In 1965, AWOC workers
        struck the Delano, California, growers; the NFWA          César Chávez marches at the head of United Farm Workers
                                                                  during a 1979 protest.
        met in Delano and voted to join the strike, demand-
        ing better wages. White growers refused to talk;
        picket lines went up; and guns were fired at work-        for economic and political change. Among other
        ers. The NFWA remained nonviolent in the face of          issues, the UFW has addressed the issue of pesti-
        provocation by growers and police. A grape boycott        cide spraying of farm products in a nationwide cam-
        was organized and spread. Picket lines formed             paign to force farmers to “stop poisoning workers
        wherever grapes were sold, and a massive march            and consumers.”131
        on Sacramento was organized. In 1966, AWOC and               In the spring of 1994, one year after the death of
        NFWA merged into the United Farm Workers Orga-            César Chávez, more than eighty current and former
        nizing Committee.129                                      farm workers, some of whom had made the first
           In 1973, the largest California winery, Gallo Broth-   such pilgrimage twenty-eight years earlier, walked
        ers, chose not to renew its contract with the United      the 340 miles from Delano to Sacramento, California,
        Farm Workers (UFW). As other wineries followed            signing up thousands of new UFW members along
        suit, many observers argued that the union was            the way. From then to the present day the UFW has
        dying. But the struggle continued. Governor Jerry         continued to organize and strike on behalf of farm-
        Brown of California worked for legislation to pro-        workers. A recent report from the UFW website sum-
        tect workers, and in 1975 signed the Agricultural         marizes the results of organizing drives, including a
        Labor Relations Act, which provided for protection        long campaign that led to a new contract with the
        of union activities.130 The UFW has been the most         Gallo winery. The union also “mounted a major
        successful farm workers’ union in history and has         organizing drive among Central Valley table grape
        altered the structure of power in rural California by     workers resulting in a summer election at Giumarra
        using the power of organized numbers to pressure          vineyards, America’s largest table grape producer.

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                                                                                 CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans         231

            Labor observers say it is one of the largest private       by two hundred police officers in riot gear. Forty
            sector union election campaigns in the nation in           workers were arrested for blocking the intersection
            2005.”132                                                  with clothes symbolizing the “dirty laundry” the
               Today, many Mexican American and other farm-            hotel was unwilling to face.135
            workers across the country still get low wages and            In the mid- to late 2000s, a few other unions, in-
            few benefits. They often live in very crowded condi-       cluding the Service Employees International Union
            tions, and many who favor unions are harassed by           (SEIU), have aggressively organized Latino work-
            employers. In the early 2000s, at least 60 percent of      ers. Recently, an SEIU branch in Houston, called Jus-
            farm-worker families remained below the federal            tice for Janitors, has organized hundreds of janitors,
            poverty line. The UFW, once at 80,000 members, is          who clean much Houston office space. Most are
            now down to about 27,000. In 2006 the UFW left the         Mexican American women and other Latinas. The
            AFL-CIO and joined a more aggressive union coali-          union has drawn on a significant multiracial coali-
            tion that included the Service Employees Interna-          tion of Houston community organizations, religious
            tional Union, the Teamsters, and the United Food           groups, and other labor unions. As Glenn Bracey de-
            and Commercial Workers. Today, more farm work-             scribes it, “Catholic churches and majority Latino
            ers are undocumented than in the early days of the         organizations, such as CRECEN and LULAC, unit-
            UFW. These workers are often afraid to organize.           ed with majority African American organizations,
            Still, union membership has again been growing             such as ACORN and NAACP, to push for improved
            slowly. Explaining the decline and recent increase,        living conditions for Houston’s working poor. In
            union leaders note that the 1975 Agricultural Labor        many ways, Justice for Janitors’ Houston campaign
            Relations Act was weakly enforced under sixteen            provides a model for interracial coalitions and exem-
            years of rule in the 1980s and 1990s by Republican         plifies the power multiracial coalitions can have, even
            governors of California. In the early 2000s, how-          in traditionally hostile political environments.”136 In
            ever, there was a Democratic governor more sym-            Houston most such janitors have typically gotten a
            pathetic to workers and labor unions and to                minimum wage and have been limited to just four
            enforcement of the act. Soon, however, in 2003 he          hours a day of work, with no health insurance ben-
            was replaced by a moderate Republican governor             efits. In late 2006 the Houston union went on a suc-
            (Arnold Schwarzenegger), whose support for                 cessful strike against cleaning companies that
            unions was weaker.133                                      refused to sign a reasonable contract adding some
               Today, an increasing number of Mexican Ameri-           health benefits for these hard-working janitors.
            cans are members of mainstream unions that repre-          Many of the 225,000 janitors organized by SEIU in
            sent auto workers, miners, teamsters, dockworkers,         numerous cities are Latino. Today, union efforts to
            railroad, cannery, garment, steel, and construction        improve Latinos’ working conditions continue
            workers. Unionizing efforts have periodically been         across the United States.
            successful among undocumented urban workers.134
            In Los Angeles in the late 1990s, the local of the Hotel
                                                                       Other Recent Challenges: Latinos
            Employees and Restaurant Employees International
            Union called for an international boycott of the New       and African Americans
            Otani Hotel because of its poor treatment of Latino        The growing Mexican American and other Latino
            and Asian workers. Workers began large-scale pick-         populations in urban areas have brought Latinos
            eting and made it clear that the diverse composition       into situations of political conflict and cooperation
            of the workforce did not deter union organization.         with long-time African Americans residents. Togeth-
            Latinas, in particular, were critical to the union and     er, the two groups now make up a majority of the
            its protests. Women activists proved wrong tradi-          population in numerous U.S. cities. Capitalistic glob-
            tional notions that women would be “unorganizable          alization is drawing Mexican and other immigrant
            because of their family responsibilities, marginal         workers to the United States, and the shift from an
            commitment to the labor market, and submission to          industrial to a service economy is reducing the num-
            patriarchy.” In August 2000, as the boycott and strike     ber of higher-wage, unionized, blue-collar jobs avail-
            continued, a protest against working conditions at         able for both groups. Modern capitalism sometimes
            the hotel by four hundred union workers was met            pits new immigrants against established citizens

