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Introduction Life's Work Marta Tienda loves numbers. She also loves people. How are these two related? Numbers, Marta knows, can answer questions about people-- questions such as: Why are some people rich and others poor? Why do some people have good jobs while others have low- paying ones? Why do some people have a better chance of getting a college education than others? Marta asks these questions because she's curious, but she also wants to find solutions. Marta is a sociologist, a scientist who studies the behavior of groups, organizations, and societies. You might even consider her a kind of detective. Just as a detective pieces together clues to re-create a picture of a crime, Marta searches for clues in numbers to form a picture of a group of people. And just as a detective's work helps solve personal crimes, Marta's work helps solve social injustices: why certain people get more in life than others. Marta Tienda knows the pain of having less. She grew up poor, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant who never had a chance to finish elementary school. But she beat the odds and became one of the country's top sociologists. And ever since she was a college student, Marta has used social science to improve the lives of other people--people just like her. ix
In theirfaces Marta saw reflections of her ownfather.
1 SOCIOLOGY OF THE SOUL I t's going to be a hectic day, thought Marta Tienda. It was July 1971, and Marta was standing behind the counter where she worked in the basement of the Alpena County government building in Alpena, Michigan. She gazed out over the long line Like these Mexican of men, women, and children snaking through the office as they farm laborers crossing the Rio Grande River waited to be certified (approved) for food stamps. Almost all of (above), Marta's father, them were Mexican American migrant workers from Texas. Toribio (opposite), came to the United Many of the workers had been traveling with their families States illegally to find from South Texas to this northern region of Michigan for years, work picking crops. often picking crops on the same farms summer after summer. In their faces Marta saw reflections of her own father as a younger man, standing in line just for the chance to do a hard day's work at low wages. Speaking little English--and lacking both job skills and schooling--her father had crossed into the U.S. illegally from his home in Mexico in 1941. Marta's job was to decide whether each person deserved United States government food stamps, which could be used to buy food at supermarkets. Workers who earned less money or had bigger families were eligible to receive more food stamps. Marta had just finished her junior year of studies at Michigan State University. She was excited about this summer job. 1
Working at the state agricultural department gave her a chance to interact with people in need. Next up at her counter was a young woman who couldn't have PERSON A woman uses food stamps to buy been much older than Marta, who would turn 21 the next month. groceries. Each A baby nestled in the young woman's arms, and a five-year-old "food coupon" has a certain dollar girl clung to her side. The little girl's curly black hair and big PEOPLE value that can be brown eyes reminded Marta of herself as a young girl, when she exchanged for food. and her family had picked tomatoes, cucumbers, and cherries to make ends meet. Speaking in Spanish, Marta asked the woman questions that would tell her the amount of food stamps to approve. "Did you work in the last month?" "No," the young mother replied in a soft, hesitant voice. If she had answered "yes," Marta would have then asked the woman how much she earned. "How many people in your family?" "Six." It was common for migrant workers to have large families. Marta then told the woman that she was eligible for food stamps. Because the woman had not earned any income in the previous month, the stamps would be free. Marta loved her work because she could make decisions that improved the way people lived. Though she didn't yet know it, that summer put her on the path to becoming a social scientist--a career that would give her the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many more people. 2
~Expanding the American Dream The United States was built on a democratic ideal--the ideal that all people are created equal and that they have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, anyone who works hard and plays by the rules deserves to lead a good life. In reality, that's not always the case. Why is that? Many social scientists gather facts to show that not everybody enjoys the same chance of achieving the American dream. A social scientist might say, "Let's figure out how many people are in The United States was built on a this situation. How many are democratic ideal--the ideal that all cut off from having an opportu- people are created equal and that nity to live the American they have the right to life, dream? Is it a third of the popu- liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. lation? Is it more? Less?" Finding out why certain groups are disadvantaged is an impor- tant step--that way, the people who govern can decide how to remedy it. Suppose we find that Anglo-Americans (those with mainly European backgrounds) make more money than Mexican Americans. The American Dream has existed throughout the history of the United States, and it continues to guide people today. Marta's father strongly believed in an important part of the dream: That with hard work and discipline, his children could grow up to live better lives than he did. SOCIOLOGY OF THE SOUL 3
Mexican immigrants who came to the United States PERSON illegally often worked long hours picking crops. These laborers are picking cantaloupes in PEOPLE California. Is that because people of Mexican descent are deliberately kept out of jobs that pay well? Or is it because many of them are recent immigrants, or the children of recent immigrants, and are still getting their education? Marta Tienda's career has centered on how to make the American dream a reality for more racial and ethnic populations, particularly Hispanics. She focuses primarily on how to provide greater opportunities in education and employment. ~The Power of the Personal Marta's humble origins have motivated her entire career. As a social scientist, she brings the power of personal knowledge to her work. In fact, many of the questions she asks rise directly from her own experience. When she probes the history of Mexican Americans, for exam- ple, she is exploring her own past. When she looks at the effects of poverty on families, she is remembering her own childhood of need. 4
When she considers what it's like for a single parent to raise a family, she is reflecting on her mother's death when Marta was just six years old, leaving her father to raise five children by himself. Most of all, when Marta Tienda seeks to find out why some people make it and others do not, she recognizes the power of a parent's drive Toribio Tienda, with for his or her child to succeed. Marta (left) and her older sister Maggie, Without her father's determination, Marta knows, was determined that she would not be as successful as she is today. Intent that his his children would children would finish high school, her father set the standard for receive the education he could not get for excellence. He encouraged them to do their schoolwork and himself. never missed a parent-teacher meeting for Marta or her brother and three sisters. Marta's father had a dream of a better life for his family--a dream that began with a perilous journey. SOCIOLOGY OF THE SOUL 5