Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910 by Julie M. Weise (review)
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Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910. By Julie M. Weise. ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pp. 358. $32.50 paper; $29.99 ebook)

Corazón de Dixie challenges scholarly and popular assumptions that the southern United States and its racial milieu constitute a “new destination” for people of Mexican origin. To the contrary, author Julie M. Weise demonstrates a century of “Mexicano” (her word for Mexican migrants and Mexican-Americans) presence in communities across the South. Weise recounts Mexicanos’ strategies for social mobility in southern communities, their acceptance and/or oppression by groups of local whites, and the influence of local African Americans. The book shows that Mexicanos did not fit predictably into existing matrices of black-white race relations. Moreover, Weise suggests that Mexicanos’ experiences of racialization in the South diverged significantly from those in the Southwest and West, regions that dominate the historiography of Mexican-Americans and Mexico–U.S. migration at the national scale.

Weise arranges the book into five chapters, each focusing on one area of the South at a different period of the twentieth century. Chapter one looks at New Orleans (1910–1939), where Mexicanos were accepted in white society and enjoyed significant class mobility. Weise attributes this to the middle-class origins of early Mexican migrants, their performances of modernity through Mexican nationalism, and favorable public discourse surrounding the city’s trade with Mexico. Chapters two and three deal with Mississippi (1918–1939) and the Arkansas Delta (1939–1964), respectively. In both cases, Mexican nationals called on their foreign consulate for relief from racial discrimination in segregated southern communities. Chapter four focuses on rural Georgia (1965–2004) and white “pro-immigrant conservatism.” [End Page 444] Under this discourse, rural whites eschewed anti-immigrant politics and portrayed Mexicanos as moral community members who deserved white paternalism. Weise describes Mexicanos navigating this context through personal bonds, cultivating relationships with whites that could be economically strategic and socially fulfilling. Finally, Chapter five describes the extra-urban spaces surrounding Charlotte, North Carolina (1990–2012), and the influence of national anti-immigrant campaigns. There, Weise finds that exurban geography and lifestyles collude to isolate and silence Mexicanos, making them vulnerable to further political attacks.

In each of these five chapters, Weise dedicates herself to thick description, proving that Mexicanos were near the heart of southern race relations in the times and communities she portrays. Missing, however, is a description of more recent historical memory and the continuity of Mexicanos within it, particularly for her earlier cases of New Orleans, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The fact that Weise must recover the region’s Mexican histories suggests significant rupture in that memory, providing a counterpoint to her critique of the “new destination” literature: given these ruptures, recent waves of Mexican migrants would be, in effect, new to southern destination communities (and vice-versa).

Corazón de Dixie is a pathbreaking work, providing five points of reference in a mostly uncharted area of regional and transnational history. Weise does not claim that her cases represent a broader narrative of Mexicano experience in the South. Rather, she has demonstrated a range of possibilities for that history and developed an attentive vocabulary for future scholarship. Among the book’s broader strengths is Weise’s attention to historical developments in Mexico and their impact on the aspirations of each generation of Mexicano migrants. Weise is also creative in her use of sources, turning to Mexican consular communications and family photographs, reading the latter as a kind of text. Both help her to overcome scant records left by mobile subalterns. For these aspects, Corazón de Dixie is sure to be the standard starting point for all future work on Mexicanos, and other [End Page 445] migrants, in the U.S. South.

Bryan Moorefield

BRYAN MOOREFIELD is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Brown University. He studies migration from Mexico under the United States guestworker program.