- MEXICANS IN THE MAKING OF AMERICA by Neil Foley
Neil Foley has written an ambitious new book arguing that the regional, national, and transnational struggles for full citizenship rights of Mexican Americans have made and remade United States culture (12). The book is part survey due to its expansive coverage and part innovative monograph that will be useful for seasoned and new Latino Studies scholars alike.
Foley begins with the Treaty of Guadalupe—what he calls the “Genesis of Mexican America.” Here we get a brief overview of the upheaval caused in the newly formed border region for Anglos and Mexicans alike. He follows this with the solidification of the border zone as a single economic region and its reliance on the labor of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. One of the issues that arises during the early twentieth century is the question of naturalization: can Mexicans be naturalized citizens?; if white, yes, or if indigenous, no. Foley emphasizes the transnational aspects of this question and shows the delicate negotiations that the U.S. government had to navigate in order not to offend the Mexican government.
By far, however, the most interesting part of the book—and the area where I think the author makes his greatest contribution—are the three chapters devoted to World War II and its immediate aftermath. Foley presents extensive archival work to focus on the transnational aspects of the war. He effectively demonstrates Mexico’s desire for legitimacy and use of the Good Neighbor Policy to leverage respect for its citizens who served in the U.S. armed forces. Mexican citizens also worked in U.S. agricultural fields and railroad yards as braceros, who he claims were “Mexico’s most significant contribution to the war effort” (121).
For its part, the United States government during World War II saw Mexico as a significant ally against the axis powers. Foley carefully lays out how the U.S. was keenly aware of the axis propaganda of U.S. mistreatment of people of color. The government went so far as to establish the Division of Inter-American Activities to investigate reports of discrimination against Mexicans and Mexican Americans. However, this agency was largely ineffective.
Curiously, the remainder of the book drops the transnational focus for a regional and national one. The chapter devoted to the Chicano Movement is familiar territory and serves mainly as a synthesis. The final chapters discuss the 1980s as the decade of the Hispanic, the rise of the term for census purposes, and the militarization of the border. The final chapter is particularly interesting as it traces recent policies and attitudes toward Mexican immigrants through a three-pronged approach. The first two are the backlash of the 1990s and post 9/11 era as represented by California’s Proposition 187 and Arizona’s SB 1070. Foley argues that these tactics were administered [End Page 164] by border states tired of waiting for action on immigration from the federal government—a regional focus. The final approach was/is national and is found in our nation’s obsession with border security and the shift from apprehension at the border to prevention from crossing the border. Overall, Foley accomplishes his goal and situates U.S. history into a Mexican and Mexican American context (rather than the other way around).