Mexican Americans in America descend from people whose ancestry is Spanish and Mexican Indian. After the Spanish conquest of present-day Mexico in the early sixteenth century, Iberian males intermixed with Indian women. Therefore the cultures blended and those people of a fused heritage and culture moved Northward from Mexico and laid the foundation for what would become Mexican-American communities in the United States.
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Residence in the Far North molded a culture with discernible traits where the wilderness expand and the newly settled Mexicans strove to implant Spanish civilization and protect the region even as the royal government in Mexico city neglected them. This experience of neglect among the Mexican community, according to Weber fomented a particular regional identity that was a variant of New Spain’s culture. However isolation engendered egalitarianism and a sense of duty and particularly those living in Texas accepted a similar ethos, adapting a similar ranching culture to the new land (Leon, 1999, p. 22).
In 1800’s it was discovered that Mexican-Americans did not look kindly on soldiers and crown officials decided to reinforce those provinces where Mexicans were in majority against westering citizens.
This was an attempt from native Americans who initiated a cold battle in order to exclude Mexicans from their communities. The new military presence also sensed this and taxed the capacities of the local economy, and a streamlined with a more efficient administration produced unwanted royal decrees regulating political and economic life for Mexican-Americans (ibid). The last decades of the nineteenth century observed discrimination where racial attributes persisted in virulent forms. Racial controls and massive manhunts strated on and any injury, death or insult of a white by a Tejano invited certain wrath upon the entire Tejano community.
The early twentieth century was followed by tense nature and violent demonstrations of lynchings where incidents of burning alive Mexicans by whites were found to be compulsive actions. In 1888, Anglo communities and local law officers seemed to be loose on the border, where on other hand politics manipulated Mexican voters. There followed a general pattern of land transfer from ranches to farms across the state during the 1870s, ranching occurred in South Texas where Anglo farmers from other parts of the US began arriving in the region during the 1890s to supplant the nineteenth century ranch society (Leon, 1999, p. 52).
Sanchez (1995) points out that the first three decades of the twentieth century brought hardships for Mexican-Americans for any Mexican entering into Los Angeles was immediately struck by the sights of the natives and was dominated by several stories downtown skyline, while trolley cars and automobiles made it difficult to cross the streets safely (Sanchez, 1995, p. 87). The Mexican population started rosing dramatically while realizing that Los Angeles was an alien for the majority of Anglo American residents until 1900, where hardly one-third of the natives white population had begun life in California, which decreased to one-fourth in the censuses of 1910, 1920, and 1930.
The early twentieth century found out that everyday experiences of Mexican immigrants were shaped by widely held perceptions of treating Mexicans as foreigners, irrespective of the fact that they were new immigrants or descendants of Mexicans who had settled in the US fifteen or more generations before. Racial hierarchies discriminate and added a new dimension of complex issues that how Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans would be able to negotiate their economic, cultural, and political lives in US?
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Employers of Mexican immigrants were aware of the customarily discrimination and employed members of other racial and ethnic groups where they hired workers for specific tasks by racial, ethnic, and in many cases, gender identification. Employers used to segregate their workers along discriminatory lines while taking unnecessary advantage of Mexican workers and pitted racial and ethnic groups against one another and the language they used to describe their workers became a justification for discriminating against those of particular ethnic and racial groups (Gonzales, 1994, p. 51).
In 1927, when Zaferino Ramirez, was recognized as the first leader among the Mexican immigrants in United States, he witnessed a unique kind of discrimination according to which Americans were reacting against Mexicans to deprive Mexican residents of their land in US. The tensions were foreseen by many Mexican immigrant families among which one was Ramirez’s where part of the reason had been so active in establishing a school was that he had begun to worry when his own sons spoke English at home.
Later he realized that how Mexican-Americans are losing their cultural heritage and witnessed obvious signs of cultural adaptation, when some Anglo American supporters at the meeting counseled Belvedere’s Mexicans to apply for naturalization, Ramirez was among the first to balk at the suggestion. Legal complications arise where officials, among other municipal judges argued that those Mexican immigrants without first papers would be unable to vote against incorporation, if the issue ever appeared in an election. While Ramirez joined ‘La Opinion’, he continuously received warning from the Mexican consulate against this advice because Ramirez negated Mexican citizenship and this negation would have been a larger crime than that being perpetrated on the residents of Belvedere (Sanchez, 1995, p. 4).
Spatial Assimilation Model and Expulsion Policies
Mexican immigrants continued to deploy a particular migration pattern that also helped their social, economic and cultural platform assimilation in US, but trade between New Spain and, later, Mexico’s northern frontier had provided the economic incentive for migration, now recruitment by US employers for workers for railroads, mines, farms, and other industries both generated and sustained their immigration.
