- Mexicans in the Making of America by Neil Foley
Neil Foley has produced a sweeping account of Mexican American history with the publication of Mexicans in the Making of America. Using a broad lens, he emphasizes the long legacy of people of Mexican descent in the United States and analyzes the many contributions that the Mexican American community has made to the nation. He argues that Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants are “central to the story of the making of the United States” (p. 12). Foley examines the intersection of Mexican American and diplomatic history by providing information on the relations between the [End Page 740] United States and Mexico, with a particular emphasis on how Mexico responded to the treatment of people of Mexican descent in the United States. Throughout the book, Foley also stresses the role that fear played in history, as he examines U.S. changes in immigration policy, Americans’ reactions to immigrants, and briefly, the influence of Cold War politics on decisions related to immigration.
The book’s organization could be improved; each chapter focuses on a main theme, such as the Good Neighbor Policy, and the chapters are arranged chronologically. However, because of the thematic focus, Foley creates some chronological whiplash within each chapter, and some crucial elements of Mexican American history are almost entirely excluded. For example, Foley only makes one passing reference to the repatriation programs of the 1930s. This is a large oversight, particularly in a book that strives to focus on U.S.-Mexico relations. If the author had provided a more clear indication of each chapter’s intent in the introduction, he would have avoided some confusion by giving the reader a better expectation regarding the book’s content.
The strengths of Foley’s narrative are best exhibited in chapter 6, “The Chicano Movement.” He uses a variety of primary and secondary sources to depict the complex history of Mexican American civil rights. He not only analyzes changes in the approach to civil rights over time, from Dr. Hector P. Garcia to José Angel Gutierrez, but he also describes how different threads of the movement existed simultaneously, providing information about César Chávez, La Raza Unida Party, and Reies Tijerina. Additionally, he demonstrates how other major events in U.S. history, such as the passage of the G.I. Bill, helped shape the Chicano movement.
Foley has produced a work in which he has fulfilled his intent: he clearly demonstrates the important contributions that Mexicans have made throughout American history. The purpose of his book, then, seems at odds with the opening line of the book, which states, “Some readers might wonder why a person with a non-Latino name like ‘Neil Foley’ would feel the urge or the need to write about Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants” (p. ix). He goes on to discuss his Latino heritage. When writing a book to show that Mexican American history is important to our understanding of American history as a whole, it is counterproductive to begin by suggesting that only a person of Latino heritage might have an interest in Mexican American history. While I certainly do not wish to dismiss the role his childhood may have had on the creation of this book, perhaps he could have introduced that personal information in a different way. All in all, though, Mexicans in the Making of America makes a valuable contribution to the field.