Parent Category: Defining Racial Groups
Category: Hispanic/Latino Americans
Victor Mendoza-Grado and Ricardo J. Salvador
Victor Mendoza-Grado and Ricardo J. Salvador
FAQ from soc.culture.mexican.
for a more recent version of this FAQ
see, Newsgroup SOC.CULTURE.MEXICAN,
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) # 46
Spanish people Hispanics Latino Mexican
Mexican-American Hispano Chicano
This term is used frequently in the United States to refer indiscriminantly to any person that speaks Spanish. As such, it is imprecise and often inappropriate in that it includes people from more than two dozen countries, spanning all of the American continent, the Caribbean and Spain. The term does apply specifically, however, as the proper name for the native people of Spain, and for this reason it is as incorrect to use it to refer to any and all Spanish-speakers as the term "English" would be to refer to citizens of New Zealand, Australia or the United States.
This term is often used to refer collectively to all Spanish-speakers. However, it specifically connotes a lineage or cultural heritage related to Spain. As many millions of people who speak Spanish are not of true Spanish descent (e.g., native americans), and millions more live in Latin America (cf., "Latino" below) yet do not speak Spanish or claim Spanish heritage (e.g., Brazilians) this term is incorrect as a collective name for all Spanish-speakers, and may actually be cause for offense.
This term is used to refer to people originating from, or having a heritage related to, Latin America, in recognition of the fact that this set of people is actually a superset of many nationalities. Since the term "Latin" comes into use as the least common denominator for all peoples of Latin America in recognition of the fact that some romance language (Spanish, Portugese, French) is the native tongue of the majority of Latin Americans, this term is widely accepted by most. However, the term is not appropriate for the millions of native americans who inhabit the region.
Specifically, the nationality of the inhabitants of mexico. Therefore, the term is used appropriately for Mexican citizens who visit or work in the United States, but it is insufficient to designate those people who are citizens of the United States (they were born in the U.S. or are naturalized citizens of the U.S.) who are of Mexican ancestry.
It is important to explain why [some] people feel it is important to make . . . a distinction. U.S. citizens who are troubled by this often point out that most immigrants do not distinguish themselves by point of origin first, (i.e., German-American), but simply as "Americans" (another troublesome term, but we won't get detoured by that here). Here are some reasons why many U.S. citizens of Mexican extraction feel that it is important to make the distinction:
Not "Americans" by choice A scant 150 years ago, approximately 50% of what was then Mexico was appropriated by the U.S. as spoils of war, and in a series of land "sales" that were coerced capitalizing on the U.S. victory in that war and Mexico's weak political and economic status. A sizeable number of Mexican citizens became citizens of the United States from one day to the next as a result, and the treaty declaring the peace between the two countries recognized the rights of such people to their private properties (as deeded by Mexican or Spanish colonial authorities), their own religion (Roman Catholicism) and the right to speak and receive education in their own tongue (for the majority, Spanish) [refer to the file GUADHIDA, the text of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, on this same subdirectory]. Therefore, the descendants of this population continue to press for such rights, and many hold that theirs is a colonized land and people in view of the fact that their territory and population was taken over by military force.
Mexicans first, "Americans" second? Another and more numerous class of U.S. citizens of Mexican extraction are either descendants of, or are themselves, people who conceive of themselves as _temporarily_ displaced from Mexico by economic circumstances. As oppossed to the waves of European migrants who willingly left their countries due to class and religious discrimination, and sought to make their lives anew in the "new world" and never to return to the "old land," these displaced Mexicans typically maintain strong family ties in Mexico (by visiting periodically, and by investing their incomes in homes or kin in Mexico), and usually intend to return to Mexico provided they can become economically secure. Therefore these people maintain and nurture their children in their language, religion and customs.
However, There is great tension within this population between those of Mexican birth who conceive of themselves as temporary guests in the U.S., and their descendants who are born in the U.S., are acculturated with the norms of broader U.S. society in public schools, and are not motivated by the same ties that bind a migrant generation of Mexicans. This creates a classic "niche" of descendants of immigrants who are full-fledged U.S. citizens, but who typically do not have access to all the rights and priviliges of citizenship because of the strong cultural identity imbued in them by their upbringing and the discriminatory reaction of the majority population against a non-assimilated and easily identified subclass. This group of people feels a great need to distinguish itself from both its U.S. millieu and its Mexican "Mother Culture," which does not typically welcome or accept "prodigals." This is truly a unique set of people, therefore, in that it endures both strong ties and strong discrimination from both U.S. and Mexican mainstream parent cultures. The result has been the creation of a remarkable new culture that needs its own name and identity.
