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New Book Examines Mexican American and Mexican Immigrant Relationships in La Puente

On the surface, Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants to the United States seem to share a common cultural identity. Often, however, they make uneasy neighbors. In “Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community: Power, Conflict, and Solidarity,” Gilda Ochoa focuses on the Mexican-origin, working-class city of La Puente in Los Angeles County, California, to examine Mexican Americans' everyday attitudes toward and interactions with Mexican immigrants—a topic that has so far received little serious study.

“Discrimination and assimilationist policies have influenced generations of Mexican Americans so that some now fear that the status they have gained through assimilation will be jeopardized by Spanish-speaking newcomers,” Ochoa explains. “Other Mexican Americans adopt a position of group solidarity and work to better the social conditions and educational opportunities of Mexican immigrants.”

Ochoa, an associate professor of sociology and Chicana/o studies at Pomona College, uses in-depth interviews, participant observations, school board meeting minutes and other historical documents to investigate how Mexican Americans are negotiating their relationships with immigrants at an interpersonal level in the places where they shop, worship, learn, and raise their families.

Throughout the book, research into daily lives highlights the centrality of women in the process of negotiating and building communities, identity formation and group mobilization. Their pivotal influence on educational issues, especially bilingual education, is also examined. The book complements previous studies on the impact of immigration on the wages and employment opportunities of Mexican Americans.

Martha Menchaca, author of several books on race relations in California and America including “Recovering History, Constructing Race,” calls “Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community” an “authoritative text… This book offers a provocative analysis of how ethnic identity is constructed and explores the significance Mexican ancestry plays in the lives of Mexican Americans.”

Ochoa’s ties to the La Puente community run deep. Born in La Puente, she and her brother grew up in neighboring Hacienda Heights. She is currently a resident of La Puente, and her family has remained in the area as well. Her mother taught middle school in the La Puente for more than 30 years.

Ochoa earned her B.A. degree from the University of California, Irvine, and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a faculty member at Pomona College, one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, since 1997.


NOTE: Professor Ochoa will have a book reading at Borders Puente Hills (1600 South Azusa Avenue, City of Industry), on Sunday, June 27, at 1:00 p.m.



Gilda Ochoa
Associate Professor of Sociology and Chicana/o Studies
Pomona College
Office Phone: (909) 607-2604