One of the largest waves of immigration was triggered at the end of the nineteenth century on the background of political instability in Mexico, and labor demands in America. This influx has influenced the history, economy, culture and politics of the United States of America and Mexico, resulting in the formation of one of the biggest minority groups. The situation with the Mexican minority may be characterized as dynamic. This notion requires a multi-level analysis. The paper examines implications of Mexican minorities in detail and discusses the identity politics.
The fundamental aim of Mexican immigration movement was to find a location that could serve as an economical and political harborage for further social growth. In the eyes of people from Mexico, the United States was one of the most industrially developed nations that were able to generate a great demand for workers from aboard. Another aspect of the overwhelming Mexican immigration was that America was not a country of far-away dreams but a territory close to the place of birth. Unlike Europeans, for whom it was a long way to Ellis Island, Mexican people could enter this country through many cities near the border. The development of the United States was associated with the future that Mexican people could not build in the country of their origin. Among the main aspirations was the possibility to make dreams come true and put all the plans into action. These motives made Mexican immigrants a structural part of the American society.
Due to a number of factors, the objectives that American minorities had were hard to achieve, because of the level of social discontent that grew along with the amount of new immigrants annually. Political responses played their role in the lives of Mexicans on the territory of the United States among other aspects. The identity politics of Mexican minorities is a concept that may be described by considering a specific social organization that finds its particularization in history, politics, racial implications, and culture.
The current paper presents an idea that Mexican Americans face a lot of obstacles that prevent them from achieving all the purposes and that Mexican people in the United States have fallen into the gap of the middle class that occupies rural areas.
In order to understand what Mexican minorities are, the key concept has to be described. As stated by Zong and Batalova (2014):
The U.S. Census Bureau defines the foreign born as individuals who had no U.S. citizenship at birth. The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, legal non-immigrants (including those with student, work, or other temporary visas), and persons residing in the country without authorization.
Mexican minorities in the United States are a product of four main groups: immigrants who possess lawful permanent resident visas; unauthorized aliens; temporary non-immigrants; naturalized citizens with the legal status.
The Mexican-origin experience is described differently by scientists. While some concentrate only on immigrants, an anthropologist John Ogbu, for instance, divides Mexican minorities into voluntary and involuntary immigrants. Voluntary minorities are defined as groups of immigrants which shifted to another society under the impulse to find a better economic well-being for themselves. Involuntary immigrants are “people who were brought into their present society through slavery, conquest or colonization” (Jiménez, 2010, p. 5). It is important to understand Mexican minorities in the context of different historic periods. Migration flows of the present days in the United States are the result of previous policy actions that are rooted in the past centuries.
Long history is only one of the reasons why Mexican minorities remain the heart of debates on immigration along with its positive and negative impacts, and possible migration outcomes. We can follow the dynamics of Mexican migration through the years. According to the collected data of the Migration Policy Institute, the century of Mexican immigration (the end of the twentieth century in particular) has created the largest immigrant group in the country. It is stated that “as of 2013, approximately 11.6 million Mexican immigrants resided in the United States – up from 2.2 million in 1980 – and Mexicans accounted for 28 percent of the country’s 41.3 million foreign born” (Zong & Batalova, 2014).
The data suggests that approximately 9 percent of Mexicans left their country of origin and formed almost 4 percent of the American population. There were already above 2, 000 000 Mexicans in the United States after the years of war and depression. The past years show a stable interest of Mexicans in the process of looking for better economic opportunities. They come for jobs and build their houses calling them homes on the land of prosperity. The generations of Mexicans that we see now were no more than just political and economical nomads centuries ago.
In order to canvass a subject of Mexican minority in the United States, the paper examines it in the historical context. Before the end of the eighteenth century, immigration from Mexico was insufficient. People of Mexican origin populated on the territories of New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California. Unlike the usual immigrant groups, people from Mexico were a colonized group. The migrated minority settled in the United States after the end of American-Mexican war. It was due to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed in the year 1848 that Mexico exchanged territories on the West for eighteen million dollars (Werner, 2015, p. 446). The treaty also stipulated that Mexicans who inhabited those territories would be given the United States citizenship. The number of Mexican minority in those years was under fifty thousand people. These were the first roots of the Mexican-origin population in America.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was the official establishment of a border between the United States and Mexico. Approximately two thousand miles of the land were later crossed by immigration flows that rapidly increased Mexican minority numbers.
