Doing Business and Identity Work on Calle Cuatro: How Mexican-Americans Participate in Malleable Ethnicity
The practices of Mexican immigrant business owners are well documented in the literature as tailoring to the needs of the surrounding community, emphasizing their central role in customers’ incorporation process (e.g. providing goods/services in customers’ native language). Less is known about producers of goods and services in ethnic communities who are Mexican-American. This study examines the economic development processes of an ethnically branded downtown business improvement district (BID). Data for this study includes forty-six in-depth interviews and three years of ethnographic field work in the downtown business community of a majority-Latino city in Southern California. This study examines the social and cultural motivations that influence Mexican-Americans’ business owning practices. I draw from theories of ethnic destinations, minority entrepreneurship, and identity to assess how business owners perform, curate, and commodify ethnicity in and outside of their establishments. This study demonstrates how Mexican-Americans are involved in the creation of U.S.-based ethnic culture through their business. I find that for Mexican-Americans, business practices become nostalgic for a home country and traditions as a means of maintaining ethnic identity over time. Ultimately business owners in my study facilitate an ethnically curated experience for Mexican-Americans through their business practices and philanthropy that specifically tailored around Mexican ethnicity. The goal of my study is to provide a comprehensive account of how the economic sectors of ethically marketed areas are transformed by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.