The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1986, Volume 32, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

Politics and Economic Migrants in America: Cubans and Mexicans.

By Silvia Pedraza-Bailey. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985. Bibliography. Appendices. Index. 242 Pages. $27.00.

Reviewed by Walter Moore, Ph.D., Mexican American History, Department of History, University of California, San Diego.

American immigration policy, as it relates to Mexico in particular, is one of the more overriding and emotional issues of the 1980s. The central theme of this work focuses on the effect of state policy on the assimilation process, specifically one where active government support makes it easier for immigrants to become a successful part of the American mainstream. The issues raised in this book are a timely contribution toward developing a better understanding of the underlying problems. Pedraza-Bailey employs a comparative analysis technique to examine how and why Cubans and Mexicans fared differently under American immigration policies from 1945 to 1970. Her book studies the functional roles of immigration and offers some answers to the results of the differences in American policy as seen in the special sponsor-ship of Cubans in contrast to the benign neglect afforded the Mexican immigrants.

The author recognizes that the different class origins between the two ethnic groups favored the Cubans. The Cubans had the advantage of being called anti-Communist political refugees, many of them were middle class supporters of American values, and many had skills which could be employed here. On the contrary, the Mexicans were principally rural and were perceived as un-skilled economic refugees. A telling point in the author’s analysis is her deduction that there is little difference in the characteristics of both ethnic groups as economic immigrants, but the difference is substantial when Cubans are considered political refugees. Mexicans were never welcomed here as settlers. Unlike Europeans, they were considered outsiders. They were supposed to be exploitable, temporary workers who were tolerated but, like geese, were expected to return home when the season ended.

The author frankly states that the success of the Cubans is attributed in part to United States government sponsored refugee programs and the safety net provided in a comprehensive social welfare policy. The program of neglect toward the Mexican immigrants increased the effect of being disadvantaged from the start.

Pedraza-Bailey proposes that the United States should develop a more understanding and realistic policy as it relates to Mexican immigrants, maintaining that it would be a social investment to provide them support. Like most treatises on this subject, the author joins in making the United States the whipping boy. The Castro regime and its position is discussed, but another crucial actor in this drama deserves a share of the blame: the Mexican government, with its almost criminal failure to adopt political, economic and social programs which would work even part of the time to keep its people home.

The author should have considered a chapter concentrating on this issue and put the Mexican government in the limelight. The safety valve approach is a sign of default, not a solution.

This book will touch a raw nerve because of its special relevancy to San Diego readers and the city’s close proximity to the Mexican border. It asks some tough questions, provides some special insights on public policy, and offers solutions that will not please everyone nor be feasible in light of political expediency. It is well documented and well laced with charts and graphs, and includes hard census data. This book is recommended reading for scholars, the informed public, and for lawmakers who form policy.