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A Social Scientist Urges Americans to Give Mexicans "a Fair Chance in Life"

Progressive social scientists, like economist Alvin S. Johnson, disagreed with those who held Mexican and other immigrants as racially inferior an undesirable. Instead, he and his peers claimed that Mexican government and culture were "inferior" and welcomed the opportunity to "Americanize" Mexican migrant workers.

If you wish to form a just estimate of the potentialities of any race, you naturally seek for your laboratory an environment in which the race has had at least a fair chance for development.  The Italian and Russian races would be most outrageously misjudged if they were studied exclusively through some of the more wretched peasant communities; China and Japan have been grievously slandered through the occidental assumption that the characteristics of coolies are characteristics of the race.  We in America, with our vast experience in the transformation of miscellaneous foreign types into standardized Americans, ought to be safe against the fallacies resulting from a confusion of nature with nurture.  

We are not safe, however, and every time we are confronted by a race which presents and appearance of degradation we cry, "Here at at last is a race of which no good can overcome."  Just now the race whose apparent defects press themselves upon on our notice is the Mexican... Mexican laborers are steadily crossing the border and dispersing through the country in search of work...  There is no legal bar upon Mexican immigration.  No head tax is exacted, no records are kept.  Is this laissez-faire policy wise?  All depends on what kind of man the Mexican really is, not as he appears after he has grown up in oppression, ignorance, superstition, but as he would be if he had a fair chance at life.  

Source | Alvin S. Johnson in The New Republic, 24 June 1916.
Creator | Alvin S. Johnson
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | Alvin S. Johnson, “A Social Scientist Urges Americans to Give Mexicans "a Fair Chance in Life",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 5, 2023,

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