Claudia Roesch, Macho Men and Modern Women

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This book describes the perceptions of gendered family roles in the population of Mexican origin established in the United States. The author uses a variety of sources such as publications by agencies providing social services to this population. The book is based on the author’s Ph.D. thesis and as such is of an academic nature. There is a lengthy conceptual and methodological introduction to give context to the findings of the study. Those with a bit of an academic background and some knowledge of historical or social science research methodology will be familiar with this type of material but others may find it a little more challenging. However, it is still possible to read the book by focusing on its factual content and to learn quite a bit about how Mexican Americans have changed over time.

One of the things that struck me in this book is how some publications seemed to have repeatedly based their description of the behaviors of Mexican Americans on false information (or not based on actual data). One key example given by the author is the frequent statements about large family sizes amongst Mexican Americans when survey data actual showed very little gap between and the average American family. I would assume that such repetitions may be at the source of negative stereotypes about specific social groups. That they are perpetrated by agencies purporting to help these social groups is ironic to say the least.

The study examines five decades in the 20th century, from the 1920s to the 1970s. The earliest decade saw a focus on Americanization of Mexican men and women with an expectation that family structures would resemble that of American families. The following decade saw the rise of the influence of eugenics in the discourse on the American population, and on calls to reduce Mexican immigration and to curb family size. In the 1940s-1950s, the focus turns to modernization and its links to the ideal of the nuclear family. In particular, the author discusses the perceptions that the absence of fathers led to increase juvenile delinquency. In the 1950s-1960s, psychoanalytical concepts started being used to explain poverty, especially in relation to family structure. In the last decade, ethnic differences acquire a new status and it becomes more acceptable for a community to exhibit cultural different with the American mainstream. A Chicano movement rose in parallel to the American Civil Rights movement.

Of course, this sizeable book covers a lot more ground, with many nuances, to understand how the changing paradigms influence policy analysis and program development, as well as social movements. It is a fascinating read, well structured and documented.

Given the very high price of this book, I suspect most people interested in this topic will seek the use of library copies… I would!

Thanks to De Gruyter and NetGalley for providing access to a review copy of this book.

Reference:

Roesch, Claudia. Macho Men and Modern Women: Mexican Immigration, Social Experts and Changing Family Values in the 20th Century United States. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2015.

Other things:

http://www.uni-muenster.de/Geschichte/en/histsem/NwG-ZG/Mitarbeiter/croesch/index.html

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