Hispanic/Latino Americans as an Example of a Second-Generation Immigrant-Descent Minority
Although granted de facto White racial status with the United States conquest of much of Mexico in 1848 and having sometimes been deemed as White by the courts and censuses, Mexican Americans were rarely treated as White (Gomez, 2007; Haney-Lopez, 2006). Historically and legally, Mexicans have been treated as second-class citizens. Within a few short decades after their conquest in the mid-nineteenth century, Mexican Americans, although officially granted United States citizenship with full rights, lost much of their property and status and were relegated to low-status positions as laborers. Since then, Mexican immigration has continued to be of predominately low status. Throughout the twentieth century, Mexicans with low levels of education and from poor backgrounds immigrated to the United States to fill the lowest paid jobs (agriculture, domestic work, construction) with peaks during the Mexican Revolution in 1910 to 1929, during the agricultural guest worker program for Mexicans (Bracero program) from 1942 to 1964, and post the Immigration Act of 1965 which liberalized immigration from the Americas. Most of Mexican immigration has been to the southwestern United States, although Mexicans have begun to settle in nearly all regions of the United States since about 1990. This continuous immigration throughout the twentieth century has meant that the Mexican origin population in the United States includes many persons born in the United States, varying in generational status from first (immigrant) to fourth and even fifth generation. These later generations have continued to face educational and economic disadvantages as we documented in Generations of Exclusion (Telles & Ortiz, 2008). Unfair and discriminatory treatment against Mexican Americans has extended beyond the economic realm. School segregation has been extensive, both historically and in contemporary periods. Throughout history, Mexican children were sent to separate and inferior schools (Alvarez, 1986; San Miguel, 1987; Sanchez, 1993). School segregation was repeatedly challenged in the courts. While they were treated as non-white by Whites, challenges to segregation were won by employing the racial designation of White under the law, meaning that Mexicans as Whites could not be segregated from other Whites (Martinez, 1997). Courts did allow the segregation of Mexicans due to language or migrant status. In the post civil rights era, Mexicans were used as the non-Blacks that integrated schools for Black children (Gross, 2003; Mechaca, 1995)). Eventually Mexicans moved from being considered White to brown, probably due to both legal and social changes although it is difficult to tell which of these occurred first (Gross, 2003). As Mexicans came to be defined as non-whites, they were better able to make claims of unfair treatment and seek legal remedy.7 Persuasive anti-immigrant sentiment and treatment has also worked against all Mexicans whether immigrant or born in the United States. Viewed as alien and low status, Mexican immigrants were (and continue to be) scapegoated and targeted for mistreatment. Even though immigrants were a minority of all Mexican Americans up to the 1980s, the perception of all Mexican Americans as low status immigrants has been pervasive (Massey, 2009; Vasquez, 2010). The immigration legislation of the 1980s has made legal entry to the United States by Mexicans almost impossible, yet immigration has continued. This forced the overwhelming majority of Mexican immigrants in the late twentieth century to enter the United States without proper documentation. This has served to further fuse anti-Mexican and anti-undocumented immigrant sentiment (Massey, 2009). This suggests that in the eyes of many White Americans, all Mexicans are “illegal” and all “illegals” are Mexican (Chacón & Davis, 2006; Chavez, 2008)
For example, younger second-generation Hispanics are more likely than older ones to have two foreign-born parents (Perlmann 2005). Whether the intergenerational gap persists or ameliorates as young second-generation Hispanics move through the lifecycle is a key question.
For Hispanics and Asian Americans—the groups that comprise the bulk of the modern immigration wave—we can also provide some empirical assessments of their attitudes and beliefs, based on data gathered from our own surveys and those of the Census Bureau.
Bailey, Amanda, and Joseph M. Hayes. “Who’s in Prison? The Changing Demographics of Incarceration,” California Counts 8, no. 1 (2006).
Butcher, Kristin F. and Anne Morrison Piehl. “Why are Immigrants’ Incarceration Rates so Low? Evidence on Selective Immigration, Deterrence, and Deportation,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 13229, Cambridge, MA (July 2007).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “2007 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey Overview,” Atlanta, GA (accessed December 2, 2009).