The increased emphasis on racial and ethnic minorities has motivated scholars to examine the Mexican experience in the United States. The result has been a number of studies on different aspects of Mexican-American life. Covering the fields of history, sociology, and communications are the following recent publications: Abraham Hoffmans Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression; John H. Burma’s Spanish-speaking Groups in the United States; and Francisco J. Lewels, Jr., The Uses of the Media by the Chicano Movement. Of these, Hoffman’s is the most important. Since history has been a neglected area in Mexican-American studies, Hoffman’s well researched and concisely written history represents a welcome addition. Based on United States public documents, Hoffman discusses the collective efforts by local, state, federal, and Mexican authorities— as well as private organizations such as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce—to deport and repatriate Mexican workers and their families from Los Angeles during the 1930s. Officials argued that the Mexican had become an economic burden and rather than maintain unemployed Mexicans on relief, it would be cheaper to return them to Mexico. Although severely hurt by the world-wide depression, Mexico had little choice but to receive the deportees. Limited by its own economic problems, however, the Cárdenas administration’s attempt to initiate various colonization projects proved to be unsuccessful. By World War II, thousands of Mexicans once more began to enter the United States in search of work.
While Hoffman criticizes the harsh deportation and repatriation measures which send thousands of Mexicans—both aliens as well as American citizens—out of the United States, his study suffers from being institutional history. Through Hoffman we learn much about agencies involved in the mass exodus of Mexicans such as the Bureau of Immigration, but unfortunately little of tbe Mexicans themselves. Consequently, the Mexican in Hoffman’s study appears only as a minor character in the scenario instead of the major one. More research in Los Angeles, Mexican sources such as La Opinión and oral history would have complemented the documentation in government records. Nevertheless, Hoffman’s narrative reveals a little known, but tragic outcome of the depression in the Southwest.
First published in 1954, the re-publication of John H. Burma’s sociological study of Spanish-speaking groups in the United States serves a useful purpose. Of interest because of its attempt at a comparative examination of Mexican Americans, Philippine Americans, and Puerto Ricans, Burma in a new preface admits that his work is of wider importance now as history rather than sociology.
“Today,” he writes, “. . . this volume has perhaps its greatest value as a history, a broad record of the life and times of a social group as it existed shortly before the beginning of a period of some of the greatest social change this country has yet known” [p. i]. Yet as history, it tells us more about the early 1950s views of social scientists like Burma than it does of the Spanish-speaking. In his discussion of Mexican Americans, for example, Burma emphasizes that the lack of mobility among this group is due to the Mexican’s own non-modemized culture, plus the unwillingness of Anglo-American society to recognize the benefits of a culturally pluralistic community. While Burma admits that the Mexican has functioned as a source of cheap labor in the United States, and that Southwestern employers have profited from such a labor supply, he believes that the Mexican must assume much of the responsibility for his exploitative condition. “There is small stimulus to try to advance,” Burma writes of the Mexican [p. 59]. Despite these problems, however, Burma believed that the status of Mexicans in the United States had improved by 1954 and would continue to do so. Not only had discriminatory barriers been broken with the aid of liberal supporters and the federal government, but World War II had brought economic improvements by introducing Mexican Americans to industrial jobs. As Burma saw it, class mobility had started to occur. “. . . the classes brought from Mexico are disappearing and new ones are taking their places.” He incorrectly observed, “Now, some young, upper-class Mexican American had lower-class parents; and that, too, is in the American tradition” [p. 98]. Burma also concluded that as Mexicans became acculturated, social equality would take place especially for the “lighter skinned Mexicans. . .” [p. 137].
Yet Burma’s conclusions—as he himself admits—have proven to be false. Unfortunately, Burma still does not understand that the problem of Mexicans in the United States cannot be analyzed only from the point of view of cultural differences, acculturation, and the possibilities of a pluralistic society. Lacking a historical insight into the traditional role that Mexicans have played as a readily available reserve of cheap labor, Burma fails to see that as long as industries find it profitable to employ Mexicans at sub-standard wages, there can be neither assimilation, integration, nor an equalitarian society.
Finally, Francisco J. Lewels, Jr., in his analysis of the Chicano and the media confronts a problem that transcends racial minority groups in the United States. Dominated by corporations such as CBS, the American public has little control over the sources and content of information in this country. For Chicanos this means not only their lack of a “volce” in American society, but also their “invisibility.” Recognizing the political importance of the media, Lewels describes the efforts by various organizations such as the National Chicano Media Council to influence the communications industry. Although some success has been achieved in changing the media’s stereotypic view of Mexicans—such as the “Frito Bandido”—Lewels observes that Chicanos have only made a minor impact. At the same time, however, Chicanos receive the ideological and cultural influences of the media. As a means of social control, the media’s illusions of a democratic and pluralistic American society represent a major obstacle to the organization of Chicano communities against the reality of poverty, menial jobs, low wages, cultural disintegration, and racial prejudice.