Mexican American Family Essay, Research Paper
According to most, ethnicity usually is displayed in the values, attitudes, lifestyles, customs, rituals, and personality types of individuals who identify with particular ethnic groups. Ethnic identifications and memberships in an ethnic group has farreaching effects on both groups and individuals, controlling assess to opportunities in life, feeling of well being and mastery over the futures of one’s child and future. These feelings of belonging and attachment to a certain group of people for whatever reason are a basic feature of the human condition. These ties are called “ethnic ties” and the group of people that one is tied to is an “ethnic group.” In the general sense, an ethnic group consists of those who share a unique social and cultural heritage that is passed on from generation to generation.
I will begin to examine the Mexican American ethnic group, probing the historical circumstances that impelled them to come to America, focusing on the structure and functioning of their family life to determine or, at least, to raise clues about how and why they have been able or unable to maintain an ethnic identification over the generations, and take a brief look ahead to being to speculate what the future endeavors are for this ethnic group and their constitutive families.
The history of the Mexican American people predates by many years the incorporation of the Southwest into the United States. Native to the Southwest, the Mexican American people have a history marked by the Spanish and then by the Anglo Americans. This early history, perhaps because of the proximity of the southwestern states to the Mexican border, has left a legacy of conflict that is present today between Mexican Americans and Anglo Americans. The present position of Mexican Americans as a people, their family life, and effects of their position on their family life can best be understood through an understanding of their history as Mexicans and as North Americans.
The period of Spanish colonization began in the sixteenth century and lasted until 1821, when Mexico achieved independence from Spain. The first Spanish settlements in southwestern North America were in what is now known as New Mexico, where 25 missions were established between 1598 and 1630. Beginning in 1769, missions were established in California, and several in the areas of Texas and Arizona. The mission system helped to incorporate the Catholic Church into the region (McWilliams, 1988).
Because the Spanish conquerors were all men, they intermarried with the Mexicans and indigenous Indians. The mixed heritage of the Spanish, Mexicans, and Indians remains predominant among today’s Mexican Americans. The Spanish heritage, language, and numerous other contributions, which were modified by time and the indigenous cultures of the Indians and Mexicans, constitutes the foundation of the unique Mexican American culture.
The history of the Southwest during the nineteenth century is a history of conflict between the United States and Mexico. The Mexican government had opened the area of Texas to settlers under the condition that they pledge allegiance to Mexico and agree to become Catholics. The Anglo Americans settlers, who were mostly United States citizens, resisted these conditions. At the same time, Mexicans of the territory resisted the Anglo American colonization through various forms of rebellion. Through the political process, Anglo Americans of the territory were able to pass laws favoring their minority group, and Mexicans were stripped of what little wealth they had and relegated to the lowest social and economic classes. Often, a small group of wealthier Mexicans collaborated with the Anglo Americans to maintain their own positions in the new order (Acuna, 1991).
Rebellions between the Anglo Americans and the Mexican government occurred throughout the territory of Texas between 1821 and 1848, setting the stage for the conquest of the rest of the Southwest. Until this time, the system ended the isolation of the Southwest from the rest of the country and brought larger numbers of Anglo Americans to the region (Acuna, 1991).
Over time there was a press for lifting the restrictions on Anglo American immigration and for the separate statehood, this occurred around the 1832. It was concluded that Anglo Americans in Texas saw separation from Mexico and eventual union with the United States as the most profitable political arrangement because the colonists had developed what appeared to be a strong economic trade arrangement with the United States. By 1825, 5,000 Mexicans resided in the Texas territory, and the Anglo Americans population had risen to 30,000. A fullscale rebellion escalated, and the Anglo Americans in Texas, with some Mexican supporters, declared war on Mexico. To diminish the rebellion, General Santa Anna led an army from the interior of Mexico. Then 187 Texans took refuge in a former mission, the Alamo. Although this was a lost battle for the Texans, much myth grows around the struggle and this continues to date. The forever cry “Remember the Alamo” prompted aid from the United States to assist the Texans, most of whom were United States citizens (Acura 1991). In the later part of 1836, Santa Anna was defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto. This defeat ended the era of the Texas revolution, or Texas’s war for independence, and Texas became a United States territory. The Texas victory paved the way for the MexicanAmerican War.
