Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban Perspectives on American Politics
By Rodolfo O. de la Garza and Others
Westview Press, 1992, 232 pp.
John Weeks, a professor of sociology and director of the International Population Center at San Diego State University, and Roberto Ham-Chande, academic director of El Colegio de la Frontera del Norte in Tijuana, Mexico, bring together chapters by 21 researchers from both Mexico and the United States to examine the increasingly important U.S.-Mexico border region. This fascinating, detailed collection provides an extraordinary wealth of information, including comparative demographic indicators, public health comparisons, an analysis of the impact of undocumented workers in the southwest of the United States and much more.
As is perhaps unavoidable in such cross-border collaborations, the authors of the Weeks/Ham-Chande volume are excessively academic and cautious in their conclusions, avoiding the politically charged questions about culture and national identities.
Peter Skerry's book about Mexican-Americans makes those questions central to its inquiry. Among his more controversial assertions is that Mexican-American leaders are wedded to an unfortunate and divisive post-civil rights political strategy, which serves as an obstacle to the integration of poorly educated, tradition oriented immigrants arriving here today.
Skerry looks in some detail at the different political styles of two American cities, San Antonio and Los Angeles. In Texas he finds that traditional political institutions and community organizing have brought much political success to Mexican-Americans. Despite social and economic mobility, political efforts in Los Angeles, characterized by angry protest and claims of racism, have been less successful. Skerry is especially critical of the elite network of politics embodied by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which he sees as lacking a grass-roots base and being overly dependent financially on corporate sponsors and foundations (the Ford Foundation in particular).
Skerry's volume will undoubtedly provoke a storm of protest. The sharp distinction he draws between the racially oppressed minority and aspiring immigrant ethnic group seems overdone, given the fact that Mexican-Americans can be both or neither, depending on region and family history. But the authors' intention is to provoke, and he raises important social and political questions about America's demographic changes.
Latino Voices is a sober counterpart to the politically charged message in Skerry's book. The authors have compiled a chart of basic information on the political values, attitudes and behaviors of populations of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban origin in the United States. Its findings cover social and demographic characteristics, psychological, cultural and linguistic factors, political values, ethnic attitudes toward immigration policy, gender issues and many other issues with public policy implications.
The results of the Latino Voices survey are carefully presented and by and large left to speak for themselves. To some degree, these statistics provide an antidote to the insecurities displayed by those who worry about the multicultural future of the United States. The Latino Voices survey found that the great majority of the respondents, regardless of national origin, experience very or extremely strong love for and pride in the United States. Respondents generally expressed less trust in government than they did pride in the United States. Interestingly, it was not Latino but Anglo respondents who were least likely to trust their government.
Today one out of every five Californians is of Mexican heritage, compared to fewer than one in ten as recently as 1970, and Latinos are expected to comprise about 30 percent of California's population by the end of this decade. In the elementary schools of the Los Angeles Unified School District, 67 percent of the students are of Latin American, mainly Mexican, descent. To some, these are frightening statistics that reinforce old prejudices and stimulate demands for exclusion and retrenchment; to others they are the indicators of an inevitable multiculturalism that policymakers at all levels of government should prepare for.
The authors of this stimulating and comprehensive volume have provided a detailed road map of the growing connection between Mexico and California, and the influence each is having on the other. The distinguished contributions include a chapter by James N. Rosenau, who seeks to develop methods for defining a relationship that includes diverse interdependencies and unavoidable interactions; one by Jorge Castaeda on what he calls the dedemocratizing political effect in California of Mexican immigration, which creates a type of electoral apartheid based on the separation of those who work and those who vote ; and six analytical chapters covering facets of Mexicans roles in California's society, economy, educational and health systems, and politics. The editors conclude with a series of ambitious policy recommendations.
This is undoubtedly one of the best books on the growing intermixture of the domestic and foreign in the everyday life of Americans and the implications this has for national and state politics.