Mexican Americans

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Mexican Americans
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Total population

10.94% of total U.S. population, 2014[1]

Location of Mexico
Regions with significant populations
Southwest, West Coast, Upper Midwest. There are also emerging populations in the South and Northeast.
Spanish, American English, Spanglish, and a minority of Indigenous Mexican languages.
Predominantly Roman Catholic; Protestants, minorities of Indigenous beliefs, Unaffiliated
Related ethnic groups
Hispanics, Mestizo, Spaniards, Criollos, Arab Mexicans, Afro-Mexicans, Indigenous peoples of Mexico

Mexican Americans (Spanish: mexico-americanos or estadounidenses de origen mexicano) are American residents of the United States who have full or partial Mexican ancestry. As of July 2013, Mexican Americans make up 10.9% of the United States' population, with 34.6 million Americans who identify as being of full or partial Mexican ancestry.[1] As of July 2013, Mexican Americans comprise 64.1% of all Hispanics and Latinos in the United States.[1]

The United States is home to the second-largest Mexican community in the world, second only to Mexico itself, and comprising more than 24% of the entire Mexican-origin population of the world. Canada is a distant third with a small Mexican Canadian population of 96,055 (0.3% of the population) as of 2011.[2]

In addition, as of 2008 there were an estimated 7,000,000 undocumented Mexican migrants living in the United States. Upgrading their legal status became a major issue in 2013.[3] Over 60% of all Mexican Americans reside in the states of California and Texas.[4] In 2012, the United States admitted 145,326 Mexican immigrants,[5] and as of November 2014, over 1.3 million Mexicans were on the waiting list to immigrate to the United States through legal means.[6]

History of Mexican Americans[edit]

Mexican-American history spans more than 400 years and varies from region to region within the United States. In 1900, there were slightly more than 500,000 Hispanics living in New Mexico, California and Texas.[7] Most were Mexican Americans of Spanish descent and other Hispanicized European settlers who settled in the Southwest during Spanish colonial times, as well as indigenous Mexican Indians. Approximately ten percent of the current Mexican-American population are descended from the early colonial settlers; their families claim hundreds of years' residency in the country.[8]

As early as 1813, some of the Tejanos who colonized Texas in the Spanish Colonial Period established a government in Texas that desired independence from Spanish-ruled Mexico. In those days, there was no concept of identity as Mexican. Many Mexicans were more loyal to their states/provinces than to their country as a whole, which was a colony of Spain. This was particularly true in frontier regions such as Zacatecas, Texas, Yucatán, Oaxaca, New Mexico, etc.[9]

As shown by the writings of colonial Tejanos such as Antonio Menchaca, the Texas Revolution was initially a colonial Tejano cause. Mexico encouraged immigration from the United States to settle east Texas and, by 1831, English-speaking settlers outnumbered Tejanos ten to one in the region. Both groups were settled mostly in the eastern part of the territory.[10] The Mexican government became concerned about the increasing volume of Anglo-American immigration and restricted the number of settlers from the United States allowed to enter Texas. Consistent with its abolition of slavery, the Mexican government banned slavery within the state, which angered American slave owners.[11] The American settlers, along with many of the Tejano, rebelled against the centralized authority of Mexico City and the Santa Anna regime, while other Tejano remained loyal to Mexico, and still others were neutral.[12][13]

Author John P. Schmal wrote of the effect Texas independence had on the Tejano community:[14]

A native of San Antonio, Juan Seguín is probably the most famous Tejano to be involved in the War of Texas Independence. His story is complex because he joined the Anglo rebels and helped defeat the Mexican forces of Santa Anna. But later on, as Mayor of San Antonio, he and other Tejanos felt the hostile encroachments of the growing Anglo power against them. After receiving a series of death threats, Seguín relocated his family in Mexico, where he was coerced into military service and fought against the US in 1846–1848 Mexican–American War.

Although the events of 1836 led to independence for the people of Texas, the Hispanic population of the state was very quickly disenfranchised to the extent that their political representation in the Texas State Legislature disappeared entirely for several decades.

As a Spanish colony, the territory of California also had an established population of colonial settlers. Californios is the term for the Spanish-speaking residents of modern-day California; they were the original Mexicans (regardless of race) and local Hispanicized Indians in the region (Alta California) before the United States acquired it as a territory. In the mid-19th century, more settlers from the United States began to enter the territory.

In California, Hispanic settlement began in 1769 with the establishment of the Presidio and Catholic mission of San Diego. 20 more missions were established along the California coast by 1823, along with military Presidios and civilian communities. Settlers in California tended to stay close to the coast and outside of the California interior. The California economy was based on agriculture and livestock. In contrast to central New Spain, coastal colonists found little mineral wealth. Some became farmers or ranchers, working for themselves on their own land or for other colonists. Government officials, priests, soldiers, and artisans settled in towns, missions, and presidios.[15]

One of the most important events in the history of Mexican settlers in California occurred in 1833, when the Mexican Government secularized the missions. In effect this meant that the government took control of large and vast areas of land. These lands were eventually distributed among the population in the form of Ranchos, which soon became the basic socio-economic units of the province.[16]

Relations between Californios and English-speaking settlers were relatively good until 1846, when military officer John C. Fremont arrived in Alta California with a United States force of 60 men on an exploratory expedition. Fremont made an agreement with Comandante Castro that he would stay in the San Joaquin Valley only for the winter, then move north to Oregon. However, Fremont remained in the Santa Clara Valley then headed towards Monterey. When Castro demanded that Fremont leave Alta California, Fremont rode to Gavilan Peak, raised a US flag and vowed to fight to the last man to defend it. After three days of tension, Fremont retreated to Oregon without a shot being fired.

With relations between Californios and Americans quickly souring, Fremont returned to Alta California, where he encouraged European-American settlers to seize a group of Castro's soldiers and their horses. Another group seized the Presidio of Sonoma and captured Mariano Vallejo.

