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Generations of Exclusion

Mexican-Americans, Assimilation, and Race

Edward M. Telles, Vilma Ortiz, Joan W. Moore

Publication Year: 2008

When boxes of original files from a 1965 survey of Mexican Americans were discovered behind a dusty bookshelf at UCLA, sociologists Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz recognized a unique opportunity to examine how the Mexican American experience has evolved over the past four decades.  Telles and Ortiz located and re-interviewed most of the original respondents and many of their children.  Then, they combined the findings of both studies to construct a thirty-five year analysis of Mexican American integration into American society.  Generations of Exclusion is the result of this extraordinary project. Generations of Exclusion measures Mexican American integration across a wide number of dimensions: education, English and Spanish language use, socioeconomic status, intermarriage, residential segregation, ethnic identity, and political participation. The study contains some encouraging findings, but many more that are troubling. Linguistically, Mexican Americans assimilate into mainstream America quite well—by the second generation, nearly all Mexican Americans achieve English proficiency. In many domains, however, the Mexican American story doesn’t fit with traditional models of assimilation. The majority of fourth generation Mexican Americans continue to live in Hispanic neighborhoods, marry other Hispanics, and think of themselves as Mexican. And while Mexican Americans make financial strides from the first to the second generation, economic progress halts at the second generation, and poverty rates remain high for later generations. Similarly, educational attainment peaks among second generation children of immigrants, but declines for the third and fourth generations. Telles and Ortiz identify institutional barriers as a major source of Mexican American disadvantage. Chronic under-funding in school systems predominately serving Mexican Americans severely restrains progress. Persistent discrimination, punitive immigration policies, and reliance on cheap Mexican labor in the southwestern states all make integration more difficult. The authors call for providing Mexican American children with the educational opportunities that European immigrants in previous generations enjoyed. The Mexican American trajectory is distinct—but so is the extent to which this group has been excluded from the American mainstream. Most immigration literature today focuses either on the immediate impact of immigration or what is happening to the children of newcomers to this country. Generations of Exclusion shows what has happened to Mexican Americans over four decades. In opening this window onto the past and linking it to recent outcomes, Telles and Ortiz provide a troubling glimpse of what other new immigrant groups may experience in the future.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

About the Authors

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xvi

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pp. xvii-xxvi

UCLA’s Mexican American Study Project is the ancestor of the study you hold in your hands. Born in the politically charged environment of the mid-1960s, the UCLA study was a massive effort to help put Mexican Americans on America’s social and political...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-20

In 1993, when UCLA’s historic Powell Library was being retrofitted to meet stricter earthquake codes, workers found numerous dusty boxes hidden behind a bookshelf in an unused basement room. The boxes contained the original survey questionnaires taken in 1965 and 1966 that...

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2. Theoretical Background

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pp. 21-44

How ethnic groups are integrated in national societies and why they take particular paths are subjects of considerable debate. In the United States, the literature on their integration often revolves around a tension between assimilation and racialization perspectives...

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3. The Mexican American Study Project

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pp. 45-73

The 1965 Mexican American Study Project was designed as the first comprehensive study to “depict factually and analytically the present realities of life for Mexican Americans in our society.”1 Using the latest scientific methods at their disposal, Grebler, Moore, and Guzmán...

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4. The Historical Context

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pp. 74-103

At the time that Grebler, Moore, and Guzmán were conducting their study, Mexican Americans were beginning to enter universities in significant numbers. These students, along with a tiny cadre of Mexican American professors, were beginning to question the prevailing...

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5. Education

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pp. 104-134

Today, according to most public opinion polls, education ranks as the most important issue facing Latinos.1 Despite sixty years of political and legal battles to improve the education of Mexican Americans, they continue to have the lowest average education levels and the highest high school dropout rates among major ethnic and racial groups in...

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6. Economic Status

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pp. 135-157

No other issue regarding racial and ethnic divisions in the United States is as troubling as the lack of economic incorporation of some groups, most notably African Americans. The persistently low occupational level, income, and accumulated wealth of minorities...

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7. Interethnic Relations

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pp. 158-184

Residential segregation and intermarriage have become primary indicators of the extent of social distance between race and ethnic groups. High levels of residential segregation and low levels of intermarriage mean that boundaries between groups are rigid, implying...

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8. Culture and Language

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pp. 185-210

Mexican Americans are often believed to share particular cultural attributes associated with Mexican culture, such as the Spanish language, Catholicism, and pronatalist and patriarchal family orientations. These and other attributes are not only used to...

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9. Ethnic Identity

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pp. 211-237

Modern understandings of ethnicity stress that ethnics or ethnic groups are created when members of society actively erect and sustain social boundaries between themselves and so-called others, often but not always on the basis of perceived cultural differences...

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10. Politics

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pp. 238-263

Grebler, Moore, and Guzmán blamed a “history of conflict” for the limited Mexican American political involvement outside of New Mexico and south Texas. “No other ethnic group,” they asserted, “has labored under a similar handicap of hostility, mistrust and suspicion...

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11. Conclusions

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pp. 264-292

The Mexican American experience requires that we look beyond the traditional assimilation versus race theories that have been based almost entirely on the European American and African American experiences. The well-known assimilation story, in its classic and modern...

Appendix A. Descriptive Statistics

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pp. 293-296

Appendix B. Multivariate Analyses

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pp. 297-316


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pp. 317-348


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pp. 349-368


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pp. 369-390

E-ISBN-13: 9781610445283
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871548481

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 608483574
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Generations of Exclusion

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Intergenerational relations -- United States.
  • Social surveys -- United States.
  • Mexican Americans -- Longitudinal studies.
  • Mexican Americans -- Interviews.
  • Mexican Americans -- Cultural assimilation.
  • Mexican Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
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