Part 2: Branches, Chapters 4–5 Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1058

Chapter 4: Puerto Ricans: Citizens Yet Foreigners

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In this chapter, Gonzalez tells his own family’s story of immigration to the contiguous United States as an example of the Puerto Rican experience. He claims that Puerto Ricans were the first Latino group who migrated to the US en masse beginning in the 1940s, making them the first Latino group that Anglo Americans interacted with outside of the Southwest.

Gonzalez tells of how his grandmother Maria was forced to separate her six children from one another after their father’s death left her in abject poverty. This made Gonzalez’s father, Pepe, the embittered victim of child sexual abuse, an experience that left him depressed and severely alcoholic. Throughout their childhood, Gonzalez’s father and his siblings witnessed the rise of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party led by Pedro Albizu Campos. The Nationalists clashed with the US-controlled government, often resulting in violence, as in the Palm Sunday Massacre. 

During World War II, Pepe and his two brothers were drafted into an all-Puerto Rican regiment that fought in France and Germany. Although the young men’s military checks helped Maria pull the family out of poverty, the family left for New York City after the boys returned, fleeing the violence and mounting tensions between Nationalists and the government. Many other Puerto Ricans departed for the same reason.

Gonzalez’s family settled in East Harlem, a neighborhood mostly comprised of Italian immigrants, and found work in restaurants, factories, hotels, groceries, and other service industries. Racial tensions within the neighborhood were kept under control until a longtime-Congressman, an Italian who represented East Harlem in Washington, lost reelection in 1950. Gonzalez explains that many Italians blamed Puerto Ricans for this loss, resulting in the growth of street gangs to protect each group from violence or disrespect.

Gonzalez notes that by the 1960s enclaves of Puerto Rican immigrants existed outside of New York City in Ohio, Indiana, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Despite this growth, Puerto Ricans were still often treated as invisible at best and foreigners at worst. Gonzalez himself experienced the education system’s forced Americanization, which discouraged Puerto Rican children from using their native language or identifying with their culture.

Over time, Gonzalez’s generation—the children of the first Puerto Ricans in the US—were assimilated, relying on the education system to achieve a higher quality of life. Despite this perceived success, many Puerto Ricans grew disillusioned with the American Dream, especially as African Americans pushed for civil rights, only to have their most prominent leaders assassinated. Puerto Ricans, according to Gonzalez, felt they did not belong in either white or black communities, instead striving for their own kind of cultural empowerment in the 1970s.

By the 1990s, economic recession coupled with social problems had created a sharp class divide within Puerto Rican immigrant communities. At the top were the educated, white-collar workers, but the largest groups were low-paid, unskilled laborers and welfare recipients. According to Gonzalez, this new generation of Puerto Ricans lacked a sense of collective identity or hope for the future, both of which contributed to many Anglos’ negative perceptions about Latinos.

Chapter 5: Mexicans: Pioneers of a Different Type

Gonzalez notes that Mexicans have been the single largest group of immigrants to come to the US since statistics were first gathered in 1820. Contrary to common beliefs among Anglo Americans, Mexican immigrants have always played a key role in the settlement and culture of the country.

Gonzalez discusses the history of the Canales family, beginning in the 1640s. A Spanish explorer who established eighteen towns and missions throughout northeastern Mexico—all but one of which still exists—had enlisted the help of criollos, mestizos, and Indians to create a prosperous region. Among these settlers and soldiers were members of the Canales family.

In the 1840s, after large groups of Anglo settlers had encroached on the Texas-Mexican border, the Polk administration instigated the Mexican-American War. This conflict arose in part from the dispute over which group—Anglos or Mexicans—controlled the Nueces Strip, roughly 60,000 square miles of grazing land between the Nueces and Rio Bravo rivers where Mexicans had historically raised large livestock herds.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States gained control of the Nueces Strip, extending the nation’s Texan border southward to the Rio Bravo, which Anglo Americans renamed the Rio Grande. Mexican families, including the Canales, found themselves divided between two countries, despite being mere miles apart.

Over time, Anglo businessmen and speculators bought—or stole—the majority of land in the region from the Mexicans who had formerly controlled it. Many of these Anglos established towns named for themselves, where Mexican laborers were treated as second-class citizens. The resulting tension sparked the creation of anti-Anglo movements, including one led by Juan Cortina, a relation of the Canales family.

Cortina used his influence and military genius to reclaim many Anglo settlements over decades, sparking fear among the region’s Anglo residents. Still, Anglo domination continued, and by 1870, Mexicans held just over ten percent of the region’s wealth despite making up nearly half of the population.

Despite the difficulties Mexicans faced in the United States, nearly one million immigrants moved into the Southwest between 1900 and 1930, a trend Gonzalez says indicates the degree of Mexican influence in the region.

As a result of these migrations, certain areas of the Southwest developed a Mexican majority. Regardless, the Anglo minorities in these communities still sought to maintain sociopolitical control, often through discrimination. The newest generation of Mexican-Americans who came of age in the 1960s became increasingly unwilling to accept this treatment from Anglos.

Proudly calling themselves Chicanos, these young adults formed opposing factions that sought to combat discrimination in different ways. The radical, separatist Chicanos eventually resorted to violence and intimidation tactics to gain more political power in the Southwest. The pragmatic faction of Chicanos, by contrast, took a more moderate course. As a result these activists found themselves fighting both Anglo discrimination and criticism from the more radical Chicanos, who accused them of pandering to whites.

Despite the Chicano movements’ successes, Mexican-Americans still face systemic discrimination and racism in the region. Gonzalez argues that this system of prejudice is based on the lie that Mexicans are foreign invaders of the Southwest, when in truth their family genealogies extend back centuries before Anglo settlers ever set foot in the area.

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