The Americans chose William B. Ide as chosen Commander in Chief and on July 5, he proclaimed the creation of the Bear Flag Republic. On July 9, US military forces reached Sonoma; they lowered the Bear Flag Republic's flag, replacing it with a US flag. Californios organized an army to defend themselves from invading American forces after the Mexican army retreated from Alta California to defend other parts of Mexico.

The Californios defeated an American force in Los Angeles on September 30, 1846. In turn, they were defeated after the Americans reinforced their forces in what is now southern California. Tens of thousands of miners and associated people arrived during the California Gold Rush, and their activities in some areas meant the end of the Californios' ranching lifestyle. Many of the English-speaking 49ers turned from mining to farming and moved, often illegally, onto land granted to Californios by the former Mexican government.[17]

The United States had first come into conflict with Mexico in the 1830s, as the westward spread of United States settlements and of slavery brought significant numbers of new settlers into the region known as Tejas (modern-day Texas), then part of Mexico. The Mexican–American War, followed by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, extended US control over a wide range of territory once held by Mexico, including the present-day borders of Texas and the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California.

Although the treaty promised that the landowners in this newly acquired territory would have their property rights preserved and protected as if they were citizens of the United States, many former citizens of Mexico lost their land in lawsuits before state and federal courts over terms of land grants, or as a result of legislation passed after the treaty.[18] Even those statutes which Congress passed to protect the owners of property at the time of the extension of the United States' borders, such as the 1851 California Land Act, had the effect of dispossessing Californio owners. They were ruined by the cost over years of having to maintain litigation to support their land titles.

Following the concession of California to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexicans were repeatedly targeted by legislation that targeted their socio-economic standing in the area. One significant instance of this is exemplified by the passage of legislation that placed the heaviest tax burden on land. The fact that there was such a heavy tax on land was important to the socio-economic standing of Mexican Americans because it essentially limited their ability to keep possession of the Ranchos that had been originally granted to them by the Mexican government. [19]

19th-century Mexican migration[edit]

In the late nineteenth century, liberal Mexican President Porfirio Díaz embarked on a program of economic modernization that triggered not only a wave of internal migration in Mexico from rural areas to cities, but also Mexican emigration to the United States. A railway network was constructed that connected central Mexico to the U.S. border and also opened up previously isolated regions. The second factor was the shift in land tenure that left Mexican peasants without title or access to land for farming on their own account.[20] For the first time, Mexicans in increasing numbers migrated north into the U.S. for better economic opportunities.

20th century[edit]

While Mexican Americans were once concentrated in the Southwest: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, during World War I they moved to industrial communities such as St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and other steel-producing regions, where they gained industrial jobs. Like European immigrants, they were attracted to work that did not require proficiency in English. Industrial restructuring in the second half of the century put many Mexican Americans out of work in addition to people of other ethnic groups. Their industrial skills were not as useful in the changing economies of these areas.

During the first half of the 20th century, Mexican-American workers formed unions of their own and joined integrated unions. The most significant union struggle involving Mexican Americans was the effort to organize agricultural workers and the United Farm Workers' long strike and boycott aimed at grape growers in the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys in the late 1960s. Leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta gained national prominence as they led a workers' rights organization that helped workers get unemployment insurance to an effective union of farmworkers almost overnight. The struggle to protect rights and sustainable wages for migrant workers has continued.

Since the late 20th century, Mexican illegal immigrants have increasingly become a large part of the workforce in industries such as meat packing, where processing centers have moved closer to ranches in relatively isolated rural areas of the Midwest; in agriculture in the southeastern United States; and in the construction, landscaping, restaurant, hotel and other service industries throughout the country.

Mexican-American identity has changed throughout these years. Over the past hundred years, activist Mexican Americans have campaigned for their constitutional rights as citizens, to overturn discrimination in voting and to gain other civil rights. They have opposed educational and employment discrimination, and worked for economic and social advancement. In numerous locations, court cases have been filed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to challenge practices, such as poll taxes and literacy tests in English, that made it more difficult for Spanish-language minorities to register and vote. At the same time, many Mexican Americans have struggled with defining and maintaining their community's cultural identity as distinct from mainstream United States. That changes in response to the absorption of countless new immigrants.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some Latino/Hispanic student groups flirted with Mexican nationalism, and differences over the proper name for members of the community. Discussion over self-identification as Chicano/Chicana, Latino/Latina, Mexican Americans, or Hispanics became tied up with deeper disagreements over whether to integrate into or remain separate from mainstream American society. There were divisions between those Mexican Americans whose families had lived in the United States for two or more generations and more recent immigrants, in addition to distinctions from other Hispanic or Latino immigrants from nations in Central and South America with their own distinct cultural traditions.

During this period, civil rights groups such as the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee were founded. By the early 21st century, the states with the largest percentages and populations of Mexican Americans are California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. There have also been markedly increasing populations in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois.[21]

In terms of religion, Mexican Americans are primarily Roman Catholic. A large minority are Evangelical Protestants. Notably, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report in 2006 and the Pew Religious Landscape Survey in 2008, Mexican Americans are significantly less likely than other Hispanic groups to abandon Catholicism for Protestant churches.[22][23]

Race and ethnicity[edit]

Main article: Mexican people

Ethnically, Mexican Americans are a diverse population, including those of European ancestry (mostly Spanish), Indigenous ancestry, a mixture of both, and Mexicans of Middle Eastern descent (mainly Lebanese). The Mexican population is majority mestizo, made up of individuals of mixed European and Native American indigenous ancestry.

Per the 2010 US Census, the majority (52.8%) of Mexican Americans identify as being White.[24] The remainder identify as "Some other race" (39.5%), "two or more races" (5.0%), Native American (1.4%), Black (0.9%), and Asian / Pacific Islander (0.4%).[24] versus Mexico.

