From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Despite its title, this volume from L.A. Times columnist Rodriguez is a thorough and accessible history of Mexico that emphasizes the legacy of mestizaje, mixed races, among Mexico's inhabitants. Beginning with Cortes' arrival in 1519, an elaborate system of racial classification was put into place to keep separate Spanish and native peoples. The failure of this system, Rodriguez argues, allowed for a more progressive and open-minded approach to race in Mexico compared with, for example, the U.S.: "In colonial New Mexico, mestizaje was the rule rather than the exception." Black/white racial lines were nonexistent, as African natives merged effortlessly into Mexican society (which abolished slavery nearly 40 years before the States). Other developments include the Mexican-American War and subsequent insurgencies in the huge swath of Mexican land ceded to the U.S.; the Mexican revolution and the immigration wave it inspired; the backlash against Mexican-Americans during the depression years; and the Chicano movement of the 1960s and '70s. There's more at stake in Rodriguez's text than the latest immigration hullabaloo (he doesn't get around to addressing the past 30 years until the last chapter); aside from illuminating a complicated history and deeply contextualizing the present debate, the author takes on the concept of racial classification itself, calling for a change in attitude that more closely reflects the Mexican unifying idea of mestizaje, that we are all, to some extent, racially mixed "mongrels."
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"In the midst of a narrow, polemical debate on immigration, Gregory Rodriguez has written a generous, sweeping, prodigiously researched, and judicious history of Mexican Americans that helps us understand their long-term influence on American society. Smart, fun, and eminently readable, Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds explores five centuries of cultural collisions and convergences, and dares us to imagine a new way of thinking about the future of America."
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--Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico and former United States ambassador to the United Nations
"Rodriguez has pulled off not one but two stunning coups--a thoroughly original history and a penetrating commentary on what race means and will mean in our era and beyond. From 1519 to the front page of today's newspaper, from the Virgin of Guadalupe to the National Council of La Raza--the sweep alone is breathtaking. But every chapter also drills deep, and they build to an important new argument about the future of the American melting pot. By turns learned, fascinating, deeply felt (this is no academic history), completely contemporary, and, in its picture of where we're heading, as persuasive as it is provocative. A tour de force."
--Tamar Jacoby, author of Someone Else's House: America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration
"Passionately argued, thoroughly researched... Draws a far more complex portrait of Mexican Americans and Mexicans in America than is found in our media. Rodriguez's book provides a welcome interjection of sanity and complexity into a debate that so far has been largely characterized by ignorance, ideology, and hysteria."
--Eric Alterman, author of When Presidents Lie: A History of the Official Deception and Its Consequences
"Trailblazing... Rodriguez examines the complex racial and ethnic heritage of Mexican Americans with a sweeping historical insight that demolishes widespread prevalent myths... A vital contribution to understanding the role of Mexican Americans in U.S. society."
--Lou Cannon, author of President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime
"An indispensable guide to America's future--and an optimistic one, too."
--Adrian Woolridge, co-author of The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America