Ethnic Mexicans living in the United States have always struggled to understand their position within the fabric of the nation-state. The groups that fall under the banner of “ethnic Mexican,” however, are complex. They include Mexican nationals fleeing war in the early 1900s, U.S.-born Mexican Americans asserting themselves as firstly American, and more radical communist and Chicanx leftists of the midcentury and postwar eras who challenged notions of belonging. While it may seem difficult to hold these histories alongside each other amidst the shifting sociopolitical landscape of the century, a recent book titled Homeland: Ethnic Mexican Belonging Since 1900 by Aaron E. Sánchez published by University of Oklahoma Press in 2021 completes this task. By recounting how different groups of ethnic Mexicans understood themselves in relation to each other, the nation, and the world, Sánchez provides readers with a strong understanding of homeland politics in the twentieth century.
“Belonging is complex,” writes Sánchez as he underscored how different groups of ethnic Mexicans conformed to and resisted U.S. notions of citizenship. The chapters follow a roughly chronological order highlighting specific ethnic Mexican communities in each. Chapter one, for example, recounts the immigration of Mexican Nationals in the first decade of the 20th century and how they came to forge “México de Afuera,” therefore distancing themselves from the U.S.-born ethnic Mexicans. The following chapter charts the rise of Mexican Americanism whereas U.S. patriotism was central to claiming belonging and citizenship. Covering the same timeframe, chapter three tells the history of labor unionism and internationalism within and led by predominantly ethnic Mexican women such as Luisa Moreno up until the quelling of their efforts in the 1940s. The fourth and fifth chapters cover the second half of the twentieth century. In chapter four, Sánchez writes about how the postwar liberal machinations were taken up by ethnic Mexicans in attempts to find legal recourse for ethnic Mexican peoples discriminated against by the U.S. government. In turn, Chicana/o activists that makeup chapter five eventually posed a critique onto these liberalisms and sought more radical modes of belonging and relations to each other. This chapter recounts three kinds of Chicano cultural nationalism to underscore how even within this nomenclature, ideologies varied.
Sánchez is adamant about making clear that Homeland is an intellectual history that “draws attention to their [ethnic Mexicans’] ideas of belonging” (5). He asserts that ethnic Mexican peoples throughout the 20th century took part in shaping their belonging even as notions of nation-states, citizenship, and belonging were constantly in flux. Ethnic Mexicans were not simply agricultural laborers who existed within white supremacist and racist superstructures, but “they were also people who thought deeply and profoundly about their position in the world,” Sánchez writes (3). He illuminates histories and the ideas of historical actors, publications, and events that have received little attention within the canon of Mexican American history. This book is a necessary book for those interested in Mexican American history, homeland politics, and identity formation. Homeland is a fantastic resource for undergraduate students, scholars, and community members alike to learn a succinct, clear history of ethnic Mexican belonging and resistance in the United States.
Jonathan Cortez is a Ph.D. candidate of American Studies at Brown University. They are a historian of 20th-century issues of race, labor, (im)migration, surveillance, space, relational Ethnic Studies, and Latinx Studies.
Jonathan Cortez is currently the 2021-2023 César Chávez Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @joncortz