Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Bookshelf: You Can't Be Mexican by Frank S. Mendez

This memoir You Can't Be Mexican, You Talk Just Like Me by Frank S. Mendez was absolutely engaging. Mendez was born in 1925 to immigrant parents in Iowa, but grew up in Lorain, Ohio. He details the poverty of his childhood, how his Mexican background impacted his youth, his service in the marines during World War II, and his search for identity with grace and honesty.

One interesting feature of this book was that the barrio in which Mendez grew up was in Ohio and his father, and later Mendez himself, worked in the steel mills. Usually one associates Mexican immigration with the southwest and farm labor, not the Midwest and heavy industry. Realistically, though migrants will go where there are jobs and employers will hire anyone willing to work.

The childhood poverty of Mendez and his siblings, reminded me of what I had heard of the poverty in parts of Glasgow during the same time period. I remember hearing someone say (don't remember where - could have been on TV or in a seminar) that while many people idealize the interwar years in Glasgow, it was probably because they were children and really had no idea how poor they were; besides everyone was poor.

Memoirs and biography are really a fabulous way to better understand the process of "becoming" American. This book encouraged me to look for memoirs written by Scots in America, so I searched OhioLink (an online catalog encompassing most of the libraries in Ohio) for "Scottish Americans Biography." The results were not encouraging. I found (but have not read):

A Man Called Peter: The Story of Peter Marshall
An American odyssey: The autobiography of a 19th-century Scotsman, Robert Brownlee, at the request of his children : Napa County, California, October, 1892
Carnegie: The Richest Man in the World
The Low Road: A Scottish Family Memoir
Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye

I also searched Scottish Canadians Biography with even worse results; but that might be because there aren't any copies in Ohio libraries, not because they don't exist.

Do you know of memoirs written by Scottish emigrants? If you do, list them in the comments section.

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