Expressions of Mexicanness and the promise of American liberalism



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Texas Tech University


The process of cultural self-definition among individuals of "misrecognized" ethno-cultural minorities inhabiting the American liberal polity triggers a number of other processes that may be conducive to liberal (and liberating) outcomes. These processes are: (1) the process by which the American liberal polity explains itself, revises its "first principles," and adapts to changing conditions, (2) the process by which individuals of any cultural group develop "capacities for agency" and loyalty to liberal citizenship, (3) the process of creative identity-formation (empowering or disempowering identities), and (4) the process by which America defines and re-defines itself as circumstances change.

The outcome of these processes is not necessarily emancipatory and self-definition is not necessarily successful in generating empowering identities among individuals of misrecognized groups, but the American liberal democracy is equipped to engage self-definition and the other processes it triggers in ways that enhance the prospects of achieving liberating outcomes. First, the American polity has an institutional framework for coexistence between pluralities that, while enabling cultural self-definition, also instructs individuals in the practices of liberal citizenship. Second, American liberal society has the political, philosophical, and cultural traditions apt for "conversation" between pluralities, namely, the traditions of liberalism and pragmatism.

The practice of conversation, that is, the practice of "rendering differences conversable," is an important, if not necessary, activity in multicultural polities like the United States, because it hones critical skills and promotes liberal and emancipator outcomes among its citizens. Conversation helps expand the scope and reach of our moral commitments, helps us construct more compelling autobiographies and arguments about our ends and purposes, and enables us to devise better ways, that is, freer and less cruel ways, of living our social lives together. It also helps us recognize our equal capacities for political reasonableness, moral deliberation, and creative identity-formation, hence allowing the I and the Other to connect and communicate without erasing difference.

One of the prevailing views in our multicultural age is that ethno-cultural self-definition somehow undermines liberal principles and practices. This dissertation argues that cultural self-definition and American liberalism can be mutually correspondent and complementary. This dissertation shows that "expressions of Mexicanness," that is, the Mexican American community's pursuit of self-definition since 1848, triggered the processes listed above. It also shows that the American liberal polity lived up to its emancipatory promise. The case is made, however, for a stronger commitment to conversation among individuals and the political classes of the various cultural pluralities inhabiting the polity.