Expert Commentary

The Mexican-American community: Data and research roundup

2013 research review relating to various aspects of life and culture for people of Mexican origin residing in the United States. Data, relevant studies.

Given the nearly 2,000-mile border shared by the United States and Mexico — and the sharp differences in economic opportunity that each country offers — it is perhaps no surprise that Mexicans make up the largest immigrant group in America.

The relationship has been historically fraught, and the border itself is the source of some of these complexities. At the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, approximately 100,000 Mexican nationals who resided in the newly acquired American territory were made U.S. citizens. The journalist Richard Rodriguez has observed that the subsequent migration of people from Mexico to U.S. states along the southern border has a circular aspect, as immigrants are returning to former lands of the Spanish Empire.

According to a 2013 Pew Hispanic Center report, nearly all Mexicans who leave their country migrate to the United States. Hispanics of Mexican origin make up 11% of the total U.S. population: Among the 33.7 million total, 22.3 million Americans self-identify as being of Mexican origin and 11.4 million are Mexican immigrants, of which 55% are undocumented.

A 2012 Pew Hispanic Center report states that, as a whole, 64% of the nation’s Mexican-American community were born in the United States. Those of Mexican origin tend to be concentrated in the western United States, particularly California and Texas, which have 11.8 million and 8.4 million such residents, respectively. Together, those two states are home to 61% of the total Mexican population in America. The highest concentration of Mexicans in the United States is in Los Angeles County, where more than 3.5 million people of Mexican origin live.

The Office of Immigration Statistics notes that in 2011 there were 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States; those from Mexico numbered 6.8 million, making up 59% of the total unauthorized population. Since 2007 the numbers of undocumented immigrants from Mexico have fallen, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. From 2005 to 2010, the numbers of Mexican immigrants dropped by more than half, compared to the previous five-year period. A struggling U.S. economy and tighter border patrols are factors in the sharp decline. While immigration has decreased, the current Mexican-American population continues to rise due to children born in the U.S. to Mexican immigrant parents or parents of Mexican ancestry.

While the numbers of Mexican immigrants have fallen in the U.S. overall, the numbers in the southern border states have not. Many Mexicans from northern cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez are migrating due to the dramatic increase in drug-related violence. For example, the population of El Paso, Texas, grew by 50,000 from 2009 to 2011, with at least two-thirds of the migrants coming from Ciudad Juarez, and the city is now 85% Hispanic. Many of the new arrivals are not the stereotypical migrant worker; some are members of the business elite and have access to the funds required — from $100,000 to $150,000 — to qualify for an investor visa.

PewHispanicChartAccording to the World Bank, Mexico is the fourth largest recipient of remittances — money flowing back to immigrants’ country of origin — in the world, receiving $23 billion a year, with nearly all of it coming from the United States. As the New York Times reported in 2013, new technology and increased competition has had a far-reaching effect on remittances. Since the transaction fees have dropped about 80%, to about $5 per wire transfer, approximately $12 billion has been saved over the decade.

An in-depth Pew Hispanic Center report outlines the Mexican demographic in the U.S: The median age of people of Mexican origin is 25, the lowest of all Hispanic groups; academically, 26% of Mexicans have only a high school diploma, while 9% hold a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to 13% of all Latinos. Mexicans have one of the highest poverty rates among Hispanics, at 27%, and only 34% have health insurance, compared to 31% of the total Hispanic population. However, 50% of Mexicans in the United States own a home, slightly above the national average for all Latinos. For data on other Latino groups living in the United States — and how Mexican-Americans compare — see this 2013 Brown University report.

The following is a sample of scholarship that examines various aspects of Mexican-American life and culture:


“Mexican Americans and Immigrant Incorporation”
Telles, Edward E. American Sociological Association, 2010, Vol. 9, No. 1, 28-33. doi: 10.1525/ctx.2010.9.1.28.

Abstract: “For examining the full range and complexity of the contemporary incorporation process, Mexican Americans, with their history, size, and internal diversity, are a very useful group. Their multiple generations since immigration, variation in their class backgrounds, the kinds of cities and neighborhoods they grew up in, and their skin color may reveal much about diverse patterns of immigrant incorporation in American society today. Unlike the study of most other non-European groups, the study of Mexican Americans allows analysts to examine the sociological outcomes of adults into the third and fourth generations since immigration.”


