Favorite

Tracing The Mexican-American Past 

Mexicanos: A History of Mexicans in the United States by Manuel G. Gonzales (Indiana University Press). Cloth, $29.95.

MEXICAN-AMERICANS, CHICANOS, Mexicanos, Hispanos, Latinos: that so many terms should apply to the same people is the result, says California-based historian Manuel Gonzales, of the quest over several generations for identity as an ethnic minority in the United States.

Since the 1960s, Gonzales writes in Mexicanos, "Chicano" has been a favored term, yet one that is politically laden and not widely accepted in the mainstream. Neither, he believes, has Mexican historiography generally, because it has been both heavily politicized and largely confined academically to Chicano and ethnic studies departments. "This ideological orientation," he writes, "has worked against the complete acceptance of Chicano historians and other Chicano scholars by their colleagues in the academy."

Gonzales suggests that "Mexican" is the better overarching term, especially because, in a broad survey taken in 1990, "62 percent of people of Mexican heritage born in this country preferred [it], as did 86 percent of the immigrant population."

He also demonstrates by example that history need not be overtly politicized in order to score political points. He proceeds to unfold a lively narrative that begins with the Spanish conquest of Mexico and ends in the "Gringolandia" of the late 1990s. Gonzales has a sharp eye for historical ironies. In one section, for instance, he examines the role of the bandido (bandit) in the mainstream culture's perception of Mexicans generally. "Lawlessness," he writes, "was not uniquely characteristic of the oppressed Mexican population; it was rampant on the frontier--Indeed, some historians have seen a lack of respect for the law as an American tradition."

Yet, he writes, "accommodation by the conquered Mexican population was much more common than resistance"; saying that even though on the frontier they were despised as racially inferior, most Mexicans struggled to be good citizens.

That overlooked tradition, Gonzales notes, emerged in many ways: in the deeds, for instance, of José M. López, an army sergeant who "killed more enemy soldiers than any other American in World War II." And it continues today, he says, in the increased presence of Mexicans in all aspects of mainstream culture, and particularly among the intelligentsia.

Likely to be widely used in college history courses, Gonzales' book should be of much interest to general readers as well.BY

More by Gregory McNamee

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • My Heart Can’t Even Believe It

    An excerpt from Amy Silverman’s new book exploring the challenges and joys of raising a child with Down Syndrome
    • May 12, 2016
  • Bathed in Light

    A 75th-birthday exhibition pays tribute to Harold Jones’ long career in photography
    • Oct 15, 2015

The Range

Win Tickets to See The Nutcracker

Hershel Needs a Home

More »

Latest in Book Feature

  • Mystery Mastery

    Tucsonan Shannon Baker's new novel is getting her compared to Craig Johnson, C.J. Box and Linda Castillo
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • The Daughters

    An excerpt from a novel by Adrienne Celt
    • Aug 4, 2016
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Douglas Revisited

    Never-before-seen Bernal photos are a timely love letter to Mexican-Americans of the borderlands
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • Nobody Rich or Famous

    Storied songwriter interviews his prison mentor, internationally lauded Tucson writer and educator Richard Shelton
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Facebook Activity

© 2016 Tucson Weekly | 7225 Mona Lisa Rd. Ste. 125, Tucson AZ 85741 | (520) 797-4384 | Powered by Foundation