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If he is a migrant farm worker, the Mexican American has a life expectancy of about 48 years v. 70 for the average U.S. resident. The Chicano birth rate is double the U.S. average—but so is the rate of infant mortality. More than one-third live below the $3,000-a-year level of family income that federal statisticians define as poverty. Eighty percent of the Mexican-American population is now urban, and most live in the barrio.
The overwhelming majority work as unskilled or semiskilled labor in factories and packing plants, or in service jobs as maids, waitresses, yard boys and deliverymen. Particularly in Texas, Mexican Americans sometimes get less pay than others for the same work. Even the few who have some education do not escape discrimination. Chicano women find that jobs as public contacts at airline ticket counters are rarely open; they are welcome as switchboard operators out of the public eye. Mexican-American men who work in banks are assigned to the less fashionable branches. Promotions come slowly, responsibility hardly ever.
One major impediment to the Mexican American is his Spanish language, because it holds him back in U.S. schools. Mexican Americans average eight years of schooling, two years less than Negroes and a full four years less than whites. Often they are forced to learn English from scratch in the first grade, and the frequent result is that they become not bilingual but nearly nonlingual. In Texas, 40% of Chicanos are considered functionally illiterate. In Los Angeles, only an estimated 25% can speak English fluently. Chicano children in some rural areas are still punished for speaking Spanish in school. Only this year, Chicano students at Bowie High School in El Paso—in a predominantly Mexican-American section —managed to get a rule abolished that forbade the speaking of Spanish on the school grounds.
The Chicano is as vulnerable to mistreatment at the hands of the law as the black. Seven Mexicans were beaten by drunken policemen at a Los Angeles police station on Christmas Eve, 1952; six of the officers were eventually given jail terms. During an 18-month period ending last April, the American Civil Liberties Union received 174 complaints of police abuses from Los Angeles Mexican Americans. Two of the recent landmark Supreme Court decisions limiting police questioning of suspects involved Mexican Americans—Escobedo v. Illinois and Miranda v. Arizona. Many Mexicans still look on the Texas Rangers and U.S. border patrols with terror.
Pluralism v. the Melting Pot
That Chavez has dramatized the problems of Mexican Americans in the city as well as on the farm seems beyond dispute. Father Bernardo Kenny, a Sacramento priest with a sizable Mexican-American congregation, believes that even if Chavez never wins his strike he will have made a "tremendous contribution." Says Kenny: "He focused attention on the problem of the farm workers, and he made the