Vargas, Zaragosa. Crucible of Struggle: A History of Mexican Americans from Colonial Times to the Present Era (2nd edition). New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
By the end of the twenty-first century, Latinos are expected to make up about half of the US population (xii). Since Mexican Americans make up the majority of this Latino population, there is renewed interest in the history and influence of Mexican Americans in the US political economy. There are, however, few comprehensive studies that offer a sufficient narrative on the story of Mexican Americans. The second edition of Zaragosa Vargas' Crucible of Struggle: A History of Mexican Americans from Colonial Times to the Present Era meets this demand by offering a detailed account of Mexican Americans and their impact on the evolving national identity of the United States.
Rather than limiting his focus to recent events, Vargas takes a broad approach in explaining the struggles and histories that create the Mexican American experience. He begins his journey with Spanish colonization and continues through to the early twenty-first century. In his first two chapters, Vargas outlines the native resistance to Spanish settlement and oppression, and the complications with maintaining control over the northern frontier. He notes, "For two centuries the integration, exploitation, and destruction of Indian populations, the latter often achieved through a scorched-earth policy, were key to the economic development of northern frontier society" (31).
In chapters 3 and 4, Vargas describes Mexican American involvement in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and the era of expansion westward. After the United States embraced the concept of Manifest Destiny, it increased its imperialist efforts and military aggression towards Mexico (102). This supposed fate of the growing nation also took a racial tone: Anglo Americans assumed themselves superior to Mexicans, and thus an ethnic prejudice developed alongside territorial goals (137). This left Mexican Americans in a state of otherness, or, as Vargas explains, "The Mexican Americans of the Southwest found themselves strangers in a strange land, a minority struggling for acceptance in a sea of Americans" (107).
Chapters 5 through 11 are the strongest in the text as Vargas goes into great detail to discuss Mexican American immigration and labor in the twentieth century. Seeking economic opportunities, Mexican Americans immigrated to newly formed states in...