2010 U.S Census [24]
Self-identified Race Percent of population
White alone
American Indians and Alaska Natives
Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders
Two or more races
Some Other Race

This identification as "some other race" reflects activism among Mexican Americans as claiming a cultural status and working for their rights in the United States, as well as the separation due to different language and culture. Hispanics are not a racial classification, however, but an ethnic group.

In the 21st century, studies in Mexico by national Mexican institutes of Mexican genetic admixture have established that a high proportion of the Mexican population has predominately European ancestry. In some studies the population is shown to be majority European, comparable to South American countries in which a higher proportion of the population has traditionally been classified as European or 'white.' There is genetic asymmetry, with the direct paternal line predominately European and the maternal line predominately Amerindian.

For instance, a 2006 study conducted by Mexico's National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN), which genotyped 104 samples, reported that mestizo Mexicans are 58.96% European, 35.05% "Asian" (primarily Amerindian), and 5.03% Other.[25] According to a 2009 report by the Mexican Genome Project, which sampled 300 mestizos from six Mexican states and one indigenous group, the gene pool of the Mexican mestizo population was calculated to be 55.2% percent indigenous, 41.8% European, 1.0% African, and 1.2% Asian.[26] A 2012 study published by the Journal of Human Genetics found the deep paternal ancestry of the Mexican mestizo population to be predominately European (64.9%) followed by Amerindian (30.8%) and Asian (1.2%).[27] A 2013 study published by the American Journal of Physical Anthropology found the maternal ancestry of the Mexican mestizo population to be predominately Amerindian (92.9%) followed by European (5.3%) and African (1.9%).[28] In 2011 a large-scale mitochondrial sequencing in Mexican Americans revealed 85 to 90% of maternal mtDNA lineages are of Native American origin, with the remainder having European (5-7%) or other ancestry (3-5%).[29]

'White' Mexicans have been thought to be those persons of full European descent[30] but it is more likely that these are people of traditional European features. Although Mexico does not have a racial census, some international organizations believe that Mexican people of Spanish or predominantly European descent make up approximately one-sixth (16.5%) of the country's population, a figure which includes descendants of European immigrants since the late 19th and 20th centuries.[31] The "mestizos" include persons of varying amounts of European ancestry, and some have a European admixture higher than 90%.[32] Because of the high proportion of proven European genetic ancestry among mestizos, the Mexican government decided to abandon racial classifications as having little meaning in defining 'white' and 'mestizo.' Instead, it decided to classify the population by ethnicities related to the primary languages spoken by groups, whether Spanish or indigenous languages. This also follows how people identify culturally.[30]

Classification of the contemporary ethnic populations by visible characteristics or self-identification yielded a modern white population of Mexico of 9-16%, but genetic studies have shown that Mexico has a population with a European admixture comparable to countries that report white populations of 52% - 77% (Chile and Costa Rica have averages of 51%.[33] and 60%, respectively.)[34] Studies in the general Mexican population have found European ancestry ranging from 56%[35] going to 60%,[36] 64%[37] and up to 78%[38]). The differences between genetic ancestry and reported numbers by self-identification in ethnic groups could be attributed to the influence of the concept known as "mestizaje", which was promoted by the post-revolutionary government in an effort to create a united Mexican cultural identity with no racial distinctions.[39]

US census bureau classifications[edit]

As the United States' borders expanded, the United States Census Bureau changed its racial classification methods for Mexican Americans under United States jurisdiction. The Bureau's classification system has evolved significantly from its inception:

  • From 1790 to 1850, there was no distinct racial classification of Mexican Americans in the US census. The categories recognized by the Census Bureau were White, Mulatto, Free People of Color, and Black. Mulatto and black were both terms used to classify slaves, revealing recognition that many slaves were of mixed ancestry, generally due to European fathers. The Census Bureau estimates that during this period the number of persons who could not be categorized as white or black did not exceed 0.25% of the total population based on 1860 census data.[40]
  • From 1850 through 1920 the Census Bureau expanded its racial categories to include multi-racial persons, under Mestizos, Mulattos, as well as new categories of distinction of Amerindians and Asians. It classified Mexicans and Mexican Americans as "White".[40]
  • The 1930 US census revoked generic white status for Mexican Americans due to protests among certain parts of the population over a diluted definition of "whiteness." This decision followed a period in which Virginia and some other racially segregated states passed laws imposing binary classification and the one-drop rule, requiring classification of all persons with any known African ancestry as "black." The new form asked for "color or race." Census workers were instructed to differentiate between European whites and known people of Mexican descent, and to "write ‘W’ for White; and ’Mex’ for Mexican." [41] At the same time, the classification of Mulatto was dropped, as if to hide the extensive (and historically known) interrelationships between European Americans and African Americans, often involuntary.
  • In the 1940 census, due to widespread protests by the Mexican American community following the 1930 changes, Mexican Americans were re-classified as White, . Instructions for enumerators were: "Mexicans – Report 'White' (W) for Mexicans unless they are definitely of indigenous or other non-white race." During the same census, however, the bureau began to track the White population of Spanish mother tongue. This practice continued through the 1960 census.[40] The 1960 census also used the title "Spanish-surnamed American" in their reporting data of Mexican Americans; this category also covered Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans and others under the same category.
  • From 1970 to 1980, there was a dramatic increase in the number of people who identified as "of Other Race"d in the census, reflecting the addition of a question on 'Hispanic origin' to the 100-percent questionnaire, an increased propensity for Hispanics to identify as other than White as they agitated for civil rights, and a change in editing procedures to accept reports of "Other race" for respondents who wrote in ethnic Hispanic entries, such as Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican. In 1970, such responses in the Other race category were reclassified and tabulated as White. During this census, the bureau attempted to identify all Hispanics by use of the following criteria in sampled sets:[40]
    • Spanish speakers and persons belonging to a household where the head of household was a Spanish speaker
    • persons with Spanish heritage by birth location or surname
    • Persons who self-identified Spanish origin or descent
  • From 1980 on, the Census Bureau has collected data on Hispanic origin on a 100-percent basis. The bureau has noted an increasing number of respondents who identify as of Hispanic origin but not of the White race.[40]

