The Intergenerational Assimilation of Mexican Americans by Stephen J. Trejo

On Tuesday Stephen Trejo responded to Richard Rodriguez’s Monday article Mexicans in America. Here is a teaser of what his response contained:

What do we know about the socioeconomic achievement of the children, grandchildren, and more distant descendants of Mexican immigrants? In light of the reasons for pessimism listed above, U.S.-born Mexican Americans have done surprisingly well, though certainly areas of serious concern remain. Like Europeans in the past, Mexicans enjoy ample intergenerational progress between first-generation immigrants and their second-generation children. Relative to their parents, the U.S.-born second generation experiences dramatic increases in English proficiency, educational attainment, and earnings. From this generational perspective, the lightning-rod issue of language—in terms of both English acquisition and Spanish preservation—loses all its spark. By the time they are teens, second-generation Mexican Americans overwhelming prefer to speak English rather than Spanish, and by the third generation most Mexican Americans no longer speak Spanish at all.

In general, the labor market opportunities available to U.S.-born Mexican Americans are similar to those afforded non-Hispanic whites with identical skills. On average, the employment and earnings of Mexican Americans are close to the outcomes of Anglos who are the same age and have the same schooling….

There is one crucial area, however, where Mexican Americans lag behind both whites and blacks: education. This problem is well-known, although popular accounts often greatly exaggerate its magnitude by not distinguishing Mexican immigrants from U.S.-born Mexican Americans. Nonetheless, high school dropout is disturbingly prevalent for U.S.-born Mexicans, even for those in the third generation and beyond (i.e., for the U.S.-born grandchildren and later descendants of Mexican immigrants). Inevitably, college attendance and completion rates are also much lower for Mexican Americans. Because the educational disadvantage of this group largely explains their below-average earnings, finding a way to eliminate the schooling gap would go a long way toward bridging the economic divide that remains between Mexican Americans and the Anglo majority. As Rodriguez notes, the limited educational success of U.S.-born Mexicans may reflect cultural pressures to subordinate personal achievement for the sake of family unity, a social dynamic that Rodriguez aptly describes as the struggle between competing pronouns “I” and “we”. Surely, however, some other immigrant groups (e.g., Italians) faced a similar dynamic and still were able to integrate fully into American society, so perhaps we can expect that ultimately the same thing will occur for Mexicans.

The full article can be found here.

100 Responses to “The Intergenerational Assimilation of Mexican Americans by Stephen J. Trejo”


  • Marco de la Villa

    “By the time they are teens, second-generation Mexican Americans overwhelming prefer to speak English rather than Spanish, and by the third generation most Mexican Americans no longer speak Spanish at all.”

    Bullcrap. Where is this sh*t coming from? Maybe this was true back in the 1970s, but it sure as hell isn’t any longer. Ahorita la verdad es una cosa muy diferente!

    I know this site leans in a conservative direction and I’m a conservative Republican myself, but honestly, I don’t get this lame, sorry-assed obsession among some conservatives with the English-only crap. They’re losers. Obsessing about the language people use is a French thing to do, not something that we supposedly self-confident Americans are supposed to be fretting about. As a small business entrepreneur who’s been working in the industry for a decade, I can tell you that the tremendous and growing importance of Spanish is due to market forces, supposedly the sort of thing that the Republican Party is a defender of and why I’ve been a Republican myself for so many years.

    I always used to see the Democrats and liberals as whiners and losers, but now it’s the Republicans who seem like losers whining about just about everything, whether Iraq or the growing deficit or, especially, this dumbassed English-only advocacy, the sort of social engineering crap that Republicans are supposed to frown on. The fact on the ground is that tens of millions of people and growing use Spanish in integral ways, who knows why but it’s a fact and it doesn’t go away when you close your eyes and click your heels together. The vast majority of the Republicans that I know and respect are cool with that– we’re all about self-reliance, and if it means that you suck it up and learn a new language, then fine, just do it and adapt your business for it. You certainly don’t go whining like a crybaby about all those meanie Spanish-speakers, which is precisely what a subset of so-called “conservatives” seem inclined to do. This English-only push is truly one of the stupidest stands ever to be espoused by the conservative Republican movement, and those who push it are managing to alienate and lose the support of millions of young, enterprising Hispanic entrepreneurs and workers.

    Some guy in an earlier thread was like a sixth-generationer Puerto Rican or something who spoke Spanish as a first and principal language, and while my family in the Land of Lincoln and Reagan, Illinois, hasn’t been in the US quite that long (I’m fourth-generation Hispanic), the same sort of shift has happened for us and just about all the Hispanics I went to school with– not knowing Spanish is not only culturally stigmatized, but for economic reasons, anyone who “gives up” Spanish is viewed as an idiot.

    I grew up in Illinois (not in Chicago), though I’m not Mexican-American– my Dad’s family came up here after the turmoil in Nicaragua around the turn of the century, and the cultural and lingustic shift is very much in evidence there. I don’t really know much what it was like 20 or 30 years ago, but the word on the street was that back then, many Hispanics in the state considered Spanish as a burden to be shed. They didn’t want to teach it to their kids (and my parents themselves were at first unsure about teaching us).

    That’s changed radically in the last decade or so, don’t ask me why. Obviously young Hispanics also pick up English as we grow up in Chicago or elsewhere in the state– even around Decatur, as I did– but if anything Spanish is now even more important as a language used in the home as well as for official purposes in business, for example. 15 years ago maybe people were ashamed to use it. Now, Hispanics of many generations use Spanish with each other and even with many Anglos. We use some English too but Spanish is the mainstay– it’s a bilingual fiesta.

