NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 28, 2008

Social scientists rarely get more than a passing glimpse as minority groups struggle to achieve the American Dream.  But a pair of UCLA experts has just published a new book that offers a unique, 35-year, time-lapse view of economic and social changes among Mexican-American families.  Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz led a team that interviewed more than 1,500 Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles and San Antonio whose families had taken part in a novel, mid-1960s survey designed to gauge how successive generations are assimilating into mainstream America.

In some ways, recent generations of Mexican-Americans follow typical patterns blazed by earlier, European immigrants, say Telles and Ortiz:

  • Countering critics who say Mexican-Americans don't want to learn English, the study found that nearly everyone spoke and read English by the second generation, though they remained bilingual.
  • Later generations were more likely to become Protestants, vote Republican and marry non-Latinos.
  • Even musical tastes shifted: three quarters of the immigrants liked Mexican styles best; half of later generations preferred black American music.

But other findings are less rosy:

  • Mexican-American neighborhoods are more segregated today, thanks largely to a new influx of immigrants.
  • The study also found that, unlike earlier Europeans, who caught up to American averages in income, wealth and education by the third generation, Mexican-Americans continue to lag.
  • The authors blame the loss of middle-class manufacturing jobs, prejudice fueled by the immigration debate, and subpar school systems.
  • Overall, years of education rose substantially for the children of immigrants, but high-school graduation rates actually decreased slightly by the fourth generation.

What does all this mean for Mexican-American assimilation into the broader society?  The short answer, say Telles and Ortiz, is that full integration remains a long way off.

Source: Andrew Murr, "Decades of Assimilation," Newsweek, March 15, 2008.

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