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        232      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        who rely substantially on lower-wage blue-collar         common than conflict. For example, the head of the
        and service jobs.                                        Los Angeles Human Rights Commission has report-
           Debates in the policy and scholarly literatures       ed that at the neighborhood level Latinos and blacks
        sometimes focus on whether recent Latin American         there are generally finding ways to coexist and coop-
        and Asian immigration has affected the economic          erate. Some black elected officials are working hard
        situations of native-born Americans. According to        to better serve their new Latino constituents, many
        available data, employment problems have in-             of whom have recently moved into formerly black
        creased for many African Americans since the 1970s.      areas.139 Over recent decades, black and Latino com-
        National Research Council (NRC) and similar recent       munities in Texas have often shown respect for one
        reports indicate that immigration has had a generally    another. One 1970s study of Mexican American atti-
        positive effect on the U.S. economy as a whole, with     tudes in Texas found more positive feelings toward
        a small negative effect on employment opportuni-         African Americans, more sensitivity to discriminato-
        ties for other recent immigrants and some native-        ry barriers, and more support for civil rights protest
        born Americans. Most undocumented workers labor          than were found among whites. More recently, black
        in just two dozen or so low-wage occupations and         leaders and union members marched with Latinos in
        earn wages near the minimum wage, if not below,          San Antonio to demonstrate against California’s
        and thus most native-born workers are not affected       Proposition 187. And in a late-1990s Houston elec-
        in a negative way. Recent undocumented immigra-          tion, Latino voters helped elect a black mayor against
        tion has brought significant benefits to employers       white opposition. In surveys, a majority of Houston’s
        and better-off native-born workers, because they are     black and Latino leaders report that they interact
        the most likely to use the low-cost labor or services    frequently with leaders of other groups. In the late
        (for example, household work) of immigrants. The         2000s black leaders and organizations there worked
        negative impact is greatest for high school dropouts     closely with Latinos to create a strong service-
        and less skilled workers, including those Latinos        workers union, the Justice for Janitors group men-
        and African Americans working in low-paid jobs.          tioned previously.140
        One analysis of immigration’s effects concluded that
        “studies provide compelling documentation that the
        overall positive economic effects of immigration em-     Education
        phasized by the NRC in the country as a whole do         In the early twentieth century, little official atten-
        not extend to African Americans. . . .In general, the    tion was given to the public education of Mexican
        economic implications of immigration appear less         Americans. Whites who controlled the economy of
        than benign.”137                                         the Southwest pressed for low-wage labor without
           Capitalism-generated competition between im-          the expense of public education. Schooling was
        migrants and less skilled native-born workers has        typically minimal. Before World War II, Mexican
        the potential to generate recurring conflict, but so     American schoolchildren from Texas to California
        does general political competition between larger        were often racially segregated. However, as a rule,
        groups of Latinos and African Americans. In Dallas,      Mexican Americans were segregated by local laws
        for example, a struggle between the two groups over      or by informally gerrymandered school district
        who should become school superintendent was re-          lines rather than by state law. Extensive white-
        solved by the appointment of a black Puerto Rican        generated discrimination in housing reinforced
        candidate. Substantial conflicts between Latino and      school segregation.141
        black groups related to elections in Miami, public
        housing in Chicago, and school and hospital hir-
        ing in Los Angeles have occurred. Typically, the         Recurring Education Problems
        issues involve a growing Latino population that          After World War II, many communities began to
        has not achieved full representation in public jobs      demand changes. A major conference in 1946 called
        and elected positions, which are often held by black     for an end to segregation, the adoption of a Mexican-
        urbanites.138                                            oriented curriculum, better teacher training, and
           White-controlled mass media tend to focus on          improved school facilities. In Méndez v. Westminster
        conflict and neglect cooperation, which is more          (1946), a federal judge ruled that segregation of

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                                                                                CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans          233

            children in “Mexican schools” in California violated      A spokesperson for the National Council of La Raza
            the Fourteenth Amendment because these children           has explained, “. . . Latinos are highly concentrated
            were separated on the basis of their surnames. The        in schools that don’t have the requirements that
            educational theory expressed in the Méndez case an-       research has shown are necessary for a quality
            ticipated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v.          education—small schools, small classes, qualified
            Board of Education almost a decade later. After           teachers, decent facilities, quality curriculum, high
            Méndez, California laws allowing segregation were         expectations.”145
            repealed.142                                                 Significantly, from its colonial beginning, the
               For decades, some schools with high percentages        United States has been a land of many languages.
            of Mexican American students prohibited all man-          In the eighteenth century the Articles of Confedera-
            ifestations of Mexican American subculture.               tion were officially published in English, German,
            Teachers’ classroom behavior, which has a strong          and French. California’s first constitution (1849),
            relationship to student achievement, often down-          published in Spanish and English, provided that “all
            graded the children’s heritage. Teachers often an-        laws, decrees, regulations, and provisions” be printed
            glicized children’s names (for instance, Roberto          in both languages. New Mexico’s laws were pub-
            became Bobby). One 1960s study found that the             lished in Spanish and English from the time this area
            average teacher praised white children more often         became a U.S. territory through the first forty years of
            than Mexican American children, questioned                statehood, until—under nativist pressure—languages
            them more often, and used their ideas more often.         other than English were labeled “foreign.”146
            Mexican American children were overrepresented               When placed in English-only classrooms, chil-
            in classes for the mentally retarded. Most in these       dren with limited English proficiency frequently
            classes were only “six-hour retarded” children—           become discouraged, develop low self-confidence,
            capable of functioning well in the outside world yet      and fail to keep pace with their native-English-
            mislabeled largely as a result of in-school discrimi-     speaking peers. Many Latino students today face
            nation and poor testing. Tests of children were (and      such a situation. For this reason, effective bilingual
            often still are) usually conducted in English.143         programs remain important. Although the Elemen-
                                                                      tary and Secondary Education Act (1968) estab-
                                                                      lished a way for the federal government to fund
            Current Education Issues: Segregation
                                                                      bilingual programs in schools to meet the needs of
            and Bilingualism                                          language-minority children, by 1973 no southwest-
            Although certain discriminatory practices, such as        ern state had taken more than a few token steps.
            disproportionate placement in classes for the “men-       The Supreme Court decision in Lau v. Nichols
            tally retarded,” had been eliminated from most            (1974), which established a child’s ability to un-
            schools by the 1980s, some discrimination has re-         derstand classroom instruction as a civil right,
            mained. In the 2000s, public schools still place too      made it illegal for school systems to ignore English-
            many Mexican American children in learning-               language problems of language-minority groups.
            disabled classes, school textbooks still neglect          For a time, federal programs provided substantial
            Mexican American history, and de facto racial segre-      funding for local school district programs to in-
            gation persists. Recent research by the Civil Rights      crease the English proficiency of children whose
            Project of Harvard University found that intense          primary language is not English. Yet, apart from
            segregation for Latino students is greater today than     some stellar programs in schools with sensitive
            at the beginning of the civil rights revolution more      principals in scattered school systems, the overall
            than thirty years ago. In 1968 some 23 percent of         picture is now one of decline, backtracking, and
            Latino students attended intensely segregated             organized opposition. A majority of voters in
            schools (minority enrollment of 90 percent or more);      California, Massachusetts, and Arizona voted in
            recent data indicate that at least 39 percent of Latino   recent years to eliminate bilingual education,
            students (including those in the Southwest) attend        while one state’s voters (Colorado) voted against
            such highly segregated schools. In addition, the study    ending programs. Forced immersion into English,
            reports that most of the segregated schools have high     regardless of the effect on immigrant children, is
            concentrations of children from low-income families.144   the view of a non-Latino majority in many areas.147

