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  • Introduction:New Directions of the Latina/o South
  • Perla M. Guerrero (bio)

When I attended my first academic conferences as a graduate student between 2003 and 2005, people reacted with bewilderment when I told them I wanted to study Latinas/os in the US South. Then they reacted with incredulity when I clarified that I was going to study the Latina/o communities in Arkansas. "But the community must be tiny," one of them said. "The last census counted ninety thousand Latinas/os," I responded. Many of the graduate students, and even some faculty, including Latinas/os, were unaware of the growing communities in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and other southern states. My family's migration from California to Arkansas is what led me to study our community and to understand reactions to us. Like so many others, my family moved for work.

My research about race in the South, about how Asians and Latinas/os are understood in the region, is a direct result of moving to a place that did not know who we were when we first arrived but swiftly defined my community as unwanted, illegals, and criminals. When I left Arkansas to start graduate school, I was exhausted. I was tired of seeing the social distance I felt reflected and reinforced through the absence of Latina/o history—in life we were unwanted, in books we were invisible. Almost fifteen years after I left, my first book, Nuevo South: Latinas/os, Asians, and the Remaking of Place, was published. I worked toward establishing a history about Latinas/os in Arkansas—about the Latina/o South—so that future youth see themselves in their books, so they can see the contributions of their parents and grandparents whether they worked in the poultry industry or labor organizations. My Arkansas experiences have stayed with me and defined who I am as a Latina, a southerner, and an American. These are questions I never would have asked had I stayed in California. Questions about race and labor that existed in California but that I overlooked and that came to the forefront in the US South. Herein lies the potential of the histories of the Latina/o Souths—the diversity, the challenges, the specificity of places, the [End Page 69] sometimes unique experiences that bring distinct ideas into collision and can push us as scholars, and even push the nation, to face unasked questions.1

This forum brings together leading scholars of the Latina/o South who are pushing the boundaries, fields, and questions that have guided research about the region. The contributing authors are Latina/o studies scholars as well as scholars of history, American studies, and political science and as such represent the vastness and new directions of the field. Sarah McNamara's essay is largely anchored in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Florida and focuses on Latina organizers and labor leaders—Black Puerto Rican Luisa Capetillo and Guatemalan Luisa Moreno. She connects Latina activists in the contemporary period with earlier activists who shaped the region in order to combat the idea that Latinas/os "have no history here" (Martínez quoted in McNamara). Capetillo's Latinidad is what allowed her to hold a position that an African American woman could not hold at that time. Knowing more histories of Afro-Latinas/os in the South can elucidate both how individuals negotiated issues of race, ethnicity, and gender and how a segregated society adapted to newcomers who did not neatly fit into a racial binary.

The question of how Latinas/os negotiate a segregated society remains as relevant as ever. In her essay, Cecilia Márquez offers a critique of "Juan Crow," a shorthand for the racist, anti-immigrant, and southern-style segregation that Latinas/os experience in the contemporary US South. One of the problems with this concept is that it presents Latinas/os as living under a system separate from Jim Crow, while Jim Crow is regarded as a relic of the past instead of an ongoing structuring system of oppression. The other problem with the concept of Juan Crow is that it invisibilizes Black Latinas/os whose lives are shaped by both de...


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