May 29, 2008

Mexican-Americans vs. Mexican tackiness

Here's an amusing article by Hector Becerra in the LA Times about how American-born Mexican-American politicians are allowed to say in public what everybody feels in private: that Mexican immigrant neighborhoods aren't "vibrant," they're tacky:

It was as if the developers were talking about tacos, and the Latino politicians were talking about apple pie.

Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano and other city officials listened as the developers said they had studied the demographics of the city and could bring in a retailer known for offering credit to undocumented immigrants and a shopping center with a "Latino feel."

To Lozano, it was another case of developers typecasting his suburb, which is about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. He didn't want to see more of what he calls "amigo stores."

The meeting ended like a bad date, with handshakes and excessive courtesy. But afterward, Lozano made it clear he was not happy.

"We want what Middle America has as well," said the second-generation Mexican American, recounting the meeting. "We like to go to nice places like Claim Jumpers, Chili's and Applebee's. . . . We don't want the fly-by-night business, the 'amigo store,' which they use to attract Latinos like myself."

Call it "immigrant" store fatigue. It's happening in cities that are overwhelmingly Latino, with Latino political leaders and with large immigrant communities.

For decades, these cities attracted working-class and immigrant-centric retailers: check-cashing businesses, Latino supermarkets, discount gift stores, bridal shops and Mexican western wear stores. Some are independent, and some are chains such as La Curacao, an appliance and electronics retailer that offers credit accounts to immigrants who lack the documentation for conventional credit cards.

Until relatively recently, cities like Baldwin Park, South Gate and Santa Ana had few options beyond "Latino" retailers. But this year, Baldwin Park -- a city of 70,000 in the San Gabriel Valley -- enacted a moratorium on new payday loan and check cashing stores. The city is now partners with Bisno Development Co. on an "urban village" of mixed-income housing, theaters and mainstream restaurants such as Claim Jumper, Applebee's and Chili's.

To make it happen, the city is considering a plan that could require the use of eminent domain power to clear a 125-acre area.

That would result in the loss of more than 80 homes and more than 100 small businesses.

The huge project has prompted charges that the City Council, composed of Mexican Americans, is ashamed of its culture.

"I'm proud of my roots," said Rosalva Alvarez, as she stood in her beauty store on Maine Avenue, which is in the redevelopment area. "I was born in Mexico and raised in this country. I agree we need some change. But what they want to bring here is totally unrealistic. Applebee is good, but a Kabuki? And also a Trader Joe's? Come on, I don't even go to Trader Joe's."

Some opponents say that one councilwoman had told critics to "go back to [Tijuana]."

"I don't know where they got that," said Councilwoman Marlen Garcia. "What I said was 'We're striving to insure Baldwin Park doesn't look like Tijuana.' " …

But Mayor Lozano is undaunted.

As he rode through the streets of his city, past the rows of low-slung mini malls with signs in a mix of English and Spanish, Lozano complained that downtown Baldwin Park had too many discount gift stores, too many beauty salons, too many Mexican restaurants and way too many pawnshops.

Lozano and his allies believe that mainstream retailers now fit better with Baldwin Park, where many of the residents are second-, third- and even fourth-generation Latinos with little interest in stores aimed at immigrants.

A more subtle point, one lost in the overblown hype about "immigrant entrepreneurialism," is that as American-born Mexican-Americans assimilate, they become less entrepreneurial than Mexican-immigrants. Over the generations, Mexican immigrants don't make the transition from owning tacky shops to owning distinctive boutiques. Their neighborhoods start out quirky, but not the kind of Stuff White People Like quirk; over the generations, if all goes well, the prosperous Mexican-American neighborhoods turn into National Chain Power Mall neighborhoods, identical to the rest of the Stuff White People Hate. (And that's the upside.)

Whereas, say, Armenian immigrants might move up the ladder as business owners from generation to generation, Mexicans instead tend to quit being self-employed and go to work for large institutions. Mexican immigrants start out at the bottom of the entrepreneurial totem pole, running businesses that appeal mostly to other Mexican immigrants. But they generally don't get more skilled as entrepreneurs with each generation -- instead, the next generation gives up and goes to work for somebody else.

National chain restaurants and chain stores are appealing employers to bilingual American-born Mexicans because they can get managerial jobs bossing around Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants while reporting to English-speaking corporate bosses in Atlanta (or wherever).

As I mentioned last year, when I came back from a trip around the country, the libertarian advice to African-Americans to start their own businesses is ill-conceived. African-Americans tend to prefer working for big institutions where all the rules are already written down in three-ring binders (e.g., the U.S. Army) because they are more likely to be successful in that kind of environment. Something similar is true for Mexican-Americans (with perhaps the more macho Marines substituting for the Army).

There's nothing wrong with preferring to work for a big institution rather than being an entrepreneur -- indeed, succeeding in a job is better for all concerned that failing at owning a business -- but that much of the punditry about minority entrepreneurialism is romantic hooey.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

26 comments:

steve wood said...

Mexican immigrants and their neighborhoods are overwhelmingly working class. Only in Hollywood imagination are working-class neighborhoods romantic and charming. In reality, they are almost always tacky. This is every bit as true of the Italian ghettos in Brooklyn as it is of the barrios of LA.

