- Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910 by Julie M. Weise
Since the late 1980s, the United States has witnessed an unprecedented shift in the geographic dispersal and settlement of Latinos within its borders. Bypassing traditional destinations and gateway cities, particularly in the southwest, Latino migrants, most notably of Mexican descent, have sought out economic opportunities in new locations. This trend is perhaps most conspicuously evident in communities throughout the U.S. South. Both rural and urban areas in states such as North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee have experienced a surge in Latino migration. This demographic phenomenon has spawned a burgeoning body of scholarly research on the societal impact and acceptance of a seemingly new ethnic group. However, few studies give significant attention to the earlier history of Latinos in the region. For that reason, Corazón de Dixie, an exemplary book by Julie W. Weise that explores the history of Mexican and Mexican American labor migration in southern states, is a welcome addition to migration scholarship.
Weise employs a mixed methodology that includes oral histories and archival research (U.S. Census data, Mexican consular records, family photographs, school records, and newspapers) to provide a detailed account of the migratory motivations, struggles, and strategies of “Mexicanos” (Mexicans and Mexican Americans) in the U.S. South since [End Page 169] the beginning of the twentieth century. This approach successfully weaves together five case studies, each of which investigates the historical processes of Mexicano labor migration, settlement, and adaptation in different locations during different time periods. The result is a well-constructed narrative that systematically and chronologically demonstrates that Mexican migration to southern states is anything but a recent occurrence.
Yet, Corazón de Dixie does more than spatially and temporally map out the movement and settlement of Mexicanos throughout the South. Rather, it meticulously illustrates the complex political and racial landscapes these newcomers encountered in their new communities. In doing so, Weise uncovers the tactics Mexicanos utilized to navigate the black/white dichotomy that historically defined race and ethnicity in the Jim Crow-era South. These tactics varied tremendously over the course of the century as migrants and Mexican consular officials continuously revised and updated their stratagems to ensure Mexicans were not negatively categorized in the U.S. racial system. In other words, Mexicans, they asserted, were distinct from blacks and should not be subject to the same racial classification. These schemes ranged from simple reliance on social activism and/or alliances with members of status in local communities (e.g., white employers and protestant churches) to more complex, formal assistance from Mexican consuls in New Orleans and Memphis. Indeed, Weise’s attention to the Mexican consulates’ advocacy of Mexican citizens vis-à-vis the specter of Jim Crow politics provides a transnational context to political discussions about racial structures and early voluntary migrant labor in the rural South.
Corazón de Dixie begins in cosmopolitan New Orleans during the first decades of last century. The story of Mexicans in the Crescent City deviates significantly from the images and experiences of Mexicanos in the U.S. Southwest, where individuals of Mexican descent struggled against blatant labor exploitation and anti-Mexican violence. Rather, Mexicans in New Orleans, Weise asserts, were able to integrate with relative ease into white society with the help of the Mexican consul by presenting Mexico as a culturally Europeanized nation. Thus, Mexican nationalism was the vehicle that enabled Mexican residents to transcend the established color line in interwar New Orleans.
This strategic portrayal of nationalism and identity coupled with the lucrative economic ties that bound the city’s port to coastal Mexico certainly played a role in affording Mexicans the societal privileges of a middle-class white racial status. Nevertheless, readers familiar with the Spanish colonial and Latino history of New Orleans may find this assertion somewhat circumscribed, if...