“The Geography of Undocumented Mexican Migration”
Massey, Douglas S.; Rugh, Jacob S.; Pren, Karen A. National Institutes of Health, 2010. doi: 10.1525/msem.2010.26.1.129.

Abstract: “Using data from Mexico’s Matrícula Consular program, we analyze the geographic organization of undocumented Mexican migration to the United States. We show that emigration has moved beyond its historical origins in west-central Mexico into the central region and, to a lesser extent, the southeast and border regions. In the United States, traditional gateways continue to dominate, but a variety of new destinations have emerged. California, in particular, has lost its overwhelming dominance. Although the geographic structure of Mexico-U.S. migration is relatively stable, it has nonetheless continued to evolve and change over time.”


“The Mexican Drug War and the Consequent Population Exodus: Transnational Movement at the U.S.-Mexican Border”
Morales, M.C.; Morales, O.; Menchaca, A.C.; Sebastian, A. Societies, 2013, Vol. 3, No. 1, 80-103. doi: 10.3390/soc3010080.

Abstract: “At the frontline of México’s ‘war on drugs’ is the Mexican-U.S. border city of Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, which has become internationally known as the “murder capital of the world.” In Juárez, which neighbors El Paso, Texas, United States, estimates of the murders in Juárez are as high as 7,643 between 2006 and 2011, leaving approximately 10,000 orphans. Juárez has also experienced an exodus of approximately 124,000 people seeking safety, some migrating to the Mexican interior and others to the U.S., particularly along the U.S.-México border. Based on 63 in-depth interviews with Juárez-El Paso border residents, along with ethnographic observations, we examine the implications of the “war on drugs” on transnational movements and on the initial settlement of those escaping the violence. In particular, we construct a typology of international migrants who are represented in the Juárez exodus: the Mexican business elite, the “Refugees without Status,” and those who resided in México but who are U.S. born or have legal permanent residency in the U.S. This article highlights the role of transnational capital in the form of assets and income, social networks in the U.S., and documentation to cross the port of entry into the U.S. legally, in easing migration and initial settlement experiences in the United States.


“Mexican-American Entrepreneurship”
Fairlie, Robert; Woodruff, Christopher M. B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 2010, Vol. 10, No 1. doi: 10.2202/1935-1682.2479.

Abstract: “Using a qualitative multiple-case-study design, this study explored how funds of knowledge in Mexican American families contributed to the development of educational ideologies. Findings illustrated the following ways in which families are involved in their children’s education: the formation of both helpful and limiting educational ideologies, which highlighted beliefs regarding college-going processes; college information drawn from social networks and academic symbols found in families’ everyday lives; and the development of college-going realities. Unique to this study is the extension of funds of knowledge beyond traditional K-12 discussions and the incorporation of outreach literature into this framework when studying issues of college access.”


“Intermarriage and the Intergenerational Transmission of Ethnic Identity and Human Capital for Mexican Americans”
Duncan, Brian; Trejo, Stephen J. Journal of Labor Economics, 2011, Vol. 29, No. 2, 195-227. doi:  10.1086/658088.

Abstract: “We investigate whether selective intermarriage and endogenous ethnic identification interact to hide some of the intergenerational progress achieved by the Mexican-origin population in the United States. In part, we do this by comparing an ‘objective’ indicator of Mexican descent (based on the countries of birth of the respondent and his parents and grandparents) with the standard ‘subjective’ measure of Mexican self-identification (based on the respondent’s answer to the Hispanic origin question.) For third-generation Mexican-American youth, we show that ethnic attrition is substantial and could produce significant downward bias in standard measures of attainment which rely on ethnic self-identification.”


“Family, Culture, Gender, and Mexican American Adolescents’ Academic Success”
Dumka, Larry E.; Gonzales, Nancy A.; McClain, Darya D.; Millsap, Roger E. Gender Roles in Immigrant Families, 2013, Chapter 10, 155-175.

