Photo: Jody Agius Vallejo
Sociologist Jody Agius Vallejo’s book, “Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class,” refutes the presumption among many that Mexican-Americans are mainly poor and uneducated.
“There are generalized negative stereotypes in U.S. society that all of them are poor, lacking education, work at low-level jobs and their children do not integrate into the middle class,” Vallejo, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, said in an interview with Efe.
In contrast, the book emphasizes that Mexican-Americans and other Latino groups mainly belong to the middle class.
“I want to show a different side of the Latino population: first, that the whole Latino community is not as monolithic and homogeneous as is thought,” Vallejo said.
The book also shows that middle-class Hispanics also contribute to their communities as a way to pay back what they have received: “They are often businessmen, start businesses, create professional associations, and the women are very active in that.”
Her own personal history has allowed her to be a protagonist and, at the same time, a witness as to how the middle class Latino family forms a vital part of the U.S. social fabric.
Vallejo’s parents separated when she was a young girl and her Maltese father then married a Mexican-American. Thus, from the age of 7 she grew up in an Hispanic family environment.
“The music, the food, the baptisms, the marriages, all that formed part of my life when I was younger,” the researcher, whose husband is the son of Mexican immigrants, said.
“I grew up making up part of an Hispanic family and that was very important for me,” she said.
“Although I don’t have direct Latino blood, I feel Hispanic and that has put me in a unique position to be a protagonist, but also - at the same time - to see everything from somewhat of a distance,” she said.
In researching the Latino communities, she found that most studies “focused on the poor and uneducated Hispanics,” but she knew from her experience that “there was another kind of Hispanics who were not reflected in that research,” and that motivated her to carry out her own analysis.
The book shows that 27 percent of second-generation Mexican-Americans hold white collar jobs, rising to 31 percent in the third generation.
“The Hispanic community is marvelous and surprising and is a very important part of the United States,” said Vallejo, who concluded that Latinos “have brought a new energy as actors in the current United States and in helping move the country forward.”