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The narrative of the American Dream is one of upward mobility, but there are some stories of mobility we prize above others.  Who is more successful: a Mexican-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with less than an elementary school education, and who now works as a dental hygienist? Or a Chinese-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and earned Ph.D. degrees, and who now works as a doctor?

Amy Chua (AKA “Tiger Mom”) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, author of the new book The Triple Package, claim it’s the latter. They argue that certain American groups (including Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians) are more successful and have risen further than others because they share certain cultural traits. Chua and Rubenfeld bolster their argument by comparing these groups’ median household income, test scores, educational attainment, and occupational status to those of the rest of the country.

But what happens if you measure success not just by where people end up — the cars in their garages, the degrees on their walls — but by taking into account where they started? In a study of Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated here, sociologist Min Zhou and I came to a conclusion that flies in the face of Chua and Rubenfeld, and might even surprise the rest of us: Mexicans are L.A.’s most successful immigrant group.

Like Chua and Rubenfeld, we found that the children of Chinese immigrants exhibit exceptional educational outcomes that exceed those of other groups, including native-born Anglos. In Los Angeles, 64 percent of Chinese immigrants’ children graduated from college, and of this group 22 percent also attained a graduate degree. By contrast, 46 percent of native-born Anglos in L.A. graduated from college, and of this group, just 14 percent attained graduate degrees. Moreover, none of the Chinese-Americans in the study dropped out of high school.

These figures are impressive but not surprising. Chinese immigrant parents are the most highly educated in our study. In Los Angeles, over 60 percent of Chinese immigrant fathers and over 40 percent of Chinese immigrant mothers have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

At what seems to be the other end of the spectrum, the children of Mexican immigrants had the lowest levels of educational attainment of any of the groups in our study. Only 86 percent graduated from high school — compared to 100 percent of Chinese-Americans and 96 percent of native-born Anglos — and only 17 percent of graduated from college. But their high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, only 40 percent of whom earned diplomas. And, the college graduation rate of Mexican immigrants’ children more than doubles that of their fathers (7 percent) and triples that of their mothers (5 percent).

There is no question that, when we measure success as progress from generation to generation, Mexican-Americans come out ahead.

A colleague of mine illustrated this point with a baseball analogy: Most Americans would be more impressed by someone who made it to second base starting from home plate than someone who ended up on third base, when their parents started on third base. But because we tend to focus strictly on outcomes when we talk about success and mobility, we fail to acknowledge that the third base runner didn’t have to run far at all.

This narrow view fuels existing stereotypes that Chua and Rubenfeld play into — that some groups strive harder, have higher expectations of success, and possess a unique set of cultural traits that propels them forward.

For at least a generation, Americans have been measuring the American Dream by the make of your car, the cost of your home, and the prestige of the college degree on your wall. But there’s a more elemental calculation: Whether you achieved more than the generation that came before you. Anyone who thinks the American Dream is about the end rewards is missing the point. It’s always been about the striving.

Jennifer Lee, PhD, is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine. Her book, The Diversity Paradox, examines patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.  

Cross-posted at Time and Zocalo Public Square.

The Quesada Mexican Grill in Canada tries to claim authenticity (“real Mexican”) by, ironically, invoking Western stereotypes of Mexicans:

Hat tip to Copyranter.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Ricardo G. sent in a link to a British campaign encouraging citizens to ride the train.  The campaign features a Mexican wrestler named Loco Toledo.


The commercials basically feature him acting weird (“loco” means crazy), speaking broken English, and comparing the awesomeness of England’s train system with Mexico’s. An example:

How exactly is this different than the Frito Bandito and the Sleepy Sanka Mexican?

Other examples of contemporary advertising campaigns featuring demeaning racial and ethnic stereotypes: the U-Washee, KFC thinks Asians are ridiculous, Native American sports mascots, racism in identity theft ads, Indian, Chinese, and Italian stereotypes in superbowl ads, Asian kitchselling noodles with Asian enlightenment, and Mr. Wasabi.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In the vintage ad below, Sanka sells coffee by joking about how Mexicans (I think) lack good ol’ American capitalist values (text below):


“How a kind word ruin by beezness”

1. Everyone takes the siesta in the heat of the day, except I, poor Juan.  While all are asleep, the shops are closed.  Except my shop, where I sell pottery to the American tourists for ten times what it costs in America.

2. An American senorita comes one afternoon to buy the pottery.  “How is it that you do not take the siesta?” she asked, speaking that strange language which I have heard called Highschool Spanish.  “Ah, senorita,” I sighed, “I cannot sleep!”

3.  “Is it the coffee!” I explained.  “I love the coffee. I cannot resist it.  But when I drink it with the lunch, then all afternoon I am wide awake!”  She nodded.  “It is good business to be open when other shops are closed!”

4. “I would give all the beezness for a good siesta!” I cried.  “Then you should drink Sanka Coffee,” she said.  “It’s 97% caffein-free [sic], and can’t keep you awake!”  “It is an American trick!”  I scoffed.  “How can it be good coffee?”

5. “It’s wonderful!  A blend of fine Central and South American coffees!” she replied.  “And the Council on Foods of the American Medical Association says: ‘Sanka Coffee is free from caffein [sic] effect, and can be used when other coffee has been forbidden!’ ”

6.  So in gratitude I charge her only five times what the pottery is worth.  Later, I try Sanka Coffee.  Delicious.  And I sleep each day during the afternoon.  My pottery beezness, he is ruin but ah, amigo… how I enjoy the siesta!

