Mexican Americans across Generations: Immigrant Families, Racial Realities

Mexican Americans across Generations: Immigrant Families, Racial Realities

Mexican Americans across Generations: Immigrant Families, Racial Realities

Mexican Americans across Generations: Immigrant Families, Racial Realities


While newly arrived immigrants are often the focus of public concern and debate, many Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans have resided in the United States for generations. Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, and their racial identities change with each generation. While the attainment of education and middle class occupations signals a decline in cultural attachment for some, socioeconomic mobility is not a cultural death-knell, as others are highly ethnically identified. There are a variety of ways that middle class Mexican Americans relate to their ethnic heritage, and racialization despite assimilation among a segment of the second and third generations reveals the continuing role of race even among the U.S.-born.

Mexican Americans Across Generations investigates racial identity and assimilation in three-generation Mexican American families living in California. Through rich interviews with three generations of middle class Mexican American families, Vasquez focuses on the family as a key site for racial and gender identity formation, knowledge transmission, and incorporation processes, exploring how the racial identities of Mexican Americans both change and persist generationally in families. She illustrates how gender, physical appearance, parental teaching, historical era and discrimination influence Mexican Americans’ racial identity and incorporation patterns, ultimately arguing that neither racial identity nor assimilation are straightforward progressions but, instead, develop unevenly and are influenced by family, society, and historical social movements.


Since 1924, Old Spanish Days Fiesta has been an annual summer celebration in my home town of Santa Barbara, California. the aim of the nearly week-long event is, according to its official website, to “celebrate the traditions handed down from Spain, Mexico and the California Rancho period.” This festive affair includes a historical parade, a children’s parade, rodeos, nightly dance performances, and mercados (outdoor plazas) filled with bands, dance troupes, and Mexican food vendors. the highlight is the evening dance performances, known by English and Spanish speakers alike as Noches de Ronda (Nights of Serenade), held on a stage outside of the town’s red, Spanish-tile-roof courthouse. the audience stakes out spaces on the lawn early in the day for prime viewing of the elegant dancers who don elaborate costumes and perform Spanish flamenco, Mexican ballet folklórico, and Aztec dances.

Looking back, I realize that most, but not all, of the dancers were Latino/a, primarily of Mexican descent. I remember being a teenager chewing on a churro, enraptured by the dancers, and musing about how it came to be that most of the dancers on stage were Latino. Given the demographic makeup of Santa Barbara, one would expect a rough split between non-Hispanic white and Mexican-origin participants. Another point of curiosity for me was the question, Why do some Mexican Americans engage in culturally rich traditions and art forms whereas many others do not? Many Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites happily watched the performers. While being an audience member is arguably a form of engagement in one’s heritage for Latinos, certainly there is a range of involvement in Fiesta as a cultural activity for those whose heritage it is intended to represent and celebrate. So, I wondered, why are some people strongly identify with their racial/ethnic background whereas others are not?

My nascent interest in social groups—and particularly in race/ethnicity—was piqued when I attended college on the east coast. While I loved my native state of California, I was eager to become familiar with another part . . .

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