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

By George J. Sánchez | Go to book overview

Conclusion

When I arrived in the United States, I lived for a while in Los Angeles, a city inhabited by over a million persons of Mexican origin. At first sight, the visitor is surprised not only by the purity of the sky and the ugliness of the dispersed and ostentatious buildings, but also by the city's vaguely Mexican atmosphere, which cannot be captured in words or concepts. This Mexicanism—delight in decoration, carelessness and pomp, negligence, passion and reserve—floats in the air. I say "floats" because it never mixes or unites with the other world, the North American world based on precision and efficiency. It floats, without offering any opposition; it hovers, blown here and there by the wind, sometimes breaking up like a cloud, sometimes standing erect like a rising skyrocket. It creeps, it wrinkles, expands and contracts; it sleeps or dreams; it is ragged or beautiful. It floats, never quite existing, never quite vanishing.

—Octavio Paz from the Labyrinth of Solitude (1950) 1

Stand in the lobby of the transnational terminal at Los Angeles International Airport the week before Christmas. Witness the transformation of immigrant adaptation to American society. Here in this airport, which has become the single largest port of entry for immigrants to this country, one sees continuous movement back to native countries during the holiday season. At the separate terminal which handles Mexico-bound flights, thousands of individuals carry huge packages full of the latest toys, games, and other American consumer items bound for their friends and relatives back home. Venture south to Tijuana at the border and witness a less conspicuous, but equally important movement to the Mexican interior aboard thousands of buses carrying less prosperous migrants to their loved ones. After the holiday season, having reconnected themselves with the lives they lived before migration, most of these individuals will return to their jobs and homes in Los Angeles.

The modern conveniences of the late twentieth century—air travel, the telephone, television—have made the world a smaller place and have altered the nature of immigrant adjustment. Communication with lands left behind is now possible, and for immigrants dealing with new surroundings in this country this contact is crucial. In many ways, the close

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