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        234       PA RT I I     A Nation of Immigrants

        One researcher has summed up the bleak trends               of European Americans. This is in part because of the
        this way:                                                   recent large-scale infusion of poorly educated immi-
                                                                    grants. Today a majority of foreign-born Mexican
           Bilingual educators find themselves increasingly         American adults are not high school graduates. In
           isolated and hard-pressed to resist attacks. [Limited-
                                                                    addition, economic and other pressures generate a
           English-proficient] students have fewer options, as
           many school districts limit access to native-language
                                                                    high dropout rate. Recent research by the UCLA
           instruction and others convert to English-only mod-      Chicano Studies Research Center has found that for
           els altogether. The nation’s 30-year experiment with     every one hundred Mexican American students be-
           bilingual education, despite its success in many         ginning first grade, less than half (forty-six) become
           schools and its benefits to many children, is branded    high school graduates, only eight graduate from col-
           a failure in the public mind.148                         lege, and only two secure a graduate or profession-
                                                                    al degree. For whites the figures are much higher,
           One stubborn myth about bilingual instructions,
                                                                    with eighty-four of one hundred graduating from
        of ten propagated by nativist organizations, is that
                                                                    high school, twenty-six from college, and ten getting
        there is no research evidence that bilingual programs
                                                                    a graduate or professional degree. The educational
        are effective. Yet, numerous research studies show
                                                                    levels of the Mexican-origin population today not
        that well-crafted and adequately funded bilingual
                                                                    only show evidence of decades of limited economic
        programs are successful. Effective bilingual pro-
                                                                    and educational opportunities, often because of overt
        grams do not create or foster ethnic enclaves. Today,
                                                                    discrimination, but also indicate the recent large-scale
        Latino immigrants and their children, including
                                                                    immigration of many less educated immigrants.151
        those in bilingual programs, are generally learning
                                                                    Limited education contributes to the wide income
        English much faster than earlier European immi-
                                                                    gap between Mexican American and white workers.
                                                                    “It’s a vicious circle. This wage differential makes it so
                                                                    everyone in the family has to work, which is one of
        Educational Achievement and                                 the biggest reasons for the [school] dropout rate.”152
        Continuing Problems                                            The dropout rate—some call it the pushout rate—
        In 1950 more than half of Mexican American adults           for Mexican American students in public schools re-
        had less than a sixth-grade education, and fewer            mains high. Variations in reporting methods for
        than 8 percent were high school graduates. By 2000          dropout rates and the fact that students drop in and
        about half were high-school graduates and almost            out of school make it impossible to arrive at an exact
        7 percent had at least a college degree. However,           figure, but estimates for all Latino groups combined
        Mexican Americans currently have the lowest levels          range from two times to three times that of non-
        of education of any major U.S. group. Table 8.5             Latinos, and Mexican Americans rank at the high
        compares the educational attainment in 2004 of              end among Latino groups. Poverty and the need to
        Mexican-origin, mainland Puerto Rican, Cuban-               earn money to help support their families are obsta-
        origin, and European-origin adults over twenty-four         cles. Nonetheless, a few schools have increased grad-
        years of age.150                                            uation rates significantly by providing programs to
           Mexican Americans’ educational attainment is the         address such student concerns as jobs, substance
        lowest of the three Latino groups and lower than that       abuse, and teen parenthood.153

         TABLE 8.5            Educational Attainment, 2004 (Percentages at Selected Levels by Racial
                              or Ethnic Group)

                                                          Mexican           Puerto            Cuban           European
                                                           Origin           Rican             Origin           Origin
              Less than 9th grade                           29.8%            11.0%             19.5%              6.7%
              High school graduate or more                  51.9             71.8              72.1              93.3
              Bachelor’s degree or more                      7.9             14.1              24.0              34.5

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                                                                               CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans          235

               In the late 1980s, researchers Harriet Romo and       color, Catherine Walsh argues that attributing school
            Toni Falbo began tracking a group of one hundred         problems to alleged individual or cultural inadequa-
            Mexican American high school sophomores at high          cies is blaming the victim. Blaming the incompatibil-
            risk of dropping out. Within two years, 40 percent       ities arising from the cultural differences between
            had dropped out. Many who graduated did so with          Latino students and the white-dominated educational
            the help of special programs, and their skills were      system on the victims is to overlook the historical and
            often scarcely better than those of the students who     ongoing sociological significance of these differences.
            dropped out. Interviews with the students revealed       That all culturally different students do not perform
            that their school experience had been demeaning          equally poorly in school points to the relevance of
            and demoralizing. Some expressed the feeling that        additional factors. The problem is one of unequal
            someone was “always on my back.” Many students           power. To locate the root of school problems, one
            felt they were better off after they left school.154     must look to the character of the Eurocentric school
               Nonetheless, education was highly valued by both      system, not to the student. For example, the main-
            the students and their families; the anguish of school   stream curriculum is built on the dominant northern
            failure was keenly felt. “School failure involves        European culture and the centrality of English, and
            threats to the self-esteem of the students as well as    usually equates individual and group success with
            the status of the family and results in complex intra-   the adoption of that dominant culture and language.
            family tensions and conflicts . . . . After a student    Mexican American history, culture, language, and life
            dropped out, parents felt devastated and angry.”155      experiences are typically ignored. The dominant
            In most families, mothers were primarily responsi-       white group generally controls the structure of pub-
            ble for children’s education. The mothers derived        lic schools and tends to view Latino cultures as neg-
            much of their own sense of self from the successes of    ative environments from which students need to
            children and tended to blame themselves, or felt that    escape. Walsh suggests that poor school performance
            school personnel blamed them, for their children’s       is often a response to alienating and oppressive con-
            failures. These mothers’ strategies for helping their    ditions that have robbed students of identity, dignity,
            children stay in school involved giving encourage-       and voice. Learning or not learning can thus be a po-
            ment and pointing to individual models of success.       litical statement. Lack of school funding and resources
            They reported experiencing frustration over the          are also major factors. Other recent research has
            school’s unwillingness or inability to provide help      shown that Mexican American and other Latino high
            and sometimes encountered hostility from teachers,       school students are far more likely than white students
            counselors, or administrators.                           to attend very large public high schools, to be in class-
               Mexican American parents and children value ed-       rooms with a high student–teacher ratio, and to be in
            ucation highly. One 2004 survey of Latinos, a major-     schools with large numbers of students from low-in-
            ity of whom are Mexican American, found that nine        come families. These very large public schools in cities
            out of ten thought it was very important for Latino      tend to have much less in the way of teaching and
            children to get a college education. Three-quarters of   learning resources than those attended by whites in
            these thought that the government was spending           suburban areas.158
            too little on education and that an equal amount of          Including the Spanish language and Mexican
            money should be spent on schoolchildren no matter        American culture in the classroom, involving the
            how affluent or poor their school districts are.156      students’ parents in the learning process, and in-
            Ethnographic research has also shown that immi-          creasing meaningful interaction between students
            grant families are very interested in education for      and teachers are important steps toward improving
            children, although they frequently have little knowl-    public education. In addition, from the Walsh per-
            edge about how to become involved in U.S. schools.       spective, the severe imbalance of power and author-
            This research also shows that public school admin-       ity in public school systems must be corrected in
            istrators in the United States typically make little     order for Mexican American students to be accord-
            effort to involve immigrant parents with their chil-     ed respect and the possibility of establishing a pos-
            dren’s education in a meaningful way.157                 itive identity in schools.
               In a critique of the major explanations offered for       Once in college settings, moreover, Mexican
            the poor school performance by many students of          Americans and other Latinos still face much

