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Melting Pot of America: Mexico and the Discursive Representations of Pluralism in 1930s New Mexico

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Abstract:

If the American West is considered one of the foundational regions for discussions of cultural pluralism and multiculturalism in contemporary American Studies usage, it has also frequently become synonymous with the state of California. California is central to discussions of polyglot ethnicity in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, of course. But California’s definitional role in the conceptual meaning of ethnic difference has often obscured lesser known chronological and geographical sites in the American West where the meaning of cultural pluralism was articulated, negotiated, and contested.

My paper is an interdisciplinary examination of the constructions of polyglot ethnicity in one of the lesser known sites in the American West: 1930s New Mexico society, especially the area between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Using documentary evidence from the 1930s-era San Jose Experimental School of the University of New Mexico, it juxtaposes the rural ethnography of 1930s northern New Mexican schoolteachers, the muralist artwork of the New Deal’s Federal Arts Project (New Mexico), and the sociological experiments in multiculturalism at the University of New Mexico to reveal the discursive conversations about cultural pluralism crafted in New Mexico as that society was undergoing rapid demographic change in the years before World War II. Within these representations, immigrant Mexicans and rural Midwestern Protestants emerge as cultural constituencies interloping on the cultural geography of American Indians and Hispano settlers. The San Jose experiments reflected in these representations, furthermore, were incorporated into later multiethnic experiments in the American West, including the 1940s civil rights movements in California and Texas.

While the San Jose School’s discourses in cultural pluralism followed in a long line of theoretical conversations about the American “melting pot,” my paper also argues that their institutional context is among the most unique in American history. In the years before the New Deal, the San Jose School turned to the educational agencies of the postrevolutionary Mexican republic for models in creating cultural harmony across distinctive cultural communities. To describe this international episode in American multiculturalism, my paper will also describe the transnational migration of ideas about cultural pluralism from Mexico to the United States, as the academics of the San Jose School looked for new ways to create social cohesion within New Mexico’s social institutions. Postrevolutionary Mexico has long been seen as a model for questions of integration for other Latin American societies, but I aim to show that its influence on New Mexico in the 1930s helps to add the United States as a place where Mexican political history influenced hemispheric conversations about ethnicity and national integration, as well.

My earlier manuscript work and conference presentations have focused uniquely on the social science discourses of pluralism articulated at the San Jose School. The ASA Conference will be my first attempt to analyze the representations of pluralism in the muralist art and rural ethnography of the San Jose School to tell a story of the local, regional, and international dimensions of New Mexico’s multicultural history.
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Association:
Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245118_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Flores, Ruben. "Melting Pot of America: Mexico and the Discursive Representations of Pluralism in 1930s New Mexico" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Oct 16, 2008 <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245118_index.html>

APA Citation:

Flores, R. , 2008-10-16 "Melting Pot of America: Mexico and the Discursive Representations of Pluralism in 1930s New Mexico" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245118_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: If the American West is considered one of the foundational regions for discussions of cultural pluralism and multiculturalism in contemporary American Studies usage, it has also frequently become synonymous with the state of California. California is central to discussions of polyglot ethnicity in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, of course. But California’s definitional role in the conceptual meaning of ethnic difference has often obscured lesser known chronological and geographical sites in the American West where the meaning of cultural pluralism was articulated, negotiated, and contested.

My paper is an interdisciplinary examination of the constructions of polyglot ethnicity in one of the lesser known sites in the American West: 1930s New Mexico society, especially the area between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Using documentary evidence from the 1930s-era San Jose Experimental School of the University of New Mexico, it juxtaposes the rural ethnography of 1930s northern New Mexican schoolteachers, the muralist artwork of the New Deal’s Federal Arts Project (New Mexico), and the sociological experiments in multiculturalism at the University of New Mexico to reveal the discursive conversations about cultural pluralism crafted in New Mexico as that society was undergoing rapid demographic change in the years before World War II. Within these representations, immigrant Mexicans and rural Midwestern Protestants emerge as cultural constituencies interloping on the cultural geography of American Indians and Hispano settlers. The San Jose experiments reflected in these representations, furthermore, were incorporated into later multiethnic experiments in the American West, including the 1940s civil rights movements in California and Texas.

While the San Jose School’s discourses in cultural pluralism followed in a long line of theoretical conversations about the American “melting pot,” my paper also argues that their institutional context is among the most unique in American history. In the years before the New Deal, the San Jose School turned to the educational agencies of the postrevolutionary Mexican republic for models in creating cultural harmony across distinctive cultural communities. To describe this international episode in American multiculturalism, my paper will also describe the transnational migration of ideas about cultural pluralism from Mexico to the United States, as the academics of the San Jose School looked for new ways to create social cohesion within New Mexico’s social institutions. Postrevolutionary Mexico has long been seen as a model for questions of integration for other Latin American societies, but I aim to show that its influence on New Mexico in the 1930s helps to add the United States as a place where Mexican political history influenced hemispheric conversations about ethnicity and national integration, as well.

My earlier manuscript work and conference presentations have focused uniquely on the social science discourses of pluralism articulated at the San Jose School. The ASA Conference will be my first attempt to analyze the representations of pluralism in the muralist art and rural ethnography of the San Jose School to tell a story of the local, regional, and international dimensions of New Mexico’s multicultural history.


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