Aaron Sánchez explores how the emergence of the nation-state and the notion of citizenship shaped ethnic Mexicans’ sense of cultural belonging in Texas since 1900. Sánchez consults U.S. Spanish- and Spanglish- language newspapers, journals, magazines, oral histories, poetry, and literature to build this rich and linguistically complex narrative that challenges who we define as intellectuals in these communities. This more inclusive history of manual laborers, barrio residents, and women from communities of color takes a cultural and literary lens to get at their thoughts, expressions, and political involvement. It is also a history of the long civil rights movement, especially as these intellectuals contributed to and were in conversation with global discourses and ideas of belonging since the 1920s. How did belonging change, Sánchez asks, for the 1.5 million Mexicans that the Mexican Revolution displaced from 1910 to the 1920s? How did they resist the “American infections,” such as the English language, that the Anglo cultural milieu imposed (p. 8)? How did notions of Mexicanness change for ethnic Mexicans born in the United States? What did McCarthyism do to their identities in the 1950s? And what about the “many Chicanismos” after the 1960s, some of which transcended the geopolitical limitations of the nation-state (p. 125)?
The meaning of belonging for ethnic Mexicans in the U.S. was thus multi-faceted, complex, and ever-changing. Wealthy and conservative Mexican exiles of the revolution aspired to return to Mexico, keep the essence of being Mexican while abroad, and maintain the putative cultural pillars of the Spanish language, that is, “male power and performative masculinity, and Mexican femininity” (p. 15). By the 1930s, exiled Mexican elites in the United States labeled ethnic Mexicans who could not uphold these tenets as traitors, pochos, and “sad wannabe Americans” (p. 38). In response to these antagonisms, many U.S.-born ethnic Mexicans increasingly sought the benefits of U.S. citizenship and middle-class behavior, and emulated eugenic ideas about evolution, progress, and white supremacy. So much, in fact, that they blamed their own ethnicity for failing to assimilate to the United States. On one hand, the unconstitutional expulsion of 1.5 million ethnic Mexicans in the 1930s taught them the harsh lesson that even birthright citizenship was tentative in the eyes of the state. On the other hand, the concept of Aztlán for Chicanas/os in the 1960s and 1970s provided intellectual spaces in which to imagine the possibility of an independent nation, a nation within a nation, or “a philosophical state of independence” (p. 124).
Notwithstanding that citizenship was the “main arbiter” of belonging, Sánchez reveals the various forms of ethnic Mexican cultural nationalisms that transcended the state (p. 5). There was the labor internationalism that leftist ethnic Mexicans before the 1950s embraced to become “part of the global proletariat” (p. 91). There was a barrio nationalism that resisted not only state penetration into ethnic Mexican communities but also university-educated, non-barrio Chicanos/as who, in one barrio nationalist's estimation, were simply “‘the new oligarquía’” (p. 142). Patriarchy and hyper-masculinity were persistent problems in these movements, however. In response, a new Chicana feminist transnationalism fought sexism within Chicanismo, racism in the United States, and classism within women's liberation movements.
Sanchez’s merging of Spanish and English in the book’s chapter titles, narrative, primary sources, and notes brings depth to his telling. But given that Homeland is a borderlands and transnational intellectual history, this reviewer found the secondary literature wanting in Mexican academic sources. Octavio Paz gets a mention, but perhaps some mobilization of Mexican historical frontera scholarship would round out this borderlands history; Moisés González Navarro and David Piñera Ramírez come to mind. Nevertheless, Homeland is a great contribution to intellectual history in that Sánchez broadens the historiographical scope of who counts as an intellectual and in showing the political heterogeneity of ethnic Mexicans in the United States.
In an age of white supremacist coups, Sánchez’s monograph comes at a most opportune moment to show that anti-immigration and white nationalism are historically grounded movements that ethnic Mexicans in the United States still adapt to or reject.