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

By Gilda L. Ochoa | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
“This Is Who I Am”: Negotiating
Racial/Ethnic Constructions

I guess Mexican American. What else can you say? Well, that’s
the way they labeled us anyway. A lot of my friends were not
Latins, so they didn’t consider me Latin. That’s one thing that
I used to feel kind of bad about because when they would say
a remark, “Hey that’s me. I’m Latin too.” They would forget.
Even up to now, they still do it. I just ignore it.

GLORIA DOMíNGUEZ, sixty-five-year-old Mexican American

One time a teacher asked, “What does Chicano mean?” Before
I could explain, this White teacher said, “Oh, it’s a Mexican
with an attitude.” That’s when, with people like her, I throw
that term out because I want to confront them. I want the
opportunity to set them straight.

DAVID GALVEZ, twenty-seven-year-old Mexican American

The history of colonization and the enduring patterns of exploitation, racism, and discrimination outlined in the previous chapters have set the landscape for contemporary race/ethnic relations. Within the United States, this history has resulted in various paradigms of race/ethnicity. Two, in particular, have been detrimental to the Mexican-origin community. The first one, a biological approach, has existed throughout much of the history of the United States. The underlying premise of this approach was that people of color, including Mexicans, were biologically different from and inferior to Anglo Americans (Mario Barrera 1979).1 The second approach began in the 1920s and gained popularity in the 1940s and 1950s (G. Gonzalez 1990; Omi and Winant 1994; Frankenberg 1993; Brodkin 2000). During this time period, the popular discourse on race/ethnicity was framed in terms of culture and with an emphasis on assimilation. Rather than attributing and justifying the structural inequality of the Mexican-origin population to perceived biological inferiority, this assimilationist approach has focused on presumed cultural deficiencies of Mexican Americans (Omi and Winant 1994; Frankenberg 1993). As discussed in Chapter 2, this perspective continues to be prevalent in the United States.

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