Abstract: “Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group in the USA (14.5%) and are predicted to make up 24% of the US population by 2050 (Pew Hispanic Center, 2007). About 64% of Latinos in the USA are Mexican American (Pew Hispanic Center). We use the term Mexican American (MA) to refer to those of Mexican national origin residing in the USA including both those born in the USA and immigrants. Unfortunately, Latino adolescents drop out of school at much higher rates than other groups (22% as compared to 10% for African Americans and 6% for White non-Latinos; U.S. Department of Education, 2007). MA youth, in particular, appear to face significant barriers to educational success in the USA. MA adolescents show poorer performance compared to other ethnic groups and compared to other Latino groups in the USA on most measures of academic success.”


“College Aspiration and Limitations: The Role of Educational Ideologies and Funds of Knowledge in Mexican American Families”
Kiyama, Judy Marquez. American Educational Research Journal, 2010, Vol. 47, No. 2, 330-356. doi: 10.3102/0002831209357468.

Abstract: “Using a qualitative multiple-case-study design, this study explored how funds of knowledge in Mexican American families contributed to the development of educational ideologies. Findings illustrated the following ways in which families are involved in their children’s education: the formation of both helpful and limiting educational ideologies, which highlighted beliefs regarding college-going processes; college information drawn from social networks and academic symbols found in families’ everyday lives; and the development of college-going realities. Unique to this study is the extension of funds of knowledge beyond traditional K-12 discussions and the incorporation of outreach literature into this framework when studying issues of college access.”


“Economic Hardship, Neighborhood Context, and Parenting: Prospective Effects on Mexican-American Adolescent’s Mental Health”
Gonzales, Nancy A.; Coxe, Stefany; Roosa, Mark W.; White, Rebecca M.B.; Knight, George P.; Zeiders, Katharine H.; Saenz, Delia. American Journal of Community Psychology, 2011, Vol. 47, Issue 1-2, 98-113. doi: 10.1007/s10464-010-9366-1.

Abstract: “This study examined family and neighborhood influences relevant to low-income status to determine how they combine to predict the parenting behaviors of Mexican-American mothers and fathers. The study also examined the role of parenting as a mediator of these contextual influences on adolescent internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Study hypotheses were examined in a diverse sample of Mexican-American families in which 750 mothers and 467 fathers reported on their own levels of parental warmth and harsh parenting. Family economic hardship, neighborhood familism values, and neighborhood risk indicators were all uniquely associated with maternal and paternal warmth, and maternal warmth mediated the effects of these contextual influences on adolescent externalizing symptoms in prospective analyses.”


“Who Doesn’t Value English? Debunking Myths About Mexican Immigrants’ Attitudes Toward the English Language”
Dowling, Julie A.; Ellison, Christopher G.; Leal, David L. Social Science Quarterly, June 2012, Volume 93, Issue 2, 356-378. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00850.x.

Summary: The researchers analyzed data from the Survey of Texas Adults, which included 1,500 participants over the period 2003-2004. Respondents answered the question “How important is it that citizens be able to speak and understand English?” and provided additional demographic background. Only 2% of all study participants, regardless of race or immigration status, claimed that learning English was “not too important” or “not important at all.” Further, the researchers write, “Spanish-dominant speakers place a high importance on speaking English, more so than do English speakers. While this might seem counterintuitive to some, it is easy to see how immigrants are constantly reminded of the problems they face in the workplace and the public sphere without English proficiency.” Participants who chose to have their telephone interviews conducted in Spanish were three times more likely than Anglos to claim that English-language ability is “very important.” On average, women also valued learning English more than men did. Further, the researchers “found no evidence of income variations in the emphasis placed on English.”


“Early Family Formation Among White, Black and Mexican American Women”
Landale, Nancy S.; Schoen, Robert; Daniels, Kimberly. Journal of Family Issues, 2010, Vol. 31, Issue 4, 445-474. doi: 10.1177/0192513X09342847.

Abstract: “Using data from Waves I and III of Add Health, this study examines early family formation among 6,144 White, Black, and Mexican American women. Drawing on cultural and structural perspectives, models of the first and second family transitions (cohabitation, marriage, or childbearing) are estimated using discrete-time multinomial logistic regression. Complex differences by race and ethnicity and generation are partially explained by differences in attitudes and values in adolescence and family socioeconomic status; marriage values are especially important in first-generation Mexican women’s early entry into marriage. Examination of sequential family transitions sheds light on racial and ethnic differences in the meaning and consequences of early cohabitation and pre-union births.”