Mexican-American is commonly used to recognize U.S. citizens who are descendants of Mexicans, following the pattern sometimes used to identify the extraction of other ethnic americans (e.g., "African-American). This term is acceptable to many Mexican descendants, but for those who do not identify with a Mexican heritage, but rather with a Spanish heritage, it is unacceptable (cf., "Hispano," below). Also, for those who do not view themselves as "Americans" by choice, this term is problematic, and for others the implication that the identity of the bearer is unresolved, or in limbo, between two antipodal influences, belies their self-concept as a blend that supercedes its origins and is stronger, richer and more dynamic than either of its cultural roots.
This term is preferred by that subpopulation, located primarily in the U.S. southwest, who identify with the Spanish settlers of the area, and not with the Mexican settlers (specifically, the creole Spanish-Native American race). There is in fact an important number of these people located along the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and in the northern Sangre de Cristo mountain range of the same state. This group has been traditionally a very closed and conservative one, and recent evidence provides important explanations for this: they seem to be descendants of persecuted Jews who fled Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries and sought refuge in what were then the farthest reaches of the known world. They survived by minimizing their contact with outsiders and by hiding or disguising their religious and cultural identities as much as possible. Historical researchers call them "cryptic jews."
A relatively recent term that has been appropriated by many Mexican descendants as unique and therefore reflective of their unique culture, though its first usage seems to have been discriminatory. The most likely source of the word is traced to the 1930 and 40s period, when poor, rural Mexicans, often native americans, were imported to the U.S. to provide cheap field labor, under an agreement of the governments of both countries. The term seems to have come into first use in the fields of California in derision of the inability of native Nahuatl speakers from Morelos state to refer to themselves as "Mexicanos," and instead spoke of themselves as "Mesheecanos," in accordance with the pronounciation rules of their language (for additional details, refer to the file MEXICO on this same subdirectory). An equivocal factor is that in vulgar Spanish it is common for Mexicans to use the "CH" conjunction in place of certain consonants in order to create a term of endearment. Whatever its origin, it was at first insulting to be identified by this name. The term was appropriated by Mexican-American activists who took part in the Brown Power movement of the 60s and 70s in the U.S. southwest, and has now come into widespread usage. Among more "assimilated" Mexican-Americans, the term still retains an unsavory connotation, particularly because it is preferred by political activists and by those who seek to create a new and fresh identity for their culture rather than to subsume it blandly under the guise of any mainstream culture.
For additional information and resources on Chicano Studies, a good starting point is the Chicano-Latino Network (CLNET) accessible through the University of California - Los Angeles Gopher Server: gopher.ucla.edu 70
under the heading: ->Chicano/LatinoNet
Parent Category: Defining Racial Groups
Category: Hispanic/Latino Americans
Luis Angel Toro
Luis Angel Toro
"A People Distinct from Others": Race and Identity in Federal Indian Law and the Hispanic Classification in OMB Directive No. 15, 26 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 1219, 1246-1252 (1995)
Mexican-Americans, widely conceived of as recent immigrants even in cities named Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and San Antonio, are actually members of a community which has existed continuously in the Southwest since long before 1848. Since the conquest, that community arguably has changed from a northern extension of Mexican society into a distinct Chicano one, but its relationship to the majority society has changed little. Like the communities lumped under the "Black," "Asian/Pacific Islander," and "American Indian" umbrellas, Chicanos have been defined as alien to the mainstream white society whose members viewed themselves as the bearers of a superior European civilization in America. Unlike any other group in the United States, Chicanos are at the same time an indigenous and an immigrant community, comprised of descendants of both Mexicans who lived in the territories ceded to the U.S. in 1848 and Mexicans who crossed the border in later years.
