By Kelly De Leon
In order to acknowledge the San Fernando Valley, we must first recognize that this is stolen Native American Tongva tribe land (Banks, 1997). Present day Southern California has predominantly served as a diverse state that has multicultural groups of immigrants from around the world. Looking specifically at the San Fernando Valley, there has been an influx of Central American migrants migrating to the valley fir various reasons such as family reunification, escaping violence, or economic disparities. This paper will examine how Mexican hegemony contributes to the marginalization and erasure of Central Americans, not only is this detrimental to Central American prosperity, but it is also a direct attack on unity of the Latinx community. However, throughout the years, Central Americans in the Los Angeles area, including the San Fernando Valley, created their own safe spaces and are continuing to break barriers despite setbacks from Mexican centrism.
Historical Context of Mexican Hegemony
Historically, after the Tongva tribe, California has been known as Mexican territory. The Mexican and Chicanx populations within the California region included the original settlers of the annexed land of Mexico and successive waves of new Mexican migrants (Osana 2015). The Mexican and Chicanx communities were the first Latinx groups to come under U.S. political and economic dominance for more than 100 years (Osana). Mexicans faced oppressive and exploitative conditions in the city of Los Angeles since the 19th century, while Central Americans have become the most recent group to confront them (Osana). Central American immigrants started arriving in the U.S predominantly in the 1980s during the time of civil unrest, including the Salvadoran Civil War, and are still coming in vast numbers. Looking at the population numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans in recent years, there is still a large population gap. For example, “In 2011, the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area had the largest number of Mexican immigrants, with about 1.7 million” (Stoney) compared to 564,000 Central Americans during 2011-2015 (Lesser). The disproportionate rate between Mexicans and Central Americans can oftentimes silence Central American voices by suppressing and ignoring their political issues. This is because of Mexican hegemony, which is the dominant spread of Mexican politics, culture, and media due to its prominent capital in comparison to other smaller, Latin American countries.
Mexican hegemony leads to the erasure of Central Americans both in the U.S and beyond to the borders in Mexico. Mexicans in Los Angeles are ‘‘contextually dominant’’ among Latinx communities within the city while simultaneously being economically exploited and racially oppressed by white supremacy (Osana 2015). With Mexicans being contextually dominant over Central Americans, there is an ethnic hierarchy between these two groups, for example, Mexican hegemony was instilled in the Chicanx movement throughout the 1940s-1970s. The San Fernando Valley has been known to be the root of the Chicanx movement that led to the establishment of Chicanx Studies in San Fernando Valley State, later renamed California State University Northridge (CSUN). By omitting Central American cultural, political, and educational experiences in the Chicanx courses, it primarily excluded Central American students attending CSUN. For instance, there was difficulty for non-Mexican Latinxs to culturally connect with the movement and identify with Mexican nationalistic terminology. Essentially, there was no space and representation for Central American students.
Furthermore, The Chicanx movement predominantly catered exclusively for the Mexican American community, this movement sprung hundreds of organizations whose purpose was to improve socioeconomic conditions for Mexican-American people (Lopez 1992). Although, the Chicanx movement uplifted the Mexican American community through self-identity, political consciousness, and higher education, there was hardly any representation of Central American leaders. Not only did Central American migrants deal with white America, they often adopted Mexican ‘‘ways’’ once they arrived at Los Angeles in order to survive in predominantly Mexican and Chicanx communities, this survival tactic often comes first before Americanization. (Osana 2015).
Growth and Empowerment of Central Americans
In order to combat Mexican Hegemony, Central Americans started creating their own spaces through education and community. The Sanctuary movement of the 1980s was an instance in which Central Americans started mobilizing and creating unity. In this case, “The presence of many Central Americans who brought their experience and skills in organizing from their home countries to the development of solidarity and refugee organizations in Los Angeles were also an important resource for the Sanctuary movement” (Chinchilla). Allies such as religious groups, students, teachers, and other activists stood in solidarity with Central Americans migrants. These groups created and sustained a broad array of movements in regards to Central Americans that challenged the Reagan doctrine, providing numerous opportunities to confront U.S. policy in Central America (Chinchilla). To further uplift the Central American community, the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1983 by resilient Salvadoran refugees determined to secure legal status for thousands of Central Americans fleeing civil war and state repression. CARECEN recently opened a second office in the San Fernando Valley, further giving access and assistance to the Central American undocumented community in the Valley.
Furthermore, the Central American United Student Association (CAUSA) was formed in 1990 at CSUN. This organization strives to empower the Central American community in the U.S to succeed in the world of higher education and prepare influential future leaders who will create social change and positively impact the community inside and outside of CSUN. To further develop Central American cultural identity, social consciousness and empowerment, the push for the Central American Studies department was successfully established in 2000. CSUN has one of the largest populations of Central American students in the country, with nearly 4,000 students born in Central America or with immigrant parents (Morgan 2015). Central American Studies department reflects the needs of the growing number of Central American students. The formation of CAUSA and Central American studies fully demonstrates the power, strength and resiliency the Central American community has. There are no barriers or walls that will stop Central Americans from achieving excellence.
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Stoney, Sierra, and Jeanne Batalova. “Mexican Immigrants in the United States.”Migrationpolicy.org, Migration Policy Institute , 2 Mar. 2017, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/mexican-immigrants-united-states-3#3.