For certain purposes, respondents who wrote in "Chicano" or "Mexican" (or indeed, almost all Hispanic origin groups) in the "Some other race" category were automatically re-classified into the "White race" group.[42]

Politics and debate of racial classification[edit]

In some cases, legal classification of white racial status has made it difficult for Mexican-American rights activists to prove minority discrimination. In the case Hernandez v. Texas (1954), civil rights lawyers for the appellant, named Pedro Hernandez, were confronted with a paradox: because Mexican Americans were classified as white by the federal government and not as a separate race in the census, lower courts held that they were not being denied equal protection by being tried by juries that excluded Mexican Americans by practice. The lower court ruled there was no violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by excluding people with Mexican ancestry among the juries. Attorneys for the state of Texas and judges in the state courts contended that the amendment referred only to racial, not "nationality," groups. Thus, since Mexican Americans were tried by juries composed of their racial group—whites—their constitutional rights were not violated. The US Supreme Court ruling in Hernandez v. Texas case held that "nationality" groups could be protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, and it became a landmark in the civil rights history of the United States.[43]

While Mexican Americans were allowed to serve in all-white units during World War II, many Mexican–American veterans were discriminated against and even denied medical services by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs when they arrived home. They created the G.I. Forum to work for equal treatment.[44]

In times and places in the United States where Mexicans were classified as white, they were permitted by law to intermarry with what today are termed "non-Hispanic whites." Social customs typically approved of such marriages only if the Mexican partner was not of visible indigenous ancestry.[45]

Legally, Mexican Americans could vote and hold elected office; however, in many states electoral practices discriminated against them, especially as a language minority. After they created political organizations such as the League of United Latin America Citizens and the G.I. Forum, Mexican Americans began to exert more political influence and gain elective office. Edward Roybal's election to the Los Angeles City Council in 1949 and to Congress in 1962 also represented this rising Mexican-American political power.

In the late 1960s the founding of the Crusade for Justice in Denver and the land grant movement in New Mexico in 1967 set the bases for what would become known as Chicano (Mexican American) nationalism. The 1968 Los Angeles, California school walkouts expressed Mexican-American demands to end de facto ethnic segregation (also based on residential patterns), increase graduation rates, and reinstate a teacher fired for supporting student political organizing. A notable event in the Chicano movement was the 1972 Convention of La Raza Unida (United People) Party, which organized with the goal of creating a third party to give Chicanos political power in the U.S.[44]

In the past, Mexicans were legally considered "White" because either they were accepted as being of Spanish ancestry, or because of early treaty obligations to Spaniards and Mexicans that conferred citizenship status to Mexican peoples before the American Civil War. Numerous slave states bordered Mexican territory at a time when 'whiteness' was nearly a prerequisite for US citizenship in those states.[46][47]

Although Mexican Americans were legally classified as "White" in terms of official federal policy, many organizations, businesses, and homeowners associations and local legal systems had official policies in the early 20th century to exclude Mexican Americans in a racially discriminatory way.[48] Throughout the Southwest, discrimination in wages was institutionalized in "white wages" versus lower "Mexican wages" for the same job classifications.[48] For Mexican Americans, opportunities for employment were largely limited to guest worker programs.[48]

The bracero program, begun in 1942 during World War II, when many United States men were drafted for war, allowed Mexicans temporary entry into the U.S. as migrant workers at farms throughout California and the Southwest. This program continued until 1964.[25][49][50]

A number of western states passed anti-miscegenation laws, directed chiefly at Chinese and Japanese. As Mexican Americans were then classified as "white" by the census, they could not legally marry African or Asian Americans (See Perez v. Sharp). According to historian Neil Foley in his book The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Texas did marry non-whites, typically without reprisal.[51]

While of racial segregation and discrimination against both Mexican American and African American minorities were subject to segregation and racial discrimination, they were treated differently. There were legal racial demarcations between whites and blacks in a state like Texas, whereas the line between whites and Mexican Americans was not legally defined. Mexican Americans could attend white schools and colleges (which were racially segregated against blacks), mix socially with whites and, marry whites. These choices were prohibited to African Americans under state laws. Racial segregation operated separately from economic class and was rarely as rigid for Mexican Americans as it was for African Americans. For instance, even when some African Americans in Texas enjoyed higher economic status than Mexican Americans (or whites) in an area, they were still segregated by law.[52][page needed]

Economic and social issues[edit]

Immigration issues[edit]

Since the 1960s, Mexican immigrants have met a significant portion of the demand for cheap labor in the United States.[53] Fear of deportation makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation by employers. Many employers, however, have developed a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude toward hiring undocumented Mexican nationals. In May 2006, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, Mexicans and other nationalities, walked out of their jobs across the country in protest to support immigration reform (many in hopes of a path to citizenship similar to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, which granted citizenship to Mexican nationals living and working without documentation in the US).

Even legal immigrants to the United States, both from Mexico and elsewhere, have spoken out against illegal immigration. However, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in June 2007, 63% of Americans would support an immigration policy that would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship if they "pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs, learn English", while 30% would oppose such a plan. The survey also found that if this program was instead labeled "amnesty", 54% would support it, while 39% would oppose.[54]

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has said that the growth of the working-age population is a large factor in keeping the economy growing and that immigration can be used to grow that population. According to Greenspan, by 2030, the growth of the US workforce will slow from 1 percent to 1/2 percent, while the percentage of the population over 65 years will rise from 13 percent to perhaps 20 percent.[55] Greenspan has also stated that the current immigration problem could be solved with a "stroke of the pen", referring to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 which would have strengthened border security, created a guest worker program, and put illegal immigrants currently residing in the US on a path to citizenship if they met certain conditions.[56]

According to The Daily Beast, Mexicans in the United States send up to $25 billion a year in remittances to Mexico.[57]

