Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community: Power, Conflict, and Solidarity

Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community: Power, Conflict, and Solidarity

Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community: Power, Conflict, and Solidarity

Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community: Power, Conflict, and Solidarity


On the surface, Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants to the United States seem to share a common cultural identity but often make uneasy neighbors. Discrimination and assimilationist policies have influenced generations of Mexican Americans so that some now fear that the status they have gained by assimilating into American society will be jeopardized by Spanish-speaking newcomers. Other Mexican Americans, however, adopt a position of group solidarity and work to better the social conditions and educational opportunities of Mexican immigrants. Focusing on the Mexican-origin, working-class city of La Puente in Los Angeles County, California, this book examines Mexican Americans' everyday attitudes toward and interactions with Mexican immigrants- a topic that has so far received little serious study. Using in-depth interviews, participant observations, school board meeting minutes, and other historical documents, Gilda Ochoa investigates how Mexican Americans are negotiating their relationships with immigrants at an interpersonal level in the places where they shop, worship, learn, and raise their families. This research into daily lives highlights the centrality of women in the process of negotiating and building communities and sheds new light on identity formation and group mobilization in the U.S. and on educational issues, especially bilingual education. It also complements previous studies on the impact of immigration on the wages and employment opportunities of Mexican Americans.


One gets sad because one is humiliated here, and unfortunately
one’s own race is doing the humiliating. I have been humiliated
many times because I can’t speak English.

Sara valdez, Mexican immigrant

Migrating from Cuernavaca, Mexico, to escape an abusive husband and with hopes of “earning enough money to eat,” thirty-six-year-old Sara Valdez arrived in 1989 in La Puente, a city in Los Angeles County, California. After acquiring a job in a neighborhood restaurant, she encouraged other family members to join her. She now lives with her two teenage children and her cousin in a converted two-car garage. She works from 5 P.M until midnight, more than forty hours a week, as a waitress.

Sitting at her kitchen table, Sara speaks candidly about the difficulties she has encountered in the United States. As her voice cracks and tears well up in her eyes, she describes the humiliation she experiences because of her current economic situation and her limited English-speaking skills. Living and working in La Puente, a largely Mexican-origin community, Sara explains how it is “established” Mexican Americans who have humiliated her. Sorrowfully, she shares:

One’s own people discriminate. It’s sad. These are people that clearly
are established. They have businesses and their own homes. They look
down on one because of one’s bad economic situation.

The coraje (courage out of anger) that led Sara Valdez to travel thousands of miles to leave her abusive husband is what she is drawing on now to combat the ridicule she currently faces. After long nights at work, she studies English at a local school:

It’s a little hard to go to school because I usually get home from work at
midnight, but sometimes as late as 2 A.M It’s hard to get up, but I am
going to school because of coraje. I want to improve myself and have a
better job for my children, so I tell myself, “What do you have to do to
improve?” Because since I came here, I’ve been in the same little hole.

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