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How Did You Get to Be Mexican?: A White/Brown Man's Search for Identity Hardcover – January 28, 1999

4.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

The son of a Mexican-American mother and an Anglo father, Johnson ponders life as a ``mixed-race'' man in the racially charged atmosphere of America. Johnson (Law/Univ. of Calif., Davis) grew up uneasily among ethnic contradictions. His mother preferred to describe herself as ``Spanish,'' rather than acknowledge her true heritage; even so, his father, a blue-eyed blond, urged him to embrace his Mexican heritage. In an era of affirmative action, Johnson felt highly conflicted about ``checking the box'' on college and law school entrance and loan forms and thereby profiting from an ethnic heritage that he grew up freely embracing. He felt just as uncomfortable with Anglos who didn't know his ethnicity as he did with militant Chicano activists who might doubt his bona fides. But Johnson regarded the painful plight of his mothershe was stricken by clinical depression and getting by on welfare after her two marriages had founderedas a negative example of what can happen to people who are forced by racism to deny who they really are. The bulk of the book is taken up with Johnson's intellectual autobiography, tracing his own uncertainties as questions of identity exacerbated the problems of adolescence and early adulthood, and then following his career as a lawyer and law professor more secure in his racial identity, though still not without self-doubt. Indeed, the most appealing aspect of the work is the author's candor about his insecurities and personal dilemmas. But bland writing fetters Johnsons intelligence. To put it bluntly, he writes like a lawyer. A thoughtful story, told somewhat indifferently. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review

"Engaging and warmly inviting. Funny and tragic by turns, this book has a momentum that carries the reader along. Johnson's struggles reverberate beyond himself; the incidents he recounts, whether dramatic or small, apply to the lives of others who have had to deal with poverty, class origins, and racial stereotyping." --Richard Delgado, co-editor of Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror "A compelling and thoughtful portrayal of the struggle for identity faced by a sensitive young man who did not fit neatly into the artificial racial and ethnic categories embedded in the political and cultural fabric of this nation." --Gregory H. Williams, Dean of Ohio State University College of Law
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press; First Edition edition (January 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566396506
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566396509
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,606,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the story of a mother who dearly wanted to assimilate but couldn't - and her son, who could have but finally wouldn't. It is the story of a man of mixed White-Latino heritage engulfed in self-doubt about his place in a society obsessed with race. It is the story of a prominent young lawyer and college professor who can never fully enjoy his success because someone always pops up to accuse him of being a "box checker," a counterfeit Latino for affirmative action purposes.
Contradictions run wild in Kevin Johnson's autobiographical account of growing up racially mixed and emotionally mixed up. On one page, he rightly laments racial pigeonholing. On the next, he paints a painfully detailed picture of someone's racial history and physical features. The book is replete with mixed heritage characters who "identify" publicly with the racial tradition of one parent over that of another.
At first this approach left me frustrated (maybe I yearned for transcendence). But soon I realized that Johnson could hardly tell his story otherwise: the contradictions are not his but society's. Such is the sad - indeed the surreal - state of America's racial politics.
However sad and surreal race relations indeed may be, books like Johnson's represent a breakthrough of sorts for diversity and understanding. For most of our nation's history, dispossessed individuals were truly silenced - either by poverty or outright discrimination. As society began to allow different voices to emerge, pure outsiders got most of the attention. Now people like Johnson, who inhabits what the book jacket calls "the borderlands between racial identities," are receiving the call to tell their stories.
Before I run on any longer, I should reveal some modest secrets of my own.
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By A Customer on July 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a person of Latino/Anglo heritage, I was quite excited when I saw this book at my favorite bookstore. We do not often hear about us when racially-mixed people are discussed. Johnson's experiences mirrored many of my own and I found myself verbally agreeing with him as I read the book! As a future scholar in the area of multiracial identity, I will certainly utilize this book in my classroom!
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Format: Hardcover
In my professional opinion, "How Did You Get to Be Mexican?" appeals not only to our simple love of a well-told tale, but also to our more complex need to understand how we will confront the most daunting task of the new century: getting along in our increasingly multicultural world. Part memoir, part legal memorandum, the book reminds us that a person's racial and ethnic identity is actually constructed in at least two ways: by how others see him, and by how he comes to see himself. Using his own life as the evidence, Dean Johnson makes the case that neither can be ignored. He convincingly illustrates the critical role that the law plays in shaping this process -- and vice versa. On a personal note, I share the author's Anglo-and-Mexican heritage, and hear the echoes my own life in his story.
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Format: Hardcover
Kevin Johnson's book "How Did you Get to be Mexican?" is an excellent book about being mixed race in America. Johnson considers life on the color line from the perspective of one who is half Latino and half Anglo.In so doing he considers many important topics including the limits on Latino assimilation and the construction of racial identity. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the topic of race.
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Format: Hardcover
As a mixed race Mexican/Anglo myself, I saw my own childhood as well as parts of my adult life in Dean Johnson's writing. While reading like an autobiography, this book is not lacking in scholarship. The numerous and current scholarly references for each chapter provide a wealth of resources for those who desire to learn more about the topics of which Dean Johnson speaks. I am enriched by having read this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The subject matter was of tremendous personal interest to me, because, like Johnson, I have an Anglo father and a Latina mother, and am, myself an academic. I often found myself identifying with his anecdotes and quite thoroughly enjoyed the combination of autobiography and academic tome. On the academic side, Johnson contributes a great deal (not to mention a new perspective) to the literature on racial construction. Too many academic works on Latino/a racial construction treat Latino/as as a monolithic body, suffering the same levels and types of discrimination, whether they are an immigrant or US born. Johnson recognized the great diversity amongst Latino populations. Some mixed race individuals, in fact, face more discrimination from Latinos than from whites.

To be embarrassingly honest, I had never heard of Kevin Johnson until he reviewed my book for the Journal of American History. Wanting to know the scholars who reviewed me, I purchased and read this book. I whole heartedly recommend this work to any mixed race individual, as well as to any academic working in the fields of racial construction, Latino history, or even those studying recent US History in general.
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Format: Paperback
When I saw the title, I knew I had to check out the book for myself. Since I am a bicultural person (of Venezuelan and Polish descent) I could relate to his struggle. A lot of people doubt you based on physical characteristics, surname and mannerisms when you come from a bicultural background. The situation was the same for Mr. Johnson, a lawyer of English and Mexican background. His last name, light complexion and elementary knowledge of Spanish hindered him in integrating into Mexican culture, while his non-Caucasian features separated him from his Anglo contemporaries. He wrote sensitively about his experiences and enlightened us about his process of self-discovery (finally marrying a Mexicana, having children with her, giving them Spanish names, etc). I reccomend this book to anyone who wants an education on the bicultural experience or has been through that process themselves. I can't tell you how many times, to this day, people still deny me my Latin roots because I don't look like the caricatures they have in their heads about how all Hispanics/Latinos are supposed to look (Dark skin, black hair, black eyes), and I don't have a Spanish last name because I was raised by my mom (Martinez, Morales, Rodriguez, etc). We have to get over our assumptions about people if we want the walls to come down in our thinking. It is the only way toward liberation.
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