The Motivations and Experiences of Mexican Americans in the U.S. Marine Corps: An Intersectional Analysis

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As one of the largest and fastest growing minority groups in the United States, Mexican Americans are reshaping the major institutions of American life, including the military. The Mexican American military population, although still underrepresented when compared to their presence in the American population generally, is a growing ethnic group. Although growth is occurring across the services, Mexican Americans have a large presence in the U.S. Marine Corps, a trend unlike the military behavior of African Americans, the next largest minority group in the military. This trend holds for both Mexican American men and women, even though the Marine Corps is the most combat-oriented of the service branches and the service branch with the lowest proportion of occupations open to women.

Using an intersectional approach and through in-depth interviews of Mexican American men and women serving in the Marine Corps, I examine the personal characteristics, motivations, and experiences that are associated with the decision to join the Marine Corps. I argue that Mexican American Marines, regardless of gender, share common motivations for service grounded in the intersection of their common ethnicity and socioeconomic position. However, while the majority of respondents were drawn to the military because of occupational considerations, I also argue that they felt a connection to the Marine Corps because of its more institutional nature, which intermeshed well with their own individual values.

I also compare the experiences of the respondents while in the service. In regard to ethnicity, the majority of respondents discussed the large number of Hispanics in the Marine Corps, even as they noted stratification in the population. They did not view themselves as a minority, but as a population growing in size and influence. These commonalities decline with the application of an intersectional analysis, as gender becomes the most salient and divisive characteristic. Despite their diversity, the women were considered a unified category and as a token population, their proportions shaped the group culture in predictable, visible ways. I conclude by discussing how lived experiences are not only shaped by one's social characteristics, but by the social institutions in which one operates.