Mexican Students in the United States, Sponsorship, and Relationships of Dependency: Looking at Mexican Transnational Youth in the 20th Century

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:30 PM
Room 203 (Colorado Convention Center)
Rachel Grace Newman, Columbia University
Over the course of the twentieth century, at first hundreds and then thousands of young Mexicans traveled to the United States every year to complete their education. Though before the 1920s, only the wealthiest families could support a son or daughter’s college studies in the United States, the proliferation of scholarships for Mexican students after the Mexican Revolution made it increasingly possible for middle class youth to pursue higher education in the United States. Whether funded by institutions or their own families, Mexican students in the United States were profoundly marked by transnational experiences in their youth. They maintained professional networks that stretched across the border and pursued careers that made full use of their English fluency and familiarity with U.S. ways of life and forms of knowledge. Yet their ability to become transnational hinged upon the strength of their relationships to more powerful individuals who exerted authority over young Mexicans from afar. Family and institutional sponsors dispensed payments to students, instructed them on personal matters, and kept track of their academic progress. These relationships, prominently marked by hierarchies of age, were also shaped by cultural expectations regarding social class, nationality, and gender. In tracing the changing patterns of students’ interactions with their sponsors over time, the paper suggests that scholars who link purported youthful freedom to transnational tendencies may be obscuring the persistence of young men and women’s social dependence as they crossed borders and adopted new cultural repertoires. What is more, considering the virtual absence of political mobilization by Mexican students in the United States during the twentieth century, the salience of students’ vertical ties to their sponsors may explain why they did not forge oppositional, horizontal bonds of solidarity with fellow young Mexicans on college campuses.
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