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Mexican Americans Across Generations

Mexican Americans Across Generations: Immigrant Families, Racial Realities

Jessica M. Vasquez
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    Mexican Americans Across Generations
    Book Description:

    While newly arrived immigrants are often the focus of public concern and debate, many Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans have resided in the United States for generations. Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, and their racial identities change with each generation. While the attainment of education and middle class occupations signals a decline in cultural attachment for some, socioeconomic mobility is not a cultural death-knell, as others are highly ethnically identified. There are a variety of ways that middle class Mexican Americans relate to their ethnic heritage, and racialization despite assimilation among a segment of the second and third generations reveals the continuing role of race even among the U.S.-born. Mexican Americans Across Generations investigates racial identity and assimilation in three-generation Mexican American families living in California. Through rich interviews with three generations of middle class Mexican American families, Vasquez focuses on the family as a key site for racial and gender identity formation, knowledge transmission, and incorporation processes, exploring how the racial identities of Mexican Americans both change and persist generationally in families. She illustrates how gender, physical appearance, parental teaching, historical era and discrimination influence Mexican Americans' racial identity and incorporation patterns, ultimately arguing that neither racial identity nor assimilation are straightforward progressions but, instead, develop unevenly and are influenced by family, society, and historical social movements.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8843-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    Paul Zagada, a 62-year-old second-generation Mexican American lawyer, enthusiastically explained his “Coca-Cola, 7-Up, and Evian water” image of the way the racial identities of Mexican immigrants and their descendants change with each generation. To him, the Mexican immigrant generation is the “Coca-Cola” generation because they are rich in tradition and hold onto it in their new context. Their children are the “7-Up” generation because they lose some of the “color” of the culture and are more acculturated to the United States than their parents. The third generation is the “Evian water” because it has lost both its color and its...

  6. PART I

    • 2 Thinned Attachment: Heritage Is Slipping through Our Fingers
      (pp. 33-63)

      Sixty-five-year-old Maria Montes is a devout Catholic, bilingual in English and Spanish, and the matriarch of her family.¹ One of six siblings, Maria emigrated from Mexico when she was four years old with her mother and sister, while her brothers stayed in Mexico. Maria’s mother chose to immigrate in part because one of her brothers and her eldest son were already in the United States and encouraged her to move. They crossed the Rio Grande River and took the train into the United States. Upon arrival, she worked in the fields picking potatoes and green beans and then at the...

    • 3 Cultural Maintenance: A Pot of Beans on the Stove
      (pp. 64-90)

      When I arrived at the Benavidas home in the Oakland hills, my respondent’s wife, Melissa, gave me a tour of the front portion of the home, saying her husband would join us in a minute. The house was immaculately decorated, boasting art on the walls from Spain, Mexico, and Ecuador, as well as southwestern art hand crafted by Melissa’s father. As Melissa ushered me into the kitchen, she laughed, saying tongue in cheek, “Not to be a stereotypical Mexican family or anything, but we’ve got to get the beans on!” We both laughed. She followed up with, “Well, really, we...

    • 4 Tortillas in the Shape of the United States: Marriage and the Families We Choose
      (pp. 91-124)

      Marriage is a central component of assimilation. Marriage patterns, in particular frequency of intermarriage, are a basic yardstick used to measure assimilation. Marriage has historically been understood as a way to preserve or alter the racial makeup of society. Antimiscegenation laws that banned interracial marriage and interracial sex were enforced until ruled unconstitutional in the 1967 Supreme Court decisionLoving v. Virginia. “Anti-miscegenation laws . . . were both a response to increased immigration from Asia [and Latin America] and a reflection of persistent concerns regarding racial purity and the nature of American citizenship” (Sohoni 2007: 587). While marriage patterns...

  7. PART II

    • 5 Whiter Is Better: Discrimination in Everyday Life
      (pp. 127-162)

      Ruben and Adele Mendoza are a married second-generation couple who are both light skinned and have a Hispanic surname. They tell me a powerful tale about how their Spanish-sounding name—Mendoza as a “giveaway” last name—restricted their access to housing when they were newlyweds:

      Adele: We were looking for a place to live and we went apartment hunting. There was a small little cottage . . . we went to go look at—[it was] just perfect, what we had wanted. So we told the guy [property manager], “Would you give a chance to go home and get the...

    • 6 Fit to Be Good Cooks and Good Mechanics: Racialization in Schools
      (pp. 163-193)

      School systems are simultaneously racialized and racializing. Educational institutions possess tremendous capacity to reproduce the power structure and racial hierarchy of society. Family, as another social institution, mediates the racializing effects of the educational system. The family is a critical site of racial identity development as it is a locale where intergenerational biography-based teaching occurs and strategies of action and resistance are formed. Within both schools and families, students respond to racializing messages and renegotiate their racial self-understanding. School experiences are conditioned by historical context, gender, and parental influences as parents use their own schooling experience as fodder for the...

    • 7 As Much Hamburger as Taco: Third-Generation Mexican Americans
      (pp. 194-228)

      Nearly seven million people are third-plus generation Mexican Americans (Macias 2006: 6), yet there is greatdiversityandfluiditywithin this group regarding the way they classify themselves. This chapter analyzes how the contradictory forces of “flexible ethnicity” and “racialization” influence the way third-generation Mexican Americans identify. “Flexible ethnicity” refers to the ability to deftly and effectively navigate different racial terrains and be considered an “insider” in more than one racial or ethnic group. “Racialization,” by contrast, refers to the process of distancing and oppressing people perceived as nonwhite. In this case, other people’s expectations and enforcement of difference create...

  8. 8 Conclusion: Racialization despite Assimilation
    (pp. 229-244)

    This book has addressed the question of Mexican immigrants’ and their descendants’ integration into U.S. society. One more glimpse into respondents’ lives reinforces the point that racial/ethnic identity is a fluid process that is highly contingent upon context and that assimilation pathways are not straightforward but open to voluntary personal switchbacks and vicissitudes driven by external social forces.

    Both second-generation Mexican Americans, Lee and Evelyn Morelos reared their son Lance in a primarily middle-class, white Los Angeles suburb. Lance picked up cues about race and class from his neighborhood, in which he “fit.” His young mind concluded that to be...

  9. Methodological Appendix: A Note on Sociological Reflexivity and “Situated Interviews”
    (pp. 245-256)
  10. Appendix A: Respondent Demographic Information (Pseudonyms)
    (pp. 257-260)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 261-268)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 269-282)
  13. Index
    (pp. 283-300)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 301-301)