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Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America Hardcover – October 23, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

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."
--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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (October 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421587
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,160,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Claudia E. Vazquez on November 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Gregory Rodriguez has written a remarkable, enjoyable, and fascinating book that traces 500 years of Mexican and Mexican American history. Clearly written, fair-minded, and full of amazing details, if you only read one book about the Mexican experience in the United States it should be this one. Rodriguez is a columnist at the Los Angeles Times who tackles a variety of issues concerning contemporary migration and integration. This book digs deep into the Mexican past to try to give us a glimpse of the American future. Without taking a side in today's immigration debate--this is no polemic--Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds gives us much needed historical context and goes a long way in telling us who Mexicans are and how they will influence U.S. society. This book is really history at its best--as you're reading it, you not only learn about the past, but about the present, and the future.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ido Tavory on November 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Rodriguez challenges conventional wisdom about race relations in the USA, and what we can expect in the future. I found it to be one of the few sane books on the topic, which doesn't treat race or racism as constant and immutable, but shows the dynamics in which it is done on the ground. Also, as someone who reads quite a bit of boring academic texts on the subject, I found his writing really refreshing, both accessible and challenging at the same time.
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Philippe Duhart on November 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In this book, Gregory Rodriguez does what any good scholar, journalist, or political commentator ought to focus his or her efforts on: pointing out the obvious reality lying underneath the veneer of rhetoric, ravings, and spurious ideological claims. Given the well-worn manufactured hysteria and poor scholarship surrounding Latino immigration--and its consequent political and cultural ramifications--Mongrels. Bastards, Orphans and Vagabonds is as much a call for taking a deep breath as it is a concise argument concerning the impact Latinos will have on American notions of notions of race.

I'd like to emphasize two strengths of Rodriguez's work. First, he is making what is essentially an argument based on a single--though incredibly complex--historical process, namely mestizaje. Rather than using the historical record as a convenient backdrop or filler for his book, the historical record is the argument. Weaving such a narrative is not seemingly difficult. Constructing an overarching argument from 400 years of history is, however, no easy task. If indeed, as he argues, Mexican-Americans are contributing significantly--if not singlehandedly--to the destabilization of "race" in the 21st century U.S. , this process will not be the result of some grandiose ideological project, but rather a consequence of innumerable and often contradictory social practices. Rather than merely claiming such an outcome has historical precedence, Rodriguez's narrative serves to demonstrate that what is occurring and will occur over the subsequent decades is tied directly to an historical process that began effectively in 1492.

Of course, Rodriguez is sensitive to the nuances and complexities of the historical record, and his analysis never shies from the dark and exploitative side of mestizaje.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Markowitz on February 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
Almost from the very beginning, the United States has exhibited a schizophrenic attitude toward Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants living in the United States. On one hand we have often been desirous of the advantages they have offered, be it as agricultural migrant workers, inexpensive alternatives for domestic tasks, or a host of other job-related activities that our society demands but has trouble filling. Balancing these favorables are at least an intermittent fear of a quickly growing minority, if not a downright xenophobia about our neighbors to the south, especially during economic downturns.

What Gregory Rodriguez has offered us is a nicely written history of Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants from the arrival of Hernando Cortes in 1519 to the present day as seen through the filter of mestizaje - the racial and cultural synthesis of Mexican descendants into larger cultures.

In his political and cultural account of over five hundred years of Mexican/American relationships, Rodriguez covers many of the main historical elements of this time period - Indian-Spanish interaction, the Spanish racial system, Mexican independence, the western expansion of the United States, Texas independence, and the Mexican-American War. In his concluding chapters, Rodriguez goes on to cover key elements of the past hundred years and their impact on our history- the Nativist movements, WWII, the bracero program, the Chicano movement, multi-culturalism, Cesar Chavez, bi-lingual education, and the rapid growth of Spanish language media.

Despite the periods of anti-immigrant fervor that tends to re-emerge on a regular basis in the United States, especially during difficult economic times, Rodriguez has a decidedly optimistic outlook.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rebekah M. Lynn on February 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book was absorbing. As a person of Mexican heritage myself, I have never read a book that understands the ethnic dynamic from the ground up the way this book does. It starts with the human elements that drive (or don't drive) the political. It is fascinating to see the narrative unfold, and to witness the political and social cycles that have taken place over the years; to see how we got where we are. As others have stated, it is an antidote to the hysterical, earnest, hyper-political screeds on race and culture in the US. It is common sense yet profound, because we don't always see the obvious or learn from the past. As a result of this book, I understand myself and my community better.
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