This article critically examines the consumption experiences ot Mexican immigrants in the United States, An empirical model of Mexican immigrant consumer acculturation is derived that consists of movement, translation, and adaptation processes leading to outcomes of assimilation, maintenance, resistance, and segregation. By drawing attention to the ways in which international movements of people, companies, and products intersect within existing subcultural relations, this research provides a more satisfactory account of the complex dynamic processes through which Mexican immigrants adapt to the consumer environment in the United States.
The most potent political force shaping the civilization of the future may well be one that has no place in any ideology: the sheer movement of people from one place to another. It is changing the face of the world, rendering old boundaries and policies obsolete, and laying the foundation fora "new world order" quite unlike anything foreseen by any political leader or theorist—a boundary-less world in which people live where they choose. [WALTER TRUETT ANDERSON 1992]
n the United States of America, a nation born of colonial expansion and mass migration, immigrants have played a key role in the formulation of the national culture and character. The assimilation, or melting pot model, in which people of many different nationalities, colors, and creeds would unite and form one nation, has been the hallmark of this country. In the social sciences, the degree to which immigrants have integrated into U.S. society has been of central concern for over
*Lisa Penaloza is assistant professor. Department of Advertising. College of Communications, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 1 19 Gregory Hall, 810 S. Wright St., Urbana. IL 61820. Support from the Consortium on Mexico and the United States at the University of California, from California State University. San Bernardino, and from the University of Colorado is gratefully acknowledged. The author thanks R. Belk. R. Faber. M. Gilly. T. O'Guinn. B, Robles. A. Rubel, A. Venkatesh, M. Wallendorf. and the reviewers for their constructive comments. She also thanks her family and the participants in this research and wishes them well in their seareh for the good life. 32
60 years (Park 1928), and the assimilation framework has been predominant in studies of consumer subcultures (see, e.g., O'Guinn and Faber 1986; Wallendorf andReilly 1983). Yet both similarities and differences are fundamental to the study of immigrant consumer behavior. The construct nation functions as a receptacle that "fills the void left in the uprooting of communities and kin" and "transfers the meaning of home and belonging across those distances and cultural differences that span the imagined community of the nation-people" (Bhabha 1990, p. 291). Yet there is a troublesome unity within the discourse' of the nation as the result of in-group and out-group distinctions that are "as much acts of affiliation and establishment as they are of disavowal, displacement, exclusion and cultural contestation" (Bhabha 1990, p. 5). Mexican immigrant consumer acculturation involves both this process of transference and in-group-out-group relations. In many ways, Mexican immigrants in the United States are the nation's "other." Foreigners, people from ano/Zi^r country and ano//icr culture who speak another language, Mexican immigrants are outside the "imagined community of the nation people" (Chavez 1991). Yet Mexican immigrants share a number of funda-
'The term "discourse" refers to narratives about the world (Aronowitz 1988) and draws attention to the way a topic or issue is talked about, its disciplinary location(s), and ihe way it is defined in terms of the framing of research questions. Foucault (1977) spoke of...