Discrimination and stereotypes[edit]

Throughout US history, Mexican Americans have and continue to endure various types of negative stereotypes which have long circulated in media and popular culture.[58][59] Mexican Americans have also faced discrimination based on ethnicity, race, culture, poverty, and use of the Spanish language.[60]

Since the majority of illegal immigrants in the US have traditionally been from Latin America, the Mexican American community has been the subject of widespread immigration raids.[citation needed] During The Great Depression, the United States government sponsored a Mexican Repatriation program which was intended to encourage people to voluntarily move to Mexico, but thousands were deported against their will. More than 500,000 individuals were deported, approximately 60 percent of which were actually United States citizens.[61][62] In the post-war McCarthy era, the Justice Department launched Operation Wetback.[62]

During World War II, more than 300,000 Mexican Americans served in the US armed forces.[18] Mexican Americans were generally integrated into regular military units; however, many Mexican–American War veterans were discriminated against and even denied medical services by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs when they arrived home.[25] In 1948, war veteran Hector P. Garcia founded the American GI Forum to address the concerns of Mexican American veterans who were being discriminated against. The AGIF's first campaign was on the behalf of Felix Longoria, a Mexican American private who was killed in the Philippines while in the line of duty. Upon the return of his body to his hometown of Three Rivers, Texas, he was denied funeral services because of his nationality.

In the 1948 case of Perez v. Sharp, Andrea Perez—a Mexican-American woman listed as White—and Sylvester Davis—an African American man—the Supreme Court of California recognized that interracial bans on marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.

In 2006, Time magazine reported that the number of hate groups in the United States increased by 33% since 2000, with illegal immigration being used as a foundation for recruitment.[63] According to the 2011 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Hate Crimes Statistics Report, 56.9% of the 939 victims of crimes motivated by a bias toward the victims’ ethnicity or national origin were directed at Hispanics.[64] In California, the state with the largest Mexican American population, the number of hate crimes committed against Latinos has almost doubled from 2003 to 2007.[65][66] In 2011, hate crimes against Hispanics declined 31% in the United States and 43% in California.[67]

Social status and assimilation[edit]

Cinco de Mayo dancers greeted by former President George W. Bush."The holiday, which has been celebrated in California continuously since 1863, is virtually ignored in Mexico."[68]

Barrow (2005) finds increases in average personal and household incomes for Mexican Americans in the 21st century. US-born Americans of Mexican heritage earn more and are represented more in the middle and upper-class segments more than most recently arriving Mexican immigrants.

Most immigrants from Mexico, as elsewhere, come from the lower classes and from families generationally employed in lower skilled jobs. They also are most likely from rural areas. Thus, many new Mexican immigrants are not skilled in white collar professions. Recently, some professionals from Mexico have been migrating, but to make the transition from one country to another involves re-training and re-adjusting to conform to US laws —i.e. professional licensing is required.[citation needed]

According to James P. Smith of the Research and Development Corporation, the children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants tend to lessen educational and income gaps with native whites. Immigrant Latino men make about half of what native whites do, while second generation US-born Latinos make about 78 percent of the salaries of their native white counterparts and by the third generation US-born Latinos make on average identical wages to their US-born white counterparts.[69] However, the number of Mexican American professionals have been growing in size since 2010.[70]

Huntington (2005) argues that the sheer number, concentration, linguistic homogeneity, and other characteristics of Latin American immigrants will erode the dominance of English as a nationally unifying language, weaken the country's dominant cultural values, and promote ethnic allegiances over a primary identification as an American. Testing these hypotheses with data from the US Census and national and Los Angeles opinion surveys, Citrin et al. (2007) show that Hispanics generally acquire English and lose Spanish rapidly beginning with the second generation, and appear to be no more or less religious or committed to the work ethic than native-born non-Mexican American whites. However, the children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants were able to make close ties with their extended families in Mexico, since United States shares a 2,000 mile border with Mexico. Many had the opportunity to visit Mexico on a relatively frequent basis. As a result, many Mexicans were able to maintain a strong Mexican culture, language, and relationship with others.[71]

South et al. (2005) examine Hispanic spatial assimilation and inter-neighborhood geographic mobility. Their longitudinal analysis of seven hundred Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban immigrants followed from 1990 to 1995 finds broad support for hypotheses derived from the classical account of assimilation into American society. High income, English-language use, and embeddedness in American social contexts increased Latin American immigrants' geographic mobility into multi-ethnic neighborhoods. US citizenship and years spent in the United States were positively associated with geographic mobility into different neighborhoods while co-ethnic contact and prior experiences of ethnic discrimination decreased the likelihood that Latino immigrants would move from their original neighborhoods and into non-Hispanic White census tracts.[72]


According to 2000 census data, US-born ethnic Mexicans have a high degree of intermarriage with non-Hispanic Whites. Based on a sample size of 38,911 U.S.-born Mexican husbands and 43,527 U.S.-born Mexican wives:[73]

  • 50.6% of US-born Mexican men and 45.3% of US-born Mexican women married US-born Mexicans;[73]
  • 26.7% of US-born Mexican men and 28.1% of US-born Mexican women married non-Hispanic Whites; and[73]
  • 13.6% of US-born Mexican men and 17.4% of US-born Mexican women married Mexico-born Mexicans.[73]

In addition, based on 2000 data, there is a significant amount of ethnic absorption of ethnic Mexicans into the mainstream population with 16% of the children of mixed marriages not being identified in the census as Mexican.[74]

Segregation issues[edit]

Map of Los Angeles County showing percentage of population self-identified as Mexican in ancestry or national origin by census tracts. Heaviest concentrations are in East L.A, Echo Lake/Silver Lake, South Central, San Fernando and San Pedro/Wilmington.