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        236       PA RT I I    A Nation of Immigrants

        discrimination and a threat to self-esteem and pos-            including discrimination within the church. How-
        itive identity. Thus, recent research involving inter-         ever, by the 1950s some non-Mexican priests began
        views with middle-class Mexican Americans reveals              to take an active role in community protests and
        this subtle and blatant discrimination. In one ac-             union activities to benefit Mexican Americans. In the
        count from a recent study by Cobas and Feagin, a               1960s, War on Poverty programs were operated in
        professional woman reports that a white professor              connection with church projects, and a number of
                                                                       groups were formed to protest urban poverty.
           in college refused to believe that I had written an         Initially, Catholic officials prohibited priests from
           essay. . . because she assumed that Mexicans don’t
                                                                       participating in these programs and protests, though
           write very well and so therefore I couldn’t have
           written this paper. . . . And so she asked that I write
                                                                       later a few high Catholic officials supported Mexican
           it over again . . . . I rewrote the assignment and she      American protests and unionization. In addition,
           still didn’t believe that it was my own . . . . She still   the U.S. Catholic hierarchy has sometimes actively
           refused to believe that it was my handwriting or my         discriminated against Mexican Americans. Very few
           writing because she still felt that Mexicans could          Mexican Americans achieved positions of respon-
           not express themselves well in English.159                  sibility before the 1960s. The first Mexican American
                                                                       bishop was designated, in San Antonio, only in
        Here a well-educated white instructor, apparently
                                                                       1970. By the mid-1990s, twenty-two of several hun-
        with a head filled with Mexican stereotypes, used
                                                                       dred bishops in the United States were Mexican
        her power to discriminate twice against a talented
        Mexican American college student. Such occurrences
                                                                          In recent decades, the church’s influence on sec-
        are often reported by Latino and black students in
                                                                       ular issues appears to be waning in many Mexican
        colleges across the country, and have a negative
                                                                       American communities; rejection of the church
        effect on self-esteem and thus on learning for
                                                                       position on issues such as abortion and birth control
        success in society.
                                                                       has been widespread. Morever, other changes are
                                                                       evident. Many dioceses require priests to study
        Religion                                                       Spanish, and there is a growing Mexican American
                                                                       and other Latino lay leadership in many areas.
        Historically, most Mexican Americans have been                 Celebrations of the feast day of Our Lady of
        Roman Catholics, yet many of the formal doctrines              Guadalupe are still popular in Mexican American
        of the Catholic church are not now major factors in            communities. In many areas the Catholic church
        the lives of Mexican Americans. What has been                  still creates a central place for Sunday mass and
        termed “popular Catholicism,” a blend of formal                Latino holiday celebrations and community gath-
        Catholicism and popular beliefs and rituals, has               erings. In response to rapidly growing numbers of
        played a more important role. Indeed, a current con-           Spanish-speaking parishioners, many older Cat-
        cern among numerous Latino theologians and their               holic parishes in major cities have reoriented at least
        allies is that the U.S. Catholic Church does not take          some of their services and programs to the needs of
        seriously enough these popular religious practices             Mexican American and other Latino members. Nu-
        and does not “endorse their inclusion into the offi-           merous new churches have been established in
        cial and often traditional teachings of the Church.”           areas where Mexican immigration has been sub-
        A key feature of the popular religion has been an              stantial, including the suburbs. In cities such as
        emphasis on miracles and on the maternal, and                  Chicago, where a substantial proportion of the met-
        family aspects of Christianity, including an accent            ropolitan area is now Latino, there has been a large-
        on the Virgin Mary and Our Lady of Guadalupe.160               scale movement of Latinos (Mexican American,
            Many Mexican immigrants and their children                 Puerto Rican, and other groups) out from central
        have not been prepared for a U.S. Catholic church that         city areas to inner suburbs, a process that has re-
        is generally dominated by European American priests            sulted in a significant expansion of Catholic
        and officials. Indeed, before 1940 the European-               services, and construction of buildings, in these sub-
        oriented Church often provided little sustenance to a          urban areas. In these suburban areas, Mexican
        Mexican American population troubled by significant            Americans continue to practice an often distinctive
        poverty and racial discrimination, sometimes                   version of Catholicism.162

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                                                                                CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans         237