This war (18461848) terminated with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico accepted the Rio Grande River as the Texas border and ceded territory in the Southwest to the United States for many millions of dollars. The ceded territory incorporated the presentday states of California, New Mexico, and Nevada and some part of Colorado, Arizona and Utah. This begun the occupation of conquered territory (Acuna, 1991). In 1850, 13,300 persons of Mexican origin resided in the United States, and by the 1880’s the figure was well of 65,000 (Jaffe, Cullen, and Boswell, 1990). Over the next 30 years, the Southwest was, for the most part, an isolated, selfcontained area that was culturally and economically removed from the rest of the United States. Most of the major movement between Mexico and the United States concentrated at the borders.
Due to the rapid economic development and commercialization of agriculture between 1880 and 1910, Mexican labor was highly sought by the United States. Mining, railroad and agriculture is where most of the interest lied. During these three decades, the population of Mexican origin grew threefold as Mexican immigrants gravitated toward the region’s growing demands for lowwage labor. In approximately 1910, the U.S. Census recorded 220,000 Mexican born persons and 162,000 persons of Mexican parentage living in the United States (Jaffe, Cullen, and Boswell, 1990).
Between 1910 and 1930, the Mexican population in the United States continued to grow rapidly. By 1930, the population of Mexican origin exceeded one million persons. Emigration from Mexico continued to be spurred by a strong demand for labor, heightened by the entry of the United States into World War I. The 1910 Mexican Revolution and the Cristero Rebellion (19261929) in Mexico also served to heighten Mexican migration to the United States (Massey, 1992). However, due to the widespread of domestic unemployment and the demand for unskilled labor decreased more than 415,000 Mexicans were forcibly expelled from the United States. Another 85,000 left “voluntarily” (Hoffman, 1994). As a result the Mexican population dropped dramatically and 41% of Mexican born persons returned to Mexico (Jaffe, Cullen, and Boswell, 1990).
The Mexican American Family In Historical Perspective
Mexican American families consist largely of individuals who are descended from or who are themselves unskilled immigrants who come to the United States to work in lowwage sectors of the southwestern economy (McWilliams, 1998). Unlike the members of some other Hispanic groups, very few entered the United States as professional people. Due to the Southwest’s geographic proximity to Mexico and its demand for low wage labor, the Mexican population is highly concentrated in the southwestern states. During most of their time in the Southwest, Mexicans have been the victims of prejudice and discrimination. Usually varying in intensity from time to time and placetoplace but always present (Hoffman, 1994). Because of their long history of settlement in the United States and continues emigration from Mexico, the Mexican American population is far more generationally diverse than other Hispanic groups. The generational diversity of the Mexican American people implies a corresponding diversity of social and economic statutes within the population.
It is often wondered what makes the situation of the Mexican American any different than that of other immigrating groups. Although change and presumptuous interaction, acculturation is taking place, Mexican Americans have more continues interaction with firstgeneration immigrants and proximity to their original homeland. First generation community members constantly reinforce traditional values. The rate and direction of acculturative change are thus greatly influenced and cause some cultural values to remain unchanged. The proximity of Mexico to the United States, regardless of the amount of flow back and forth, reinforces the family ties and the family values the span the two countries (Becerra, 1993).
Heterogeneity and Homogeneity
Due to the fact that family socialization takes root in the economic and political forces of society, the history of the Mexican American family must be anchored in the context of the American economy. Mexican Americans are a highly heterogeneous population. An important factor accounting for this variability is history. Mexican groups in the US have different histories of immigration and settlement. Some trace their roots to the Spanish and Mexican settlers who first settled the Southwest before the arrival of the pilgrims, whereas others are immigrants or children of immigrants who begun to arrive in large numbers by the beginning of the twentieth century (Marteniz, 1995). Saragoza (1993) points out that this history supports the fundamental cultural variation and social differentiation among Mexican American families. Crucial factors are variability across region and changes over time. Mexican American families in different historical periods have adapted differently to economic and political forces, and family socialization patterns have responded differently to societal pressures (BacaZinn, 1993).
The traditional structure of the Mexican family grew out of the socioeconomic needs dictated by the agrarian and craft economies of Mexico. For the traditional Mexican, the word family meant an extended, multi generational group of persons, among whom specific social roles were ascribed. By dividing functions and responsibilities among different generations of family members, the family was able to perform all the economic and social support chores necessary for survival in the relatively Spartan life circumstances of the rural Mexican environment. Mutual support, sustenance, and interaction among family members during both work and leisure hours dominated the lives of persons in these traditional Mexican families (Becerra, 1983)
After the conquest of the Southwest, Mexican families who remained or moved to the US out of necessity tended to work and live in ethnically homogenous settings. Minimally influenced by Anglo Americans culture, these communities supported the maintenance of Mexican familial structures as they might have been practiced in rural Mexico. The male took the role of authority figure and head of the household, and the female took the role of child bearer and nurture (Sanchez, 1994). This family form was a response to particular economic and political forces, as are all family forms, that resulted in the Mexican American family carrying both these ideals and values and the need for modification under new economic and political circumstances in the United States.
