Throughout much of the twentieth century, Mexican Americans experienced segregation in many areas of public life, but the structure of Mexican segregation differed from the strict racial divides of the Jim Crow South. Factors such as higher socioeconomic status, lighter skin color, and Anglo cultural fluency allowed some Mexican Americans to gain limited access to the Anglo power structure. Paradoxically, however, this partial assimilation made full desegregation more difficult for the rest of the Mexican American community, which continued to experience informal segregation long after federal and state laws officially ended the practice.
In this historical ethnography, Jennifer R. Nájera offers a layered rendering and analysis of Mexican segregation in a South Texas community in the first half of the twentieth century. Using oral histories and local archives, she brings to life Mexican origin peoples’ experiences with segregation. Through their stories and supporting documentary evidence, Nájera shows how the ambiguous racial status of Mexican origin people allowed some of them to be exceptions to the rule of Anglo racial dominance. She demonstrates that while such exceptionality might suggest the permeability of the color line, in fact the selective and limited incorporation of Mexicans into Anglo society actually reinforced segregation by creating an illusion that the community had been integrated and no further changes were needed. Nájera also reveals how the actions of everyday people ultimately challenged racial/racist ideologies and created meaningful spaces for Mexicans in spheres historically dominated by Anglos.
Jennifer R. Nájera is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Riverside.
"Jennifer Nájera has produced an outstanding historical ethnography of the practice of segregation in twentieth-century South Texas. Focusing on the town of La Feria, the book paints a vivid portrait of how Mexicans experienced and resisted segregation in churches, schools, and other spaces of everyday life. Especially illuminating is Nájera’s treatment of racializing processes, of how the ambiguous racial status of Mexicans—who were seen as not quite white, Indian, or black—fundamentally shaped the lived reality of segregation. As a whole, The Borderlands of Race wonderfully details what it was like for Mexicans to reside in a racially segregated community. It is a must read for scholars and students interested in the study of race, nation, borders, and citizenship."
~Jonathan Xavier Inda, Associate Professor of Latina/Latino Studies and Criticism and Intrepretive Theory, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and author of Targeting Immigrants: Government. Technology, and Ethics
"The Borderlands of Race will be a valuable addition to the literature on Texas, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, and Chicano/a studies. . . . The author offers a new means for understanding the uncertain and inconsistent policies of segregation through what she calls ‘accommodated segregation.’"
~Antony P. Mora, Associate Professor of American Culture and History, University of Michigan, and author of Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848–1912
"A welcome addition to the literature on race in the US-Mexico borderlands."
~Great Plains Research
Introduction: Mexican Inflections of Ethnography and History
Part 1. The Culture of Mexican Segregation
1. The Borderlands of Race and Rights
2. Establishing a Culture of Segregation
3. Formal and Informal Mexican Education within the Context of Segregation
4. An Accommodated Form of Segregation
Part 2. Processes of Racial Integration
5. Troubling the Culture of School Segregation: Mexican American Teachers and the Path to Desegregation
6. Surgiendo de la Base: Community Movement and the Desegregation of the Catholic Church
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