               Recent research on large Mexican American pop-         primarily involves adjustment to English and to con-
            ulations across the country demonstrates a signifi-       ventional U.S. norms in public settings. Religious
            cant decline in identification with the Catholic          and other home-country values are less affected;
            Church. Whereas 81 percent of first-generation Mex-       respect for Mexico remains strong. Later genera-
            ican American respondents in San Antonio and Los          tions, however, have experienced increased cultur-
            Angeles identified themselves as Catholic, only 57        al adaptation as well as significant structural
            percent of the fourth-generation Mexican American         assimilation into the U.S. economy. Urbanization
            respondents did likewise.163 One reason for this          and increased incomes have made possible separate
            decline is that many Mexican Americans and other          residences for nuclear families, and the number of
            Latinos have converted to Protestant, particularly        traditional large and extended families in urban
            evangelical, denominations that increasingly wel-         areas has declined. Seen from this assimilation per-
            come Mexican Americans, and make them feel, as            spective, Mexican American fertility and family val-
            one put it, like “part of a family.” Some scholars thus   ues, as well as their sociopolitical views, are now
            argue that the evangelical churches help Mexican          often, though not always, similar to those professed
            Americans to move away from a more hierarchical           by a majority of whites.166
            Catholic church and way of thinking to a religious           However, a substantial degree of Mexican cultur-
            perspective that better fits in with the intensely com-   al heritage persists. Most Mexican Americans and
            petitive individualism of U.S. society.164                other Latinos see no problem in adopting many
                                                                      aspects of the dominant culture, yet seek to preserve
                                                                      key elements of their own cultural background as
            Assimilation or Internal
            An assimilation perspective is implicit or explicit in
            much research on Mexican Americans. In addition,
            some media and political commentators have ar-
            gued that, except for the recent immigrants, Mexican
            Americans are gradually becoming assimilated to
            the U.S. core culture and society. Assimilationists
            argue optimistically that Mexican Americans are
            moving up the mobility ladder like earlier European
            ethnic groups, and thus are proceeding slowly but
            surely into the U.S. mainstream at all assimilation
            levels described by Milton Gordon. Reviewing the
            situation of Mexican Americans and other Latinos
            today, one recent article in The Economist concluded
            that “most of the evidence suggests that the latest
            immigrants are bedding in at least as quickly as their
            predecessors” and cites Latino rates of home owner-
            ship, intermarriage, and gaining citizenship as
               An assimilation theorist might emphasize that
            only 100,000 Mexicans were initially brought in by
            U.S. military conquest. Most have arrived later as
            voluntary immigrants and have generally been able
            to improve their economic circumstances relative to
            people in Mexico. Aspects of traditional culture have
            begun to disappear as acculturation, a key stage in
            assimilation, has proceeded. Cultural assimilation
            for the first generation, the Mexican immigrants,         Mexican Americans celebrate Mexican Independence Day.

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        238      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        well. Spanish remains part of a pattern of               on information about what happens to individual
        bilingualism, the ability to speak two languages, for    immigrants after entry and about what happens to
        many families into at least the second generation.       their children, we find in the data examined here
        Surveys in Los Angeles and San Antonio have found        that many are undergoing changes that knit them
        that most Mexican Americans wish their children to       more closely into the political and economic fabric of
        retain some ties to Mexican culture, particularly to     the country.” They make active efforts to become ac-
        language, customs, and religion.167 Still, most immi-    culturated and to move toward citizenship. Even
        grant parents and their children recognize the clear     undocumented immigrants are often incorporating
        social and economic advantages of learning English.      themselves by trying to secure legal permanent-
        Recent research reports indicate that 97 percent of      resident status and pressing hard for educational ad-
        Latinos surveyed think the ability to speak English      vances for their children. However, half the Latino
        is essential to success in the United States, and 84     foreign-born population is now undocumented;
        percent think government programs to teach English       their ability to move up the socioeconomic ladder is
        to immigrants should be expanded. Majorities indi-       limited unless they can convert to legal status, which
        cate that immigrants must learn English to consid-       is difficult to secure under U.S. law. Given that real-
        er themselves a serious “part of American society.”      ity, Mexican American mobility will not likely be the
        Recent research indicates that most Mexican Amer-        same as for earlier white ethnic immigrants.170
        icans use English every day after they have lived in         Structural assimilation, especially upward mobil-
        the United States for a decade or so, and that by the    ity, at the economic level has come slowly even for
        third generation English is the dominant or only lan-    many in the second and third generations of Mexi-
        guage used by most Mexican Americans (and most           can Americans. Discrimination and the concentra-
        other Latino groups). By the fourth generation Span-     tion of many workers at lower wage levels persist.
        ish is not spoken by 95 percent of Mexican Ameri-        Mexican Americans’ limited participation in politi-
        cans to their children.168                               cal institutions has also been problematical, although
           One U.S. problem is structural, for private and       recent progress can be seen. Registration efforts such
        public organizations do not now provide enough           as that of the Southwest Voter Registration Project
        language training. Research by the National Asso-        and the success of court cases stipulating the more
        ciation of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials        democratic single-member districts have increased
        (NALEO) examined 184 organizations that provide          Mexican American voter strength in some areas.
        English-language training in sixteen states. More            Behavior-receptional assimilation and attitude-
        than half had waiting lists, some involving many         receptional assimilation have varied considerably
        years of waiting. Numerous programs had a “de-           within the Mexican American group and over time.
        creased quality of instruction, from overwhelmed         Widespread prejudice and severe discrimination
        teachers, inadequate facilities and materials, to the    faced the Mexicans who were conquered during
        inability to publicize services.” In addition, most      nineteenth-century U.S. expansion, as well as later
        classes were for beginning students, making it diffi-    Mexican immigrants. Over time, however, many
        cult for immigrants to move beyond elemenatry            lighter-skinned Mexican Americans, especially in
        English.169                                              larger cities, often faced somewhat less prejudice
           Widespread use of English among immigrants            and discrimination. In contrast, darker-skinned
        and their children underscores how wrong-headed          Mexican Americans, like African Americans, have
        xenophobic calls for English-only laws and school        often been treated in discriminatory ways by whites.
        policies are. In general, Latino immigrants are learn-   Today, considerable prejudice and discrimination
        ing English somewhat faster than their European im-      are still directed against Mexican Americans in many
        migrant predecessors. (In addition, we might note        parts of the United States. Many Anglos still view
        that it would be advantageous for most Americans         Mexican Americans as an “inferior race” based pri-
        to be bilingual.) A mid-2000s review of the literature   marily on certain physical features seen as typical
        on several generations of Mexican Americans con-         of the group.171 Thus, two-thirds of the Mexican
        cluded that the fears of nativist commentators such      American youth in one 1990s California survey re-
        as Samuel Huntington about the unassimilability of       ported that they had personally faced discrimina-
        Mexican immigrants is much too pessimistic: “Based       tion. More than 80 percent said there was racial

