Benjamin Marquez works to define identity as being beneficial but mostly keeps minorities in check socially, economically, and politically. Mexican Americans created identities in response to this discrimination and economic deprivation by aligning with four organizations: The Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ), the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), The Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC), and the Mexican American Women’s National Association (MANA). The Mexican-American organizations in this study are each seeking to advance its own concept of racial politics.
The minority group status depicts exclusion based on race or culture and lower socioeconomic status; however, these are not the only defining features. Historically, they represent the most continual points of conflict between Mexican and Anglo Americans. The Racial discrimination had put Anglo Americans higher on the social ladder, not to mention skin color and being a majority. To build on the disadvantages faced by Mexican Americans they battle poverty, low wages, and unemployment. These concerns have been the basis of demands made by Mexican American activists for equal treatment before the law, nondiscrimination in hiring, access to higher education, and so son.
The Author’s Thesis
Benjamin Marquez argues that the political organizations formed are in response to social discrimination and economic deprivation. The four organizations broken down in his novel, he asserts, have completely different procedures and plan to battle a common cause of suppression of Mexican American people.
The author, Benjamin Marquez, uses in-person and telephone interview to reveal how each of the four political organizations operated. The four political organizations focused on are The Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ), the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), The Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC), and the Mexican American Women’s National Association (MANA). There are hundreds of Mexican American organizations but Marquez narrowed his selection down because all four mentioned are well known in southwestern political, have a long record of successful organizing, and are supported by a large membership base. The four organizations chosen for this study are good examples of the regionally based organizations at work in Mexican-American communities. Benjamin Marquez made trips to each of the network’s headquarters to examine each organization’s records and materials. Unfortunately, a paper trail on each Mexican American organization was hard to come by because of a lack of record-keeping.
The argument Marquez gets across to his readers is that the reason for the hundreds of Mexican American organizations is to aid the uphill climb for Mexican Americans in the Anglo-dominated society; essentially, to counter racial discrimination that plagues the group from the beginning. Marquez makes it certain that discrimination is still felt among Mexican Americans and continues to be a significant problem. How these problems take shape in a political atmosphere is the focus of the book. The four political organizations the comprise the book are very different: The Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ), the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), The Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC), and the Mexican American Women’s National Association (MANA).
While, within the organizations, there is at times political dissent the mission statement the members do not waiver from the mission statement. TAMACC’s long-standing demand for equal opportunity is a declaration that they are the Anglos equal and are determined to prove it. Still, the members make a point that they place important on the individual. Their intention is to acquire property and build large business enterprises. However, it is important to note, TAMACC activists are critics of racial, not economic, hierarchies. Simply, they believe that Mexican Americans will prosper if the business world is purged of racism.
SNEEJ is the only group in Marquez’s study to issue a fully challenging identity on race, class, and culture. SNEEJ activists believe they have been exploited on a race, economic, and cultural level. They know that respect and recognition will come through land claims, political autonomy, and control over natural resources. In contrast, the Southwest IAF activists feel that bridging gaps between group boundaries will ultimately eliminate racism. IAF use commonalities between people of different groups such as religion as a gap-filler, where both parties can connect. Even poor racial minorities, if they really wanted to, could change political thought where they can get more recognition for their group. For IAF, cooperation, reconciliation, and compromise are articles of faith (117). Both groups, SNEEJ and Southwest IAF, see Mexican Americans as poor and deprived, organize in Mexican American neighborhoods, and strive for a better economic share of power and resources. Yet, as noted, they have radically different premises, values, and goals.
They all agree Mexican-American people face profound socioeconomic problems but disagree on the appropriate remedy.
An Issue that sparked an interest and had relevance to my life was the perception of migrants in a foreign country and the perception of returning migrants to their countries of origin (17). The perception of migrants from two differing points of view is one that could be seen as discriminatory no matter how one looks at it. I noticed examples of this in two separate sections of the book. On page 17, Pérez states migrants who have settled in a foreign country will experience discrimination, so will their children. People on the mainland still consider American-born Puerto Ricans foreign. So not only do parents feel alienated but so does the whole family.
What is even more interesting is that first generation Americans from Puerto Rican families are not to identify as Puerto Rican (29). Gina Pérez makes it clear through her personal experience with residents in San Sebastian as they questioned her about her identity. “Do you consider yourself Puerto Rican?” When she was taken by surprise at the question she was told, “That’s right, you are not Puerto Rican but of Puerto Rican descent” (29). The reasoning behind this, I assume, is because when one lives their life outside their cultural scene, they no longer can fully identify with the day-to-day life in the state of origin. They experience cultural mixing and now practice a blend of cultures; a hybrid culture.
I can completely understand where this ideology comes from because I too have experienced similar encounters. Since I am first generation born in the U.S., I overcame the same barriers. My parents are from India. The popular term used when referring to all people from India is Desi. When I take summer trips to India, I know my identity as an Indian is questioned because I am so immersed in the American culture and more often, that not, I am referred to as ABCD (American-Born Confused Desi). This is a term that implies that I am confused as to who I am and where I come from.
A word I hear thrown around a little too much is progress. What does progress mean to the people of the United States and what does it mean to other countries? Gina Pérez starts the second chapter off with the idea of progress that the people of Puerto Rico hold. When she drove into Pepino she was informed that there was so much change and Pepino was finally progressing in the twenty-first century. A familiar phrase she had heard in her field work three years ago.
The change Pérez was expecting does not seem to be there; at least, one that does not do justice to the word progress. I guess most of us who have chosen to live in such a changing and progress-driven country have a different way of evaluating progress. We do not see the small changes that make a big impact on the lives of people in different countries because most of the luxuries they strive for, we already hold. Coming across this dialogue exchange in the book makes we wonder if the rest of the world is playing catch-up with the United States; or whether they are pushing modernization when there is still a need to battle poverty and non-employment.
Some of the aspects that come with progress are not even favorable to the people of small towns in Puerto Rico but they still move forward with this idea because it symbolizes the island’s modernity. Progress is marked by strip malls with mega stores, fast food chains, bigger roads and parking lots. I believe that building infrastructures does not address the bigger issues of poverty and discrimination. On top of that, I do not see a point in having a more material-based economy if the people cannot afford the prices.