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Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community

Power, Conflict, and Solidarity

By Gilda L. Ochoa

Publication Year: 2004

On the surface, Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants to the United States seem to share a common cultural identity but often make uneasy neighbors. Discrimination and assimilationist policies have influenced generations of Mexican Americans so that some now fear that the status they have gained by assimilating into American society will be jeopardized by Spanish-speaking newcomers. Other Mexican Americans, however, adopt a position of group solidarity and work to better the social conditions and educational opportunities of Mexican immigrants. Focusing on the Mexican-origin, working-class city of La Puente in Los Angeles County, California, this book examines Mexican Americans’ everyday attitudes toward and interactions with Mexican immigrants—a topic that has so far received little serious study. Using in-depth interviews, participant observations, school board meeting minutes, and other historical documents, Gilda Ochoa investigates how Mexican Americans are negotiating their relationships with immigrants at an interpersonal level in the places where they shop, worship, learn, and raise their families. This research into daily lives highlights the centrality of women in the process of negotiating and building communities and sheds new light on identity formation and group mobilization in the U.S. and on educational issues, especially bilingual education. It also complements previous studies on the impact of immigration on the wages and employment opportunities of Mexican Americans.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. viii

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pp. ix-x

From conception to completion, this book has benefited from the help and support of many people. Without their assistance and encouragement, I could not have written it. First of all, I am deeply indebted to all of the residents of La Puente and the surrounding communities who opened their doors and shared their stories and knowledge with me. Also, individuals...

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Chapter 1. Introducing Becoming Neighbors

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pp. 1-17

Migrating from Cuernavaca, Mexico, to escape an abusive husband and with hopes of ‘‘earning enough money to eat,’’ thirty-six-year-old Sara Valdez arrived in 1989 in La Puente, a city in Los Angeles County, California.1 After acquiring a job in a neighborhood restaurant, she encouraged other family members to join her. She now lives with her two teenage children...

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Chapter 2. Theorizing about Mexican American–Mexican Immigrant Relations in "Occupied Mexico"

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pp. 18-44

The views of La Puente residents Silvia Bravo and Denise Villarreal represent two of the most popular perspectives on race/ethnic relations, the assimilationist and the power-conflict perspective. While each perspective has numerous variations, they nonetheless represent two distinct approaches that are used by members of the academic community and by the general...

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Chapter 3. "Where the Past Meets the Future": Centering La Puente

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pp. 45-69

Television commercials endorsing California’s Proposition 187, dubbed the ‘‘SaveOur State’’ (SOS) initiative, played frequently during the fall of 1994— the period in which I began to systematically interview La Puente residents and to attend community events. During this period California was experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, and...

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Chapter 4. "This Is Who I Am": Negotiating Racial/Ethnic Constructions

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pp. 70-97

The history of colonization and the enduring patterns of exploitation, racism, and discrimination outlined in the previous chapters have set the landscape for contemporary race/ethnic relations. Within the United States, this history has resulted in various paradigms of race/ethnicity. Two, in particular, have been detrimental to the Mexican-origin community. The first...

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Chapter 5. "Between a Rock and a Hard Place, with No Easy Answers": Structuring Conflict

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pp. 98-130

Sixty-two-year-old Silvia Bravo smiles warmly as she invites me into her home. She escorts me to her kitchen table and offers me a drink. As she walks toward the refrigerator, she gestures to the neatly arranged papers at one end of the table and says she is coordinating a large donation project at the church. I soon learn that she is very involved in the local Catholic church...

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Chapter 6. "We Can’t Forget Our Roots": Building Solidarity

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pp. 131-175

Sitting behind her desk, forty-six-year-old Denise Villarreal unwraps her sandwich and motions to me to begin the interview. She is a gregarious woman, and her jovial demeanor creates an inviting atmosphere. Between phone calls, knocks on her office door, and her lunch, she reclines in her chair and talks about her life and her experiences as a La Puente resident...

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Chapter 7. Constructing Puentes: Mexican American and Mexican Immigrant Mobilization

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pp. 176-218

To casual observers, the participants in this demonstration are united. They share a common concern for bilingual education and similar racial/ethnic and class positions as working-class and Spanish-speaking or bilingual Latinas/os from the La Puente area. It is this combination of cultural commonalities and connections based on shared social locations and experiences...

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Chapter 8. Revisiting and Envisioning the Processes of BECOMING NEIGHBORS

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pp. 219-231

The telephone rings late Monday evening on July 22, 2002. The familiar voice on the other end of the receiver updates me on the intricacies occurring in La Puente schools—a knife was found on a playground, elementary schoolchildren are being expelled, parents are organizing, there is dissatisfaction with a principal. Amidst the update on these dynamics in the local...

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Appendix. The Politics of Research

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pp. 233-236

Feminists, scholars of color, and progressives have extensively critiqued the assumptions underlying traditional social science methodological approaches that assert that scholars should maintain distance and a ‘‘valuefree’’ stance from their research topics and the people being studied (hooks 1989; Collins 1990; Frankenberg 1993). Such critics have argued that research...


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pp. 237-249


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pp. 251-266


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pp. 267-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798472
E-ISBN-10: 0292798474
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292702103
Print-ISBN-10: 0292702108

Page Count: 284
Illustrations: 6 photos, 8 tables
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 60567308
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- California -- La Puente -- Social conditions.
  • Ethnic neighborhoods -- California -- La Puente.
  • La Puente (Calif.) -- Social conditions.
  • La Puente (Calif.) -- Politics and government.
  • Immigrants -- California -- La Puente -- Social conditions.
  • Community life -- California -- La Puente.
  • Social conflict -- California -- La Puente.
  • Mexican Americans -- California -- La Puente -- Politics and government.
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