Mexico's Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States
University of Kansas 2014
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Latin American StudiesNew Books in Latino StudiesNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network October 20, 2015 Lilian Calles Barger
Ruben Flores is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas. His book Backroads Pragmatists: Mexico’s Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) is the winner of the 2015 book award of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. Flores recast the long U.S. civil rights movement by framing it within the exchange of ideas between Mexican and U.S. pragmatists. In a thoroughly research transnational history he demonstrates how post-revolutionary Mexican reformers adopted John Dewey’s pragmatism and Franz Boas’s cultural relativism in fostering assimilation of diverse native people into a pan-ethnic republic. Mexican educators Moises Saenzand Rafael Ramirez both studied under Dewey at Columbia University and were eager to apply his philosophy at home. In turn, U.S. reformers looked to Mexico’s scientific state as a living laboratory and a model for assimilating native people and Hispanics of the southwest, and blacks in the south into the “beloved community.” American educator George I. Sanchez, the psychologist Loyd Tireman, and the anthropologist Ralph L. Beals applied what they learned from Mexico’s three-tiered rural education program, administrative structure, and the concept of the Mexican “melting pot” to post-world war II school desegregation and civil rights battles in the U.S. As radical liberals, they believed in the power of government and education embodied in Mexico as effective in fostering cross-ethnic cooperation and a common vision. Flores has skillfully demonstrated how “backroads” intellectuals with a mutual desire for national unity and the preservation of local difference, along with a pragmatic belief in the connection between thought and action, crossed borders and fueled civil rights gains in the U.S.