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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 27, 1993|ALEX RAKSIN

MEXICAN AMERICANS: The Ambivalent Minority by Peter Skerry (Free Press: $27.95; 445 pp.). UCLA public policy professor Peter Skerry wrote this book well before Mexican-American activists began their hunger strike last month to pressure UCLA into elevating its Chicano studies program to departmental status. But it is just this kind of activism that Skerry is criticizing in these pages: By emphasizing that you are a "separate people," Skerry tells radical Chicano leaders, you are not only ignoring your majority constituency (which genuinely wants to assimilate); you are demanding different treatment from that given to earlier, European immigrants. Anticipating that Chicano activists will respond, "We do deserve special treatment, for we were here first," Skerry contends that at the close of the Mexican American War, only 1% of Mexico's population lived in what is now the southwestern U.S. This, however, flies in the face of activist historians such as Rodolfo Acuna, who has often written, for instance, that "Mexicans were firmly established in L.A." after the War. Activists will also object to the subtle way Skerry attempts to marginalize their views. After meeting one Yale undergraduate who says he would like his kids to learn Spanish, for instance, Skerry says this young man "desperately" and "fervently" wants to hold on to his heritage; then he adds that "many Americans" would find such sentiments "alarming." Still, while "Mexican-Americans" is sure to raise more questions than it will solve, it remains a genuinely concerned, deeply probing study.

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