Housing market practices[edit]

Studies have shown that the segregation among Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants seems to be declining. One study from 1984 found that Mexican American applicants were offered the same housing terms and conditions as non-Hispanic White Americans. They were asked to provide the same information (regarding employment, income, credit checks, etc.) and asked to meet the same general qualifications of their non-Hispanic White peers.[75] In this same study, it was found that Mexican Americans were more likely than non-Hispanic White Americans to be asked to pay a security deposit or application fee[75] and Mexican American applicants were also more likely to be placed onto a waiting list than non-Hispanic White applicants.[75]

Latino segregation versus Black segregation[edit]

When comparing the contemporary segregation of Mexican Americans to that of Black Americans, some scholars claim that "Latino segregation is less severe and fundamentally different from Black residential segregation." suggesting that the segregation faced by Latinos is more likely to be due to factors such as lower socioeconomic status and immigration while the segregation of African Americans is more likely to be due to larger issues of the history of racism in the US.[76]

Legally, Mexican Americans could vote and hold elected office, however, it was not until the creation of organizations such as the League of United Latin America Citizens and the G.I. Forum that Mexican Americans began to achieve political influence. Edward Roybal's election to the Los Angeles City Council in 1949 and then to Congress in 1962 also represented this rising Mexican American political power. In the late 1960s the founding of the Crusade for Justice in Denver in and the land grant movement in New Mexico in 1967 set the bases for what would become the Chicano (Mexican American) nationalism. The 1968 Los Angeles school walkouts expressed Mexican American demands to end segregation, increase graduation rates, and reinstate a teacher fired for supporting student organizing. A notable event in the Chicano movement was the 1972 Convention of La Raza Unida (United People) Party, which organized with the goal of creating a third party that would give Chicanos political power in the U.S.[44]

In the past, Mexicans were legally considered "White" because either they were considered to be of full Spanish heritage, or because of early treaty obligations to Spaniards and Mexicans that conferred citizenship status to Mexican peoples at a time when whiteness was a prerequisite for US citizenship.[46][47] Although Mexican Americans were legally classified as "White" in terms of official federal policy, many organizations, businesses, and homeowners associations and local legal systems had official policies to exclude Mexican Americans. Throughout the southwest discrimination in wages were institutionalized in "white wages" versus lower "Mexican wages" for the same job classifications. For Mexican Americans, opportunities for employment were largely limited to guest worker programs. The bracero program, which began in 1942 and officially ended in 1964, allowed them temporary entry into the U.S. as migrant workers in farms throughout California and the Southwest.[25][48][49][50]

Mexican Americans legally classified as "White", following anti-miscegenation laws in most western states until the 1960s, could not legally marry African or Asian Americans (See Perez v. Sharp). However, most were not socially considered white, and therefore, according to Historian Neil Foley in the book The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans did marry non-whites typically without reprisal.

Despite the similarities between Mexican American and African American patterns of segregation, there were important differences. The racial demarcations between whites and blacks in a state like Texas were inviolable, whereas those between whites and Mexican Americans were not. It was possible for Mexican Americans to attend white schools and colleges, mix socially with whites and, on occasion, marry whites: all of these things were impossible for African Americans, largely due to the legalized nature of black-white segregation. Racial segregation was rarely as rigid for Mexican Americans as it was for African Americans, even in situations where African Americans enjoyed higher economic status than Mexican Americans.[52]

Segregated schools[edit]

During certain periods, Mexican American children sometimes were forced to register at "Mexican schools", where classroom conditions were poor, the school year was shorter, and the quality of education was substandard.[77]

Various reasons for the inferiority of the education given to Mexican American students have been listed by James A. Ferg-Cadima including: inadequate resources, poor equipment, unfit building construction. In 1923, the Texas Education Survey Commission found that the school year for some non-white groups was 1.6 months shorter than the average school year.[77] Some have interpreted the shortened school year as a "means of social control" implementing policies to ensure that Mexican Americans would maintain the unskilled labor force required for a strong economy. A lesser education would serve to confine Mexican Americans to the bottom rung of the social ladder. By limiting the number of days that Mexican Americans could attend school and allotting time for these same students to work, in mainly agricultural and seasonal jobs, the prospects for higher education and upward mobility were slim.[77]

Immigration and segregation[edit]

Immigration hubs are popular destinations for Latino immigrants. These segregated areas have historically served the purpose of allowing immigrants to become comfortable in the United States, accumulate wealth, and eventually leave.[78]

This model of immigration and residential segregation, explained above, is the model which has historically been accurate in describing the experiences of Latino immigrants. However, the patterns of immigration seen today no longer follows this model. This old model is termed the standard spatial assimilation model. More contemporary models are the polarization model and the diffusion model: The spatial assimilation model posits that as immigrants would live within this country's borders, they would simultaneously become more comfortable in their new surroundings, their socioeconomic status would rise, and their ability to speak English would increase. The combination of these changes would allow for the immigrant to move out of the barrio and into the dominant society. This type of assimilation reflects the experiences of immigrants of the early twentieth century.[76]

Polarization model suggests that the immigration of non-Black minorities into the United States further separates Blacks and Whites, as though the new immigrants are a buffer between them. This creates a hierarchy in which Blacks are at the bottom, Whites are at the top, and other groups fill the middle. In other words, the polarization model posits that Asians and Hispanics are less segregated than their African American peers because White American society would rather live closer to Asians or Hispanics than African Americans.[78]

The diffusion model has also been suggested as a way of describing the immigrant's experience within the United States. This model is rooted in the belief that as time passes, more and more immigrants enter the country. This model suggests that as the United States becomes more populated with a more diverse set of peoples, stereotypes and discriminatory practices will decrease, as awareness and acceptness increase. The diffusion model predicts that new immigrants will break down old patterns of discrimination and prejudice, as one becomes more and more comfortable with the more diverse neighborhoods that are created through the influx of immigrants.[78] Applying this model to the experiences of Mexican Americans forces one to see Mexican American immigrants as positive additions to the "American melting pot," in which as more additions are made to the pot, the more equal and accepting society will become.

