I am from an ethnicity and culture that is in the forefront of many political topics in this region today. I am Mexican. When this word comes up most people seem to think of illegal immigrants crossing the border. This thought can bring up much resentment and contempt from certain groups, and along with this comes prejudice and discrimination. However, before I jump ahead of myself I would like to discuss the physical and cultural differences between my people- Mexicans and the U.S. majority- Whites.
Physical differences may seem obvious if you think in a stereotypical manner. But there is a great deal of physical diversity within the Mexican culture.
The range can be anywhere from the “common” image of a short brown eyed, brown haired, brown skinned individual to the tall light eyed, light haired, light skinned person. In between is a mixture and combination of any of the mentioned characteristics (much of the variety comes from the blood of the Spaniards who invaded Mexico). In fact 60% of Mexico
Is made up of “mestizo”, mixed European and Indian decent and 30% “indigena”,
Native Americans of Indians (azteca.net). Those who have darker skin are, of course, more easily pointed out as Mexicans and usually experience more prejudice and racism than those who have characteristics similar to the majority. However, prejudice within our own race sometimes makes up for the lack of prejudice from Whites, but I digress.
Moving on, there are many cultural differences. Language for one, which is Spanish (though there are over 50 indigenous languages (azteca.com)). Clothing is different. Not so much as it used to be however. Not everyone is wearing a poncho and sombrero. Of course food is different and is quite enjoyed by many Americans. However, Mexican-American food is somewhat different than Mexican food from Mexico. And I am not quite sure what Taco Bell food is. Maybe that can be called American-Mexican food?
Then there are certain holidays and ceremonies that Mexicans participate in that other ethnic groups do not. An example of a ceremony (my favorite) is the quinceanera.
This is a coming of age ceremony that occurs when a teenager (usually female) turns 15 years old. This is usually a big elaborate event, much like a wedding without the groom (the reason why its my favorite). Holidays include Dia De la Muerte (Day of the Dead) which is close to the U.S.s Halloween. There is also Cinco De Mayo, which is a celebration of a battle Mexico won against France. In the U.S. this holiday has actually turned into a day that other ethnic groups, including Whites, celebrate Mexican culture. Particularly so in area with a high Mexican population (areas of the North- and Southwest). Other holidays may be celebrated in both Mexico and the U.S. but have different dates, such as Mothers Day (May 10th in Mexico). As far as religion goes the majority of Mexicans are Catholic.
Social class as a majority of the Mexican race is not very high in the U.S, though there is a growing number of Mexicans in the middle class, economically. However, Mexicans are looked down upon by many. This leads me to the second topic: attitudes of Whites and Mexicans.
Like other ethnic groups that have immigrated to the U.S. Mexicans have not been welcomed with open arms. On the contrary, there has been opposition from the majority from the very beginning with laws trying to reduce immigration, or laws to allow some Mexican migration so that farm owners could exploit them (braceros). Much of the opposition comes from assumptions and stereotypes of Mexican immigrants. Some assumptions are that Mexican immigrants are taking jobs away from American citizens, but not many are actually willing to bend over to cut asparagus, work in the hop fields, or in apple and cherry orchards. If any White American wants any of those jobs I am sure they would get hired, since in the past (and present) they have. Another assumption is that Mexicans do not give back to the economy. They just live off the government tip. If all the Mexicans are on welfare then who is working the fields? Plus it is not that easy to get on welfare. Though I will admit that the system has been used and abused by legal and illegal immigrants, but the same can be said of any other group in America. People will try to work the system, I do not believe that has anything to do with race or ethnicity. I would also like to add that Mexicans, legal or illegal, still have to pay taxes just like anyone else.
To sum it up I do not believe that the American majority is as receptive to Mexicans in the U.S., particularly immigrants, and there are many cases that prove this. There was a discrimination case in Yakima, WA a few years back that consisted of a sign in a bar that read something to the effect of “Dont speak English, then adios Amigo”. This coming from a town where an overwhelming part of the population are of Mexican descent! Then in California, there was the video tape recording catching two deputy police officers beating a couple of migrant workers with their nightsticks (Peoples Weekly World;1996). Those are just a couple of instances.
Then there is the question of whether Mexicans are willing to assimilate. I believe this depends on how you define assimilation. My definition would agree with writer Gregory Rodriguez who wrote, “culture or knowledge is not a zero-sum quantity that requires an individual to forget something old in order to learn something new”(The Washington Post;1999;B3). According to Sociology 365 class notes on assimilationist aims, this is the desire for “complete social, political and economic absorption into the dominant group [to be] treated as individual, not as group members”. So can “complete absorption” happen without stripping yourself of your past? I believe so.
We can look at such ethnic groups as the Norwegians and Italians. They have assimilated to American society, but they still have their culture. The amount varies person to person, family to family but it is there to be shared and learned. Ethnic groups are not the only ones being absorbed either. America takes certain parts and ideas from different cultures and uses them. That also shows that culture does not have to be lost but can be incorporated, even if that group is “technically” assimilated. With that all said I would like to say that I do believe that most immigrants who stay in the U.S. are willing to assimilate because if they plan on residing in the U.S. then the U.S. becomes their home. That is not to say that all loyalty to their homeland is washed away, but the longer you are in a certain environment the more likely you are to change accordingly. According to statistics from Gregory Rodriguez assimilation article, in 1990 half of immigrants from non-English speaking countries who had been in the U.S. for two years reported that they did not proficiently speak English. However, 88% of those who had lived in the U.S. for 30 year did speak English well. Further, in 1990 two-thirds of third-generation American Latino children were reported as speaking no Spanish. This is no doubt assimilation in the process.
