People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Mexican Americans Part 2

About the Mexican Americans or Chicanos in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Mexican-Americans and more.


Their Story in America: American victory in the Mexican War compounded a major problem which eventually led to the start of the Civil War. Would the people of this new territory be considered slaves? Abolitionists pressed for immediate California statehood with a constitution prohibiting slavery, while proslavery forces lobbied against it in Congress. To quell the dispute, in 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed "self government in all domestic matters, including slavery" in the new territories. White settlers used both licit and illicit means to confiscate millions of acres of formerly Mexican-owned land. In a few decades, Spanish-speaking people fell far behind the Anglos in all areas of social, economic, and political life.

Although existing local cultures were obscured by the flood of incoming Anglos, economic factors continued to bring increasing numbers of Mexicans north. Mexicans were recruited to construct railroads, labor in the silver and copper mines, work on cattle and sheep ranches, and build the agricultural empire in the West. The importation of Mexican labor by U.S. industry, however, created its own backlash. Mexican workers were reviled for being cheap-labor competitors--a situation experienced by other immigrant groups as well--and resented when they organized to request decent working conditions and wages equal to those of Anglo workers. The first attempt to unionize agricultural workers occurred in 1883 in the Texas Panhandle, when a strike call was issued by Juan Gomez. Several Mexican-American labor organizations, based in a tradition of mutualistas, or mutual aid societies, organized strikes in the fields and mines from the turn of the century until 1948, when they were effectively crushed. The U.S. labor movement, however, was marked by anti-Mexican discriminatory policies from its inception.

By the 1920s, itinerant farmers and the rural poor had begun moving to the urban barrios (ghettos) in large numbers. In the 1930s, a depression backlash brought mass deportations. Often no differentiation was made between Mexican nationals and Americans with Spanish surnames. Although Chicanos were the most decorated ethnic group in W.W. II, racial hostility flared on the home front. The rampage of thousands of sailors through the Los Angeles barrio during the "zoot suit wars" of 1943 was met with silence and even approval by local civic authorities.

The wartime labor shortage and the resulting increase in illegal migration led to the implementation of the bracero program, an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico under which temporary laborers were imported, with the U.S. government serving as the labor contractor. The program existed from 1942 to 1947 and continued in various forms until it lapsed in 1964. Illegal Mexican migration persists because of the demand for a cheap labor source. Mexican nationals today comprise 85% of the total illegal alien population.

The sixties saw the rise of a new Chicano militancy. The unionization struggle of California farm workers was an early rallying force. The Vietnam War further politicized the community, which, though it comprises less than 5% of the population, suffered 19% of the casualties. Produce farming has become a multimillion-dollar industry in the U.S., and its backbone is Mexican-American labor. Recent years have also seen an encouraging growth of economic mobility and inroads into the white-collar professions.

Chicano influence is deeply imbedded in the law and architecture of the Southwest; in art, music, and cuisine; in mining and agricultural techniques; and in sheep- and cattle-raising methods.

Famous Mexican Americans (Chicanos): Tennis champion Richard "Pancho" Gonzales; Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Rudolph Oaxaca Quinn; actress Raquel Welch; singers Vikki Carr and Trini Lopez; union organizer Cesar Chavez; land-grants spokesman Reies Tijerina; poet Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales; scholar-writer George Sanchez; rock guitarists Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia.

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