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

By Gilda L. Ochoa | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Theorizing about Mexican American–Mexican
Immigrant Relations in “Occupied Mexico”

If they’re going to be here, they should learn the language and
not have everything geared to them in Spanish. I hate that…
They want to bring their customs here instead of getting used
to our customs.

SILVIA BRAVO, sixty-two-year-old Mexican American

The United States is the land of milk and honey. I’ll never
memorize what it says on the Statue of Liberty, “bring me your
huddled masses,” and we have always accepted people as long
as [they] are European. My father will tell you that this is occu-
pied Mexico. “You’re lucky we [Mexicans] have let you stay
here this long,” he’ll tell people.

DENISE VILLARREAL, forty-six-year-old Mexican American

The views of La Puente residents Silvia Bravo and Denise Villarreal represent two of the most popular perspectives on race/ethnic relations, the assimilationist and the power-conflict perspective. While each perspective has numerous variations, they nonetheless represent two distinct approaches that are used by members of the academic community and by the general public to understand race/ethnic relations and immigration (Mario Barrera 1979; Frankenberg 1993; Omi and Winant 1994).1

As Silvia Bravo’s comments illustrate, the assimilationist perspective tends to be characterized by an emphasis on integrating into U.S. society by acquiring the English language and middle-class, Anglo American values and traditions. Assimilationists often equate the experiences of Mexicans with those of Southern and Eastern European immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century. The underlying belief is that Mexicans, like Irish, Italian, and Jewish Americans, will gradually assimilate into the dominant society. The process of assimilation is perceived as inevitable and desirable, reinforcing the perception of meritocracy and that all racial/ethnic groups have equal opportunities to “become American.”2 Oftentimes underlying this perspective is the ideology of Anglo superiority where the Spanish lan-

-18-

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