Mexican American facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Mexican American
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Total population

Mexican Americans
34,586,088 (2013)
10.94% of the US population.

Location of Mexico
Regions with significant populations
Southwest, West Coast, Upper Midwest. There are also emerging populations in the South and Northeast.
Languages
Spanish, American English, Spanglish, and a minority of Indigenous Mexican languages.
Religion
Predominantly Roman Catholic; minorities of Protestants, Indigenous beliefs, Unaffiliated
Related ethnic groups
Indigenous peoples of Mexico, Spaniards, Arabs, Mestizo, Hispanics

Mexican Americans are Americans of Mexican ancestry. They account for 9% of the country's population: about 28.3 million Americans listed their ancestry as Mexican as of 2006. They form the largest Hispanic or Latino group in the United States and contain the largest group of White Hispanics. Mexican Americans trace their ancestry to the modern day country of Mexico or the Southwestern United States.

Most Mexican Americans live in the four states that border Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The areas in and around Los Angeles is home to over six million Mexican Americans. Many of these live in mainly Hispanic neighborhoods such as East Los Angeles. There are also a number of large Mexican American communities in other areas of the Western and Southwestern United States. Though Chicago is not in the Western or Southwestern United States, it has 1.4 million Mexican Americans, more Mexican Americans than any city except Los Angeles. The metro areas of Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix each have more than one million Mexicans. There are a growing number of Mexican Americans in the Midwest and South.

Most Mexican Americans are "mestizos", or of more than one ethnicity. Most of their heritage is the indigenous indios of Mexico, but it often contains other groups, such as Spanish, Italian, Irish and Native American tribes from the U.S. such as Apache.

History of Mexican Americans

Southwestern Chillis and Skull
Symbols of the Southwest: a string of chili peppers (a ristra) and a bleached white cow's skull hang in a market near Santa Fe

In 1900, there were slightly more than 500,000 Hispanics of Mexican descent living in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, California and Texas. Most were Mexican Americans of Spanish descent and other Hispanicized European settlers who settled in the Southwest during Spanish colonial times, as well as local and Mexican Indians.

As early as 1813, some of the Tejanos who colonized Texas in the Spanish Colonial Period established a government in Texas that desired independence from Spanish-ruled Mexico. In those days, there was no concept of identity as Mexican. Many Mexicans were more loyal to their states/provinces than to their country as a whole, which was a colony of Spain. This was particularly true in frontier regions such as Zacatecas, Texas, Yucatán, Oaxaca, New Mexico, etc.

As shown by the writings of colonial Tejanos such as Antonio Menchaca, the Texas Revolution was initially a colonial Tejano cause. Mexico encouraged immigration from the United States to settle east Texas and, by 1831, English-speaking settlers outnumbered Tejanos ten to one in the region. Both groups were settled mostly in the eastern part of the territory. The Mexican government became concerned about the increasing volume of Anglo-American immigration and restricted the number of settlers from the United States allowed to enter Texas. Consistent with its abolition of slavery, the Mexican government banned slavery within the state, which angered American slave owners. The American settlers, along with many of the Tejano, rebelled against the centralized authority of Mexico City and the Santa Anna regime, while other Tejano remained loyal to Mexico, and still others were neutral.

Author John P. Schmal wrote of the effect Texas independence had on the Tejano community:

A native of San Antonio, Juan Seguín is probably the most famous Tejano to be involved in the War of Texas Independence. His story is complex because he joined the Anglo rebels and helped defeat the Mexican forces of Santa Anna. But later on, as Mayor of San Antonio, he and other Tejanos felt the hostile encroachments of the growing Anglo power against them. After receiving a series of death threats, Seguín relocated his family in Mexico, where he was coerced into military service and fought against the US in 1846–1848 Mexican–American War.

Although the events of 1836 led to independence for the people of Texas, the Hispanic population of the state was very quickly disenfranchised, to the extent that their political representation in the Texas State Legislature disappeared entirely for several decades.
All the Way to the Bay mural in Chicano Park
Mural in Chicano Park, San Diego stating "All the way to the Bay"

As a Spanish colony, the territory of California also had an established population of colonial settlers. Californios is the term for the Spanish-speaking residents of modern-day California; they were the original Mexicans (regardless of race) and local Hispanicized Indians in the region (Alta California) before the United States acquired it as a territory. In the mid-19th century, more settlers from the United States began to enter the territory.