TRADITIONAL FAMILY STRUCTURE
Much has been written about the traditional structure of Mexican American families. Most of the information obtained these structures appear rigid, cold, and unstable on one end of the continuum or warm, nurturing, and cohesive on the other end. The three main characteristics of the Mexican American family that are usually are male dominance, rigid sex and age grading so that “the older order the younger, and the men the women”, and finally the strong family orientation. To better understand the structure I will begin to give an overview of the structure and how it affects the Mexican American.
The first of the three main characteristics, which is male dominance, is one of the popular stereotypes surrounding the Mexican American family. This has become a major part of American usage as the concept we know as machismo. Machismo is often equated with male dominance. Male dominance is the designation of the father as the head of the household, the major decision maker, and the absolute power holder in the Mexican American family setting. In his absence, this power position reverts to the oldest son. All members of the household are expected to carry out the orders of the male head.
This concept of machismo has various interpretations. For many, machismo is equated with excessive aggression, little regard for women, and sexual prowess. The macho demands complete allegiance, respect, and obedience from his wife and children. Madse (1993:20) states that the “ideally the Latin male acknowledges only the authority of his father and God. In case of conflict between these two sources, he should side with his father.”
On the flip side what is this teaching younger generations, especially boys, about becoming a man in a modern world? Is this adding to aggressive behavior, taking away from sharing of feelings and expressions, are we helping to develop more manifested negative qualities. According to Rothenberg (1998:563) it is important to instill masculinity traits in children, for the traditional Mexican American in their sons, however it is important to “father” by example. This will hope to promote positive change within the family setting.
In contrast, genuine machismo is characterized by true bravery, or valor, courage, generosity, and a respect for others. The machismo role encourages protection of and provision for the family members, the use of fair and just authority, and respect for the role of wife and children (Mirande 1995). Although, male dominance is a Mexican American cultural entity, as well as a structural component, its counterpart, the self-sacrificing, virtuous, and passive female, is no more true than the selfish, sexually irresponsible, and aggressive male. In the past many men have had, for economic reasons, had to leave the family home to search for work, leaving the women behind to head the household. Mexican American history is full of examples of women who have deviated from the submissive role. The ideals encompassed in the patriarchal tradition were often contradicted by the circumstances of day-to-day life. The types of jobs available to Mexican American men kept them away from their families for long periods of time as teamsters, wagon drivers, miners, and farm workers. Over a period of time, more and more women who were heads of households were forced into the work force, further changing the expected roles of women (Griswold del Castillo, 1994).
Patriarchal values did not disappear under the impact of economic and political changes. Mexican American men continued to expect women to be submissive, but in this respect, they were no different from other men. Family life became a mixture of the old and the new values regarding paternal authority and the proper role of women. Increasing poverty and economic insecurity intensified the pressures on Mexican American nuclear families and led to increased matriarchy and more working, single mothers. As a result, the ideology of patriarchy found less confirmation in everyday life. As a system of values and beliefs, however, the ideology of patriarchy continues to exist.
SEX AND AGE GRADING
Complementing the concept of male dominance is the concept of sex and age subordination, which holds that females are subordinate to males and the young to the old. In this schema, females are viewed as submissive, naive, and somewhat childlike. The older are viewed as wise, knowledgeable, and deserving of respect.
To some degree, these designations were derived from division of labor. Women as child bearers and child bearers did not perform the so-called more physically difficult jobs and therefore needed to be more protected by the man. If the women needed protection, the man took the role of overseeing the family. Yet, the power of the male was more apparent than real. Respect for the breadwinner and protector rather than dominance was more key to the family. Roles within the family system were stressed so that the constellation of the mini-system operated to the betterment of the individual and the family system (Mirande, 1995).
In the isolated rural areas where many of the Mexican American families lived, the coordination of role expectations facilitated survival on the frontier. Each person behaviorally and institutionally carried out those roles that would ensure family survival.