The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 2000, Volume 46, Number 1
Gregg Hennessey, Editor

Book Notes

The California Cauldron: Immigration and the Fortunes of Local Communities.   By William A. V. Clark. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998. Notes, charts, bibliography, index. Xvi + 224 pages. $27.95 Hardcover. Buy it!

Unwelcome Strangers: American Identity and the Turn Against Immigration.   By David M.Reimers. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, Notes, bibliography, index. Xi + 199 pages. $27.50 Hardcover. Buy it!

Race and Politics: Asian Americans, Latinos, and Whites in a Los Angeles Suburb.   By Leland T. Saito. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. Maps, charts, notes, bibliography, index. Xvi + 253 pages $49.95 Hardcover, $21.95 Paperback. Buy it!

Chicano Politics and Society in the Late Twentieth Century.   Edited by David Montejano. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999. Tables, notes, index. Xxvi + 267 pages. $35.00 Hardcover, $15.95 Paperback. Buy it!


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Despite being the sixth largest city in the United States and home to two supposedly major universities, San Diego has not been the subject of very much serious scholarship pertaining to urban, immigration, ethnic, or labor history, or other significant topics which consume contemporary academics historians. Despite its many immigrants and the rich, ethnic and racial diversity, much of which has emerged since the Second World War, it is especially notable that there has been virtually no historical work on those topics. The books noted here all could provide background for studying those topics in San Diego, offer examples of the kinds of scholarship which could be undertaken here, or suggest sources and methodologies which might be used. If people examine them, perhaps their interest will be piqued and some similar scholarship on San Diego might follow.

Unwelcome Strangers is by a sound scholar whose several publications on immigration history are also very accessible to the general reader. In this volume, David Reimers explores how a nation of immigrants has expressed hostility toward immigrants and tried to curb them. He develops this by reviewing immigration policy and the American treatment of newcomers from the colonial period to 1997. In the process he shows the historical continuity of immigration restriction, and uses that as a springboard to explore crucial contemporary issues such as Proposition 187 to restrict California assistance to aliens, recent legislation, and movements such as the protection of the primacy of the English language. Unwelcome Strangers provides information every contemporary American needs, but would be especially helpful in examining San Diego history.

Certainly one of the critical topics in San Diego’s recent past is the slow rise of Chicano politics. David Montejano’s edited collection of articles on the subject, Chicano Politics and Society in the Late Twentieth Century, could help frame questions and methodologies for such a study of San Diego, and give some bases of comparison. It explores community studies of San Antonio, Chicago and Los Angeles; institutional studies on such topics as agricultural labor, affirmative action protests and immigration reform; and concludes with some interesting essays on Chicano cultural figures, and the future of Anglo-Mexican relations within the United States.

One of the best places to study immigration, politics, power structures, and culture assimilation/persistence issues is the local scene. In The California Cauldron, William Clark does just that. He traces immigration, the Mexican connection, migration patterns, and explores the costs of immigration. He also examines the immigrant’s experience in the United States, including such topics as home ownership, education, and economic status. The book concludes with an exploration of immigration issues in California politics, and the strains of immigration on the state’s social fabric. It is a book which would be instructive for public policymakers and administrators of public institutions; it also would be a good springboard for opening the investigation of those issues in recent San Diego history.

Continuing the assumption that the issues being discussed can be effectively studied at the local level, Leland Saito focused on one community in Race and Politics: Asian Americans, Latinos, and Whites in a Los Angeles Suburb. The suburb is Monterey Park, which has an Asian American majority, an Anglo minority, but also a sizeable number of Hispanic residents. Saito examines within that community ethnic identities, political mobilization, and interracial political alliances, with a strong emphasis on the connections between them. A very scholarly book which may be slow reading for many, it offers the scholar examples of useful methodology, an excellent bibliography of the kinds of sources which can be used, and some good questions with which to begin a similar study of some other community.

These four books illustrate aspects of contemporary historical scholarship being done on a number of communities. Cannot some of the same topics, questions, and methodologies be applied to San Diego? Can San Diego emerge as a real city (as opposed to a collection of suburbs with a fantastic climate) without first understanding what it is? And can it understand what it is without exploring its history in ways which have not yet been done?