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Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community

Gilda L. Ochoa
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    Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community
    Book Description:

    On the surface, Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants to the United States seem to share a common cultural identity but often make uneasy neighbors. Discrimination and assimilationist policies have influenced generations of Mexican Americans so that some now fear that the status they have gained by assimilating into American society will be jeopardized by Spanish-speaking newcomers. Other Mexican Americans, however, adopt a position of group solidarity and work to better the social conditions and educational opportunities of Mexican immigrants.

    Focusing on the Mexican-origin, working-class city of La Puente in Los Angeles County, California, this book examines Mexican Americans' everyday attitudes toward and interactions with Mexican immigrants-a topic that has so far received little serious study. Using in-depth interviews, participant observations, school board meeting minutes, and other historical documents, Gilda Ochoa investigates how Mexican Americans are negotiating their relationships with immigrants at an interpersonal level in the places where they shop, worship, learn, and raise their families. This research into daily lives highlights the centrality of women in the process of negotiating and building communities and sheds new light on identity formation and group mobilization in the U.S. and on educational issues, especially bilingual education. It also complements previous studies on the impact of immigration on the wages and employment opportunities of Mexican Americans.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79847-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introducing Becoming Neighbors
    (pp. 1-17)

    Migrating from Cuernavaca, Mexico, to escape an abusive husband and with hopes of ‘‘earning enough money to eat,’’ thirty-six-year-old Sara Valdez arrived in 1989 in La Puente, a city in Los Angeles County, California.¹ After acquiring a job in a neighborhood restaurant, she encouraged other family members to join her. She now lives with her two teenage children and her cousin in a converted two-car garage. She works from 5 P.M. until midnight, more than forty hours a week, as a waitress.

    Sitting at her kitchen table, Sara speaks candidly about the difficulties she has encountered in the United States....

  6. Chapter 2 Theorizing about Mexican American–Mexican Immigrant Relations in ‘‘Occupied Mexico’’
    (pp. 18-44)

    The views of La Puente residents Silvia Bravo and Denise Villarreal represent two of the most popular perspectives on race/ethnic relations, the assimilationist and the power-conflict perspective. While each perspective has numerous variations, they nonetheless represent two distinct approaches that are used by members of the academic community and by the general public to understand race/ethnic relations and immigration (Mario Barrera 1979; Frankenberg 1993; Omi and Winant 1994).¹

    As Silvia Bravo’s comments illustrate, the assimilationist perspective tends to be characterized by an emphasis on integrating into U.S. society by acquiring the English language and middle-class, Anglo American values and traditions....

  7. Chapter 3 ‘‘Where the Past Meets the Future’’: Centering La Puente
    (pp. 45-69)

    Television commercials endorsing California’s Proposition 187, dubbed the ‘‘SaveOur State’’ (SOS) initiative, played frequently during the fall of 1994— the period in which I began to systematically interview La Puente residents and to attend community events. During this period California was experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, and Proposition 187 effectively diverted attention away from the nearly one million jobs that had been lost in the early1990s (Alvarez and Butterfield 2000, 168). Designed to eliminate social services to undocumented immigrants, Proposition 187 was premised on the belief that immigrants were spreading diseases, draining social services, crowding...

  8. Chapter 4 ‘‘This Is Who I Am’’: Negotiating Racial/Ethnic Constructions
    (pp. 70-97)

    The history of colonization and the enduring patterns of exploitation, racism, and discrimination outlined in the previous chapters have set the landscape for contemporary race/ethnic relations. Within the United States, this history has resulted in various paradigms of race/ethnicity. Two, in particular, have been detrimental to the Mexican-origin community. The first one, a biological approach, has existed throughout much of the history of the United States. The underlying premise of this approach was that people of color, including Mexicans, were biologically different from and inferior to Anglo Americans (Mario Barrera 1979).¹ The second approach began in the 1920s and gained...

  9. Chapter 5 ‘‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place, with No Easy Answers’’: Structuring Conflict
    (pp. 98-130)

    Sixty-two-year-old Silvia Bravo smiles warmly as she invites me into her home. She escorts me to her kitchen table and offers me a drink. As she walks toward the refrigerator, she gestures to the neatly arranged papers at one end of the table and says she is coordinating a large donation project at the church. I soon learn that she is very involved in the local Catholic church and parochial school. Detailing her involvement in this project, she returns to the table with two glasses of water, sits down, and begins to describe herself and La Puente.

    Silvia Bravo is...

  10. Chapter 6 ‘‘We Can’t Forget Our Roots’’: Building Solidarity
    (pp. 131-175)

    Sitting behind her desk, forty-six-year-old Denise Villarreal unwraps her sandwich and motions to me to begin the interview. She is a gregarious woman, and her jovial demeanor creates an inviting atmosphere. Between phone calls, knocks on her office door, and her lunch, she reclines in her chair and talks about her life and her experiences as a La Puente resident and a local school principal.

    Denise is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. She was raised twenty minutes from La Puente in an area where even today her family members ‘‘are still the only Mexicans on the block.’’ As a result...

  11. Chapter 7 Constructing Puentes: Mexican American and Mexican Immigrant Mobilization
    (pp. 176-218)

    To casual observers, the participants in this demonstration are united. They share a common concern for bilingual education and similar racial/ethnic and class positions as working-class and Spanish-speaking or bilingual Latinas/os from the La Puente area. It is this combination of cultural commonalities and connections based on shared social locations and experiences of institutional inequality within the school district that has brought them together. While they are unified in their pursuit of a common goal— the maintenance of bilingual education—among the demonstrators we find much variation. There are organizers of two distinct parent groups—Puente Parents and Parents for...

  12. Chapter 8 Revisiting and Envisioning the Processes of Becoming Neighbors
    (pp. 219-232)

    The telephone rings late Monday evening on July 22, 2002. The familiar voice on the other end of the receiver updates me on the intricacies occurring in La Puente schools—a knife was found on a playground, elementary schoolchildren are being expelled, parents are organizing, there is dissatisfaction with a principal. Amidst the update on these dynamics in the local schools, the conversation shifts to the hiring of a new city manager in La Puente. I am told that the City Council may hire a former member of the Hacienda–La Puente Unified School District—a twenty-year veteran of the...

  13. Appendix: The Politics of Research
    (pp. 233-236)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 237-250)
  15. References
    (pp. 251-266)
  16. Index
    (pp. 267-272)