Vanesa Ribas – The Meanings of “Moyo”: Shop Floor Racial Talk as Symbolic Boundary-Making among Latina/o Migrant and African American Workers in the American South


Seminar to be held on Monday, June 3rd in ERC 115 at 12:00 pm.

This presentation draws on ethnographic research primarily conducted while I was employed as a regular production worker in a North Carolina meatpacking plant for sixteen months between 2009 and 2010. As part of a larger project that attempts to explain the character of social relations between Latina/o migrants and their chief counterparts in the workplace – African Americans – I trace the categories and meanings of shop floor racial talk with parallel attention to the diverse ethnoracial panoramas in Latina/o migrants’ origin countries. How are the terms moyo, negro, and moreno used at work? What does this suggest about how Latinos view African Americans as a group? And how does this language relate to pre-migration ideas about blacks and blackness? I find that the use of ethnoracial forms of identification is much more prevalent among Latina/os towards African Americans than the converse, and I examine the features of one particularly salient designation of African Americans as moyos, a term whose valence is indefinite and situational, but frequently acquires pejorative significance. I trace the transnational origins of this identification, finding that its adaptation and propagation occurs within the transnational spaces that Latina/o migrants occupy. Ultimately, I argue that Latinos’ deployment of bold symbolic boundaries expresses racialized resentment, reflecting and reinforcing their perception that they are the most oppressively exploited workers and that African Americans occupy a privileged position in the workplace.

ribas_ucsdVanesa Ribas received her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012. Her research has appeared in the American Sociological Review (with Neal Caren and Raj Ghoshal), Social Science and Medicine (with Janette Dill and Philip Cohen), Teaching Sociology (with Raj Ghoshal et al.), and is forthcoming in Sociological Perspectives. She is working on a book based on her study of Latina/o migration to the American South, labor exploitation, and race relations in a large meatpacking plant.