Speaking of Italians, how well have they done as entrepreneurs? Some surely have done well, but collectively they do not compare to Jews or, more recently, East Asians in terms of entrepreneurial success.

I'm not disagreeing with anything Steve says, just pointing out that it's not a new phenomenon. In fact, sharp entrepreneurial skills may be more the exception than the rule among immigrant groups to the USA now and in the past.

jody said...

again I am struck by the huge contradiction of calling an integrated, third generation person a "latino".

integration by it's very nature totally and completely destroys anything that was "latino" about a mestizo from south of the border. that's what integration means. there is nothing "latin" about middle class americans. they speak english. they watch football. they eat hamburgers. they are not "hispanic" in any way. their culture is euro american culture now.

black americans are not "anglos". how are mestizo americans "latinos"?

just another way in which the new, fake "hispanic" identity messes up everything.

Anonymous said...

I live in Chicago and something very bizarre is happening in and around the Mexican-American heart of the city, Pilsen.

Pilsen's eastern area (around Halsted street) is becoming really trendy. Art galleries popping up everywhere. Apparently, upper income Hispanics are moving to this area along with the usual hipsters

Meanwhile, around 26th street and Kedzie, the streets are bustling and all the signs are in Spanish. It's all low end stuff and it feels kind of disjointed.

I think the city should declare eminent domain on some warehouse near this area, tear it down and build a plaza like they have in Mexico. This is more aesthetically appealing and authentic, I think everyone wins.

I'm getting the impression there is a very different dynamic in LA than in Chicago with this community.

c.o. jones said...

Seems to me hizzoner's comments are a good example of "I can tell you my wife is ugly, but YOU can't tell me wife is ugly."

Anonymous said...

Well, "Latino" is a term for the brownish not-quite-white looking people who come from historically Spanish speaking countries. They are mixed blood Indians racially, but whites have cognitive trouble seeing/understanding that for some strange reason. Lots of intellectual muck preventing clear understanding of what is really happening, which is pretty amazing since Mexico is right next door.

Mexicans tend to be very kind of collectivist thinking. California Mexicans in my experience lean heavily towards trade union type stuff, quasi-socialistic economic forms. Not so entrepreneurial, and I bet with a good eye you could spot race differences in that (my guess, the more entrepreneurial are more Euro/Arab looking).

Italians actually are very entrepreneurial, historically. Thomas Sowell's book has some good numbers on that subject. Italian-Americans also tend to favor "practical" occupations instead of more esoteric intellectual pursuits.

Roger Chaillet said...

Jody is struck by the huge contradiction?

How so?

I live in Dallas, and third generation Mexicans are not integrated.

I did volunteer work at the highly regarded Scottish Rite Hospital here in town years ago. There were exactly zero brown volunteers and only a handful of blacks, as in five or six blacks.

Zero.

So, what are saying, and what are you trying to say?

As for middle class folks from down under, forget it. Absent their Mickey Mouse jobs with Fortune 500 companies most would still be in the barrio.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Steve.

Speaking of Mexican-Americans, you might find this WSJ op/ed by James Kirchick of interest, South Africa's Immigration Shame. This excerpt should give you a softball to swing at:

Two years ago, an economist in Johannesburg told me that Zimbabwe was "South Africa's Mexico," and that the massive number of immigrants flooding into his country should be viewed as a positive economic benefit. This comparison is specious.

Zimbabweans fleeing to South Africa do not intend to make a future there, as Mexican immigrants crossing the Rio Grande hope to do in the U.S. They come to South Africa because they cannot survive in Zimbabwe, a country where the life expectancy is in the mid-30s. If the government doesn't kill you, AIDS or starvation will.

Furthermore, the U.S. would not allow Mexico to degenerate into the massive political and economic hellhole that Zimbabwe has become. At the very least, we would impose sanctions. But more likely, Washington would support antigovernment contras or initiate regime change, as it did in Central America during the Cold War.


- Fred

jody said...

ah, the anecdote game.

in las vegas, i had a mestizo girlfriend for 3 years. she was a native english speaker from birth and did not understand a word of spanish. she went to high school in california and played tennis. xena princess warrior was her favorite show. she loved country and new wave 80s music. i met her friends.

they were all about the same, except not all of them were mestizos. some were japanese or filipino. they get correctly identified as asian, while my girlfriend is forever miscategorized as "hispanic" or "latino" when there is nothing "latino" or "hispanic" about her. her dad was an american indian from mexico, but i guess correctly identifying her as an american indian or as just mixed race is asking too much.

i've noticed a pretty big difference on people's take on mexicans depending on whether they are more used to dealing with california or texas.

Anonymous said...

"Speaking of Italians, how well have they done as entrepreneurs? Some surely have done well, but collectively they do not compare to Jews or, more recently, East Asians in terms of entrepreneurial success."

Italians tend to go into construction related industries and other things that aren't as visible to the general public as retail.

Anonymous said...

