Chapter 4

Mexicans of Mass Destruction: National Security and Mexican Immigration in a Pre- and Post-9/11 World

by Leo Chavez

As in the case of the Federal government’s WW2 internment of Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans, racial labeling with regard to Mexican immigrants has inflamed public discourse, this time surrounding perceived national security and cultural threats emanating from unauthorized passage across the U.S.-Mexico border. “If there has been one constant in both pre- and post-9/11 public discourse on national security,” asserts this chapter’s author, cultural anthropologist Leo Chavez, “it has been the alleged threat to the nation posed by Mexican immigration and the growing number of Americans of Mexican descent in the United States.” Based upon a study of more than 30 years of feature stories on immigration published in leading US news magazines, Chavez charts the escalation of rhetorically-driven fear regarding Mexican immigration.

Study Questions

  1. Download the magazine covers discussed here in Leo Chavez’s Website (or see these in his book, Covering Immigration [U California Press, 2001]): Match these images to Chavez’s claims about how Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants are represented in the media.

Critical Thinking

  1. Which has deeper effects, blatant racism or visually and metaphorically “coded” expressions of anti-immigrant thought and feeling?
  2. Discuss who is a legitimate member of society. What does it mean to be American? What constitutes a threat to the nation and to society? How does the media help to construct answers to these questions?

Further Research

  1. Anti-immigrant racism (elite discourse v. working class competition): Does anti-immigrant thought and feeling originate at the top of society, and trickle down to the working class? Or does it bubble up from the people in the bottommost socioeconomic strata who are the new immigrants’ closest economic competitors?