Mexicans seek immigration hubs once they ventured in the US, and these hubs served as popular destinations for Latinos and included hubs in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The increasing and segregated rate of Mexican-Americans served and allowed other Mexicans to accumulate as much wealth in the US as they could and leave. This is the niche for the Mexican-Americans where they expected to accumulate enough wealth to raise their standard of living in US. Besides segregation and immigration, there were overcrowding situations marked by legal authorities.
In 1930s for the first time in the history of United States, borders between the US and Mexico supported mass expulsion where the federal government sponsored mass expulsion of Mexican immigrants. One common perception is that it was due to racial segregation that federal, state, and local authorities refused to recognize Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants as permanent members of US society, therefore, people of Mexican descent were especially vulnerable to governmental programs to deport and repatriate foreigners as a panacea for economic depression (Gonzales, 1994, p. 77).
Whatever be the perception, in a response to Mexican immigration and over crowdedness, a removal policy was introduced that originally was directed at all immigrants became, within a matter of months, one that singled out Mexicans. Such policy was reacted against Mexican Americans at legal and political level, where Mexican removal had devastating effects on the lives of all Mexicans living in the US because, from its inception, the policy constructed both Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants as foreigners, as ‘aliens’, to be sent back to their home country (ibid).
From 1900 to 1930s a million Mexican immigrants marched towards north to the US settling in the Southwest, but in 1930s, this northward movement reversed, as half a million immigrants and Americans of Mexican descent became targets of one of the largest mass-removal operations ever sanctioned by the US government. When Immigration and repatriation both invigorated and disrupted the lives of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, recruitment campaigns helped to publicize employment opportunities, and labor contractors helped Mexican workers secure employment before leaving Mexico.
Mexican American Mobilization
By the 1940s and 1950s, it was decided by Mexican society that since Mexican Americans now belong to America, therefore attempts were made to resolve problems through receiving an education, electoral politics, litigation and claiming their rights as citizens. The repatriation of Mexicans during the 1930s reduced the influence and strength of immigrant leaders in the US, creating a void in which Mexican American identity and leadership emerged (Rosales, 2000, p. 157).
Incidents of abuse that in the past had mainly aroused a Mexico nationalistic response in the US Mexican community now elicited a new approach in which Mexican American ideology, was above all, with its irrevocable message of permanency, i.e., the right to live in the US and enjoy constitutional guarantees. Mexican Americans at this stage no longer saw themselves as visitors being mistreated but as natives who were denied full equality.
Rosales (1996) mentions that Mexican Americans by that time were determined to resolve problems but with patience and having faith in education and electoral politics with a claim to being white Americans and until 1960s Chicano activists categorically rejected the assimilationist and racial identity aspects of this ideology that ‘belonging’ meant being just another white American but advanced most of the other ideals (Rosales, 1996, p. 90).
Thus, advocacy for civil rights shifted from a focus on Mexican nationals living in the US to US citizens of Mexican descent resulting in the emergence of two factors. These factors that arose out of the Great Depression that diminished ‘Mexico Lindo’ ideology was due to the fact that immigration came to a halt, thus eliminating for at least a decade the previously constant reinforcing of Mexican culture. Second, was the fact that since Mexicans resisted repatriation, most families with growing children committed themselves to staying in the US, thus becoming more rooted, therefore a new generation grew up who had no memories of Mexico.
World War II and Mexican American Generation
The U.S. declaration of war against the Axis powers in 1941 elicited enthusiastic support from Mexican Americans. In spite of continuing discrimination, patriotism among Mexican Americans ran high and even in this optimistic era they felt more associated to the US than their parents. Unlike their parents, Mexican youth felt their ties to US more strong as compared to that of Mexico having weak or nonexistent ties and at least three hundred thousand young Mexican Americans joined soldiers from different backgrounds in all branches of the American armed forces.
In Phoenix, even the middle-class Mexican American women joined a campaign sponsored by local women’s clubs to harvest cotton and other crops needed for the war effort that would go unpacked because of labor shortages. It was when the war ended, Mexican American realized that they never have been able to stay away from discrimination, therefore first they ventured into thousands to urban, small town and agricultural camp barrios among which young people who had postponed wedding plans during the years now married and had babies.
Though Mexican soldiers returned from the war with high spirits, ready to take their place in a society which by any reckoning they had fought to preserve but after the war, young married Mexican American couples moved to the growing suburbs and were further acculturated. They realized their significance in US and got angry by the continued discrimination that greeted them after the war, strove to achieve political power and status by making good use of their war record. One example of the racial segregation was that Mexicans were nonetheless subjected to be barred from public facilities in schools, theaters, swimming pools, restaurants and housing tracts (Rosales, 1996, p. 97).
