In the past two decades, the Mexican population in New York City has grown more than fivefold, with immigrants settling across the five boroughs. Many adults have demonstrated remarkable success at finding work, filling restaurant kitchens and construction sites, and opening hundreds of businesses.But their children, in one crucial respect, have fared far differently.
About 41 percent of all Mexicans between ages 16 and 19 in the city have dropped out of school, according to census data.
No other major immigrant group has a dropout rate higher than 20 percent, and the overall rate for the city is less than 9 percent, the statistics show.
The irony in all of this is undocumented immigrants from Mexico are coming largely to take the lower-wage, low-skill jobs that people with an education don't want. Since many of these immigrants are barely literate in Spanish, it is unreasonable to expect them to be pushing their children to stay in school and do well. They may well understand the importance of that in the abstract, but everyday life teaches a different lesson.
The struggle of Mexican immigrants to find a better life is also the story told by Frank Bardacke, the older brother of a good friend of mine from high school. Bardacke's book is reviewed in this week's Economist, which notes that Bardacke, who has spent his life as an activist for the disenfranchised, actually seems to be chiding Cesar Chavez for not having done more to push for the success of the United Farm Workers union.
Illegal migrants from Mexico, poor and desperate for work, poured across the border to take the jobs of UFW members and doom their strikes. The rival Teamsters union was no help. Its operatives sabotaged UFW recruitment drives by telling farmworkers they would be much better off in a tough professional union like theirs.
Thus, the story that Bardacke is telling is that while Cesar Chavez has become a mainstream hero, the unskilled workers from Mexico that he spent his life helping are still struggling on that score.