From Civic Association to Political Participation: Mexican Hometown Associations and Mexican Immigrant Political Empowerment in Los Angeles

Carol Zabin, Luis Escala

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This article examines the participation of Mexican immigrants in hometown associations (HTAs), the most significant manifestation of voluntary-sector activity among first-generation Mexican immigrants. It focuses on metropolitan Los Angeles, California, the region with the highest concentration of Mexican immigrants and Mexican HTAs in the United States. The research, which assessed HTA participation in U.S. politics and social movements, revealed that Mexican HTAs, while powerful forces for social support in the United States and important philanthropic work in Mexico, have been much less involved in political activity in the United States. Despite this limited political participation, Mexican HTAs are beginning to realize their potential, which might eventually turn them into significant sources of immigrant political empowerment in the United States.



En este artículo analizamos la participación de los inmigrantes mexicanos en Estados Unidos, dentro de las asociaciones de migrantes, activismo que representa el caso más importante de trabajo voluntario entre la primera generación de inmigrantes mexicanos. El estudio se concentró en el área de Los Ángeles, California, región que cuenta con la mayor cantidad de inmigrantes mexicanos y de asociaciones de migrantes en Estados Unidos, para evaluar su participación en la política y movimientos sociales de este país. Nuestra investigación mostró que si bien estas asociaciones constituyen una sólida fuente de apoyo social en Estados Unidos, así como de una notable su labor filantrópica en México, su participación es más bien limitada dentro de la política. A pesar de su reducida participación en este ámbito, estas asociaciones están descubriendo su potencial, lo que eventualmente puede convertirlas en fuentes importantes para el fortalecimiento político de los inmigrantes mexicanos en Estados Unidos.

Keywords: mexican migration; political participation; hometown associations; United States; Los Angeles.

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The use of the term social capital by these scholars differs from its use by Putnam (1994), who emphasizes the social trust that is created by diverse forms of civic engagement and bemoans its loss in contemporary U.S. society. Hometown associations also constitute social capital as Putnam defines it.

Hometowns have various local governance institutions and rules depending on whether they are ejidos (Mexican land reform communities), comunidades agrarias (indigenous agrarian communities), cabeceras municipales (county seats), or some form of a variety of smaller administrative units.

One possible reason for the Consulate's less active role in encouraging relationships between Latino groups and the HTAs was the change in consular staff responsible for the PCME. program. The PCME director for Los Angeles during the Proposition 187 controversy had held his post for several years, was a strong champion of the HTAs, and had developed strong relationships with both their leadership and leaders of Latino political groups. In recent years, this post has changed hands several times, and this turnover has meant a significant loss of continuity.

Although the AFL-CIO is now putting much greater emphasis on organizing, this local is still quite typical in its focus on servicing current members rather than organizing new ones.

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