Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

Mexican Americans as
minority, immigrant, or both

related terms and sites: mestizo, race / ethnicity

Distinct historical backgrounds of North American and Central American immigration.

North America primarily settled by Northern European immigrants (English, Germans, Dutch, French, etc.), who are Protestant Christians.

Protestant settlers more likely to bring wives, families (esp. New England).

Mexico and Central America settled primarily by Spanish colonizers from souther Europe, who are Catholic Christians.

Catholic explorers and colonizers more likely to be all-male expeditions (soldiers, priests, administrators).

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Distinct racial relations and attitudes result.

North American white settlers tend not to intermarry with American Indians or, later, African Americans. (Some intermarriage occurs on frontiers, and there's always plenty of inter-racial sexuality, much of it exploitative, but children of these relations are consigned to minority communities.)

As a result, North American society officially regards races as pure, permanent, and separateó These , often prescribed by God or nature and associated with different classes or social purposes (e.g., ownership, labor).

Early North America and USA until recently regards race as "black or white," with little attention to in-between.

Spanish soldiers take Indian women as sexual partners and / or wives, resulting in larger mixed-race population than in North America. See Mestizo.

Instead of ethnic identity as "black or white," ethnic identity is more like a spectrum, with the broad center as "brown." See Mestizo.

Central and Mexican America has plenty of color prejudice, and as in North America, people with European skin and features dominate media, financial, and other institutional power, but gradations are more gradual or permeable?

USA as black-and-white

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Latin America as spectrum centered on brown

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Different migration patterns.

North America as westward progress, manifest destiny: East to West. 

Mexican and Central American immigration to USA as North-South

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Mexican Americans as minority in USA:

Historical: Conquest and annexation by the United States of Mexican territory in 1800s is historically analogous to conquest of American Indian lands in earlier centuries.

(+ Minority status in Central America: American Indians were often enslaved or otherwise exploited by Spanish colonizers.)

Racial / ethnic: Partial American Indian descent of many Mexican Americans associates them with American Indian minority status.

Traditional extended families (however fragmented) with traditional gender roles are more common in minorities than in dominant culture.

Brevity of childhood, beginning work early to support family, and early child-bearing ("age at first birth") are contrary to dominant culture's extended childhoods, but this may the result of class more than ethnicity.


Mexican Americans as immigrants to USA:

Historical: Since most of "New Spain" became part of the USA, Mexican immigration to former parts of Mexico and other parts of the USA has taken place in several waves, responding to unrest in Mexico (e.g., the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s, the Mexican debt crisis of the 1980s-90s, NAFTA in 1990s) and to need for cheap manual labor in the USA, especially during war-time (e.g. Bracero program during WW2).

Racial / ethnic: Intermarriage is a primary driver of assimilation. Since intermarriage is inherent in the Mexican American or mestizo identity, Mexican Americans appear to adapt easily to intermarriage with other ethnic groups within the USA.