See also our post on the Frito Bandito and a vintage Tequila ad.

Found at Vintage Ads.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

On the heels of our Frito Bandito post, comes this (I think) 1975 ad for Tequila Gavilan.  Slogan: “One taste…and you’re not a Gringo anymore.”


If I’m reading this ad correctly, both the woman and the man in this ad are supposed to be Mexican. What’s interesting, then, is the different social construction of Mexican men and women. While the male is the familiar “Frito Bandito,” sombrero-wearing fool, the female is a hot, spicy Latina.  Today the Mexican fool is a risky stereotype to pull out, but the hot spicy Latina is still a very common trope.

From another angle, this reminds me a bit of the history of colonization and war. All too frequently, male ethnic others in war are considered enemies, while female ethnic others are considered the spoils of war. So the idea that the racially-othered men are disposable, while “their” women are desirable has a very long history in Western thought (see, for example, Joane Nagel’s great book, Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality).


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Daniel F. (who has a blog here) sent us this Temptation cookie ad from Mexico, which plays on the idea that men fear independent, strong women:

Daniel’s translation:

Host: Gentlemen, what we feared has happened. You have the new Mexican woman; she is more independent and gives more importance to what she wants.
First man: But, does she cool our beers?
Host: No, never again. And that’s not all. She also wants us to take our children to the pediatrician.
Second man: What’s that?
Host: Pediatrician is the doctor for kids.
Second man: No, the other thing, “children.”
Host: Children are the little people who call us dad.
Third man: And what is that she has in her hand?
Host: This, my friends, is the new Temptation cookie, because the new Mexican woman has her pleasures without guilt and, what’s worse, she doesn’t share.
Woman: Gentlemen, I’m leaving. I have things to do.
Narrator: There’s a new woman and she has new cookies.

The ad also connects sex and food and, in fact, replaces sexual pleasure (and men) with food, a theme Jean Kilbourne mentions in “Killing Us Softly 3”–that women are encouraged to use food to replace sex or console themselves when they have romantic troubles.

It’s also interesting that the ad plays on the idea of old-fashioned Mexican men who expect women to serve them.

Thanks, Daniel!

This Absolut vodka ad (found here), which ran in Mexico, has caused quite the stir here in the U.S., since it implies than in a perfect world much of the U.S. would still be part of Mexico. A number of groups in the U.S. are boycotting Absolut. This is one of those cases where an ad aimed at once audience (Mexicans) is noticed by another audience it was never meant for.

Similarly, though I could be wrong, I bet most straight male Miller Light drinkers aren’t aware of these ads and wouldn’t be thrilled with them.

Recent reports indicated that FEMA was cuttingand then not cutting—hurricane relief aid to Puerto Rico. When Donald Trump recently slandered Puerto Ricans as lazy and too dependent on aid after Hurricane Maria, Fox News host Tucker Carlson stated that Trump’s criticism could not be racist because “Puerto Rico is 75 percent white, according to the U.S. Census.”

Photo Credit: Coast Guard News, Flickr CC

This statement presents racism as a false choice between nonwhite people who experience racism and white people who don’t. It ignores the fact that someone can be classed as white by one organization but treated as non-white by another, due to the way ‘race’ is socially constructed across time, regions and social contexts.

Whiteness for Puerto Ricans is a contradiction. Racial labels that developed in Puerto Rico were much more fluid than on the U.S. mainland, with at least twenty categories. But the island came under U.S. rule at the height of American nativism and biological racism, which relied on a dichotomy between a privileged white race and a stigmatized black one that was designed to protect the privileges of slavery and segregation. So the U.S. portrayed the islanders with racist caricatures in cartoons like this one:

Clara Rodriguez has shown how Puerto Ricans who migrated to the mainland had to conform to this white-black duality that bore no relation to their self-identifications. The Census only gave two options, white or non-white, so respondents who would have identified themselves as “indio, moreno, mulato, prieto, jabao, and the most common term, trigueño (literally, ‘wheat-colored’)” chose white by default, simply to avoid the disadvantage and stigma of being seen as black bodied.

Choosing the white option did not protect Puerto Ricans from discrimination. Those who came to the mainland to work in agriculture found themselves cast as ‘alien labor’ despite their US citizenship. When the federal government gave loans to white home buyers after 1945, Puerto Ricans were usually excluded on zonal grounds, being subjected to ‘redlining’ alongside African Americans. Redlining was also found to be operating on Puerto Rico itself in the insurance market as late as 1998, suggesting it may have even contributed to the destitution faced by islanders after natural disasters.

The racist treatment of Puerto Ricans shows how it is possible to “be white” without white privilege. There have been historical advantages in being “not black” and “not Mexican”, but they have not included the freedom to seek employment, housing and insurance without fear of exclusion or disadvantage. When a hurricane strikes, Puerto Rico finds itself closer to New Orleans than to Florida.

An earlier version of this post appeared at History News Network

Jonathan Harrison, PhD, is an adjunct Professor in Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida SouthWestern State College and Hodges University whose PhD was in the field of racism and antisemitism.