Introduction: Chicana/o Studies and the Whiteness Problem; or, Toward a Mapping of Whiteness on the Border
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1 Introduction Chicana/o Studies and the Whiteness Problem; or, Toward a Mapping of Whiteness on the Border Example 1. A novel, Cormac McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain: John Grady Cole travels across the border, falls in love with a fourteen-year-old epileptic Mexican prostitute, and dies on the streets of Juarez at the hand of a knife-wielding pachuco pimp who declares, “Your kind cannot bear that the world be ordinary. That it contain nothing save what stands before one. But the Mexican world is a world of adornment only and underneath it is very plain indeed. While your world . . . totters upon an unspoken labyrinth of questions. And we will devour you, my friend. You and all your pale empire.” Example 2. A country song, Roger Creager’s “Long Way to Mexico”: “I know about this out-of-the-way place. / You can disappear without a trace. / Leave the world behind if only for a while. / You could just get rolling see the winding road / Unfolding feeling better with every passing mile. / Even the getting there makes me smile. . . . / It’s a place of señoritas and where mariachis sing. / I know happiness abounds there. / It’s a place where I’ll soon be.” Example 3. A protest, April 2010: Several thousand gather in Houston, Texas, to protest Arizona’s recent anti-immigration bill SB 1070 and the rise in anti-immigrant and anti-Latina/o discourse. They carry U.S. flags. Their signs read “We are all immigrants,” “Immigrant Rights = Human Rights,” and “Do I look Illegal?” A small counterdemonstration of approximately thirty anti-immigration activists lines the streets periodically. At one corner, a middle-aged couple, white and bedecked in red, white, and blue signifiers of patriotism, yell “Go back home!” A young Latina—a child of immigrants herself and armed with a voice—responds “I am home! I was born here!” For a second, the couple looks dumbstruck, then repeats “Go back home!” and other tautologies such as “Illegal is illegal!” A protest organizer intercedes : “Don’t engage them. It’s what they want.” 2 | Introduction At first glance, these three moments may appear as isolated incidents with little cohesion. McCarthy’s all-American cowboy crosses the border and falls in love, only to die at the hands of his Mexican nemesis. Backed up by accordions and Mexican gritos, Creager croons about the trip to Mexico, leaving his workaday life behind for a temporary escape where Mexican women, music, and tequila can replenish him. Anti-immigrant protestors ascribe foreignness to Latina/o immigration activists, brown skin rendering them questionably American if not perpetually foreign. While these examples emerge from distinct moments and from different contexts, upon closer inspection they share common dynamics resulting in what I call “whiteness on the border.” Whiteness on the border is a discursive and ideological constellation in which representations of Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans are deployed to construct white identity, or more accurately white identity as American identity. These narratives, tropes, and beliefs work in tandem to order lived experience and naturalize whiteness. Notably, this is nothing new. These examples share a long legacy that is part and parcel of American history. The Mexican Other, real and more often imaginary , has played a significant role in the fashioning of a white identity and U.S. expansion since at least the early nineteenth-century contact narratives of Anglo-American settlers immigrating into the frontier lands of colonial New Spain. In part due to this legacy, these discursive practices have achieved a remarkable and ubiquitous presence, seemingly everywhere as they fly below the critical radar. From these examples and countless others, this critical endeavor engages two interrelated questions: How has whiteness been forged against a Mexican Other embodied in representations of Mexico, Mexicans, and Chicanas/os? How has the Mexican American positioning within the U.S. racial order and dominant imagination enabled and limited the United States to fashion the nation-state as a racial state? The historical weight of this discursive and ideological constellation gives shape and substance to the nativist protestors’ reactions. That is, these anti-immigration activists were merely drawing upon a rich discursive tradition. Despite several centuries of heritage in what is now the United States, including over a hundred years in midwestern cities , Mexican-descent people are all too often rendered “perpetually foreign .”1 Representations of Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans, Introduction | 3 however, are scripted as more than simply alien. Indeed, cross-border, cross...


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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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