Other facts Mexican immigration includes the rate of migration. There has been a steady increase in legal and illegal migration to the U.S. since about the late 1800s (first phase of Mexican immigration). In 1900 there were 103,000 Mexicans in the U.S.; 1960 there were 2.3 million; 1990 there were 13.4 million. In the year 2010 it is expected that there will be 40 million Americans of Latino heritage, with the majority being Mexican.
Most Mexicans migrate to nearby states, such as California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Though there are exceptions such as Chicago.
With a bit of Mexican history done I would like to speak about the arrival of my family from Mexico to America. I am regretful to say that I do not have as much information as I would like since all my grandparents are dead. However, I was able to receive some information from my parents.
On my mothers side, her grandparents were the first to arrive in the U.S. Texas to be more precise. They arrived in the late 1800s during the first phase of Mexican migration.
At a young age my great grandmother would cross over to Texas every morning to work (mainly housekeeping) and in the evening go back to her home in Mexico. My great grandfather arrived in the U.S. (Texas) with his parents and three siblings when he was 10 years old. After my great grandparents married they remained in Texas. On my fathers side, his grandparents on his mothers side were the first to arrive in the U.S. (Texas), also in the late 1800s. My dads father was born in a small town in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. He came over to the U.S. by himself when he was 15. Out of his four siblings only a single brother followed. That is just about how far back I was able to go with my parents information. As far as a continuation of immigration, I am not sure whether cousins and/or other relative followed or were here beforehand. Actually my mom said that my grandmother told her that we had family living in the parts of Mexico that became part of the U.S. So, technically they were already in the U.S., presumably Texas. We just do not know what part of my grandmothers family had lived there.
Those who I mentioned migrating to Texas did not have much of anything. They came to the U.S. for work. Their labor included working in mills and a lot of farm work. They also migrated from Texas to other states when certain crops were at their peaks. Farm work continued in my family up until I was about 10 years old (Im the youngest out of six). However, this was mainly a part time job. For example, part of my memory is everyone getting up early in the morning before it was light out. Everyone had to work except for me and for the most part my sister, who was three years older than myself. We watched the others bend over what seemed like endless rows of asparagus. Then, after some odd hours of doing that my parents would go home wash up and go to work. My dad a local truck driver and my mom a social service worker. Among my parents generation this was not an odd thing. They were raised to work hard and even though they had good, stable jobs they continued to put in the extra work. Yet, over a few generations that type of labor decreased until it was just about nonexistent. I cut asparagus a few times, just for fun. So, in other words after a few rows I put the knife down and never picked it up again. My nieces and nephews have never even touched a cutting knife and I do not suspect they ever will.
Now with some personal historical background I would like to relate this to the seven levels of the Assimilation Perspective.
There were great changes of cultural patterns to the dominant core values within my parents generation. But the great changes definitely began with my grandparents. All, except perhaps my dads father, knew how to speak English pretty well and understood most. However they preferred to speak Spanish (even though they were born and raised in the U.S.). My parents speak fluent English and Spanish, but they can not read in Spanish nearly as well as they do in English. Then, with my siblings and I, the younger the child the less Spanish she can speak, the youngest being myself.
Catholicism is still the main religion in my family. My dads mother later in life switched to Jehovah’s Witness, but her husband and children did not follow her lead. For the most part my grandparents celebrated just about all American Holidays and only a few Mexican holidays. Food changed as well. All of them coming from Texas, the food had a Texan touch. Really this mixture of the food, language and culture is “Tejano” or “Tex-Mex”. Along with this is the style of music that goes under the same name.
Also, to touch on social roles my grandparents received more prejudice than my parents, my parents more than I did, and I am sure my great grandparents had the worst experiences. I believe that this has to do with each generation assimilating more and more into the dominant culture.
This type of assimilation definitely occurred with my parents. They have both been members of or attended group structures outside of their own group or there was a mix with the majority group. My mother especially. With her job she was sent to workshops where unlike where we live (lower Yakima Valley) the majority in numbers was not Mexican. Also there was school, which at the time was a White majority in numbers, unlike today. So, penetration within secondary group structures as well as primary has taken place. However, the penetration of primary group structures occurs mainly in my generation.
Intermarriage first took place between my fathers older brother; he married a White woman. But that was about it for that generation. My brother married a woman who was half White and my sister is with a man who is White, but was raised with a Mexican stepfather.
I believe that the feeling of a sense of identity linked to the core society has developed with my parents, more so with my mom. They are proud to be Americans as well as Mexicans. However, they feel like part of this society and like they belong here. My parents were not in the military or anything like that but they have friends, who are also Mexicans, who were in the military and were quite proud, and my parents see it as something to be proud of. And as I mentioned before, all U.S. holidays were celebrated by my grandparents, including the Fourth of July.
Attitude-Receptional Assimilation- absence of prejudice and stereotyping
Behavioral-Receptional Assimilation- absence of discrimination
Civic Assimilation-absence of power and value conflict
I put these last three assimilation levels together because I do not believe these steps have fully taken place, or even half taken a place. Going on the basis of my own attitude and the attitudes of some of my nieces and nephews these three levels have a way to go. I am not sure I will see it in my lifetime. I am glad to see that the other step have and are taking place though, because I believe we still have much of our own culture and we learn more about our people with each new wave of Mexican immigrants, despite obvious assimilation.