Like the indigenous American nations and Native Hawaiians, and unlike every other ethnic group in the United States, Chicanos came under United States authority through territorial conquest. Mexico's defeat at the hands of U.S. invaders in the war of 1846-1848 left an estimated 60,000 Mexican citizens north of the new border in New Mexico alone. The war itself was marked by numerous atrocities committed against Mexican civilians, leaving lasting bitterness towards the U.S. in both the newly annexed territories and in the remnants of Mexico. The war of 1846-1848 was justified in racial terms. One white opponent of the war wrote that "[t]he Anglo-Saxons have been apparently persuaded to think themselves the chosen people, anointed race of the Lord, commissioned to drive out the heathen, and plant their religion and institutions in every Canaan they could subjugate.... Our treatment both of the red man and the black man has habituated us to feel our power and forget right." Even before the war, the common American belief that "racial mixing" (such as that practiced in Mexico between Europeans, Africans, and indigenous peoples) led to offspring inferior to either "pure" race, combined with anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic ideas inherited from England, insured that Mexicans would be viewed as racial inferiors. Today, Anglo historians generally admit that the war of 1846-1848 was the unjust result of the white supremacist ideology known as Manifest Destiny, which held that God wanted Europeans to drive others out of North America and establish for themselves a democratic republic.
Since that time, Chicanos have been considered a racial minority, never part of the white American majority. The racial nature of anti-Mexican discrimination was examined thoroughly in a 1975 article by Gary Greenfield and Don Kates. Anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings that race under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 should be defined with reference to the popular conception of race at the time of the Act's passage and not according to scientific theories of racial classification, the authors found that, in 1866, Mexicans were considered members of a nonwhite race. That this race was considered inferior and a suitable target for racial oppression is hardly surprising. In the Southwest, for example, the term "greaser" became a racist epithet for Mexican-Americans.
More recently, Ian Haney Lopez chronicled the process through which Mexicans came to be regarded as members of a different and inferior race by Anglo-Americans in the nineteenth century. Reviewing wartime propaganda and laws such as California's infamous "Greaser Act," Haney Lopez concluded that the myth of Mexican racial inferiority both reinforced Anglo pride in their industrial accomplishments and provided a handy justification for the expropriation of Mexican lands. This conclusion is entirely consistent with the racial realist premise that racial reform occurs when reform serves white interests; the obvious corollary to this theory is that racial oppression will be legally enforced when it will serve white interests.
The situation has not changed over the intervening decades. The Anglos who poured into Texas and the rest of the Southwest brought their apparatus of racial terror, developed to hold the African-American people in bondage, to the newly conquered territories. Mexicans became frequent victims of beatings and lynchings. In 1884, Mexicans fled daily lynchings in the area around Fort Davis, Texas; many Anglos voiced the opinion that the lynchings should continue until no Mexicans remained in the area. Lynchings were a tool of racial oppression elsewhere in the Southwest as well; in California, lynching of Mexicans became so common that in the Chicano community, American democracy became known as "linchocracia."
In the twentieth century, Chicanos have continued to be defined as racially different from the majority. In California, numerous state studies described Chicanos as part of a distinct race. A 1929 report prepared for the governor emphasized that "the bulk of immigration from Mexico into the United States is from the pure Indian or the Mestizo stocks of the Mexican population." At the federal level, a 1925 report by the Department of Labor warned that ninety percent of Latin Americans were of Indian blood and therefore inferior to whites. One Congressman described Mexicans as a "blend of low-grade Spaniard, peonized Indian, and negro slave" and stated that U.S. law must guard against "mongrelization" of the country. These racist opinions led to the mass deportation campaigns of the 1930s, during which approximately 50,000 Chicanos and Mexicans were deported from Los Angeles alone.
When Mexican-Americans started organizing against discrimination, both they and Anglos were aware that the basis for their treatment was racial. The founding document of the League of United Latin American Citizens ("LULAC"), a collection of groups dedicated to ending racial discrimination by asking to be accepted into the white mainstream, declared defiantly its members' "sincere and respectful reverence for our racial origin, of which we are proud." Despite the groups' emphasis on loyalty to the U.S., assimilation into mainstream American society, and devotion to what many would now call "formal equal opportunity," LULAC met fierce resistance when it tried to establish chapters in many parts of Texas. This resistance reflected the ongoing desire of the Anglo majority to keep Texas' Chicano community in a racially subordinated position. Also, a fresh wave of anti-Mexican hysteria led to a second mass deportation. In 1954 alone, over 1,000,000 Chicanos and Mexicans alleged to have entered the country illegally were deported.
The fact that Mexican-Americans are a racially subordinated minority group has been recognized by Supreme Court decisions finding that Mexican- Americans have been the victims of racial (not ethnic, national origin, or language) discrimination, and by congressional findings of racial discrimination against Chicanos.
