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Reflexiones 1997

Reflexiones 1997
New Directions in Mexican American Studies

A review of the work-in-progress of scholars affiliated with the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Center for Mexican American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
January 1998
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173 pages | 6 x 9 | 4 b&w illus. |

Reflexiones is an annual review of the work-in-progress of scholars affiliated with the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Reflexiones 1997, the inaugural edition, highlights the work of scholars in a wide range of disciplines, including history, anthropology, media studies, and sociology.

David Montejano, Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, opens with a piece about the creative ways in which Mexican American and African American scholars, legislators, and citizens mounted a successful response to the Fifth Circuit Court's Hopwood decision, which banned race as a criterion in admissions to public universities in Texas. Yolanda Padilla, of the School of Social Work, considers the poor labor-market outcomes of Mexican immigrants. América Rodríguez, of the Department of Radio, Television, & Film, studies language and class in the racial construction of a "Hispanic audience" for commercial purposes. José Limon, of the Departments of Anthropology and English, contemplates Selena, sexuality, and Greater Mexico. Neil Foley, of the Department of History, writes on Mexican Americans and their "Faustian pact" with whiteness. And Eric Meeks, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History, discusses political mobilization and Yaqui identity in Arizona in the 1960s and 1970s.

Together, these works in progress provide a vivid cross-section of current research by faculty and students intellectually engaged in issues of concern to the Mexican American community and to Latinos throughout the United States.

  • Introduction (Neil Foley)
  • 1. Selena: Sexuality, Performance, and the Problematic of Hegemony (José E. Limón)
  • 2. Racialization, Language, and Class in the Construction and Sale of the Hispanic Audience (América Rodríguez)
  • 3. Becoming Hispanic: Mexican Americans and the Faustian Pact with Whiteness (Neil Foley)
  • 4. Reading between the Lines (Lilian García-Roig)
  • 5. Cross-Ethnic Political Mobilization and Yaqui Identity Formation in Guadalupe, Arizona (Eric Meeks)
  • 6. Considering the Explanations for the Poor Labor Market Outcomes of Mexican Immigrants (Yolanda C. Padilla)
  • 7. On Hopwood: The Continuing Challenge (David Montejano)
  • About the Contributors

Editor Neil Foley is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.


In the spring of 1996 the Fifth Circuit Court ruled that race could not be used as one of the criteria in determining admission to the University of Texas law school. The Hopwood decision, named after one of the plaintiffs, threatened to wipe out the limited gains Texas public universities had made in making the student population at least plausibly representative of the state's growing ethnoracial diversity. At the University of Texas African American and Mexican American students were particularly incensed by the ruling since their percentage of the overall student population was less than half of their percentage representation in the general population of Texas. As many had predicted, the number of Black and Hispanic students enrolled in the fall's first-year law class plummeted. To make matters worse, the state attorney general, Dan Morales, ruled that race could not be used as a criterion for administering scholarship programs, a ruling that went beyond the narrow ruling of the Fifth Circuit on law school admissions. Under the Texas and California "race neutral" admissions policies, test scores have become even more fetishized than they have been in the past. In that spring of 1996, it seemed that California, with its antiimmigrant and anti-affirmative action propositions (187 and 209), had suddenly come to Texas.

No sooner had the 1997 fall semester begun when Lino Graglia, a professor in the UT law school and outspoken critic of affirmative action, made a statement at a news conference that "Blacks and Mexicans are not competitive with whites in selective institutions. It is the result primarily of cultural effects. They have a culture that seems not to encourage achievement. Failure is not looked upon with disgrace." His comments offended the sensibilities of Mexican and Black families everywhere and reinforced the stereotype that non-Whites come from cultures that don't value achievement the way Whites do. In 1991 Graglia had written a memo to the UT law faculty in which he complained against the hiring of "radicals" who supported affirmative action and "whose central role is the perpetuation of their kind." "What can be more satisfyingly revolutionary than blacks with machine guns on campus; surely a better world will then be around the corner. " Aside from the ugly stereotyping of African Americans as violent radicals, Graglia's cultural commentary serves the handy purpose of obliterating the history of racial segregation in the Lone Star state and the barriers that continue to exist for Mexican Americans and African Americans growing up in segregated and badly underfunded schools throughout the state. The Hopwood decision and the national assault on affirmative action have emboldened many like Graglia to overstep the boundary between legitimate policy debate and racial bigotry.

