A scholar specializing in the American Southwest tells the underappreciated story of the Mexicans who have helped build America.
Hundreds of years before any Anglo crossed the Mississippi westward, Mexicans lived in the present-day American West and Southwest. Ever since, their descendants have occupied a peculiar position in our history. With more than a little justice, Chicano activists, protesting their treatment in the United States, declared during the 1960s, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Foley (History/Southern Methodist Univ.; Quest For Equality: The Failed Promise of Black-Brown Solidarity, 2010, etc.) sets forth the genesis of Mexican America with an introductory, potted history of the Spanish conquest. He devotes more space to the border-altering U.S. land grab of a third of Mexico’s territory, first with the annexation of Texas and then with 1848’s Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The bulk of the narrative centers on the Mexican experience in America during the 20th century, the decadeslong push/pull between the United States and Mexico, the unceasing controversies over generations of legal and illegal immigrants, and the indispensability of Mexican-American labor to our economy versus the accompanying fear of the foreign. Foley’s narrative becomes too crowded with passages discussing 1942’s Zoot Suit Riot in Los Angeles, Mexican-American wartime contributions, the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and ’70s and the “Decade of the Hispanic” in the ’80s. The author touches on the creation of the United Farm Workers, the “English First” movement and instances of recurring racism, ranging from the forthright “No Mexicans” signs of the 1940s to the “Frito Bandito” advertisements of the ’60s. For Americans long accustomed to understanding the country’s development as an east-to-west phenomenon, Foley’s singular service is to urge us to tilt the map south to north and to comprehend conditions as they have been for some time and will likely be for the foreseeable future.
A timely look at and appreciation of a fast-growing demographic destined to play an increasingly important role in our history.