These events occurred and these findings were made in an era when the Census defined Chicanos as white. Those considering reform of Directive No. 15 are well advised to realize that while the law of racial classification has always played an important role in enforcing racial subordination, Chicano history shows that merely defining someone as white does not guarantee that he or she will be so treated in society. If that were true, the extreme claims by some that Directive No. 15 is the source of racial division in society would be valid, and racism could be abolished simply by passing a law instructing federal agencies to count everyone as white.
We Chicanos, like American Indians, do not generally consider ourselves products of an inferior culture that should be abandoned wholesale in favor of an Anglo lifestyle. Waves of immigration in the twentieth century have not transformed the Mexican-American community into a classic immigrant group enamored of American ideals and "way of life." To the contrary, immigrants became part of the existing Mexican-American community emerging from the harsh realities of invasion and oppression. Brutal treatment of immigrants and those suspected of being immigrants, in turn, reminded Chicanos that they were racial minorities in a racist society and made adoption of Anglo culture and practices seem like an act of aggression against one's own community.
In a detailed study of Chicano ethnic identity in southern California, Susan E. Keefe and Amado M. Padilla found that generational differences (that is, differences based on the number of generations during which one's family has lived north of the border) within the Chicano community are not nearly as profound as widely thought or as the immigrant analogy would predict. Indeed, the authors found no decrease across four generations in perceptions of discrimination or ethnic pride and self-identification as Mexican, Mexican- American, or Chicano. This is not surprising in view of the unique position of Mexican-Americans as the only racial minority whose "mother country" both shares a lengthy land border with the United States and has a history of conflict with the United States. Suspicion and distrust of the neighbor to the north has long been a fundamental aspect of culture and politics in Mexico, and Mexican immigrants brought these attitudes with them.
Even more convincing evidence that Chicanos are not assimilating into white American society came from the "control group" of Anglos in the Keefe/Padilla study, which revealed that ninety-seven percent of Anglo social contacts were with other Anglos, a level of "ethnic enclosure" far higher than that of immigrant or U.S.-born Mexicans. In order to preserve this rate of white-only social interaction, "Anglos must actively discriminate against Chicanos in personal relations." The boundaries set by Anglo avoidance behavior mean that Chicanos can become fully acculturated--that is, speak English as a first language and move comfortably in modern U.S. society--but still not be assimilated--that is, accepted as white. Mary Waters found in her study that white Californians were "very aware of which neighborhoods and areas had Mexican-American residents," and considered this racial boundary far more important than any boundaries between white ethnic groups. Further, white respondents on both coasts viewed racial intermarriage, defined as marriage to an African-American, Asian-American, Puerto Rican, or Mexican, as something to be avoided.
The combination of increasing residential desegregation with the continued preference of Anglos to associate exclusively with each other means that Chicano community identification persists even after the individual Chicano has left the barrio. The spatial community has been replaced with a network of personal ties that, due primarily to Anglo avoidance behaviors but also to Chicanos' desire to retain their own culture, remains "as ethnically segregated as any barrio." Anglo-Chicano social interaction is characterized by mutual recognition of a racialized social boundary--a boundary as real as that between Anglo settlers and indigenous families who lived side by side at the time of the Kansas Indians decision. This reality conflicts with the "White, Hispanic" designation given to Chicanos under Directive No. 15, with its implicit analogy to patterns of assimilation found among European immigrant groups. It is hard to imagine that a group that has been racially subordinated for nearly 150 years will suddenly become part of the group that has been doing the subordinating, yet that is precisely the view incorporated into Directive No. 15.
Even if one restricts the definition of "assimilation" to economic success on par with whites, rather than cultural merger with the white mainstream, Chicanos still display no signs of assimilation. A recent study focused on "third-plus" generation Chicanos--Chicanos whose parents were also born in the United States--to determine the extent to which these persons had made progress toward economic parity with whites. The disturbing conclusion of the study was that no such progress could be demonstrated in the areas of education, class distribution, and earnings. Instead, "third-plus" generation Chicanos more closely resembled Blacks than whites--that is, some had progressed into the middle class while the rest remained near the very bottom of America's class structure. The inquiry into economic progress among native-born Chicanos debunks the myth, fashionable in some circles, that "Hispanic" poverty is simply an artifact of the high proportion of poor immigrants in the sample.