Graglia's remarks, like the recent rollback in civil rights gains in the workforce and in higher education, are increasingly the product of what might be called "institutional whiteness"—the insidious belief that Whites deserve to be in positions of power because of "merit." The opponents of affirmative action claim that universities ought to be "objective" and "race neutral" in determining merit because, they argue, the long and well-documented history of White racial privilege in the United States is irrelevant to the meritocratic present. By the logic of the meritocratic myth, if minorities continue to be excluded from positions of power in this nation, it is because they lack the qualifications for the job. Anti-affirmative action court decisions and California-style proposition populism are designed to resegregate higher education on the basis of "merit" rather than "race," although the equation of whiteness with merit is no less racial than "race neutral" admissions policies. Like the all-male "Promise Keepers" who are enjoined by their ex-football coach leader to "take back" their rights as family patriarchs, many White citizens in California, Texas, and most recently in Michigan want to "take back" "their" public universities from those they persistently and mistakenly label "unqualified minorities." Most colleges and universities, however, have not been desegregated to any appreciable degree in the more than forty years since the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

While we are powerless to overturn the fifth circuit ruling, the overwhelming majority of faculty, students, administrators, regents, legislators, and Texas residents have no interest in resegregating Texas public universities. Under the leadership of David Montejano, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT Austin, we devised a plan in which any student graduating in the top 10 percent of his or her high school class, regardless of GPA or test scores, would gain automatic admittance to Texas flagship universities. On May 20, 1997, Governor George Bush, Jr., signed the legislation into law, thus ensuring an applicant pool that will be racially diverse.

It was in the midst of the Hopwood crisis that the Center for Mexican American Studies decided to publish an annual review of scholarship and reflections written by CMAS faculty and students. With over twenty-five faculty associates, four full-time staff members, graduate student teaching assistants, undergraduate majors, and nearly thirty regularly cross-listed CMAS courses, the center was a hub of activity for the campus Latino and non-Latino community during the 1996-1997 academic year. Weekly "pláticas," or informal noontime talks, brought together students, faculty, and staff to listen to presentations on a wide range of topics by academics, community leaders, artists, and others from Texas and elsewhere in the nation. The Hopwood decision merely galvanized an already active and activist center that had been developing initiatives and implementing programs in the areas of faculty and student recruitment and retention, curriculum reform, community outreach, graduate student support, CMAS book publications, undergraduate student leadership and research training, and cosponsored programs with the Center for African American and African Studies. This inaugural edition of Reflexiones thus represents but one of many CMAS initiatives over the past year and seeks to highlight some of the works in progress of CMAS faculty, including the artwork of Lilian García-Roig and a graduate student essay that won the Rolando Hinojosa student essay prize in 1997.

In the volume's opening essay José Limón, professor of English and anthropology, explores the psychocultural and political origins of the phenomenon that Selena, the tejana singer and performer, had become in life and in death. Limón's essay is an extended meditation on what he calls the "psychic management of sexuality within

Greater Mexico" and forms part of a larger work on tejano popular culture and cultural poetics. In the second essay, América Rodrfguez, assistant professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film, examines the ways in which mass media marketers like the A. C. Nielsen Company engage in the cultural and commercial construction of a "Hispanic" audience. Her analysis reveals, among other things, how the Spanish language becomes the proxy for lowerclass Hispanics while English increasingly becomes the marker for a higher class of Hispanic audience. In my own essay I explore how many middle-class Mexican Americans in this century have made Faustian bargains in constructing identities as Whites, often at the expense of other non-White groups, and the ways in which they continue to exploit the racial space between whiteness and blackness. By "unbecoming Mexican," some Mexican Americans assert their ethnoracial and cultural ties to a higher—and therefore Whiter—class of Latinos.

The middle section of Reflexiones features the artwork of associate art professor Lilian García-Roig, a fine example of which is printed on the cover of this volume. Her artwork experiments with the fusion of images from Mesoamerican and Western European art ideals that, as she explains, "would enhance, rather then reduce or negate, each image's presence and mystery."

Eric Meeks, a graduate student in borderlands history, examines how urbanization and political mobilization shaped the complex relationship between Mexican Yaquis and ethnic Mexicans in Guadalupe, Arizona, between 1960 and 1980. Meeks explores how the nature of Yaqui identity changed over time as Yaquis began to collaborate with Mexican Americans in pursuing common political objectives. In the process, Mexican Yaquis came to identify themselves as "American Indians" by promoting their own cultural and political interests. In the penultimate essay, Yolanda Padilla, assistant professor of social work, uses quantitative analyses to understand the persistence of poverty among Mexican immigrant laborers in the 1990s. Her work analyzes disadvantaged labor market outcomes for Mexican immigrant women as well as men and contrasts these experiences with those of Mexican Americans and permanent legal residents.

The final essay in this collection, written by David Montejano, the director of CMAS and associate professor of history, recounts the ways in which faculty, students, community leaders, and legislators moved quickly to devise a "race neutral" admissions bill—the top 10 percent plan—that would circumvent the worst features of the Hopwood decision. Montejano describes the center's involvement in shaping post-Hopwood strategy—what he calls "postaffirmative action politics"—and offers some thoughts on the similarities and differences between the affirmative action battles being waged in Texas and California.

Reflexiones is exactly that—reflections that, for the most part, represent the starting points of larger works in progress. In many ways those of us associated with the Center for Mexican American Studies believe that, as a collectivity of intellectual workers, we are also a "work in progress" in the sense that we are continuing the work of securing civil rights in the present so that the gains we've made in the past are not undone in the future.