Confronting Race in the RGV

Reading Natalia Molina’s novel, How Race is Made in America: Immigration, citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts, surprised me in two ways and allowed me to confront my own misconceptions about the people I identify with, Mexican-Americans.

Molina is quick to lay out her argument as to why Mexican-Americans are associated with illegality in America. She states that

Americans felt less politically threatened by Mexicans than by other groups because Mexicans were considered transitory labor force…did not try to become citizens…Mexican labor was controllable…and [they did so] for little pay; if they did protest, unionize, or even try to leave a job, violence and terror were common tactics used against them. (2)

Mexicans, were not a threat to Americans during the early “onset of World War II”; they were the easiest to control, threaten, and detain if it came to that. In terms of capitalism, other than slavery, it was an easy and viable option. While they were treated, considered and classified as white, they were still kept segregated and marginalized by those who were white. Although they were privileged, they were still considered less than.


Midway through her book, in the section titled “Pushing Back Against Operation Round-Up”, Molina establishes that the distinction between undocumented citizens and immigrants were crucial to the Mexican-American fight for civil rights. She critiques groups of the past, primarily, LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and the GI Forum as they “viewed Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, as detrimental to their goals [but] did not include the rights or needs of immigrants” (121). Eventually both groups developed to be more effective and helpful but they still had harmful practices. They would help Border Patrol agents “apprehend undocumented Mexican workers [because the]…negative cultural representations” would harm others attempts at civil rights (121). Essentially, their support was a fraud, damaging, and unhelpful to Mexican-Americans at the time.


As Mexican-American who lives in a predominantly Mexican-American community, it is hard to confront the reality of this racialization that Molina discusses in her novel. Although I knew the word wetback and would hear it as a joke shared amongst my fellow brown, Mexican-American classmates as a child, it hit home when at a rally in 2015 it was broadcasted that the US was a “dumping ground” for Mexico’s “problems” (Guardian). I had never heard or confronted racial hurls and threats at such a magnitude before that summer. It was always a joke that would casually pass by on the radio that Mexican-American hosts would dismiss or something ‘edgy’ we would tell each other in the halls of middle school trying to compete with each other’s level of wit and snark. To hear a ridiculous orange man, who had probably never met a Mexican-American in his life stand on a stage, say what he said, and have a full crowd cheer him on was a hard slap on the face. For me, what hit closer to home, was that I began to hear family members support these comments. Growing up I felt as though we could joke about and move on from these jokes, but it seemed at every Saturday Family Dinner, one tia would bring it up and the others would nod in agreement. To hear, from family, that this was no longer a joking matter but a serious item on the table that they continued to support and bring up was disheartening and made me confront how privileged and removed Mexican-Americans are in the Rio Grande Valley. The fact that they still consider their neighbors, other family members, friends, and co-workers just Mexico’s problems dumped on America was a culture shock of how they could be so disingenuous with their beliefs.


Gabbatt, Adam. “Donald Trump’s tirade on Mexico’s ‘drugs and rapists’ Outrages Latinos”, The Guardian. 16, June 2015. Retrieved from

Molina, Natalia. How Race is Made in America: Immigration, citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts. University of California Press, 2013.


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