When Pernicious Foreigners Become Citizens: Naturalization in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico

  •  Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp    


Concern about foreigners who seemingly live in Mexico with little regard for joining the Mexican nation has endured throughout the twentieth century and to the present. Today, Mexicans do not believe naturalized citizens should be afforded the same political rights as Mexican-born citizens. This attitude, however, has often contradicted larger national economic and political demands that warranted bringing immigrants to populate Mexico and support the development of the nation-state. Immigration policies respond to this dichotomy of both needing immigrants to bolster the Mexican economy while also creating restrictive policies to discourage “less desirable” – in particular, ethnically undesirable – immigrants. This tension is not unique to Mexican policy nor is it a historical aberration. The concept of citizenship has significance for Mexicans and prompts a question about how citizenship is granted, what it involves, and who might be eligible. While there have been studies on the number of immigrants in Mexico and their historical roles in Mexico, there has been a dearth of analysis to understand the process of obtaining Mexican citizenship and who becomes a naturalized citizen in twentieth-century Mexico. This article describes the prominent features of Mexican immigration law, the criteria to become a Mexican citizen, and analyzes data of 6,619 naturalized Mexican immigrants offering insights about the development of the Mexican nation-state, the cultural notion of mexicanidad, and the limits of political inclusion.

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