Mexican Immigration to the United States and Its Effect on Mexican Culture and the Family Structure

Alexander Greene

Salinas family

Mexican Americans have a very unique and remarkable place in the story of America and in the history of immigration of different groups of people to the United States. Many families of Mexican descent can trace their roots to the lands of the southern and western regions of the United States of America long before there was a country known as the United States. As far back as the 1830s Mexican descendants have been in the Kansas City area, and have contributed to the rich culture and diversity of people of Kansas City.

Beginning with the annexation of Texas in 1845, there were few Mexican citizens leaving Mexican territory for the resettlement in the United States. Just nine years before Texas was made into a state, the Texas Republic seized their own independence from Mexico in the year 1836. According to Texans the lands of the Republic included significant portions of Colorado, New Mexico, as well as the western and southern portions of Texas. The Republic also claimed its southern boarder stretched all the way down to form a natural boarder with the Rio Grande river. The Mexican government officials disputed these territorial boarder claiming that the republic of Texas actual southern boarder was actually located at the Nueces River.  When Texas became a state in the union, The Mexican government threatened to go to war with the United States over the disputed lands between the Rio Grande River and the Nueces river. A dispute over the territory between the rivers ensued and with manifest destiny on the mind of U.S. president Polk and U.S. expansionism at the front of domestic policy, the military was ordered to the disputed lands. This conflict quickly escalated to a declaration of war by Mexico on the United States of America on May, 1846. War between the two nations did not end until the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo which was signed February 2, 1848 in Mexico City. The terms of agreement for the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty were that Mexico would give up almost 55% of their territory to the United States which equates to about 525,000 mi.² of land. The United States would pay a one time payment of $15 million and the forgiveness of debt held by Mexican citizens to the United States of up to $3.25 million took place also.
Starting in the late 19th century around the year 1890, industries in the United States southwest began to rapidly grow and expand in the mining and agricultural fields. These job opportunities were very attractive to Mexican migrant workers. This time period can be considered as a time were a small number but steady flow of migrants coming were to America from Mexico for work. The Mexican Revolution took place from years 1910 to 1920 and immigration from Mexico to the United States rapidly rose seeing the flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States of America increase due to those who were fleeing political persecution or were war refugees. In the year 1910 there were only about 20,000 migrants entering the United States yearly from Mexico that number rose to between 50,000 and 100,000 per year by 1920.

By the year 1924 and with the signing of the immigration act of 1924 or better known as the Johnson-Reed act, Mexican descendants living in the United States were excluded from U.S. policy regarding immigration to the United States of America due to the fact that they were viewed as highly important and integral part of the agricultural industry in the southwest United States. The immigration act of 1924 said it was lawful to limit the annual number of immigrants from any country to 2% of the countrymen already living in the United States. Nothing changed in regards to the US policy on immigration from Mexico until 1929 and the Great Depression era. The economic recession of most American industries especially those in the agricultural industry of the southwest United States caused a major shift in attitude of U.S policy makers toward Mexican immigrants. The lack of work forced tens of thousands of laborers to move back to Mexican territory. That movement combined with the mass deportation of hundreds of thousands of Mexican American immigrants back to Mexico also dramatically decreased the population of Mexican Americans. This time period sometimes known as the repatriation policies era, these repatriation policies of the Great Depression era have eerily similar tones and themes to those tones and themes that have been infused into the political, social and economic paradigm of American life in the contemporary landscape. The idea behind the repatriation policies of the depression era that saw between 500,000 and 2 million Mexicans descendants deported. The policy makers reasons were multifaceted but the comparative reason as it relates to the current times is the idea of a alien workers taking so called American jobs. The response by President Herbert Hoover at the time to that notion were mass raids leading to the mass deportation of large communities of Mexican descendants.

       Moving into the war time era of the 1940s, American attitudes toward Mexican immigration begin to change once again and so did its policies. Due to the high necessity for a mass increase in agricultural and manufacturing production, U.S. farmers were at this point desperate for the hard work on the Mexican immigrant laborers that they knew would be coming at a very low cost. Beginning in the year 1942 a new program established between the US and Mexican government called Braceros enabled advertised for Mexican laborers to come to the United States of America as contact workers. Between 1942 in 1964, 5 million Mexicans came to the United States under Braceros programs and hundreds of thousands would remain in the United States after the contracts were up. During this time period of influx in migration to the United States, some attitudes of policy makers at the federal, state and local levels were still advocating and accomplishing the deportation of some Mexican descendants. Many Mexican migrants paid little to no heed to the racist rhetoric of their fellow countrymen and went on to heroically fight in WWII, receiving many different pedigrees and accomplishments militarily.

The wave of immigration taking place within the United States during the wartime era of the 1940s saw an influx of people leaving the rural areas for the expanding cities. This wave of immigration brings us up to contemporary times where between the years 1980 and 2014, the population of Mexican migrating to the United States of America grow from 2,199,200 in 1980 to nearly 11,714,500 people according US census bureau. That growth gives a total population of over 35 million Mexican Americans in 2017.

