- Nuevo South: Latinas/os, Asians, and the Remaking of Placeby Perla M. Guerrero
This book examines the racialization of Vietnamese and Cuban refugees and immigrants of Latin American origin in northwest Arkansas. "[N]either urban nor rural," nearly all white, and only recently prosperous, this region, the author contends, illuminates "other Souths" valuable for moving the study of race in [End Page 746]the United States beyond black and white (p. 4). Perla M. Guerrero claims that the post-1975 racialization of Latinas/os and Asians reflected long-standing "efforts to preserve a racially homogeneous region," which white Arkansans updated by employing "national discourses and local events" in "regionally significant ways" (pp. 7, 8). Guerrero has conducted a number of interviews, and archives furnish some refugee voices, though much of the evidence comes from newspapers, government reports, and documents generated by elected officials and their constituents.
The first chapter introduces a region defined in the twentieth century by African American expulsion, states'-rights politics, and inegalitarian economic development. Chapter 2 turns to the year 1975 and the reception afforded to 26,000 Vietnamese people passing through the Fort Chaffee refugee processing center. Some white Arkansans' anticommunism and "Christian charity" disposed them favorably toward the Vietnamese (p. 51). Others saw only the "yellow peril" (p. 64). The state's aid to refugee medical doctors seeking to practice and its reluctance to extend tuition benefits to younger refugees illustrated the newcomers' circumscribed incorporation. Next, Guerrero turns to the Mariel Cubans housed at Fort Chaffee in 1980. Chapter 3 claims that national media portrayals of the refugees as African-descended, criminal, communist, and homosexual abetted their local racialization. So did the 350 frustrated refugees who breached the camp's perimeter and entered a nearby community. After sampling local reactions, the chapter explores the election-year response of a beleaguered Governor Bill Clinton.
White Arkansans' hostility toward the Cubans "foreshadowed" that directed at other Latinas/os, whose settlement in the area from the mid-1990s is described in chapter 4 (p. 25). Chapter 5 demonstrates that national campaigns against undocumented immigrants established a regional climate suspicious of immigrants years before most Latinas/os arrived in Arkansas. White Arkansans were primed to enforce "spatial illegality," with Latinas/os' everyday actions "constructed as objectionable and illicit, and their mere presence … a violation of community" (p. 153). Examples of white Arkansans criticizing the Latina/o presence in public parks and front yards join police profiling as racialized "[s]truggles over issues of space" (p. 166). This chapter and the conclusion suggest fascinating alternative uses of the state's past. Politicians of both parties, readers learn, invoked Arkansas's history of segregation and educational inequity to call for repentance, actualized by the social integration of Latinas/os and the extension of material benefits, such as in-state tuition, to the undocumented.
These and other topics beg for further investigation. In the introduction, the author states an intention to "understand how their [Asians' and Latinas/os'] racialization changed over time and as new 'others' entered the picture" (p. 13). However, refugees' temporary stay on a military base and Latinas/os' enduring encounters with neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces are quite distinct contexts of racialization. Claims of their connectedness sometimes burden the source base, as do certain attempts to link these racialization episodes to broader political developments, such as the rise of the Religious Right. The "relational" nature of racialization in northwest Arkansas might be clearer if the book said more about Asians after 1975 (p. 16). Though the book implies that Asians initially diversified what later became Latina/o [End Page 747]neighborhoods and schools, it does not seriously investigate how, for example, Asians viewed their Latina/o successors, or how the latter's migration (a significant amount of it undocumented) affected the former's racial status. Finally, instances of repetition accumulate in the text, detracting from this otherwise suggestive look into...