- How Race is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts by Natalia Molina
By Natalia Molina. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. 232pp. isbn 978-0520280083
We live in an era of unprecedented border militarization. Immigration “reform” and border “protection” are near-daily subjects in local and national news, and primary in contentious topics by presidential candidates. The desire to “protect” our borders by preventing unwanted brown bodies from passing into the U.S. (despite the fact that most undocumented peoples arrive by plane and overstay visas), and the perceived need to “protect” citizens and communities from immigrant groups that are defined as illegal, criminal, diseased, and unwanted, is not a new phenomenon. In How Race is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts, historian Natalia Molina examines the historical roots of “why Mexicans are still not deemed fully American and are largely equated with illegality” (1).
Molina examines what she classifies as an “immigration regime” that emerged between 1924–1965. Situated between two of the most significant immigration policies of the twentieth century—the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act and the 1965 Hart-Celler Act—Molina explores how this immigration regime influenced and shaped racial categories and concepts of citizenship through laws and practices, as well as the rhetoric and racial scripts used in debates about immigration and race more broadly. How Race is Made in America focuses on two main themes: First, it seeks “to understand how race and citizenship were constructed” during the immigration regime of 1924–1965, focusing specifically on Mexican immigration and race-making (1). Secondly, and central to the overall goal of the book, Molina argues that race and racism were and continue to be relationally constructed. As such, throughout the monograph she highlights the linkages of racialization across communities and time.
How Race is Made in America is arranged chronologically, but is also thematically driven. Divided into two sections, Part I contains three chapters that focus on the ways in which immigration debates shaped racial classification and the efforts to exclude and limit Mexicans’ access to citizenship in the 1920s–30s. This section introduces early initiatives to control Mexican immigration and provides the framework for the case studies presented in Part II. Chapter One is especially important for non-specialists as it examines the unique position Mexicans occupied as legally white members of society who were simultaneously marked as culturally nonwhite. Additionally, it explains how Mexican immigration is indelibly tied to labor and capitalism: “Examining the long immigration debate era reveals that what was at stake was not the purported maintenance of U.S. racial purity but the need to manage labor: ‘… [D]espite the deep tradition of racial hierarchy and racial exclusion built into the American system, the dynamics of capitalist expansion always worked at cross-purposes to the goal of racial and cultural homogeneity’” (22).
Chapters Two and Three focus on attempts to restrict and prevent Mexicans from legally claiming U.S. citizenship. Chapter Two examines challenges to Mexicans’ rights to claim citizenship via naturalization, while Chapter Three explores the debates emerging in the 1930s over Mexicans’ right to claim birthright citizenship. Particularly noteworthy is Chapter Three: By examining the racial scripts involved in birthright citizenship debates, Molina shifts the focus from male workers, who have traditionally predominated in scholarship on labor and immigration, to debates in which women and families became a focus.
Part II highlights the continuation of attempts to restrict and curtail Mexican immigration into the 1940s–50s, but also highlights a decisive shift in immigration maneuvers, where marking Mexicans as deportable and perpetually foreign dominated the realm of Mexican immigration. Chapters Four and Five serve as case studies of these efforts and the various entry points authorities created to justify deportation. Chapter Four shows how deportation was a framework that fit within immigration debates, but also a framework to discipline and control labor. Focusing on deportations in the Imperial Valley, Molina examines medical racialization and the push to classify Mexicans...