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on November 27, 2007
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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on November 27, 2007
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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on February 12, 2012
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. He feels quite strongly that just like the Spanish racial system was undermined by the assimilation of Mexicans into the larger Spanish culture in colonial Mexico, that Mexican-Americans are well on the way to usurping and eventually destroying the more pernicious parts of the Anglo-American racial system as well.
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on November 16, 2007
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. Rather, by highlighting these contradictions and inconsistencies, his argument is bolstered. By using the historical in this manner, his argument is bolstered. The burden is no placed on the shoulders of both reactionary nativists and proponents of Chicanismo to demonstrate to the rest of us how mestizaje--a complex, contradictory process embedded in numerous social formations and economic arrangements--will not continue in yet another venue, i.e. the United States.

This is precisely the second strength of Rodriguez's book: his taking to task of the poor claims and intellectually lazy rhetoric of both left and right concerning the place of Latinos in American society. The right insists on the destructive consequences Mexican and, more generally, Latino immigration will have on American culture. Rodriguez, by emphasizing the sociological trends playing out over the last 60 years, casts doubts on the impending failure of Latino assimilation. Mexican-Americans, he argues, are assimilating. But, it is the way that they're assimilating, or rather their emerging influence on American culture and ideological idioms that is different. Much as the Catholic and Jewish immigrants of the 19th century modified the American imaginary of the 20th as a result of their immigration, so too will the Mexican immigrant. Rather than contributing to the alarmism surrounding this prospect, Rodriguez argues that the American nation will persevere much as it has in the past. Indeed, we will benefit largely from this assimilation as it will undermine our antiquated and ultimately detrimental conceptions of race and identity.

In this sense, Rodriguez may seem to be forwarding a celebratory set of claims regarding multiculturalism. He is most certainly not doing such a thing. Rather, he eschews the rhetoric of multiculturalism by claiming that Mexican-Americans will become--and for many remain--fully American. Again, it is the meaning of "being American" which will alter. Rather than envisioning a pluralistic future of cultural fragmentation and social segmentation, Rodriguez makes the point that it is the "sameness" of American identity which will be different. In this regard, he's clearly distinguishing himself from the proponents of Chicanismo, who all too often refer to the tropes and themes of Americans experience will race, rather than immigration. Assimilation and mestizaje will continue, much as they have in the past, to reshape society and culture. As a result, the very concept of "race"--as much as the terms of this particular discourse--will be radically altered, making much of the current claims and tropes of Latino racial separateness incoherent and unreflective of the social reality in which Americans of all ethnic backgrounds live.

In addition to all this, Mongrels. Bastards, Orphans and Vagabonds, is a good read, itself a monumental accomplishment for such an important argument.
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on February 8, 2008
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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on January 26, 2009
This is a very well written, well researched book. It is scholarly, yet very readable. In this day and age when too many Americans resort to an over-simplification of complex social issues, this book opens the doors of understanding. It is a "must read" for anyone with an interest in understanding the dynamics of the increasingly significant Hispanic demographic.
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on October 20, 2008
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. He feels quite strongly that just like the Spanish racial system was undermined by the assimilation of Mexicans into the larger Spanish culture in colonial Mexico, that Mexican-Americans are well on the way to usurping and eventually destroying the more pernicious parts of the Anglo-American racial system as well.

Armchair Interviews says: An important read to understand the change in America.
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VINE VOICEon April 24, 2012
I think highly of this book. It shows the blend of race in both Mexico and the USA. The first Spaniards who came to New Spain with Cortes married into the Indian race. Subsequent generations then intermarried and beget a new race. This new race went to the far north of Mexico and settled. This region in turn became part of the United States. Then the people in this region lost most of their rights if they were Mexican Indians. Eventually Mexicans Americans got their rights back after the Civil Rights movement. The increasing immigration into America from Central America and Mexico will forever change the mix of race in the United States.

I think this is a unique book about race and relations in the USA. Hispanics will eclipse the other races in the United States because of their numbers. We must be cognizant of what the future of our country will be. It will certainly change. I am married to a Latina (Chilean) and our child will inherit the heritage of this evolving society. Greg did a great job writing a thought provoking book.
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on December 12, 2007
If you are skeptical about books that either argue that new immigrants can't assimilate or that they are overwhelmed by a tidal wave of American culture, Gregory Rodriguez offers the antidote. He shows that Mexican-American immigration resembles in many ways the patterns of other immigrant groups but that Mexicans have embraced a broader Hispanic or Latino identity as their circumstances have evolved. At the same time, businesses like Univision and professional activists have tried to homogenize the actual course of Mexican immigration to serve their own economic and social ends. The author's history of immigration is richer than his discussion of contemporary trends, but this only raises the reader's hopes for a sequel.
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on February 7, 2009
Insightful and comprehensive history of the development of Mexico and its indigenous people.This information provides relevant understanding about today's immigration concerns and implicitly questions the United States'concept of Manifest Destiny.
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