Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945

Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945

Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945

Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945

Synopsis

Twentieth-century Los Angeles has been the locus of one of the most profound and complex interactions between variant cultures in American history. Yet this study is among the first to examine the relationship between ethnicity and identity among the largest immigrant group to that city. By focusing on Mexican immigrants to Los Angeles from 1900 to 1945, George J. Sanchez explores the process by which temporary sojourners altered their orientation to that of permanent residents, thereby laying the foundation for a new Mexican-American culture. Analyzing not only formal programs aimed at these newcomers by the United States and Mexico, but also the world created by these immigrants through family networks, religious practice, musical entertainment, and work and consumption patterns, Sanchez uncovers the creative ways Mexicans adapted their culture to life in the United States. When a formal repatriation campaign pushed thousands to return to Mexico, those remaining in Los Angeles launched new campaigns to gain civil rights as ethnic Americans through labor unions and New Deal politics. The immigrant generation, therefore, laid the groundwork for the emerging Mexican-American identity of their children.

Excerpt

When Zeferino Ramírez stood up in front of his fellow residents of Belvedere, an unincorporated area east of the city of Los Angeles, on June 12, 1927, he had long since been recognized as a leader among the Mexican immigrants there. That Sunday night the meeting was to focus on a community crisis, and it was no surprise that Ramírez had been asked to preside over the discussion. At issue was a plan to incorporate the area into a full-fledged municipality, a move that would certainly make Mexican settlement more difficult in the district. At least three plans for incorporation had been submitted to Los Angeles County officials within the year by real estate and manufacturing interests in Belvedere. Their strategy was to increase the taxes of local residents to pay for city services, thereby forcing the largely working-class community to sell their property in a depressed market. The area in dispute could thereby be resold to middle-class Anglo Americans, forcing up the estate values in neighboring communities and making a tidy profit for real estate companies.

Ramírez had seen this kind of discrimination before. He had come to Los Angeles during the decade of the Mexican Revolution and was unable to secure employment because of his nationality, even though he had gained valuable skills in the mines of northern Mexico and Arizona. Unable to find work, he was forced to live in an insect-infested room with fellow Mexicans. Returning to Mexico briefly to bring over his wife and children, he finally managed to save enough to return to Los Angeles and buy a small home in Belvedere. For seven years he worked as a highway laborer. In the mid-1920s, he started a business of his own, opening an undertaking establishment after serving as an apprentice in an Anglo-run mortuary. As one of Belvedere's first Mexican businessmen, he quickly earned the respect of his neighbors. Always taking pride in his Mexican nationality, he spearheaded efforts to establish a Mexican school in Belvedere.

Yet this story was more complicated than one of ethnic leadership . . .

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