In 1915, the California Commission of Immigration and Housing (CCIH) unveiled a bold new experiment: the Home Teacher Program. In Los Angeles, this program sent volunteers into Mexican communities to teach immigrant women new, more “American” ways of homemaking and childrearing. The lesson plans, sample dialogues, teacher testimonies, and photographs featured in CCIH publications provide a fascinating window on to the tense interactions between home teachers and immigrant women. Scholars have long explored different ways of mining institutional records and other forms of writing by Americanization advocates for insights into the experiences of those who participated in the programs. This essay contributes to the discussion of California's Americanization curricula in two ways: First, I provide a close reading of CCIH texts in order to uncover and analyze three layers of recorded experience: (1) teacher biases confronted by immigrant women; (2) immigrant women's difficult material realities; and (3) immigrant women's complex responses to Americanization. Second, I provide further evidence for the view that Mexican immigrant women responded to Americanization efforts in a variety of ways, from outright resistance to milder forms of pushback and, at times, conditional acceptance of the “American” customs presented to them. In light of the evidence, I argue that Mexican immigrant women were “doing the impossible” by laying claim to a piece of California through the complex relationship they negotiated with the home teachers. Although Americanization programs intended to flatten Mexican women's ethnic affiliations, the immigrant women found subtle ways to assert their agency, survive hardship and prejudice, and forge a new Mexican American ethnic community in the process.
Research Article| November 01 2016
“Doing the Impossible”: Tracing Mexican Women's Experiences in Americanization Manuals, 1915–1920
California History (2016) 93 (4): 20–41.
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Magdalena L. Barrera; “Doing the Impossible”: Tracing Mexican Women's Experiences in Americanization Manuals, 1915–1920. California History 1 November 2016; 93 (4): 20–41. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2016.93.4.20
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