The rule of the President Porfirio Díaz has economically and socially transformed Mexico. He was promoting modernization using different approaches. The most crucial one was the construction of a railway system from Mexico City to the border of the United States (the year 1884). The passage of this railway system lies through populated territories. People lost their lands because of the construction and found the solution that was supposed to help them improve the situation by means of moving to another country. The United States have given those people a direction not knowing the circumstances of the taken actions. The need to complete a transcontinental railway required additional human resources. Mining and agriculture industries were short of workers. A large number of people came from Asia.
“With the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the signing of the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” with Japan in 1907… employers could not meet their labor needs. In dire need for workers they turned to Mexico” (Werner, 2015, p. 447).
In order to follow a labor market request for more workers, companies opened their offices in a number of border towns like El Paso. Such towns became points of immigration later. In order to find people for performing tasks at the railway construction site, employment agencies informed about available positions and high wages that one could get in the United States. This was done regardless of the Immigration Act of 1885 that did not allow companies to hire anyone from outside the United States. Thus, taking into consideration the loss of land, low salaries, lack of work in Mexico, people perceived America as a land of opportunities. The tempting offers were gladly accepted by Mexicans, especially in the densely populated areas (Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato etc.).
After railway work experience, Mexicans were hired to execute more complicated tasks for lower payment. There were no other better options to consider, so people from Mexico became a popular and inexpensive human resource. Most of the work was done in New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada. As a result, Mexicans could be found working in mining industries, and agriculture.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 had its impact on the wave of immigration. If it were separate individuals crossing the border before, now the whole families left in order to live in the United States. As a rule, they took jobs that required unskilled labor force. The enduring migration continued during the years of the World War II, even when immigrants from Asia and Europe were restricted from entering the US. Mexicans were permitted to come to the United States under a petition of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Undocumented people required legislation. Temporary authorization was given as a part of Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The legislation increased the range of works available for Mexicans and expanded their social rights. Nevertheless, it was not enough due to the existence of the identity politics.
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The Unites States describes different groups in various ways using public policy and laws. However, on the background of Mexican memories, political actions were mostly an inert force in relation to Mexican immigration until the speech of the year 1985 that was made by President Ronald Reagan. The President evaluated the situation with immigrants as a threat. Working Mexican people used to be considered valuable assets of a developing economy of the United States. Reagan said that the United States had “lost control” of its borders and was under the “invasion” of immigrants who entered the country illegally (Durand, Massey, & Parrado, n.d.). It was the moment of transformation when, for example, a labor market profit was no longer a reason to tolerate Mexicans that had no permanent legal permission.
The government stated that undocumented immigrants were a danger to national security. High politics interference has partly shaped the identity of Mexican minorities in the eyes of the American society. A new stereotype was born. This is how Mexicans in the Unites States turned into criminals and invaders. They were depicted as a menace to the American way of living. It was done in order to reduce the number of illegal immigrants. The Civil Rights Act established a legal environment in which Mexican minorities suffered. They were perceived as the Third World and all the roads to happiness in the land of prosperity (as it was thought of America) were cut. To avoid these unpleasant circumstances, Mexicans started a so-called quest for citizenship.
The Civil Rights Movement started in the fortieth of the previous century. Mexicans expressed their wish to finally be a part of American empowerment. In the sixties, there was an extension of the movement – the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. The success of these actions may be observed in the further flow of immigrants coming to the US. However, the grips of Mexicans have complications in relation to their racial implications in the American society.
The relationship between the American society and Mexican population may be characterized as unequal and complicated. American people have their prejudice against Mexican immigrants. The basis for discrimination is the race (ethnic origin).
There can be observed aggression in the everyday attitude of the common American people. There was no respect to the “lower race people” from the beginning. It is said on the Seal of the United States: “E pluribus unum” (translated as “one out of many”).
These words mean that different elements were combined together in order to create one powerful nation. A slight irony may be seen as this one powerful nation does not like others to interfere. The circle is closed, and any attempts to interfere are considered an intrusion. This intrusion is punished by poor treatment in most cases (even though Mexicans voiced their grievances via Chicano civil rights movement).
For the purpose of identifying minorities, the government of the United States marked individuals and groups who were born in a Spanish-speaking country with the term “Hispanic”. The term was applied for representatives with different political, social and economical history. This term put emphasis on racial distinction. The majority of Hispanics preferred to be called Mexican Americans rather than Hispanic.