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                                                                               CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans        239

            discrimination against U.S. Latinos. More recently,       about such naming and/or identity within an ever
            mid-2000s interviews with middle-class Mexican            more multicultural and multiracial United States. A
            Americans similarly found an array of types of dis-       study of second-generation Mexican Americans
            crimination still confronting them in daily contacts      found that those who were Mexican-born preferred
            with white Americans.172                                  “Mexican”; the U.S.-born preferred “Mexican Amer-
                                                                      ican,” “Latino,” or “Hispanic.”175 In a recent survey,
                                                                      moreover, some 69 percent of Hispanic adult respon-
            The Limits and Pacing of Assimilation                     dents reported that they were more Hispanic than
            Neither structural assimilation at the primary-group      American, while 26 percent said they were equally
            level nor marital assimilation, to use Gordon’s terms,    Hispanic and American, and 5 percent said they
            have over recent decades yet reached a high level         were more American than Hispanic. Interestingly,
            for Mexican Americans, though assimilation in other       when asked what of Hispanic culture and tradition
            areas is proceeding rapidly.                              was most important to preserve, 56 percent stressed
               Studies in the 1970s reported some increases in        strong family values. The importance of the Spanish
            intergroup friendship contacts, particularly for Mex-     language was stressed by 54 percent, while respect
            ican American children in desegregated environ-           for parents and elders was emphasized by 47 percent.
            ments, although most still had predominantly              Two of these three top preservation concerns fit well
            Mexican American friends. Later on, in a 1990s sur-       with traditional family values emphasized in the
            vey, the vast majority of Latinos in predominantly        dominant Anglo culture.176
            Mexican American areas of the country reported that          Racial and ethnic identification varies with class,
            their close friends (as well as their neighborhoods)      age, and experience, and with whether it is self-
            were Latino. The majority of marriages are still with-    defined or imposed. Research at the University of
            in the Mexican American group. In the early 1900s,        California has found that numerous Mexican Ameri-
            fewer than 10 percent of Spanish-surname individ-         can undergraduates there had been sheltered by par-
            uals married outside the group. By the mid-1990s          ents who encouraged them to view themselves as
            about 10 percent of first-generation Latinos were         more or less “white” and/or to assimilate fully to
            intermarried, compared with second- and third-            Anglo-American ways. As a result, these students
            generation percentages being at least double that         often experienced shock upon arrival at a campus
            percentage.173 The current rate of out-marriage           where they were considered by others to be “Mexi-
            appears to be growing and is higher for younger           can” or “Mexican American,” and/or as part of a dis-
            generations. One recent large-scale study of Mexi-        tinctive racial group.177 The campus experience
            can Americans in Los Angeles and San Antonio              brought them out of sheltered families and into a
            found that 9 percent of the first generation had out-     highly racialized society in which whites still mostly
            married, but that percentage increased gradually to       dominate how racial or ethnic identities are imposed.
            29 percent for the fourth generation, a figure well          Structural socioeconomic incorporation has its
            below that for white ethnic groups such as Italian        limits as well. Ease of movement and incorporation
            and Irish Americans. Note too that those increasing       into white-controlled institutions often varies with
            numbers who are intermarrying with whites, or who         perceived class and skin color. Middle-class profes-
            are the children of parents who intermarried, often       sionals often face fewer overt racial barriers from
            find themselves in a dilemma. Some opt to pass as         whites than members of the working class, although
            “white,” if they can, yet this often means that they      they still do face much subtle and covert discrimina-
            have to break ties to family members who are not          tion. Sociologist Edward Murguía and others have
            light-skinned and that they must also live in fear of     argued that today Anglos often allow lighter-
            being discovered in a European American world.174         skinned, middle-class Mexican Americans to fit in
               Significant numbers of Mexican Americans               to some degree in historically white institutions.
            demonstrate movement toward identificational as-          Murguía and colleagues have also argued that the
            similation. Today, the diversity of self-identification   “presentation” of a person that gets them defined
            labels used by persons with ties to Mexico—desig-         for negative or positive treatment, as a member of a
            nations such as Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, and            distinctive social group, often includes more than
            Mexican American—indicates a diversity of opinion         skin color, such as other physical characteristics

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        240      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        (facial features, hair, height), as well as often associ-   advertising to Latinos and by featuring more Latino
        ated sociocultural characteristics such as clothing,        actors in movies and on television. Recognition of
        language accent, or name.178                                the changing character of the consumer market has
           Today, as long as there are major immigration            also prompted major corporations to recruit bilin-
        streams from Mexico into Mexican American com-              gual employees. Some observers have even spoken,
        munities, traditional assimilation will probably be         usually in exaggerated ways, of these modest
        slowed, on some but not all major dimensions. The           changes as the “Hispanicizing of America.”180
        movement of significant numbers of immigrants
        into established communities perpetuates signifi-
        cant aspects of traditional Mexican culture, supports       Applying a Power-Conflict Perspective
        much in-group marriage, and encourages respect              Power-conflict analysts focus on the extent to which
        for, and maintenance of, the Spanish language.              many Mexican Americans have not moved toward
        Immigrants also create a constant stream of new             speedy incorporation into the dominant culture and
        customers and workers for Mexican American busi-            its institutions because of external discrimination
        nesses, thereby stimulating the growth of an enclave        and other persisting oppression. For example,
        economy. Immigrants from Mexico, as well as those           significant economic assimilation and political
        from Central and South America, have furnished              assimilation into the higher levels of this society are
        both the means and the reason for the growth of var-        not yet part of the societal reality for Mexican
        ious enterprises, such as authentic Mexican-cuisine         Americans.
        restaurants, spiritualist healing centers, and Spanish-        Internal colonialism analysts note that Mexican
        language media.                                             American history began with whites’ ruthless con-
           Many Mexican Americans and other Latinos are             quest of northern Mexico between 1836 and 1853.
        interested in developing or viewing their own mass          This conquest created a colonial situation for early
        media, including magazines, radio, and television.          Mexicans, whose land and labor were brought into
        Latinos are the country’s fastest-growing television        the United States by force. Parallels can be seen be-
        audience in the 2000s, and much of this audience is         tween their experience and that of externally colo-
        watching Spanish-language networks—Univision                nized populations: Land is taken by military force,
        Television Network and Telemundo Network                    the indigenous population is subjugated, the indi-
        Group—both of which have been acquired in recent            genous culture is suppressed, and the colonizing
        years by Anglo-controlled firms. In some cities, tele-      power favors a small elite to help maintain its eco-
        vision stations affiliated with these networks have         nomic and political domination.181
        more viewers than major English-language stations.             One problem in applying a traditional colonial-
        Spanish-language networks show programs from                ism perspective to Mexican Americans is that most
        numerous Latin American countries and provide               have entered as voluntary immigrants after the ini-
        much more coverage of Latin America and U.S. Lati-          tial conquest. Thus, internal colonialism analysts
        nos than English-language stations. Today, Spanish-         have focused on important differences between
        language networks are under some pressure to hire           these Mexican immigrants and their European
        more darker-skinned Latinos and to focus even more          predecessors. Mexican migrants have not come into
        on issues of particular interest to U.S. Latinos.179        a new environment; people of their background
           Is the core culture itself responding to the grow-       have long been in what is now the southwestern
        ing Latino population? Some of the larger society’s         United States. Socially and culturally, they have
        adaptations to the growing Latino population are            moved within one geographical area, all of which
        relatively modest or superficial, such as the prolifer-     was originally Mexico. Relatively little time is usually
        ating Mexican food outlets and listening to Latino          required to move back and forth across the border
        music. Other societal adaptations, such as bilingual        (though this is becoming more difficult)—in sharp
        education and Spanish-language ballots and Internal         contrast with the travel time historically required of
        Revenue Service forms, represent a recognition of           most European immigrants.182
        the reality of a different culture. In the twenty-first        The most significant difference between the
        century the mainstream media are also paying much           Mexican and European immigrant experience lies
        more attention to Latino consumers, by selective            in the intensive discrimination and great cultural

