Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941.
By Thomas E. Sheridan. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 327 Pages. $22.50.
Reviewed by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Professor of Mexican American Studies, San Diego State University, author of The Los Angeles Barrio (1980) and La Familia: Chicano Families in the Urban Southwest (1984).
This is the first monograph surveying the history of the Mexican American community in Tucson. The author, Tom Sheridan, has masterfully collated and analyzed an impressive body of information that has been gathered by the Mexican Heritage Project, sponsored by the Arizona Heritage Center in Tucson. This book is a fine example of how Mexican American history can be discovered and recreated on the grassroots level through the diligent, sustained and coordinated effort of a local historical society.
The result is a pioneering study that not only is the first full length study of Mexican Americans in Arizona, but is also one of the first “modern” studies of Tucson’s history through the skillful use of the methodology and sources of quantitative history. The Mexican Heritage Project gathered a wealth of census data about the Mexican American population and Sheridan has used this material source to document demographic and economic changes of the city.
The main thesis of the book is that despite an early history of inter-ethnic harmony and a relative absence of violent racial conflict between Mexican and Anglo in Tucson, long term discriminatory patterns in employment, schooling, and residence have come to characterize interethnic relations within the city.
But this is more than a social history of victimage. Sheridan, an anthropologist, presents us with a sensitive and detailed ethnohistory of the Tucsonenses’ culture as it evolved from pueblo to barrio. One of his best chapters is entitled “Peacock in the Parlor” referring to Don Estevan Ochoa’s house pet symbolizing the gentile life style of the Tucson Mexican upper classes. This chapter describes the life and vision of the influential Mexicans who guided their community in the early years of the American era. His subsequent description of the Mexican professional classes and Tucsonense involvement in the arts presents often neglected aspects of urban Spanish-speaking life.
The book analyzes many aspects of life in the twentieth century: the family, religious practices, schooling, the effects of the depression, and economic and demographic changes. The author confirms most of the generalizations that have been made about the social history of Mexican Americans in other urban areas. The Tucsonenese experience is a variation on the theme of the considerable influence of race and class on the creation and maintenance of ethnic boundaries. In the twentieth century for Tucson Mexican Americans geographic enclavement was accompanied by relegation to inferior socioeconomic status. This occurred simultaneously with change and renewal of cultural and familial vitality.
Sheridan’s book is a very thorough, gracefully written local history that establishes comparative links to larger social historical issues. There is more to be done, as the author readily admits, in the area of the educational history of the Tucsonenses. The influence of the Mexican revolution on the barrio is also another topic that could be elaborated upon in more detail. Fortunately the archives of the Mexican Heritage Project are readily available. Los Tucsonenses provides an excellent model for future historical study.