The Chicano movement and the Chicano Moratorium[edit]

Chicanos march in Northern California's largest city, San Jose in 2006.

In the heady days of the late 1960s, when the student movement was active around the globe, the Chicano movement conducted actions such as the mass walkouts by high school students in Denver and East Los Angeles in 1968 and the Chicano Moratorium in Los Angeles in 1970. The movement was particularly strong at the college level, where activists formed MEChA, an organization that seeks to promote Chicano unity and empowerment through education and political action, but also espouses revanchist ideals centered around "taking back" the American southwest for Mexicans.

The Chicano Moratorium, formally known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, was a movement of Chicano anti-war activists that built a broad-based but fragile coalition of Mexican-American groups to organize opposition to the Vietnam War. The committee was led by activists from local colleges and members of the "Brown Berets", a group with roots in the high school student movement that staged walkouts in 1968, known as the East L.A. walkouts, also called "blowouts".

The best known historical fact of the Moratorium was the death of Rubén Salazar, known for his reporting on civil rights and police brutality. The official story is that Salazar was killed by a tear gas canister fired by a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department into the Silver Dollar Café at the conclusion of the August 29 rally.

Mexican American communities[edit]

Adaptation of Mexican food tailored for the mainstream American market usually is very different from Mexican food typically served in Mexico itself.

Large Mexican American populations by both size and per capita exist in the following American cities:

  • Los Angeles, California – the city proper home to over 1.2 million of Mexican ancestry, another 2.3 million throughout Los Angeles County, and a total of about 6.3 million in the five-county Greater Los Angeles Area. Largest Mexican ancestry populated city in the United States. (according to the 2010 census, L.A. is now 31.9% of Mexican descent with numerous Central American national groups).
  • Las Vegas, Nevada – 31% of the population of the city is Hispanic in which 24% of that is of Mexican descent.
  • Chicago – Over 1.5 million of Mexican ancestry in the Chicago metropolitan area[80] and the fourth largest Mexican community in the USA.[citation needed]
  • Houston, Texas – third largest Mexican ancestry community in the United States.[82]
  • Phoenix, Arizona – fifth largest Mexican-American population.
  • Tucson – 30% of the almost 1 million people in the metro area.[83]
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Area – fifth largest Mexican-American population and over 1.5 million Mexicans in the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex (3rd largest foreign born Mexican population in the US per MSA).
  • San Antonio, Texas – over half of the population in the city proper (53.2%, 705,530) and second largest Mexican population of any city in the US.[80]
  • San Diego, California – slightly less than one-third of the city's population is Hispanic, primarily Mexican American; however, this percentage is the lowest of any significant border city.
  • El Paso, Texas – largest Mexican-American community bordering a state of Mexico.
  • South Texas – Heavily populated by Mexican-Americans, who are the ethnic majority, in a region spanning from Laredo to Corpus Christi to Brownsville.
  • San Francisco Bay Area – also with over one million Hispanics, many of whom are Mexican Americans, both US-born and foreign-born (see also Oakland about 10–20% Hispanic and San Francisco – the Mission District section- the city is 10–20% Latino).
    • Oakland – California's third largest Mexican-American city by percentage (over 25%) after Long Beach (about 30%). Many live in the Fruitvale district.
    • San Jose, California – Nearly one-third of the city's population is Mexican-American or of Hispanic origin; San Jose has the largest Mexican-American population within the Bay Area.
  • Central Valley of California both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys have majority Mexican American communities.
  • Denver, Colorado – Colorado has the eighth largest population of Hispanics, seventh high percentage of Hispanics, fourth largest population of Mexican-Americans, and sixth highest percentage of Mexican-Americans in the United States. According to the 2010 census, there are over 1 million Mexican-Americans in Colorado.[84] Over one-third of the city's population is Mexican-American or Hispanic/Latino, as well as approximately one-fourth of the entire Denver Metropolitan area. About 17% of the cities population is foreign born, mostly from Latin America.
  • Greeley, Colorado – Over one-third of the cities population is Latino, mostly Mexican-American.
    • Garden City is Latino majority, and Evans has a very large Latino population as well.
  • Southern Colorado is home to many communities of Hispanics descended from Mexican settlers who arrived during Spanish colonial times. Roughly half of Pueblo's population is Latino, mostly Mexican-American. Many other towns in southern Colorado have high proportions of Mexican-Americans. La Junta, Rocky Ford, Las Animas, Lamar, Walsenburg, and Trinidad all have large Mexican American communities.
  • The Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities, Washington – This region of Washington contains many communities of Mexican-American majority thanks to high demand for agricultural labor.

Major US destinations[edit]

In the 1990s and 2000s, the Midwestern United States became a major destination for Mexican immigrants. But Mexican-Americans were already present in the Midwest's industrial cities and urban areas. Especially Mexicans/Latinos came into states like Illinois (mostly in Chicago and close-in suburbs), Indiana especially the Northern section, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan (Especially in the Western Portion of the state.), Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin due to needs of the region's industrial manufacturing base.

Another destination of Mexican and Latin American immigration was the Northeastern United States, in places such as the Monongahela Valley, Pennsylvania; Mahoning Valley, Ohio; throughout Massachusetts and the state of Rhode Island; New Haven, Connecticut along with other Latin American nationalities; Washington, D.C. with Maryland and Northern Virginia included; the Hudson Valley and Long Island of New York state; the Jersey Shore region and the Delaware Valley, New Jersey.