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                                                                                 CHAPTER 8       Mexican Americans          241

            subordination that later Mexican immigrants en-            from those Anglo whites who do not. While Mexican
            countered in the United States. “The colonial pat-         American workers generally share a similar class
            tern of Euro-American domination over the Mexican          position with ordinary white workers, in that both
            people was set by 1848 and carried over to those           are struggling against employers for better wages
            Mexicans who came later to the Southwest.”183 From         and working conditions, the former are in a subor-
            the beginning to the present, the Mexican American         dinate economic position within the working class
            experience has been different from that of European        because of structural discrimination along racial
            immigrant groups, whose level of residential and           lines. The dimensions of this discrimination include
            school segregation has generally declined sharply          lower wages for similar work and concentration in
            with length of residence in the United States. Mexi-       lower-wage occupations.185
            can Americans have been racially subordinated and             Internal colonialism analysts argue that white em-
            intentionally segregated to a far greater extent and       ployers have intentionally created a split labor mar-
            over a longer period of time than European immi-           ket from which they have received enormous profits;
            grant groups.                                              they have fostered distrust within the working class
                Mexican immigrants have entered an environ-            by focusing the attention of many white workers on
            ment in which their progress and mobility have gen-        Latinos and other racially oppressed workers as a
            erally been limited by low wages, inferior schools,        threat to white jobs. Given the dual-market segmen-
            and various types of racialized discrimination. In-        tation of the labor force by employers, many white
            tense societal pressure and even coercion have his-        workers have periodically tried to solidify their
            torically been used to acculturate Mexican American        positions and work in various ways, including
            schoolchildren and adults to the Anglo core culture.       through unions, to restrict or bar workers of color
            John Ogbu has suggested that the rejection of pub-         from better jobs.
            lic education by some Mexican American youth is a             Power-conflict analysts emphasize the continu-
            reaction to their enforced and colonized status.184        ing reality that the majority of white Americans still
            Racial stereotyping, especially of darker-skinned          see Mexican Americans as not white and as an
            Mexican Americans, has helped preserve the U.S.            inferior racial group distinguishable by both physical
            racial hierarchy and its white racial framing. Land        characteristics and culture. Given this racialized
            theft and the exploitation of Mexican American labor       reality, Mexican Americans could not be fully assim-
            have long been justified by theories of biological and     ilated into the institutions of U.S. society even if they
            cultural inferiority. Mexican immigrants have been         were to abandon entirely their cultural heritage and
            forcefully subordinated by means of rigorous Border        Spanish surnames. Even most of those who are light
            Patrol searches and the deportation of those immi-         enough to pass visually as white are not likely to
            grants (and sometimes citizens) whom authorities           abandon their families and relatives or give up their
            deemed unworthy. Residential segregation has often         cultural heritage, whereas the latter heritage often
            reflected racial discrimination. Indeed, much infor-       enables whites to distinguish them for continuing
            mal discrimination against Mexican Americans in            individual discrimination.186
            employment and housing persists today. Whites                 Assimilation analysts have questioned the extent
            have gained substantial psychological as well as eco-      of Mexican American identification with assertive
            nomic benefits from long decades of discrimination         social movements. Sociologist Nathan Glazer once
            against Mexican Americans.                                 characterized the assertive Chicano movement of
                As we discussed in Chapter 2, Mario Barrera an-        the 1960s as having only “extreme views espoused
            alyzes the Mexican American experience using an            by a minority for a short period.”187 However, at the
            internal colonialism model emphasizing institution-        time a majority of younger Mexican Americans sup-
            alized racism and exploitative capitalism in the           ported much of the assertive Chicano perspective,
            shaping of past and present racial inequalities. Each      and many in older generations were quietly sup-
            of the major classes of capitalism, the capitalist class   portive of goals to accent the Mexican heritage and
            and the working class, contains segments defined           end discrimination. Indeed, since the 1960s the per-
            by racial characteristics. Each class is divided by a      spectives and actions of political and union activists,
            racial line that separates those who suffer institu-       such as those involved in recent Justice for Janitors
            tionalized discrimination, such as Mexican Americans,      organizing in several cities, have reflected themes

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        242      PA RT I I   A Nation of Immigrants

