Mexican American Identity: Regional Differentiation in New Mexico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Existing research inadequately addresses the variation in Mexican Americans’ patterns of ethnic identification. Drawing on 78 interviews, I address this question by exploring how conceptions of ancestry and nationality shape ethnic identification among New Mexico’s long-standing Mexican American population, Nuevomexicanos. I find that Nuevomexicanos emphasized their ties to Spanish heritage within the history of New Mexico to explain their ethnicity and to construct their identity in opposition to Mexican immigrants. Although Nuevomexicanos varied in their claims to Mexican ancestry, they generally prioritized their roots in the original Spanish settlement of New Mexico to emphasize distinctions in ancestry, nationality, and regionality from Mexican immigrants. Moreover, despite Nuevomexicanos’ persistent claims to Spanish ancestry, they did not perceive themselves as racially White. Instead, Spanish ancestry was integral to Nuevomexicano identity because it enabled them to highlight their regional ties to New Mexico and long-time American identities. Thus, I argue that Nuevomexicanos’ enduring claims to Spanish ancestry represent a defensive strategy to enact dissociation from stigmatized Mexican immigrants. Overall, these findings show that Mexican Americans’ dissociation strategies are contingent on how they define themselves as members of an ethnic and national community. These findings also indicate that “Mexican American” as an identity term is a loosely maintained membership category among “Mexican Americans” because of their intragroup heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-194
Number of pages16
JournalSociology of Race and Ethnicity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • heterogeneity
  • Hispanics
  • identity
  • Mexican Americans
  • New Mexico

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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