Immigrant Replenishment and the Continuing Significance of Ethnicity and Race: The Case of the Mexican-origin Population (Working Paper #130)

Tomás R. Jiménez, University of California – San Diego

Abstract: This paper examines the effect of immigrant replenishment on ethnic identity formation by considering the case of the Mexican-origin population. The literature on immigration, race and ethnicity largely assumes that the symbolic, optional, and consequence-free nature of ethnic identity found among white ethnics is a function of the measures of assimilation that sociologists commonly deploy: socioeconomic status, residential location, language abilities, and intermarriage. But this literature fails to adequately explain the role of immigration patterns in the formation of ethnic identity. Using 123 in-depth interviews with latter-generation Mexican Americans in Garden City, Kansas and Santa Maria, California, cities with large lattergeneration Mexican American and Mexican immigrant populations, this paper explores the ways that Mexican immigrant replenishment shapes the social boundaries that distinguish Mexican Americans from other groups. Findings suggest that immigration patterns are central to understanding identity formation after the immigrant generation. Mexican immigrant replenishment sharpens these boundaries through the indirect effects of nativism, by contributing to the continuing significance of race in the lives of Mexican Americans, and by refreshing rigid expectations about ethnic authenticity that Mexican Americans face. This paper also illuminates the role that declining immigration waves played in the onset of a symbolic, optional, and consequence-free form of ethnic identity among white ethnics.

Working Paper #130 »