        rooted deeply in the Mexican historical heritage and     which now have a global circulation. Such views
        garnered the support of a great many Mexican             make coalitions with African Americans more diffi-
        Americans.                                               cult. Most immigrants to the United States feel enor-
           Still, as historian Rodolfo Acuña has noted,          mous pressure to conform to the dominant white
        Mexican Americans and other Latinos feel great           views on racial issues.
        pressure to see whiteness, and things white, as best.       To make matters even more complicated, some
        In the past, Mexican American organizations, such        native-born Mexican Americans feel that recent
        as the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC)         Mexican immigrants jeopardize the status of estab-
        pressing lawsuits against segregation in the 1930s,      lished Mexican Americans in U.S. society because
        argued that the U.S. census takers should classify       whites constantly link them to the immigrants. As
        Mexican Americans as “white.” By insisting they          one recent study of tensions between the native-born
        were “white,” some Mexican Americans have tried          and recent immigrants in California put it, “Realiz-
        to overcome extensive racial segregation by whites       ing that members of the dominant society may not
        (who have generally seen them as an “inferior race”)     differentiate among the heterogeneous Mexican-
        that they faced in the Southwest, especially from the    origin community. . . [some] distance themselves spa-
        1930s to the 1960s. Today, some Mexican Americans        tially, socially, and culturally from immigrants.”191
        still insist they are partly or wholly “white” (or
        “Spanish”). Many adults will comment unfavorably
        on the dark skin of a newborn child or play down         A Pan-Latino Identity
        their Indian and African backgrounds. In an effort to    Continuing anti-Latino discrimination across the
        position their group closer to whites, they may also     society has led many Mexican Americans and others
        articulate anti-immigrant or antiblack attitudes. As     to adopt a broader Hispanic or Latino identity in
        Acuña notes, “the acceptance and internalization of      efforts to be “real authentic Americans with dignity.
        the dominant society’s racism by Mexicans and            They are beginning to embrace the new and less pre-
        Latinos is irrational and produces a false conscious-    cise categories of Hispanic or Latino so that they can
        ness. For instance, it is not uncommon for first-year    be part of a larger and more influential group. . . 192
        Chicano university students to talk about reverse        Power-conflict analysts see the possibility of decreas-
        racism toward whites or express anti-immigrant           ing oppression and of an improved economic, po-
        sentiments.”188                                          litical, and cultural situation in pan-Latino
           Indeed, many Latino immigrants come to the            organizations and their periodic protests against dis-
        United States with some aspects of the white racial      crimination.
        frame already in their heads, such as racially stereo-       The collective Latino/Hispanic consciousness has
        typed attitudes directed against African Americans,      developed since the 1960s and unites people with such
        even though they have met no (or few) African            diverse national-origin identities as Mexican Ameri-
        Americans. Based on interviews with Latino immi-         can, Cuban American, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran,
        grants, one Mexican American scholar has explained       Nicaraguan, and Dominican. Since that era, for exam-
        that negative views of black Americans are created       ple, many Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans have
        by the U.S. media south of the border: “I have trav-     to a significant degree transcended old identities and
        eled to Guatemala and have seen theaters showing         adopted the collective identity of Latino/Hispanic,
        the same violent, racist movies we show here. When       while in some important ways still asserting their
        I asked one migrant in Houston why some migrants         national-origin identities. In numerous U.S. towns and
        have antiblack attitudes, he responded that they first   cities, this pan-Latino process has emerged as a polit-
        learn about blacks from U.S. movies.”189 Similarly, a    ical strategy to accomplish political goals shared by
        research study of foreign-born and U.S.-born Lati-       the component groups. The discrimination, imposed
        nas in Houston found that the former had more neg-       inequalities, and political opposition that Latinos have
        ative attitudes toward black Americans than did the      faced at the hands of whites have contributed to the
        latter.190 New immigrants from all parts of the globe    formation of this collective consciousness. As Félix
        often arrive with negative views of African Ameri-       Padilla has stated, “at the heart of Latino or Hispanic
        cans and other Americans of color gleaned from           ethnic identity are the circumstantial conditions of
        white-controlled U.S. mass media productions,            structural or institutional inequality.”193

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                                                                                CHAPTER 8      Mexican Americans         243

               This pan-Latino consciousness is facilitated by a         A distinctive aspect of Mexican American com-
            shared language and similar home country cultures.        munities today is the constant infusion of document-
            On a national level, and in numerous cities where         ed and undocumented workers. This immigration
            Hispanic/Latino populations contain more than one         often renews ties to Mexico, thereby undergirding
            national-origin group, the Hispanic/Latino con-           Mexican American communities and identity. The
            sciousness contributes to a broader sense of commu-       Spanish language has a much longer history in the
            nity and political solidarity and helps subgroups         United States than the languages of most white eth-
            achieve the collective strength to address local prob-    nic immigrants, and bilingualism is a facet of nu-
            lems of education, bilingualism, jobs, and discrimi-      merous U.S. communities. A significant aspect of
            nation. A “dual identity” based on both national          continuing Mexican immigration is that many who
            origin and a collective identity forged in the context    come to the United States regularly return, if they
            of broader Hispanic/Latino concerns is clearly            are not prevented by increased border barriers, to
            emerging.194                                              their home countries. Demographers estimate that a
                                                                      substantial majority of Mexican immigrants will, if
                    What are some factors generating                  not prevented, return to Mexico after a few years
                    the significant differences in poverty            working in the United States, and indeed that most
                    and family income between                         Mexicans who have ever immigrated to the United
                    European Americans and                            States are now living in Mexico.195 Historically, thus,
                    Mexican Americans?                                the Mexican migration to the United States has been
                                                                      both significant and circular.
                                                                         Close ties to the culture of the home country
                                                                      Mexico—probably the closest for any immigrant
            Summary                                                   group in U.S. history—slow certain aspects of the
                                                                      incorporation process by providing an external and
            Mexican Americans have an ancient and proud an-           supportive foundation for the home culture and
            cestry, substantially Indian with significant Spanish     social networks. Today, the dominant Eurocentric
            and African infusions. Their vital cultural back-         culture of the United States is under increasing pres-
            ground is partly Native American but heavily Span-        sure to change significantly as ever larger numbers
            ish in language and Catholic in religion. After the       of non-Europeans insist on the importance and
            European American conquest of what is now the             validity of their own cultures and experiences.
            U.S. Southwest, Mexican Americans became part of             Mexican Americans have helped to generate the
            the complex U.S. mosaic of racial and ethnic groups.      pan-Latino consciousness that ties them to other
            They have suffered racialized stereotyping similar        Latinos and contributes to a stronger sense of social
            to that of other groups of non-European ancestry,         solidarity. This consciousness is reflected in politi-
            and discrimination in the economy, education, and         cal efforts to address common problems of educa-
            politics has been part of their lot from the beginning.   tion, jobs, and discrimination. A “dual identity”
               The literature on racial and ethnic relations has      based on national origin and on a collective identi-
            often compared the situations of Mexican Americans        ty forged in the context of broader Latino issues has
            and African Americans, now the largest subordinat-        indeed emerged across the United States.
            ed groups in the United States. Both groups face sub-
            stantial prejudice and discrimination at the hands of
            whites even as we move well into the twenty-first         Key Terms
            century, especially with regard to jobs, business, and
            housing. Today, across the country, we find both          latinos 00                  maquiladoras 00
            competition and cooperation between these two             braceros 00                 Chicano political
            groups of Americans as they try to make a better          undocumented immi-          movement 00
            place for themselves in a historically racist society.    grants or illegals 00       bilingualism 00


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