“The Food Environment in an Urban Mexican American Community”
Lisabeth, Lynda D.; Sanchez, Brisa N.; Escobar, James; Hughes, Rebecca; Meurer, William J.; Zuniga, Belinda; Garcia, Nelda; Brown, Devin L.; Morgenstern, Lewis B. The National Institutes of Health, 2012. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.01.005.

Abstract: “The objective was to determine whether ethnic composition of neighborhoods is associated with number and type of food stores in an urban, Mexican American US community. Data were from a commercial food store data source and the US Census. Multivariate count models were used to test associations with adjustment for neighborhood demographics, income, and commercialization. Neighborhoods at the 75th percentile of percent Mexican American (76%) had nearly four times the number of convenience stores (RR=3.9, 95% CI: 2.2-7.0) compared with neighborhoods at the 25th percentile (36%). Percent Mexican American in the neighborhood was not associated with the availability of other food store types (supermarkets, grocery stores, specialty stores, convenience stores with gas stations) in the adjusted model. The impact of greater access to convenience stores on Mexican American residents’ diets requires exploration.”


“Food Acculturation Drives Dietary Differences among Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Non-Hispanic Whites”
Batis, Carolina; Hernandez-Barrera, Lucia; Barquera, Simon; Rivera, Juan A.; Popkin, Barry M. The Journal of Nutrition, 2011, Vol. 141, No. 10, 1898-1906.

Abstract: “Our aim was to examine the effects of food acculturation on Mexican Americans’ (MA) diets, taking the Mexican diet as reference. We used nationally representative samples of children (2-11 y) and female adolescents and adults (12-49 y) from the Mexican National Nutrition Survey 1999 and NHANES 1999-2006 to compare the diets of Mexicans (n = 5678), MA born in Mexico (MAMX) (n = 1488), MA born in the United States (MAUS) (n = 3654), and non-Hispanic white Americans (NH-White) (n = 5473)…. Most of the food groups analyzed displayed a fairly linear increase or decrease in percent energy/capita intake in this order: Mexican, MAMX, MAUS, NH-White. However, few significant differences were observed among the US subpopulations, especially among MAUS and NH-Whites. Overall, compared to Mexicans, the U.S. subpopulations had greater intakes of saturated fat, sugar, dessert and salty snacks, pizza and French fries, low-fat meat and fish, high-fiber bread, and low-fat milk, as well as decreased intakes of corn tortillas, low-fiber bread, high-fat milk, and Mexican fast food. Furthermore, the patterns were similar in all age groups. Although we found a mix of positive and negative aspects of food acculturation, the overall proportion of energy obtained from unhealthy foods was higher among the U.S. subpopulations. Our findings indicate that within one generation in the US, the influence of the Mexican diet is almost lost.”


“The End of Farm Labor Abundance”
Taylor, J. Edward; Charlton, Diane; Yúnez-Naude, Antonio. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 2012, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 587-598. doi:10.1093/aepp/pps036.

Summary: Between 2007 and 2010, the number of Mexicans migrating to engage in agriculture work both within Mexico and into the United States decreased. The researchers state that this decrease was not related to the economic recession at the time. “The shift in labor supply from farm to non-farm work in Mexico is consistent with global economic trends,” the scholars write. “Worldwide, as incomes rise, the share of the labor force working in agriculture is decreasing…. Economic growth and rising agricultural productivity in Mexico have increased job opportunities and reservation wages for rural Mexican workers.” The Mexican workforce is shifting away from farm work while the demand for agricultural labor in Mexico is on the rise. The authors conclude that American farms will be competing with Mexican farms for laborers in the near future.


“Declining Inequality in Latin America in the 2000s: The Cases of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico”
Lustig, Nora; Lopez-Calva, Luis F.; Juarez, Eduardo Ortiz. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, No. WPS 6248, July 16, 2012.

Abstract: “Between 2000 and 2010, the Gini coefficient declined in 13 of 17 Latin American countries. The decline was statistically significant and robust to changes in the time interval, inequality measures and data sources. In-depth country studies for Argentina, Brazil and Mexico suggest two main phenomena underlie this trend: a fall in the premium [paid for] skilled labor and more progressive government transfers. The fall in the premium [for higher] skills resulted from a combination of supply, demand and institutional factors. Their relative importance depends on the country.”


Tags: Latino, Hispanic, research roundup, entrepreneurship, California

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