Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Gastón Espinosa

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Rights Information

© 2012 Chelsee Lynn Cox


A largely overlooked chapter of American history is the struggle of Mexican Americans to achieve equal civil rights and humane working conditions. Although much ink has been spilled on the struggle of African-Americans to achieve civil rights and throw off the yoke of racial oppression, little attention is paid to the similar struggle carried out by Mexican Americans and the similarities and differences between them. It has been my desire to shed light on this forgotten story, because it is still relevant in the current political climate, given the explosive growth of Latinos in the United States today (50 million), their increasingly important role in presidential elections, and given their struggle for comprehensive immigration reform.

What Mexican Americans have contributed to America is present in almost every facet of American life. Their presence in this country pre-dates the expansion of the United States from the Atlantic (Florida) to the Pacific (California) and is evident in national holidays, festivals, and our favorite restaurants. However, I have to admit that I was completely unaware of Mexican American history and the Chicano Movement of the 1960s prior to taking on this project. The only things that I knew about Mexican Americans ended around the Texas Revolution in 1836 and the little I learned about my Chávez in my American Religious History class. This thesis has succeeded in correcting stereotypes that I previously held about not only the Mexican American community, but also the critical role that religion played in one of its most important and iconic figures.

Religion has been always been an important component of life in America. Christianity has contributed to the way that government in the United States was formed and in the moral values that Americans consider important in leadership. Religion has been the driving force behind many of the most groundbreaking and momentous shifts in this nation from the abolition of slavery to the African American Civil Rights Movement. The Farm Worker’s struggle and larger Chicano Civil Rights Movement are no exception. César Chávez stood out not only as the leader of a secular movement, but a moral guiding light for Mexican Americans within this movement. Chávez's popular legacy within the Mexican American community exalts him as a moral and political leader, but scholarship has until recently painted him and the movement he championed in a secular light. This thesis hopes to help correct this imbalance.


  • Best Senior Thesis in Religious Studies