Replenished Ethnicities

Tomás R. Jiménez, author of Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity, recently contributed an op-ed to the L.A. Times on the immigration bill just passed in the Senate whose fate will now be determined by the House of Representatives. Jiménez and co-author Helen B. Marrow argue against claims that Mexicans who immigrate to the U.S. show no interest in assimilating into American culture and will remain a “permanent underclass.”

To the contrary, they say, “Many Mexican immigrants and their children have traveled paths to becoming full Americans that, even if slower, are not unlike the paths followed previously by European immigrants.” Advocating an approach testable by social science data, the authors write:

For Mexicans, who have been immigrating to the United States for a century, the historical moment of arrival and the number of generations removed from the immigrant generation are crucial parts of the story. When accounting for both, the best analyses suggest cautious optimism. Each passing generation of Mexican Americans does better than the one before at making economic gains and progressing toward full integration into U.S. society.

One comprehensive study published in 2008 tracks Mexican Americans’ experiences in the large Mexican centers of Los Angeles and San Antonio, where sociologists Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz found significant and steady upward educational mobility. On average, first-generation parents completed just 4.1 years school in the 1900s to 1930s. Their second-generation children completed 10 years in the 1930s to 1950s, and their third-generation grandchildren completed 13.1 years of school in the 1950s to 1980s. Later-generation Mexican Americans also narrowed the gaps in educational attainment with non-Latino whites to 1.3 years from 3.4 years.

Read the rest of the op-ed for Jiménez and Marrow’s full arguments, including an analysis of border security.