Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Strategies of Resistance and Disengagement in an Ethnic Enclave: El Barrio in Aurora, Illinois

Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Strategies of Resistance and Disengagement in an Ethnic Enclave: El Barrio in Aurora, Illinois

Article excerpt

This paper is a case study of a small city undergoing a process of demographic and ethnic change in community, empowerment, and political participation. For the dominant ethnic group these changes are threatening, but resisting the Latino community that they fear tends to set in motion the very conditions that exacerbate the growing prevalence of poverty and the attendant problems of gangs, domestic violence, and school drop-out rates. For the Latino community the challenge to such resistance is through community organizing and bringing pressure upon the city for inclusion in the political structure to influence policy regarding these problems.

Introduction

This paper addresses the failure of political ethnic mobilization by a Latin American population near Chicago, Illinois, due to social and political elements beyond the control of Aurora's Mexican-American population. This essay will focus on education and the labor market as major social basics contributing to the structural position of the Latino population. As the Aurora labor market continues to transform to meet the needs of the "post-industrial" economy, the educational system takes on greater significance in training people for new employment opportunities. A bifurcated educational system based on ethnicity -- middle class Whites in one and working class Latinos and Blacks in the other -- operates to center the social problems associated with poverty, discrimination and cultural isolation in predominantly minority schools.

Aurora represents a classic case of Blauner's internal colony where an ethnic population is marginalized, impoverished, and discriminated against. Considering these objective conditions, the limited political response by the community to confront the issue of ethnic marginalization is problematic, especially considering the relative size of the Latino community. Political and economic power remains monopolized in the hands of the white majority, while among the lower classes in Aurora, primarily Latino and African American, there remains significant ethnic isolation that conforms to a system of ethnic stratification and social segregation.

For many U.S. ethnic communities the increase in economic globalization and the virtual collapse of the liberal corporate state has meant a restructuring of the political economy. Both business and government have broken the social contract with the poor, the disenfranchised, and organized labor. Government now takes a less active and direct role in providing public programs to address the issue of poverty and unemployment. In place of the contract a greater reliance is placed on the market and private initiative. Additionally, a new international regime has been instituted where production of goods has given way to service employment as industrial activity has either moved overseas or been computerized. This has a negative effect upon job opportunities and potential income. For example, Kent reports that "the movement from manufacturing to services has impacted real income levels; by 1987, shrinking industries paid 41.4% more in annual wages than did the expanding ones" (245). The structure now in place provides fewer employment opportunities for those not well educated and who have historically experienced discrimination. Song and Kim conclude that "the new U.S. political economy has functioned to intensify existing structural inequities in American society and to further rigidify ethnic stratification" (237). With higher school dropout rates, less "cultural capital" (that is, middle class parental skills, habits and styles that determine the cognitive skills of their children), and discrimination, various non-white ethnic groups find themselves with low paying jobs and stalled on the lower rungs of social mobility. The growth of technology and a global orientation may likewise further isolate ethnic groups since the dominant group, with its relative wealth and education, is most able to take advantage of the technological and global relationships, allowing them to further insulate and reorient their relationships and interests away from ethnic encounters. …

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