18 Berkeley La Raza L.J. 123 (2007)
The Civil Rights Act and the Transformation of Mexican American Identity and Politics

handle is hein.journals/berklarlj18 and id is 131 raw text is: The Civil Rights Act and the Transformation
of Mexican American Identity and Politics
Nancy MacLean*
Whether Mexicans are whites or people of color, the veteran activist Bert
Corona once observed, has been a thorny issue for years.' The issue was above all
a political one: whether to form coalitions with African Americans, in particular, on
the basis of non-white identity, or pursue a go-at-it-alone strategy to seek
advancement through assimilation and respectability, as immigrants from Europe
had. For more than two decades, scholars have explored the social and cultural
construction of Mexican American identity in ways that have deepened our
understandings of experience, consciousness, and collective action in the United
States.2 Building on this rich literature, some now urge relational analyses of racial
formation and group interactions that can better explain the history of tension and of
cooperation among Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans.3
One promising approach to understanding this history lies in exploring the
political construction of identity. The U.S. has long defined various subordinate
groups in different ways through law and public policy. Examining how it has done
so can help us better understand both the strategies the groups adopted to seek justice
and their relations with one another. For example, Ian F. Haney L6pez and George
Martinez have revealed the deep history of how the law constructed race
consciousness among Mexicans Americans from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
forward.4 David Guti6rrez and Mae M. Ngai have similarly analyzed the impact of
immigration law and policy.5
This article argues that a focus on the political construction of identity is
vital to comprehend how Mexican American activists understood and used
* Professor of History and African American Studies at Northwestern University.
1. MARIO T. GARCiA, MEMORIES OF CHICANO HISTORY: THE LIFE AND NARRATIVE OF BERT
CORONA 200 (1994).
2. The literature is large, but important contributions include: DAVID MONTEJANO, ANGLOS
AND MEXICANS IN THE MAKING OF TEXAS: 1836-1986 (1987); GEORGE J. SANCHEZ, BECOMING
MEXICAN AMERICAN: ETHNICITY, CULTURE, AND IDENTITY IN CHICANO LOS ANGELES: 1900-1945
(1993); VICKI L. RuIz, FROM OUT OF THE SHADOWS: MEXICAN WOMEN IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY
AMERICA (1998); NEIL FOLEY, WHITE SCOURGE: MEXICANS, BLACKS, AND POOR WHITES IN TEXAS
COTTON CULTURE (1999); LINDA GORDON, THE GREAT ARIZONA ORPHAN ABDUCTION (1999).
3. For a pioneering relational approach to the role of the state in race-making, see MICHAEL
OMI & HOWARD WINANT, RACIAL FORMATION IN THE UNITED STATES (1994).
4. lAN F. HANEY LOPEZ, WHITE BY LAW: THE LEGAL CONSTRUCTION OF RACE (Revised ed.
1996); George A. Martinez, The Legal Construction of Race: Mexican Americans and Whiteness, 2 HARV.
LATINO L. REV. 321 (1997).
5. George A. Martinez, The Mexican American Mexican American Litigation Experience, in
THE LATINO/A CONDITION: A CRITICAL READER 355-58 (Richard Delgado & Jean Stefanic eds., 1998).
On immigration law and policy, see DAVID G. GUTItRREZ, WALLS AND MIRRORS: MEXICAN AMERICANS,
MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS, AND THE POLITICS OF ETHNICITY (1995); MAE M. NGAI, IMPOSSIBLE SUBJECTS:
ILLEGAL ALIENS AND THE MAKING OF MODERN AMERICA (2004).

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