    Y tambien, no solo es una cuestion de cultura, sino de sobreviviendo economico. You can’t get a job in just about anything in Illinois or New York if you know only English– they look at you like a moron if you’re only English-speaking and you even apply, whether the owners are Hispanic or Anglo or whatever. They really expect Spanish in the resume b/c without it, they rapidly lose customers and go out of business. Again, I can’t get begin to decipher the cultural basis for this, but it’s a fact. I worked a stint for a company in Arizona and out there it was even scarier– any company dumb enough not to emphasize Spanish skills in hiring went bankrupt in an average of 3-4 months, so if you weren’t Spanish fluent yourself, you might as well seek out a job washing windows because you were not getting hired for retail or anything involving customer service, period. One of my own fellow Hispanic friends had the humiliating experience of being unable to answer a question in Spanish from a customer– his parents never really taught him that well– while one of the Anglo employees, who was fluent, had no trouble. My friend was so mortified that he signed up for courses at the local community college and got fluent after a couple years of occasional night courses.

    In my current business– which has flourished enough to accumulate tens of millions in assets in less than 3 years– as well as in my former jobs, even my stints at summer jobs as a retail worker back in college, Spanish is essential. It just is, period, end of story. If anything, I would have expected French-ified losers like the Dems to object to that and fret about language use in public, but these days it seems like it’s quite a few supposedly free-market Republican “conservatives” who get all worked up about it. Just give it up. Spanish is a critical US language that’s part of the mainstream, like it or not, and you have to know it. I still support the GOP, but I will no longer give the party my votes, let alone my hard-earned money as an entrepreneur, if the party continues to push the English-only stupidity. There are millions of other otherwise conservative-leaning Hispanic entrepreneurs who will be doing the same.

  • Hey, Marco, I agree with everything you say. Personally, I think more people should learn Spanish, not just for the economic benefits, but also for the mere pleasure of it – Spanish is such a beautiful language.

    With that said, I think there are some misunderstandings. For one, the author of this article, Stephen Trejo, is ‘a research fellow at the IZA Institute for the Study of Labor’, where his ‘research focuses on public policy issues, including overtime pay regulation, the labor market experiences of immigrants, and obstacles to the economic progress of minority groups’. In other words, he wasn’t stating an opinion one way or the other with regard to Spanish, he was simply stating facts. I agree with you that it is a sad thing that many Hispanics lose their native tongue, but thinking it is a sad thing is very different from denying the reality of the situation, which seems to be that many in fact do.

    Secondly, I strongly doubt that Stephen Trejo is a conservative. He is probably moderate to liberal politically, but that is just a guess.

    With that said, thanks for stopping by, I really enjoyed your comment and the passion involved. We need more Republicans like you. 🙂

  • Marco de la Villa

    Thanks HP, me gusta pasar y contribuir. Y por cierto estoy de acuerdo, necesitamos un enfasis mas grande en nuestras comunidades sobre los principos de negocio y el mercado libre. Afortunadamente estos principos se exprimen perfectamente en cualquier idioma, especialmente en espanol (todos los terminos de Latin, mas facil de aprender 🙂 ), por lo tanto han llevado exito a la mayoria de comunidades que los han abrazado y incorporado.

    Gracias y que tenga mucha suerte, necesitamos mucho su voz en nuestra discusion!

    Marco

  • Gracias Marco, igualmente. Su opinión es muy valiosa para mi, por favor regrese en ves en cuando con mas comentarios.

  • Punkie Brewdrinker

    Great! Pochos of the world uniting under the banner of enlightenened conservatism! I love it.

  • I love it too. It’s sad that these Latin-Americans don’t even know how to write Spanish correctly! I agree with them, but it really bothers me that they don’t learn it correctly. The other day at the company that I work for as an engineer, two Mexican-Americans translated a memo for the production workers (who are mainly Mexicans) and when I read it I was shocked! They translated ‘breaks’ as ‘roturas’, I had to read the version in English in order to understand the purpose of that memo. What a shame!

  • I’m an American,I was born in Malaysia and I am of Chinese ancestry. Would you be as receptive to having Chinese and Malay ballots, street signs and the like? Just to be fair. And would you warmly welcome 10 million illegal Chinese immigrants? Make that 20 million. Or how about 10-20 million North Koreans, for that matter. And does it make you wonder why the Asian illegal migrants are not boycotting their communities, protesting in force, demanding for citizenship and etc.? Frankly, it is not in our culture and/or practice to be ungrateful to our host country and make demands of the hosts, who have been more generous and kind to us than the countries we were born in. A simple analogy is for a invited dinner guest demanding that his/her hosts allow him/her to move-in permanently, be given partial ownership of the house, the hosts learn to speak his/her mother tongue…I’m sure you get my point. There’s an old chinese adage, when translated, which wisely advises on “never to be ungrateful to those who have assisted you in times of trouble as even a dog will never bite the hand/s that feed it”.

  • urbanleftbehind

    Hey Harry,

    Those Gracious Asian Immigrants Sure Like to Intimidate Naturalized Hispanic Ones Away from the ballot (Orange Co. CA), though. Another reason never to have been in Vietnam!!!!

  • lol at the “pocho’s of the world” comment.

    Great article and I could sense the writer’s frustration when he wrote:

    “Spanish is a critical US language that’s part of the mainstream, like it or not, and you have to know it. I still support the GOP, but I will no longer give the party my votes, let alone my hard-earned money as an entrepreneur, if the party continues to push the English-only stupidity.”

    I hope the writer doesn’t give up the good fight. There are other countries that have more than one official language. Perhaps he can put his money towards a bill that would push for a second official language, or a third.

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