Evidence of racial unrest may be found in the lives of Mexican minorities. For example, in Texas, in the middle of the nineteenth century, there were episodes when Mexican minorities were restricted and could not own a land or vote. Apart from not having a political voice, children of Mexican minorities had to attend segregated public schools.
To illustrate the idea of racial intolerance and show how it has affected Mexican minorities, we should take a reflection of episodes from literature. There are a great variety of authors and books that describe the lives of Mexican people in the United States. Among the precedent-setting phrases there is one especially interesting to consider: “I told you – he was Mexican” (Boyle, 1995, p.15).
In the well-known book The Tortilla Curtain, there is a moment when one man (American) hits another (Mexican) while driving a car. This happens at the very beginning of the story. This quote reflects a clear prejudice against Mexican people as it implies that there was nothing to worry about since the man who was hit was not American. The characters of the book are well aware of their democratic values; however, they neglect to take the rights of other people into consideration. This insight depicted by an American writer Tom Coraghessan Boyle shows that some individuals did not really believe in equality. For instance, the man who hit a person of Mexican origin while driving a car knew that he would not be sued for this. There was also no need to provide medical treatment. The situation was resolved with twenty dollars. Such aspects of racial implication can also be seen in the cultural context.
Culture may be defined as an active notion when established moral and emotional standards and stereotypes find their responses in daily activities of a person. Culture shapes people like nothing else. Local cultures capture the most vivid features of people. Culture of minorities is figuratively saying, a two-way road when people have to adapt to the culture of foreign country, and also change it by inducing cultural investments of their own country. People use social surrounding to create socially valued and tolerable identities.
As an element of culture, people in the United States learnt to appreciate Mexican cuisine. There are a number of restaurants all over the country where Mexican food is served. This is one of the examples showing how Mexican minorities influence America on the basic level. Besides food, Mexican music and theatre are also valued.
The fact is that immigrants usually have different education and set of skills than natives. That is why the salary is lower and the choice of jobs is limited. Nevertheless, it is in every county’s interest to accept the “flow of brains” from all possible directions. There are a lot of talented and intellectual people from Mexico who achieved much more than representatives of common immigration layers. It is them that the United States is proud to have. It is partly because of those few individuals from Mexico and Mexican immigrants’ descendants that America still seems to be a land of opportunities and prosperity for others. There are such famous people as Uma Thurman (actress, producer, director, model), Jessica Alba (actress, model), Eva Longoria (actress, model), Louis C.K. (director, producer, actor), Joan Baez (musician, pacifist, activist), Selena Gomez (actor, singer), Guillermo del Toro (novelist, director, producer, screenwriter), Salma Hayek (actor), Demi Lovato (musician, actor), Oscar de la Hoya (professional boxer, businessman), Carlos Santana (musician), and Gustavo Arellano (editor at the Los Angeles Times). We may continue this list adding the names of astronauts, politicians, and educators. The idea is that global societies perceive these individuals as immigrants who fulfill their dreams in a country that promised them a better well-being. The fact that these are the very few successful stories does not bother people.
The issues related to Mexican minorities are discussed with the purpose of indicating positive and negative factors of immigration. Different studies present a description of problematic labor market situation along with identity politics. Mexican minorities were established by immigrant streams that were motivated by a search for better opportunities that could not be given in the country of origin.
The study of Mexican minorities’ presence in the United States suggests that the migration experience may be concluded in neither a pessimistic nor optimistic account. According to different episodes in the history of immigration, Mexican minorities in the United States failed to fulfill their plans for well-being. Examples of a struggle for the bright future are the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), Civil Rights Movements, Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986). Nevertheless, Mexicans received more than they were able to get in Mexico. In most cases, people from Mexico have some work in the United States that helps them to survive. Not all of immigrants can have their own houses. Sometimes Mexican minorities are discriminated (in the spheres of work, medicine, political rights, and education). Even when an immigrant has a citizenship, he may not be treated as an equal to an American.
The aims of people from Mexico to fulfill their potential were met with contradictive actions resulting in racial discrimination and difficult culture assimilation. The identity politics of Mexican minorities is still under improvement. Some people achieve their aspirations, while others suffer from the situation where the United States seems to have stopped realizing their dreams. Mexican minorities tend to fall under controlled existence by the government and society (for instance, a speech of the year 1985 that was made by President Ronald Reagan).
The Mexican influx is no longer viewed as an open danger to national security in the present days. However, since the construction of a railway system from Mexico City to the borders of the United States, Mexican minorities became a middle class that lives in cities and towns located in predominantly rural areas.