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Last Updated on November 26, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 728

Mexican Immigration to Los Angeles During the First Half of the Twentieth Century

George J. Sanchez’s 1993 book Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945, is essentially an ethnic, cultural, and historical examination of Mexican immigration to Los Angeles during the time period. Sanchez describes the early waves of migration in the 1890s, when many Mexicans moved to the US to find better employment opportunities (mainly in mining and agriculture), and touches upon the political climate of Mexico during the first two decades of the twentieth century, when the country was torn in two by the Mexican Revolution.

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Thus, the Mexican migration to Los Angeles culminated during the Great Depression, as hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, especially teenagers and adolescents, attempted to escape the violence in their home country.

During the revolutionary period, wartime violence and economic upheaval did not escape children. Adolescents were particularly vulnerable to its repercussions . . . Data from the sample of Los Angeles migrants indicates that 43.7% of the individuals who left Mexico between 1900 and 1930 crossed the border between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four.

Sanchez also explains the border situation, describing political borders as merely “social constructs.” He mentions that, during the first few years of the twentieth century, the borders were more open and liberal; however, as the number of migrants increased, so too did border regulations and restrictions. This forced many Mexicans to stay in Los Angeles permanently, which resulted in the formation of a deeply rooted Mexican American community.

The Experiences and Socioeconomic Position of the Mexican American Community

Sanchez describes the attempts of the Mexican American community to create and establish a singular cultural and ethnic identity. On one hand, the American government tried to assimilate the Mexican immigrants to American culture in various ways. On the other, Mexican government officials insisted that Mexican immigrants should not abandon their native traditions and culture, as they hoped that the immigrants might potentially return to their home country and use their newly acquired skills, knowledge, and funds to contribute to the socioeconomic development of Mexico. (Sanchez calls this the “New Nationalism.”)

As a result, Mexican Americans were somewhat forced to learn how to be both Mexican and American at the same time. They maintained their identity and cultural heritage, and worked to honor their origins—but they also adapted to American culture, lifestyle, and fashion.

My own study of Mexican immigrants to Los Angeles between 1900 and 1945 focuses on the related questions of cultural adaptation and ethnic identity, utilizing new perspectives from other disciplines and from cultural studies. I argue that the emphasis on the Chicano history on bipolar models that have stressed either cultural continuity or gradual acculturation has short-circuited a full exploration of the complex process of cultural adaptation.

In the final chapters of the book,...

(The entire section contains 728 words.)

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