In California, Spanish settlement began in 1769 with the establishment of the Presidio and Catholic mission of San Diego. 20 more missions were established along the California coast by 1823, along with military Presidios and civilian communities. Settlers in California tended to stay close to the coast and outside of the California interior. The California economy was based on agriculture and livestock. In contrast to central New Spain, coastal colonists found little mineral wealth. Some became farmers or ranchers, working for themselves on their own land or for other colonists. Government officials, priests, soldiers, and artisans settled in towns, missions, and presidios.

One of the most important events in the history of Mexican settlers in California occurred in 1833, when the Mexican Government secularized the missions. In effect this meant that the government took control of large and vast areas of land. These lands were eventually distributed among the population in the form of Ranchos, which soon became the basic socio-economic units of the province.

Relations between Californios and English-speaking settlers were relatively good until 1846, when military officer John C. Fremont arrived in Alta California with a United States force of 60 men on an exploratory expedition. Fremont made an agreement with Comandante Castro that he would stay in the San Joaquin Valley only for the winter, then move north to Oregon. However, Fremont remained in the Santa Clara Valley then headed towards Monterey. When Castro demanded that Fremont leave Alta California, Fremont rode to Gavilan Peak, raised a US flag and vowed to fight to the last man to defend it. After three days of tension, Fremont retreated to Oregon without a shot being fired.

With relations between Californios and Americans quickly souring, Fremont returned to Alta California, where he encouraged European-American settlers to seize a group of Castro's soldiers and their horses. Another group seized the Presidio of Sonoma and captured Mariano Vallejo.

SACC Nima
The Henry B. González Convention Center and Lila Cockrell Theater along the San Antonio River Walk. The Tower of the Americas is visible in the background.

The Americans chose William B. Ide as chosen Commander in Chief and on July 5, he proclaimed the creation of the Bear Flag Republic. On July 9, US military forces reached Sonoma; they lowered the Bear Flag Republic's flag, replacing it with a US flag. Californios organized an army to defend themselves from invading American forces after the Mexican army retreated from Alta California to defend other parts of Mexico.

The Californios defeated an American force in Los Angeles on September 30, 1846. In turn, they were defeated after the Americans reinforced their forces in what is now southern California. Tens of thousands of miners and associated people arrived during the California Gold Rush, and their activities in some areas meant the end of the Californios' ranching lifestyle. Many of the English-speaking 49ers turned from mining to farming and moved, often illegally, onto land granted to Californios by the former Mexican government.

The United States had first come into conflict with Mexico in the 1830s, as the westward spread of United States settlements and of slavery brought significant numbers of new settlers into the region known as Tejas (modern-day Texas), then part of Mexico. The Mexican–American War, followed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, extended US control over a wide range of territory once held by Mexico, including the present-day borders of Texas and the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California.

Mural LA Central Library
An example of a Chicano-themed mural in the Richard Riordan Central Library

Although the treaty promised that the landowners in this newly acquired territory would have their property rights preserved and protected as if they were citizens of the United States, many former citizens of Mexico lost their land in lawsuits before state and federal courts over terms of land grants, or as a result of legislation passed after the treaty. Even those statutes which Congress passed to protect the owners of property at the time of the extension of the United States' borders, such as the 1851 California Land Act, had the effect of dispossessing Californio owners. They were ruined by the cost over years of having to maintain litigation to support their land titles.

Following the concession of California to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexicans were repeatedly targeted by legislation that targeted their socio-economic standing in the area. One significant instance of this is exemplified by the passage of legislation that placed the heaviest tax burden on land. The fact that there was such a heavy tax on land was important to the socio-economic standing of Mexican Americans, because it essentially limited their ability to keep possession of the Ranchos that had been originally granted to them by the Mexican government.

19th-century and 20th-century Mexican migration

TMP D155 Residences of peons
The first Mexican braceros arrived in California in 1917.
Trends of Mexican Migration to United States 1900-2016
Trend of Mexican migration to the United States. Here the term immigrant refers to those who were not born in the U.S. but are now currently residing in the U.S. This can include naturalized U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, employees and students on visas, and the undocumented.

