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In his book, Major Problems in Mexican American History, Zaragosa Vargas describes the Mexican Immigrant experience from 1917-1928. He begins by assessing the Protestant religious experience for a Mexican in the early 1920’s, and then describes Mexican life in both Colorado in 1924 and Chicago in 1928. After defending Mexican Immigrants in 1929, he includes an outline of an Americanization program, followed by an anecdote of a Mexican immigrant in the 1920’s. Vargas uses these documents to show the evolvement of Americanization of Mexicans from a community goal to a societal demand.
Vargas begins with the Mexican Immigrant experience in the early 1920’s, and describes it mostly as a community project spearheaded by the Church and called for the aid of volunteers. The children learned and studied English in school, so the programs focused mostly on courses in English for the wives and mothers of the community. These English courses consisted mostly of vocabulary for familiar and most frequently seen objects. Sunday schools resulted from this process, and in turn made way for the development of night schools, clinics, an employment bureau, and a boys and girl’s club.
In Colorado in 1924, Mexicans played a respectable role in society as not only a decent part of the population, but also the labor force. Spanish-Americans took a notable part in politics, and were involved in many occupations that included mostly agriculture, mining, and steel works. The recreation was also important to Spanish-American life in Colorado; the somewhat newly developed buildings were a source of community for many. Mexicans in Chicago in 1928, Vargas argues, lived a very different lifestyle and endured different hardships than the Mexicans in the Southwest.
They were a much smaller part of the community, consisting of small, well-defined neighborhoods and several smaller less defined colonies. These Mexicans lived in the poorest houses in these neighborhoods, and most buildings guaranteed poor living conditions for these families. Employment only came certain times during the year when demand for labor was high, and it was the Mexicans who suffered most when certain industries reduced labor. In the words of Anita Edgar Jones, “They are the last to arrive and the first to be laid off” (Vargas).
Mexican Life in Chicago during this time period served as a temporary solution for many families as they moved from recent arrivals to a more desirable place with better opportunity as they became more established and stabilized. Some neighborhoods were poorly organized for recreation, and even lacked Spanish-speaking employees at their community or recreation centers. Communities also lacked a Spanish-speaking priest, which is evidently different from early Americanization programs implemented in the Southwest in the early 1920’s.
After addressing and defending most of the problems of Mexican Immigration in 1929, Vargas moves on to an outline of a typical Americanization program in 1931, where the Mexican Immigrant experience evolved from a community project that supported and encouraged Mexican assimilation, to a list of demands and requirements for Mexican and Spanish Americans to be acceptable members of society. Vargas uses these documents to show the progression of assimilation of Spanish Americans and Mexican immigrants into American society in the 1920’s.
The life of a Mexican Immigrant during this time was very taxing, and these Americanization programs were used as a tool to attempt to create a society that operated under certain ideologies and values. As a result, this created an even stronger division between cultures, and prevented assimilation of the two groups. Work Cited Vargas, Zaragoza. “The Mexican Immigrant Experience 1917-1928. ” Major Problems in Mexican American History. Thomas G. Patterson. Houghton Mifflin Company 1999. 234-53.