The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

whiteness.' Thus, for historians of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries
such as Blumin or Gerstle, issues involving an emergent or established
middle class center on a racially homogeneous demographic group for
which self-identity as Americans is a given and for which self-actualiza-
tion as experienced through processes of social mobility and social influ-
ence are the primary themes. Yet, for Mexican Americans the emer-
gence of a visible, viable middle class was more complicated. The
Mexican American petite bourgeoisie of the early twentieth century was
a class within a class; that is to say, they were historically identifiable as
middle class but did not experience the same rights and privileges of the
white middle class.s
The work of labor historians discusses the role of the middle class in
attempting to impose its will and values on the working class. But how
should historians then account for workers who also embraced many,
though perhaps not all, of the values promoted by the middle class?
False consciousness? Fear and accommodation? In The Making of the
English Working Class, E. P. Thompson convincingly argued for a flexible
understanding of class that transcends rigid structuring. In so doing he
freed our imaginations to roam and explore new questions, new topics,
and new identities. Thompson challenged narrow constructed theoreti-
cal assumptions by arguing that
"It," the working class, is assumed to have a real existence, which can be
defined almost mathematically--so many men who stand in a certain relation
to the means of production. Once this is assumed it becomes possible to
deduce the class-consciousness which "it" ought to have (but seldom does have)
if "it" was properly aware of its own position which this recognition dawns in
inefficient ways. 9
Implicit in this attack on strict class analysis and the fundamental theo-
retical presumptions inherent in such perspectives is an assault on the
concept of normative behavior as defined by class. For Thompson, the
7 Gary Gerstle, Working Class Amercanzsm: The Politzcs of Labor in a Textile Czty, 1z94-z96o
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). For a further discussion of whiteness as the
basis of citizenship see David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Makzng of the American
Working Class (London: Verso, 1991), Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became Whzte (New York:
Routledge, 1995), and Anthony Quiroz, "Claiming Citizenship: Class and Consensus in a
Mexican American Community" (Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1998).
8 Blumm and Gilkeson focus on these processes of self-actualization, but within these stories
there is no need for the middle class to also act as a tool for legitimization of a larger group as
with Mexican Americans. See Stuart Blumin, "The Hypothesis of Middle-Class Formation in
Nineteenth Century America: A Critique and some Proposals," American Hzstorcal Review, go, no
2 (1985), 299-338; and Blumin, The Emergence of the Mzddle Class: Soczal Expenence in the Amercan
Czty, 176o--goo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) Also see John Gilkeson,
Middle Class Provzdence, 1820-1940 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).
9 E. P. Thompson, The Makzng of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1966),
10-13.

July

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed July 1, 2015.