In the late nineteenth century, liberal Mexican President Porfirio Díaz embarked on a program of economic modernization that triggered not only a wave of internal migration in Mexico from rural areas to cities, but also Mexican emigration to the United States. A railway network was constructed that connected central Mexico to the U.S. border and also opened up previously isolated regions. The second factor was the shift in land tenure that left Mexican peasants without title or access to land for farming on their own account. For the first time, Mexicans in increasing numbers migrated north into the U.S. for better economic opportunities. In the early 20th century, the first main period of migration to the United States happened between the 1910s to the 1920s, referred to as the Great Migration. During this time period the Mexican Revolution was taking place, creating turmoil within and against the Mexican government causing civilians to seek out economic and political stability in the United States. Over 1.3 million Mexicans relocated to the United States from 1910 well into the 1930s, with significant increases each decade. Many of these immigrants found agricultural work, being contracted under private laborers. The second period of increased migration is known as the Bracero Era from 1942 to 1964, referring to the Bracero program implemented by the United States, contracting agricultural labor from Mexico due to labor shortages from the World War II draft. An estimated 4.6 million Mexican immigrants were pulled into U.S. through the Bracero Program from the 1940s to the 1960s. The lack of agricultural laborers due to increases in military drafts for World War II opened up a chronic need for low wage workers to fill jobs.

20th century

Seattle - Fiestas Patrias Parade 2008 - horses 04
Mexican community in Seattle.

While Mexican Americans were once concentrated in the Southwest: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; during World War I they moved to industrial communities such as St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and other steel-producing regions, where they gained industrial jobs. Like European immigrants, they were attracted to work that did not require proficiency in English. Industrial restructuring in the second half of the century put many Mexican Americans out of work in addition to people of other ethnic groups. Their industrial skills were not as useful in the changing economies of these areas.

During the first half of the 20th century, Mexican-American workers formed unions of their own and joined integrated unions. The most significant union struggle involving Mexican Americans was the effort to organize agricultural workers and the United Farm Workers' long strike and boycott aimed at grape growers in the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys in the late 1960s. Leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta gained national prominence as they led a workers' rights organization that helped workers get unemployment insurance to an effective union of farmworkers almost overnight. The struggle to protect rights and sustainable wages for migrant workers has continued.

Since the late 20th century, undocumented Mexican immigrants have increasingly become a large part of the workforce in industries such as meat packing, where processing centers have moved closer to ranches in relatively isolated rural areas of the Midwest; in agriculture in the southeastern United States; and in the construction, landscaping, restaurant, hotel and other service industries throughout the country.

Mariachi Plaza (5399467849)
Mariachi bands, who are available for hire, wait at the Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles

Mexican-American identity has changed throughout these years. Over the past hundred years, activist Mexican Americans have campaigned for their constitutional rights as citizens, to overturn discrimination in voting and to gain other civil rights. They have opposed educational and employment discrimination, and worked for economic and social advancement. In numerous locations, court cases have been filed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to challenge practices, such as poll taxes and literacy tests in English, that made it more difficult for Spanish-language minorities to register and vote. At the same time, many Mexican Americans have struggled with defining and maintaining their community's cultural identity as distinct from mainstream United States. That changes in response to the absorption of countless new immigrants.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some Latino/Hispanic student groups flirted with Mexican nationalism, and differences over the proper name for members of the community. Discussion over self-identification as Chicano/Chicana, Latino/Latina, Mexican Americans, or Hispanics became tied up with deeper disagreements over whether to integrate into or remain separate from mainstream American society. There were divisions between those Mexican Americans whose families had lived in the United States for two or more generations and more recent immigrants, in addition to distinctions from other Hispanic or Latino immigrants from nations in Central and South America with their own distinct cultural traditions.

During this period, civil rights groups such as the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee were founded. By the early 21st century, the states with the largest percentages and populations of Mexican Americans are California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. There have also been markedly increasing populations in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

In terms of religion, Mexican Americans are primarily Roman Catholic. A large minority are Evangelical Protestants. Notably, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report in 2006 and the Pew Religious Landscape Survey in 2008, Mexican Americans are significantly less likely than other Hispanic groups to abandon Catholicism for Protestant churches.

Notable people

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Historical Figures

Cinema

Music

Journalists and Writers

Entertainment personalities

Comedians

Government

Rosa Rios (born July 17, 1965) is the 43rd and current Treasurer of the United States. A graduate of Harvard University, she was recently selected by the university as the first Latina in its 380-year history to have a portrait commissioned in her honor. She is the first Treasurer to have her current portfolio including oversight of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the United States Mint, Fort Knox, and Chair of the Advanced Counterfeiting Deterrence Steering Committee.

Business

Military

Science and Technology

Sport

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Images for kids


Mexican American Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.