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Chicano Movement and LULAC
Chicano, Mexican-American and El Movimiento emerged as a series of American Civil Rights Movement that set to bring back the lost political hope and social inclusion of the Mexican-Americans. Chicano Movement shed new light upon Mexican-American reformist activism in the twentieth century which was the best example of political mobilization in context with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
LULAC was founded in 1929 in Texas with an aim to empower Mexican Americans through assimilation and emphasized upon the notion that Mexican Americans were US citizens and not aliens, and therefore should have all the rights of Americans citizens. Thus, LULAC pledged to promote and develop what they called as Americanism which other groups of the Mexican-American generation lack. Though other groups sought to empower both Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans, but they did not have LULAC’s longevity among which prominent ones were the Congress of Spanish-Speaking Peoples (El Congreso) and the Association Nacional Mexico-Americana (ANMA) of the 1930s and 1950s, respectively (Chavez, 2002, p. 2).
The roots of Chicano insurgency are found in the post World War II era where the children of the 1950s and early 1960s labeled as ‘baby boomers’ became the rebels of the later 1960s and 1970s. This generation no doubt reaped the benefits of prosperity but also faced discrimination which was indoctrinated with a Cold War culture that stressed peacetime consensus yet ignored the racial strife that existed at the core of American society.
Thus, the Chicano youths of the 1960s reached maturity with rising expectations of abundance, only to be confronted with the realization that they were not part of the tapestry of America and reacted by constructing a Chicano protonationalism. Their mobilization in the 1960s and 1970s built upon the work of a prior generation of ethnic Mexican activists who in the 1950s and early 1960s employed a residual Mexican culture in their communities as a counter-hegemonic tool.
Chavez (2002) points out that within the historical context of Mexican-American activism, the Chicano movement was the only one that appeared as a significant moment rather than as a seminal event and yet like all epochs, the movement appeared to be an insurgency as a complex phenomenon with unique traits (Chavez, 2002, p. 3). With that in mind, Chicano blowouts conducted in 1968 and protested against unequal and unfair treatment of Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles.
The protests were motivated by the high death toll of Mexican-Americans in the Vietnam War and the campaigns of Chicano Movements that assessed failures of the various political groups that encompassed the Chicano movement in Los Angeles with the largest concentration of ethnic Mexicans outside of Mexico City. The movement was a success with many of the organizers acquiring prominence in their respective fields, among which the names of Moctesuma Esparza, Harry Gamboa and Carlos Montes are well known.
I believe any other movement could not acquire so much success as that of Chicano for various reasons. The motivation factor, increased death toll during War and of course American patriotism are few to name but the most significant factors behind Chicano success were uniform dedication, fighting against reforms and positive leadership that changed the fate of Mexican-Americans. By the late 1970s the Chicano movement was a phenomenon of the past, as ethnic Mexicans returned to smaller efforts like those of the 1950s that emphasized electoral politics. With CASA’s (Centro de Accion Social Autonomo) demise, the mass demonstrations of the previous decade gave way in the 1980s to smaller efforts focused on electoral politics (Chavez, 2002, p. 118).
Viewed in relation to MAPA’s work (Mexican American Political Association) in the 1960s, the turn toward electoral politics is part of a continuum rather than a new beginning. Thus, the Chicano movement, in the history of US reform emerged as a moment of radical potential that never engendered a revolution and ultimately brought complacency and the turn toward mainstream electoral politics is perhaps the best evidence that the Chicano movement was indeed a moment of potential radicalism.
Chicano Movement developed leadership among Mexican-Americans and promoted a shared agenda (Davis, 2006) but on the cost of those inadequacies that the movement faced by pointing to a multifaceted and fractured ethnic Mexican community in the United States. However the present scenario questions us whether Chicano trying to shape a mass movement like that which Chicano activists’ attempted to create will bring more problems rather than solve the current woes of Mexican America.
Thus, the only solution to keep upper hand of Chicano is to achieve empowerment to rethink the status and place of ethnic Mexicans in the United States, by understanding their group’s history, and forge alliances that will truly empower everyday people. A step toward this reality can be achieved by keeping in mind that the Chicano insurgency was a specific historical production that no longer can be implemented and instead it must be reflected upon and serve as a learning tool or a usable past.
Thus, in order to move forward we must acknowledge the past but not reuse or limited by it so that by constantly redefining the boundaries of identity, community, and citizenship can true change occur for a just future. Effective and fair leadership with justified efforts towards Mexican-Americans is the solution what keep the Chicano Movement alive in the centuries to come.
Chavez Ernesto, (2002) Mi Raza Primero! (My People First!): Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978: University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.
Davis G. Kenneth, (2006) ‘Padres: The National Chicano Priest Movement’, Theological Studies. Vol. 67. No. 3, pp. 708.
Gonzales Camille Guerin, (1994) Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation, and California Farm Labor, 1900-1939: Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ.
Leon De Arnoldo, (1999) Mexican Americans in Texas: A Brief History: Harlan Davidson: Wheeling, IL.
Rosales F. Arturo, (2000) Testimonio: A Documentary History of the Mexican American Struggle for Civil Rights: Arte Publico: Houston, TX.
Rosales F. Arturo, (1996) Chicano!The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement: Arte Publico Press: Houston, TX.
Sanchez J. George, (1995) Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945: Oxford University Press: New York.