Intersections in History and Spanish: Researching Mexican Ethnic Identity

Kristin C. Johnson '15

Kristin C. Johnson '15, Independent Researcher

Double major: Spanish and History

Awards: Wilma Pugh Grant

Thesis: From Bracero to Mojado to Chicano: Farm Labor, Immigration, and Mexican Identity in California Agriculture, 1942-1980

Internship: Restoration Intern, National Marine Corps Museum

Graduate Program: Phd, Northwestern University

My interest in the field of immigration history started through a sophomore year independent study, where I first began to trace the changing dynamics of immigration in America. My major in Spanish drew me to the topic of Latin American immigration and communities in the Southwest. Scholarship about the experience of Mexican immigrant communities recognizes that the Mexican- American labor movements of the 1930s and World War II years served as a precursor to the modern Chicano movement. Most studies, however, overlook the involvement of Mexican immigrants in Mexican- American labor movements of the 1940s and post war era.

My junior year, I spent a year as a direct-enrollment exchange student at the University of Córdoba, Spain.

The summer following my year abroad, I traveled to the National Archives in San Francisco to answer the question: How did Mexican workers fit into the Mexican-American labor rights movements of the post-war era? My thesis fills an important gap in Mexican-American history and paints a more accurate version of California’s agro-industrial landscape, in which Mexican immigrants played an important part in the formation of ethnic identity movements in California.

The historical issues that my thesis examines evolved after 1980 on, into the present day. My research experience illuminates the relevance of a Spanish and History major in contemporary immigration affairs.

Discriminatory immigration measures that affect Hispanic-Americans continue to challenge their relationship with Hispanic immigrants, as Hispanic ethnic identity constantly obtains new meanings.

Four years of undergraduate research in Spanish and History has inspired me to continue on to a career in international policy.