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GuateMéxicoestadounidenses: as immigrants marry, new Latino identities emerge

Arizona Republic

Dec. 18, 2007 (AP): Santiago Chávez spotted Bibiana Arzeta at a Latin nightclub in Phoenix and asked her to dance.

Where are you from? Arzeta asked. México, Chávez replied.

Chávez gave Arzeta his phone number, and later, the two began talking regularly. That’s when Arzeta, who is originally from Acapulco, noticed Chávez didn't speak Spanish with an accent like hers.

Where are you really from? Arzeta asked. This time, Chávez told the truth. Guatemala.

The couple now have a 1-month-old son, Leo. Their union represents an emerging demographic trend taking shape throughout the Southwest: Growing numbers of Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants are marrying and having U.S.-born children, creating mixed Latino families with ties to three countries at once.

These new inter-Latin American families are also less likely to return to their home countries, their children tend to integrate into U.S. society faster and more are converting from Catholicism to evangelical Christianity, immigration experts and community leaders say.

The mixture has become so common in Phoenix, for example, that some community members have even coined a name “GuateMéxicoestadounidenses,” or Guatemexiamericans, to describe the families.

The trend is being driven by an influx of immigrants from Central America, mainly Guatemala, who are settling in communities long dominated by Mexican immigrants, experts say. Although no specific data exists about the number of mixed Latino marriages, the trend is undeniable. As more Central Americans arrive, the more they meet and marry Mexicans.

``There is a great mixing taking place,'' said Nestor Rodríguez, a sociologist at the University of Houston who studies immigration trends. Latinos, he said, are becoming like other Americans with European ancestry, with ties not to a single nationality but many.

``If you ask an Anglo, where is your family from, they'll say something like, my mother is Irish, my father is German and my grandfather was Norwegian. The same thing is happening to Latinos. One parent may be Mexican, the other Guatemalan, or Salvadoran or Honduran,'' Rodríguez added.

Newly arrived Guatemalan immigrants tend to settle in the same neighborhoods as Mexican immigrants. They also share the same language and similar cultures, so it's not surprising that more Guatemalans and Mexicans are marrying, said James Loucky, an anthropologist at Western Washington University, who studies Guatemalan migration.

Guatemalans, however, often pass themselves off as Mexicans in order to blend in, Loucky said.

``Guatemalans know that often times Mexicans look down on them,'' Loucky said.

Chávez, 24, said he fibbed about being Mexican when he met Arzeta because he thought it would make it easier to ask her out. Chávez speaks Spanish, but his first language is Mam, a language spoken by Mayan people from the highlands of western Guatemala, where he is from.

Chávez came to the United States in 2000 and works in the housing-construction industry building roof tresses.

Arzeta, 20, is from Acapulco. She has lived in the U.S. since she was 5 and grew up in a Mexican neighborhood in south Phoenix. After she became pregnant, Arzeta moved in with Chávez in a Phoenix neighborhood known for its high concentration of Guatemalan immigrants. Now, Arzeta is learning to say words like “ear” in Mam and cook Guatemalan food.

In Arizona, a surge of Guatemalan immigrants have made them the second-largest Latino immigrant group behind Mexicans, according to the Census Bureau. In 2006, there were about 14,100 Guatemalan immigrants living in Arizona, the bureau estimated. Guatemalan government officials, however, believe the number is at least double that.

There are 30,000 to 35,000 Guatemalan immigrants in Arizona, and about two-thirds live in the Phoenix area, said Oscar Padilla Lam, who runs the Guatemalan consulate in Phoenix. In contrast, there are more than 608,000 Mexican immigrants living in Arizona, according to 2006 estimates by the bureau.

Many of the Guatemalans coming to the U.S. are young single men looking for work. Many end up marrying Mexicans because there aren't as many Guatemalans, Padilla Lam said.

Many Latino immigrants come to the U.S. for work with the intention of returning someday to their home countries. But mixed Latino immigrant families are less likely to return home because it becomes difficult to pick one country over another, said Cecilia Menjivar, a sociologist at Arizona State University and an expert on Central American migration. She pointed out that little research has been done about mixed Latino families.

But she said it's possible that children of mixed Latino families may adopt American culture faster. Children from families where both parents share the same nationality tend to develop a ``hyphenated'' identity, for example, Mexican-American or Guatemalan-American, she said. But children of mixed Latino families have a harder time choosing, so they become more oriented toward American culture, making them more likely to be involved politically and civically down the road.

A higher proportion of Guatemalans also have converted from Catholicism to Evangelical Christianity than Mexicans. As more Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants intermarry, the number of Mexican evangelicals could go up, she said.

Joel Lugo coined the term GuateMéxicoestadounidenses about five years ago when he started meeting more families like his. Lugo, 44, a native of México, and his wife, Mayra, 38, a native of Guatemala, have been married for 20 years. They met when there were relatively few Guatemalans living in metro Phoenix. The couple now have four children ranging in age from 6 to 20.

Lugo, who owns a landscaping business, said he is raising his children to be American, but they maintain ties to both México and Guatemala.

Both Joel and Mayra were raised Catholic. They now attend an Evangelical Christian church with a mixture of Mexican and Guatemalan families.

``I see this mixture of Guatemalans and Mexicans more and more,'' Lugo said. ``It's a nice mixture.''

Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com





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