The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1995, Volume 41, Number 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity Culture and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945. 

By George J. Sanchez. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 400 pages. $35.00. Paperback $17.95.

Reviewed by Carlos C. Larralde, Ph.D., author of Mexican American Movements and Leaders (1976) and Carlos Esparza, A Chicano Chronicle (1977).

The scholar George Sanchez documented how Chicanos survived as a community in Los Angeles during the first part of the twentieth century. He goes into detail of as to how many thousands of Mexicans were pushed back to Mexico during a formal repatriation. Those that survived in Los Angeles joined labor unions and became involved in New Deal politics.

As one critic noted, “Sanchez argues that through Mexican Americans gained in the public arena, cultural adaptation occurred without substantial economic mobility, particularly since it was rooted in the context of the Great Depression. He concludes that it was then, in the early twentieth century, that the immigrant generation laid both the cultural and civic groundwork for the emerging Mexican-American identity of their children.

“To sum it up,” Sanchez used stories of “individuals with shrewd analyses of broad social patterns.” His research “is an original and very instructive portrait of a crucial group in the population of the United States,” noted historian Patricia Nelson Limerick.

In tackling this major study, Sanchez did some trivial mistakes that could be easily corrected in a second edition. For example, the labor activists Luisa Moreno never married a Mexican artist. Like herself, he was from Guatemala. Bert Corona actually started several Mexican American political groups in the 1930’s and not in the 1950s. Unfortunately Sanchez did not interview Corona.

Also Sanchez ignored the intricate political activities of the Magonistas in Los Angeles during the first part of the twentieth century. But then again it is difficult to cover the Los Angeles complex Hispanic community in a single volume.

Perhaps this study by Sanchez could be a guideline for a similar project in dealing with the rich Hispanic legacy of San Diego. Also a comparison of Hispanics between San Diego and Los Angeles could be done based on Sanchez data and other sources. Overall, Sanchez is “a brilliant voice from a new generation” as the critic Richard Rodriguez pointed out.

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