Mexican-American Cultural Identity


Hall (1990, as cited in Meyer, 1996) stated that:

Cultural identity… is a matter of "becoming as well as of "being" It belongs to the future as much as to the past. It is not something which [sic] already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which [sic] is historical, they undergo constant transformation. It is this transformation of cultural identity that makes the understanding of Mexican-Americans, and any group for that matter, so complex.

Today in the U.S., Mexican-Americans account for 13.5 million, or at least 60.4%, of all Hispanic Americans (Dr. M. Roberts, personal communication, November 23, 1998). To say that the entire Hispanic segmentation is one racial group is both inaccurate and bad business.

The term Hispanic refers to the ethnicity of people who share common roots in Latin America (Dr. M. Roberts, personal communication, November 23, 1998). Mexican-Americans are very different from say Colombian-Americans, Cuban-Americans and the like. The Mexican-American experience is very different from any other immigrant group. Rodolfo Garza (1998) talks about the Mexican experience when he says that: For most of their time in the United States, people of Mexican ancestry have been accused of being disloyal and assailable into American society. While this charge has been made of most immigrants in the first years after their arrival, the Mexican case is unique because new immigrants have always been apart of the Mexican-origin and ancestry population.

The very notion of assimilation means something different to people, even those found within one segment or group. Keefe & Padilla (1987) attempted to capture the essence of the Mexican-American cultural identity through a case study approach. They found that there are at least two types of Mexican-Americans. The first type (Type 1) have had personal experiences of discrimination, and their attitudes towards Anglo-Americans and the mainstream American culture can be summed up in the derogatory term "gabacho" (Keefe & Padilla, 1987). The second type (Type II), "retain strong positive feelings about their own Mexican culture and Mexican people; but they have also developed a positive attitude toward American culture and people" (Keefe & Padilla, 1987).

There are many factors that define, contribute to, and impede assimilation. Lampe (1995) suggested that the amount and frequency of Spanish used was an indicator of the level of assimilation. Garza (1998) stated that: Mexican-Americans see language both in symbolic and practical terms. Symbolically, the Spanish language is a cultural link to Mexico just as English represents access to U.S. culture and society. Practically, language is both a resource and (a) barrier. Knowledge of English offers greater opportunities in U.S. society. Spanish, however, can be used as a tool for discrimination.

This duality of language establishes and promotes a cultural distance between the minority group and that of mainstream America. Another factor, "may be the personally selected ethnic-identifying term of the individual members of the group" (Lampe, 1995). Whether a person of Mexican ancestry considers himself or herself to be an American, a Latin American, Mexican-American, or Chicano, there are different levels of assimilation attributed to these terms within American society. The likelihood that a person considers themselves as an American first, greatly contributes to that person feeling, and in fact being, more assimilated into the mainstream American society. If someone considers himself or herself Chicano, for which to some Chicanos is the same as being recognized as a Mexican living in the U.S., then the level of assimilation is much lower. (Lampe, 1995). As the level of assimilation raises, the level of ethnic "drift" increases. Waters (1990, as cited in Gonzales, 1997) describes this phenomenon as the distortion, simplification, and inconsistent reporting of knowledge of one's own ethnic origins. Cultural identity is not a simple concept, and is not often thought of by those who attempt to sell products to a wide range of people.