Preface
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xiii Preface Perhaps, at some point, all scholarship has its root in the autobiographical . This book certainly feels so. I was born outside of Chicago, Illinois, two hundred years after the United States declared independence , over one hundred years after the end of slavery, approximately thirty years after the defeat of Nazi fascism in Europe, a few years after the end of mass protests that marked the freedom struggles of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, at the cusp of neoliberalism, soft multiculturalism , and color blindness. All this to say, like many others, I was born into white supremacy in a time like today when many whites sought a clean break from the past, a chance to baptize themselves in dreams of innocence. Raised by my mother, I was taught that racism is wrong. This is a value that is imparted by many white parents today. Knowing this is not enough. Knowing that racism is wrong does not account for what racism is or what it does. Knowing that racism is wrong does not arm oneself with strategies for combating injustice. These two gaps create significant challenges today as racism is popularly conflated with outward expressions of personal prejudice and the solution is simply to “don’t say things like that.” Like many white families, mine rarely spoke of race and racial difference, and when it did, race was coded below the surface of politeness. Growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago in the 1980s, my conscious introduction to the U.S. racial imagination was largely through television and racial comments by friends and adults outside my family. The targets of jokes would be Polish Americans or black people—what do you do when a Polack throws a hand grenade at you? When the pretense of humor was absent, the comments were always about black folk. In first grade, I watched television as the sitter casually told her friend about the laziness of black people, how they should go back to Africa. The same year my best friend’s dad repeatedly went on violent screeds xiv | Preface about black folks ruining the country. Lacking the language then, I only recently spoke with my mother about these experiences and others. In 1989, something strange happened. We moved to Texas, altering the terrain of the racial imagination tremendously. Jokes about Polish Americans were replaced with Aggie jokes, targeting students of Texas A&M University as well as rural Texans: What do you do when an Aggie throws a hand grenade at you? I did not know what an Aggie was. Derisive attitudes and jokes about black people remained, but I was also introduced to anti-Mexican attitudes and humor: Why do Mexicans eat tamales at Christmas? I did not know the answer, and when I learned it, I did not get the joke. I did not know what tamales were, nor did I have the wide array of racial and social codes to “know” what a “Mexican ” was. But over the years I learned; I learned to be white. As my wife and partner Sujey Vega as well as many colleagues in Chicana/o studies would surely point out, there has been a Mexican American presence in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest for a hundred years. However , in the 1980s, living in the suburbs with few Mexican Americans, my understanding of race was largely black and white. Moving to Texas changed things, exposing me to and inviting me to participate in a racial imagination also mapped in brown and white. This book marks a similar shift. While U.S. whiteness has largely been examined against the experiences and representations of black Americans, this project maps the ways representations of Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans forge aspects of white Americanness. It would be unfair and inaccurate to suggest that all U.S. white attitudes toward and depictions of Mexico and people of Mexican descent are pejorative or derisive. The brown-white binary does not work that way. White supremacy does not work that way. As I came of age in Texas and traveled through out the Southwest, I became immersed in seemingly more positive depictions of Mexicanness. For me, this often came through my growing love for Texas country music. In his classic “Pancho and Lefty,” Townes Van Zandt sings of a Mexican bandit named Pancho and his gringo friend Lefty who betrays Pancho to the federales. In his “Gallo del Cielo,” Tom Russell sings of the Mexican Carlos Zaragoza who steals a...


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Race identity.
  • Mexicans -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Whites -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Mexican Americans in popular culture -- United States.
  • Chicano movement.
  • Stereotypes (Social psychology).
  • Racism -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • Mexico -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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