Economic Restructuring and Racialization: Incorporating of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the Rural Midwest (Working Paper #7)

Nancy A. Naples, University of California – Irvine

Introduction: Economic restructuring contributes to a shifting international division of labor that is reshaping the racial-ethnic composition of communities across the U.S. Mexicans have been particularly hard hit by the processes of displacement and wage depreciation in regions across their country. As a consequence of their displacement from other regions coupled with the development of low wage food processing and related industries in the rural Midwest, Latinos are forming a growing proportion of migrants to the Midwest.1 As a result rural communities in the Midwest with a traditionally white European American population have been forced to confront their own racism and manage ethnic tensions previously seen as the problems of urban areas or rural communities in the South, Southwest, and West. How these predominantly white European American communities deal with the growing racial-ethnic diversity will affect the sense of community cohesion and quality of life enjoyed by all residents regardless of racial-ethnic background. The climate for non-white and non-English speaking migrants to the rural Midwest reflects the xenophobic political and social climate in the US more generally. First captured in California’s Proposition 187 and embedded in the 1996 welfare legislation that initially denied legal immigrants and their children access to public assistance intensifies the resistance faced by anyone who addresses the problems of non-white or non-English speaking migrants and immigrants in any US community.2

This presentation centers the standpoint of Mexican and Mexican American residents in rural Iowa and consequently argues for a broadened definition of the state that captures the multiple arenas through which these residents are incorporated into the United States economy, society and polity. This process of incorporation occurs at the local community level and involves ongoing social regulatory activities that circumscribe the ways in which these new residents can make claims as permanent members of this small rural town. These local social regulatory activities construct the racialized, gendered and class specific grounds upon which the Mexicans and Mexican Americans can earn a living wage, access social provisions and gain a political voice to protect their status as legitimate members of the local polity. Shifting the standpoint to those who are often viewed only as the already constituted targets of specific state intervention offers a vivid angle from which to explore the complex processes through which citizenship or legal resident status is constructed and citizenship or residence claims legitimated.

Working Paper #7ยป