The problem of illegal immigration has been at the forefront of the United States of America’s political landscape during the contemporary era. Although there is some illegal immigration into the country the mass majority of Mexican descendants in America come into the country legally and the stigma that is perpetuated about the resident status or citizenship is unwarranted and unfortunate.

Throughout the history of Mexican migrants moving to America, Kansas City has always been a hotbed for Mexican migrant settlement. As far back as 1830 there has been a presence of Mexican descendants in the local area, beginning with the formation of the new republic of Mexico. Trade routes via the Santa Fe Trail lead many Mexicans to settle in the Kansas and Missouri territories. From the years 1900 to 1914 the Kansas City based Southern Rail company completed a rail line, creating a direct route from the Gulf of Mexico to Kansas City. Many Mexican laborers were part of accomplishing this feat of connecting the country via railroads. The laborers who settled in the Kansas City area formed many of the first Spanish-speaking communities in the Argentine, Rosedale and Armourdale neighborhoods on the Kansas side and the Westside and west bottoms area on the Missouri side.These communities are still predominantly Spanish speaking neighborhoods today.

After spending just a short amount of time learning from and about the Mexican Family, one can easily see it’s important to their culture. Throughout more than a century’s worth of entering the United States and being forcibly removed due to racism immigration policies, The integrity of the family and the family value system has never been broken for Mexican descendants. Family units and structures are typically larger in number of members. Parents and elders are treated with a high degree of respect that is reciprocated in love to the youth of the family The necessity for a strong family bond during the experience of a so called person of color here in America has indeed furthered the strength and the connection between the family members of Mexican American households. According to Rosa Gillis home was interview as a part of this research, family was very important and she remembers her childhood in Mexico.

The importance of family is very palpable while experiencing the Mexican American vantage pointe. It is very common to see generations of family living within a close proximity to one another either in the same neighborhood or in the same household. This behavior reflects the level of support that the family structure inside the Mexican culture has for each family member. It is also very common for family members to financially support each other when needed. In the year 2014 alone billions of dollars were sent from the United States of America to Mexico in remittance payments alone. The economic power within the American paradigm held by Mexican descendants is growing rapidly. The Traditional structure of the Mexican family is that of a patriarchal society with the mother being at the center of most domestic spaces and task. Typically with the father putting an emphasis and setting a strong example in hard work ethic and character.

America is a very diverse place it is a country where many different cultures come to the United States and the overall culture is a melting pot of many different cultures in one. Generations of Mexican families have a simulated into American society and have also created a subculture within the context of the family structure due to interracial marrying. Through this mixing of cultures within the family structure the value of a close knit family has been retained Which illustrates the importance of family to the descendants of Mexicans living in America. Within the culture of the Mexican family is typical for individual family members to put the needs of the collective family before the individual needs of self. The extended family such as cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents are as important and play integral roles in the daily lives of family members.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Mexican experience in regards to the impact immigration has had on Mexican Americans is the retention of culture including but not limited to language, food, family structure, spirituality, music, fiestas and a strong since of pride in working hard. Through the generations of families migrating from Mexico and settling in the United States who have assimilated into the American the Spanish language has been retained and spoke inside of the household or amongst other Spanish speaking individuals. The retention of the Spanish language by Mexican and other latinx immigrants has had a definite impact on life in America, seeing bilingual assistance become a standard operating procedure in many industries. According to Juanita Green who was interviewed as apart of research for this project explained to me that for her it is very pleasing to know that her daughter who is a 3rd Generation Mexican American can still have Spanish conversations with her grandmother and is fluently bilingual in Spanish and English as well.

Mexican Americans have brought to the United States a new culture of food also. With some being more traditional Mexican cuisine and others Mexican style food having an American twist on them. It is very common in supermarkets to see a section that is specifically stocked for specific Mexican or Latinx style foods.

For many American families of Mexican descent keeping the tradition of the Quinceanerais not only of the utmost importance but the experience is memorable for a life time. The Quiceanera is a celebration of a young girl coming into women hood. The party/ball is held on the 15th birthday of a young ladies life. It is customary for the family to pull together financially in order to pull of the event, as the festivities can be quite extravagant and expensive. Each individual member is assigned a responsibility and task, this is another great example of the family structure and its support for one another.

Another cultural aspect that Mexican immigration to the United States has had an effect on is the media and entertainment industries. The high population of Spanish speaking people has created a market for the national and local Spanish media outlets. The availability of Spanish speaking commercial broadcasting networks to local radio stations have allowed Mexican descendants in America to retain much of their culture also.

Mexican Americans unique culture and family structure have withstood the decades of differing immigration policy. The contribution of culture Mexican descendants have given to the United States of America are as important and impactful as the contributions of any other demographic group in America.