Perception of ethnic distinctiveness by a group of Mexican-Americans : case study in a housing project in East Austin




Fukumoto Sato, Mary Nancy

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Ethnic groups are diverse and complex entities whose criteria and elements of social difference need to he empirically determined. This study presents the complicated inner portrait of ethnic distinctiveness as perceived by a group of Mexican-Americans of limited economic and educational resources. The characteristics that in the layman's opinion are pervasive among his own group and his attitudes toward these characteristics are the main focus of this dissertation. In addition, the features that are emphasized as symbols of Mexican-American identity are also presented. Under the research assumption that group distinctiveness cannot be perceived in isolation but in confrontation with other ethnic groups, this study uses a referential methodological approach. Perceptions of the people studied about their own group are provided in contrast to their perceptions of Anglo-Americans, Blacks and Illegal Aliens. Using as a background the social sciences literature about the group in question, the points of view of Anglo-American and Mexican-American scholars are contrasted with the points of view of the Mexican-American layman. In addition, extended applications of ethnic group theories to the case studied are also made. Mexican-American group distinctiveness is revealed as a multi-faceted, variable, and relative phenomenon which changes according to the kind of characteristic in question and according to the ethnic group taken as reference. It is also discovered that, in the total configuration of Mexican-American group distinctiveness, cultural characteristics are losing importance whereas socio-economic features are becoming more relevant. The empirical data for this investigation was collected through intensive personal interviews and participant observation with members from sixty-three Mexican-American families living in a housing project in East Austin. In the analysis of data, the informants' age, sex, and place of birth (Mexico or the United States) are the main variables taken into account. The fieldwork for this dissertation was conducted from February to October, 1980