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    The Struggle for Identity (1291 words)

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    Since the late 1800s, Latinx immigrants faced several conflicts before heading up north to the United States, and when they reached the country they continued to struggle. Whether it be economic struggles or social struggles, the life of a Latinx immigrant was not full of sunshine and rainbows; they had days of anxiety and trauma while trying to figure out this new territory. This paper will focus on two main struggles Latinx immigrants faced as they settled into the country; the first focusing on their identity and how they could incorporate older traditions into their new lives and the second being the racism they endured that hindered them from equal opportunities that their Anglo-American neighbors had. These struggles can still be felt by Latinx immigrants today, but certain tactics, like the creation of LULAC and Mutualista groups, helped facilitate pathways for Latinx immigrants to take to feel more comfortable in their new communities.

    One of the main obstacles Latinx immigrants faced when they arrived at the United States was the inability to securely practice their cultural roots. This led to questions of identity, questions about who these people were once they arrived at the U.S. Most Latinx immigrants went north for job opportunity, or because they wanted to escape the violence and poverty of their home countries, caused by the lack of economic prosperity and a harsh government. Upon arrival, most Latinx immigrants sought out jobs, no matter how low-paying, to gain a sense of agency; the simple act of migrating to a completely new region was terrifying, and in this act, one makes the decision gives up all the knowledge they once knew about their old home. They recognize that they are coming to a place of unfamiliar territory, filled with people who do not practice the same customs or traditions as their neighbors once did. This agency they acquired through their labor, even if they had difficult bosses to address, was a new part of their identity they could internally control, but it did not cover what they had to do to feel emotionally connected to their new surroundings.

    Not knowing how to mentally connect to their new “home,” or having the opportunity to practice their old habits of life caused Latinx to struggle with who they were; this happened with Mexican immigrants. At first glance, both people came from Mexico, so that means they would share similar aspects of life, but immigrants struggled with their Mexican American neighbors because they were not entirely the same. They used different languages, and they held different beliefs. Also, the simple fact that they were U.S born also caused tension. This tension added to the crisis of identity and confused Latinx immigrants on how they were supposed to respond to their new life. Those that came from Mexico were called “los recién llegados,” (Gutierrez 69) by Mexican Americans, and that “nickname” shows the divide between the two communities. They were people “who just arrived” to the country and they were not seen as neighbors. Some Mexican Americans felt that Mexican immigrants “threatened the social and political positions,” of Mexican American groups. Most Mexican Americans opposed “mass labor migrations from Mexico,” (Gutierrez 151) for the fear that they were taking jobs away. Being involved in the U.S. work force also confused immigrants because this act seemed like “a major part of U.S. assimilation” (Gutierrez 116.) The question of who they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to do affected

    Another obstacle most Latinx immigrants faced was white U.S. citizens deeply entrenched racism. The racist remarks can be dated back all the way to 1899, when Rudyard Kipling wrote “The White Man’s Burden,” which alluded to a narrative that Anglos were taking on the difficult task of civilizing “sullen people,” (Kipling 1) which referred to people from communities that were not Anglo like Filipinos, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. This language of inferiority has lasted to present day. Anglo Americans themselves who “failed to recognize the significance of large-scale immigration for the simple reason that they saw no distinctions between Americans of Mexican descent and most recent immigrants from Mexico,” (Gutierrez 40.) They were accustomed to viewing all Mexicans as “an inherently inferior and internally undifferentiated racial minority,” (Gutierrez 40.)

    This racism kept Latinx immigrants from feeling uncomfortable to assimilate to “American culture,” because they saw how their Anglo-American neighbors viewed them as less than them. From very early times, Anglo settlers saw Mexicans (who were living in South Texas before the border between Mexico and Texas was drawn) as “obstacles to progress,” (Gonzalez 100.) The Anglo settlers were the first advocates of “cheating off Mexicans,” for the simple belief that they thought they could progress faster. This sentiment was still seen the 20th century when segregation was a normal practice between Latinx immigrants, Mexican-Americans, and Anglo-Americans. Up until 1946, children of Latinx immigrants, who were born on U.S. soil, were sent to different schools because they were a “less sturdy stock than the white race,” (Strum 317). This deeply entrenched racism from the Anglo Americans affected Latinx immigrants by depriving their children of better opportunities.

    Latinx immigrants suffered from identifying who they were in the United States, and had to deal with racism from Anglo-Americans, but these obstacles inspired specific groups and organizations to form for the political, social, and human rights for Latinx immigrants. Groups like the Mutualistas were tactics taken to improve the quality of life for Latinx immigrants. The first group, the mutualistas, were one of the first groups to organize for the sake of having a social space for Latinx immigrants. The mutualistas gave way for Latinx immigrants to cultivate a community where they could cooperate with their U.S. born Mexican counterparts. They provided space for Latinx immigrants, and specifically those from Mexico to, “speak the same language, discuss common problems, and cooperatively provide the ropes of living in the United States in a nonthreatening, supportive environment,” (Gutierrez 97.) The Mutualists also helped break down several “barriers between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants,” because “communication was improved between the groups,” in this setting they provided (Gutierrez 97.) These spaces allowed for Latinx immigrants to discover the ways they could keep strong holds over their cultural roots.

    When LULAC was formed, the intention was for helping Latinx immigrants who wanted to assimilate into U.S. culture, but they also provided a platform for Latin American political and social issues. This organization was going against the deeply entrenched racism that Anglo Americans had spread throughout the country, by advocating for the issues of the community through political and social programming. LULAC set forth to accomplish their goal of bringing “a sense of Americanism among their constituents,” (Gutierrez 77.) They advocated for immigrants to start a path of citizenship, to protect them from the negative stereotypes Anglo-Americans had begun to associate them with. Latinx immigrants who chose to be a part of LULAC appreciate the enthusiasm to learn English, the language most commonly spoken in the U.S. Learning English was not a sign of erasing a part of the cultural, but rather a means for survival. Immigrants had a higher chance of being hired, “if they could read, write, and speak English,” (Gonzalez 104) which meant they could provide for their families. LULAC “encouraged bilingualism,” and emphasized the idea that “being an American citizen is not denouncing that you are a Mexican,” (Gutierrez 137.) This sentiment drew Latinx immigrants to consider assimilation tactics to further feel included in U.S. culture. LULAC did not try to erase culture from Latinx immigrants, but rather they tried to show them how much of a disservice it would be to themselves and their families, if they refused to get involved at all in the social and political scene.

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