Communities that consist mostly of recent-arrived immigrants from Mexico, are also present in other parts of the rural Southeastern United States, in states such as Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma. A growing Mexican-American population is also present in urban areas such as Orlando, Florida with the Central Florida region included; the Atlanta metro area; Charlotte, North Carolina- with a majority Hispanic enclave of Eastland; New Orleans which increased after Hurricane Katrina in Sep. 2005; the Hampton Roads, Virginia area; the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Delaware; and Pennsylvania especially in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

Map based on the 2000 Census showing predominant nationality group by county. Counties with a plurality of population are shown in pink, predominantly in the Southwest

List of states by Mexican American population[edit]

State/Territory Mexican
(2010 Census)[82]
Percentage of
State Population
 Alabama 122,911 2.6
 Alaska 21,642 3.0
 Arizona 1,657,668 25.9
 Arkansas 138,194 4.7
 California 11,423,146 30.7
 Colorado 757,181 15.1
 Connecticut 50,658 1.4
 Delaware 30,283 3.4
 District of Columbia 8,507 1.4
 Florida 629,718 3.3
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia 519,502 5.4
 Hawaii 35,415 2.6
 Idaho 148,923 9.5
 Illinois 1,602,403 12.5
 Indiana 295,373 4.6
 Iowa 117,090 3.8
 Kansas 247,297 8.7
 Kentucky 82,110 1.9
 Louisiana 78,643 1.7
 Maine 5,134 0.4
 Maryland 88,004 1.5
 Massachusetts 38,379 0.6
 Michigan 317,903 3.2
 Minnesota 176,007 3.3
 Mississippi 52,459 1.8
 Missouri 147,254 2.5
 Montana 20,048 2.0
 Nebraska 128,060 7.0
 Nevada 540,978 20.0
 New Hampshire 7,822 0.6
 New Jersey 217,715 2.5
 New Mexico 590,890 28.7
 New York 457,288 2.4
 North Carolina 486,960 5.1
  North Dakota 9,223 1.4
 Ohio 172,029 1.5
 Oklahoma 267,016 7.1
 Oregon 369,817 9.7
 Pennsylvania 129,568 1.0
 Rhode Island 9,090 0.9
 South Carolina 138,358 3.0
 South Dakota 13,839 1.7
 Tennessee 186,615 2.9
 Texas 7,951,193 31.6
 Utah 258,905 9.4
 Vermont 2,534 0.4
 Virginia 155,067 1.9
 Washington 601,768 8.9
 West Virginia 9,704 0.5
 Wisconsin 244,248 4.3
 Wyoming 37,719 6.7
Total US 31,798,258 10.3

US communities with largest population of Mexican Americans[edit]

The top 25 US communities with the highest populations of Mexicans (Source: Census 2010)[82]

  1. Los Angeles, CA - 1,209,573
  2. San Antonio, TX - 705,530
  3. Houston, TX - 673,093
  4. Chicago, IL - 578,100
  5. Phoenix, AZ - 519,635
  6. El Paso, TX - 486,186
  7. Dallas, TX - 439,460
  8. San Diego, CA - 325,812
  9. New York, NY - 319,263
  10. San Jose, CA - 268,538
  11. Austin, TX - 229,865
  12. Fort Worth, TX - 219,653
  13. Fresno, CA - 211,431
  14. Tucson, AZ - 193,994
  15. Long Beach, CA - 151,983
  16. Brownsville, TX - 150,945
  17. Denver, CO - 149,366
  18. Corpus Christi, TX - 148,800
  19. Albuquerque, NM - 146,035
  20. Las Vegas, NV - 140,104
  21. Bakersfield, CA - 137,102
  22. Riverside, CA - 127,165
  23. East Los Angeles, CA - 111,441
  24. Sacramento, CA - 105,467
  25. Salinas, CA - 104,237
  26. Mesa, AZ - 99,666

US communities with high percentages of Mexican ancestry[edit]

The top 25 US communities with various Mexican American populations are:[86]

  1. San Elizario, Texas 99.00%
  2. Tornillo, Texas 87.20% singular, 98.50% in addition to.
  3. Lopezville, Texas 87.48% singular, 95.00% in addition to.
  4. Progreso, Texas 87.54% singular, 92.50% in addition to.
  5. Cameron Park, Texas 90.79%
  6. Presidio, Texas 89.92%
  7. Alton, Texas 89.62%
  8. Hidalgo, Texas 89.43%
  9. Cactus, Texas 89.40%
  10. Penitas, Texas 89.37%
  11. Palmview, Texas 89.16%
  12. Roma, Texas 88.76%
  13. Fort Hancock, Texas 88.21%
  14. Calexico, California 87.72%
  15. Somerton, Arizona 87.42%
  16. Coachella, California 79.59% singular, 87.00% in addition to.
  17. San Benito, Texas 87.00%
  18. Huron, California 86.92%
  19. Parlier, California 86.42%
  20. Lost Hills, California 86.27%
  21. Mecca, California 20.49% singular, 85.50% in addition to.
  22. Heidelberg, Texas 85.31%
  23. San Juan, Texas 84.00% singular, 99.00% in addition to.
  24. Granger, Washington 83.94%
  25. La Joya, Texas 83.92%

US communities with highest proportion of residents born in Mexico[edit]

The top 25 US communities with the highest proportion of residents born in Mexico are as follows:

  1. Mattawa, WA 68.2%
  2. Lost Hills, California 65.3%
  3. Pajaro, California 64.6%
  4. Kettleman City, California 61.8%
  5. Santa Cruz, Texas 61.0%
  6. Cantua Creek, California 60.2%
  7. Ontario, California 59.9%
  8. Muniz, Texas 59.6%
  9. Salem, New Mexico 59.3%
  10. London, California 58.7%
  11. Lakeview Estates, GA 55.5%
  12. Cactus, Texas 55.2%
  13. Alto Bonito, Texas 55%
  14. Desert Shores, California 54.4%
  15. Mecca, California 54.2%
  16. San Joaquin, California 53.9%
  17. Planada, California 53.1%
  18. Citrus City, Texas 52.3%
  19. Royal City, WA 52.0%
  20. Westley, California 51.8%
  21. Gadsden, Arizona 50.9%
  22. Las Lomas, Texas 50.9%
  23. Richgrove, California 50.1%
  24. Chualar, California 50.1%
  25. Huron, California 50.1%
  26. Calexico, California 49.8%

See also[edit]





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