Italians actually are very entrepreneurial, historically. Thomas Sowell's book has some good numbers on that subject. Italian-Americans also tend to favor "practical" occupations instead of more esoteric intellectual pursuits.

That sounds right. The Italian-American construction company is practically a cliche. Also think of body and tire shops (inspiring a scene in the movie "Cars"), plumbing (inspiring Vincent Gardenia's character in "Moonstruck"), electrical, and hauling (which Italians at one time dominated in New York). Also, of course, restauranteuring. (In the mid-20th century, most of the businesses in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, from boats to fish stalls to seafood restaurants, were Italian.) I expect Italians and Italian-Americans would be found to be highly entrepreneurial.

ben tillman said...

they can get managerial jobs bossing around Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants while reporting to English-speaking corporate bosses in Atlanta (or wherever).

I thought all chain restaurants originate, and have their headquarters, in Dallas.

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, while writing that, I weighed "Atlanta" vs. "Dallas" for several moments before choosing "Atlanta."

Udolpho said...

I live in a Mexican (not Hispanic or Latino) area of Dallas and it is wall to wall tacky. Bridal stores, taco stands, Super Mercados, and retread tire shops. (The typical Mexican day must consist of getting married to a 16 year old, celebrating at Cesar's Tacos, and heading over to Super Mercado to buy diapers for the newborn but getting a flat halfway there.)

There's an interesting tension as the neighborhood teeters between barrio and full blown gentrification.

Anonymous said...

great example: chipotle mexican grill.

steve wood said...

The Italian-American construction company is practically a cliche. Also think of body and tire shops (inspiring a scene in the movie "Cars"), plumbing (inspiring Vincent Gardenia's character in "Moonstruck"), electrical, and hauling (which Italians at one time dominated in New York). Also, of course, restauranteuring.

Restaurants, yes, definitely. As for construction and skilled trades, that's a stereotype I missed (not saying it isn't accurate), since I think of them as being more Irish than Italian.

beowulf said...

As for middle class folks from down under, forget it. Absent their Mickey Mouse jobs with Fortune 500 companies most would still be in the barrio.

They have barrios in Australia? Crikey!

Seriously though, only a minority of people, white or black, are cut out to be entrepreneurs. For most people, if they could get a cake job (whether through family connections or affirmative action) with a government, university or corporate bureaucracy, they'd jump on it with both feet.

Many working class whites join the military because they want a postal or civil service job and they figure the government's veteran hiring preference is the only way they'll land a job otherwise slated for an affirmative action hire.

I was just driving in Atlanta last week and noticed the giant Arby's sign on an office high-rise. Strong work going with Atlanta over Dallas. :o)

simon newman said...

Anecdotally, here in London I had my hardwood floor laid very nicely by a West Indian (black Caribbean) owned firm, who seemed to compete very effectively with white firms in the same business. I have noticed however that West Indian 'minicab' taxi firms are going under or being taken over by Pakistani rivals. Pakistanis in London increasingly monopolise the minicab call-for-taxi business, which are often linked to crime and give them a lot of 'street' control. I suspect this is something to do with ethnic kin networks and all that Sailer stuff. :)

David said...

The last 3 paragraphs of this are the most realistic, head-in-the-real-world-of-2008, accurate paragraphs I've ever read. From "Atlanta" to "3-ring binders" I got the eerie sensation of, not reading words on a screen, but of seeing real things directly (the same things I see every day).

Your more academic, cloistered readers should pay the closest possible attention to you - you are pitch perfect even at the level of simple observation.

Bravo.

David said...

ben

You might be surprised how much junk originates in the southeast. Ruby Tuesday restaurants are headquarered in Maryville, Tennessee. HGTV, in Knoxville. Etc.

The three-ring binder type is overwhelmingly prevalent in Atlanta, the southeast's answer to New York. (Not a great answer, but an answer. Would recommend Wolfe's A Man in Full, but it's 15 years out of date.)

Anonymous said...

I have a theory that every Mexican meal ordered in the United States is conveyed via an elaborate network of underground sub-freezing tunnels to the local El Azteca, whence it is placed in a 500 degree oven and delivered to your table. (Mexican food is best served HOT! Please allow time for adequate preparation.)

The secret factory where your #3 Lunch Special is prepared and plated is either in Atlanta or Dallas.

Senor Doug.

Anonymous said...

Three-ring binders?

Did you get this from Snow Crash, Steve?

Steve Sailer said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Sailer may have gotten the "three ring binders" from Snow Crash (great book), but they are ubiquitous, and not just in fast food or retail companies. I did a temp gig at a Big Four accounting firm once, and they had three ring binders for every different client. Regular employees had literally a dozen or more of these binders on their desks. Every time the division signed a new client, there was a new binder.

- Fred

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that there's a silver lining here: at least some Hispanics are assimilating to the American aesthetic such that they want to change their tacky neighbourhoods. Isn't this sort of good news?

alejandro and proud to be mexican said...

I think that those people who say
that mexican are tacky and their parents come from mexico are bitches because youare discriminating your own race and whare you came from.

alejandro and proud to be mexican said...

I think that those people who say
that mexican are tacky and their parents come from mexico are bitches because youare discriminating your own race and whare you came from.