The Borderlands of Race

The Borderlands of Race: Mexican Segregation in a South Texas Town

JENNIFER R. NÁJERA
Copyright Date: 2015
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/767553
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  • Book Info
    The Borderlands of Race
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-76756-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: MEXICAN INFLECTIONS OF ETHNOGRAPHY AND HISTORY
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1957, Arthur J. Rubel began his fieldwork in a small, racially segregated town in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas that he called “New Lots.” His goal was to conduct ethnographic research about “Mexiquito,” the segregated Mexican area of town. Rubel spent the first ten days of his time in the field walking along every street in the city and entering every store. Each time he entered a place of business, he introduced himself and described his research agenda to the proprietors, clerks, and customers of the store. Reflecting on these early stages of fieldwork in the...

  5. PART 1. The Culture of Mexican Segregation
    • CHAPTER ONE THE BORDERLANDS OF RACE AND RIGHTS
      (pp. 15-34)

      On a bright midsummer morning, I approach a white, wood-framed house on the north side of the railroad tracks, in a neighborhood commonly referred to asel pueblo mexicano. I have scheduled an interview with Amalia Barrera, a Mexican American woman in her eighties, who has spent the majority of her life in La Feria. She is delicate in her old age, fair skinned, and she speaks to me in perfect Spanish. We sit together in her living room on two worn sofas next to a window that filters in orange light. A small fan buzzes back and forth between...

    • CHAPTER TWO ESTABLISHING A CULTURE OF SEGREGATION
      (pp. 35-56)

      It was early enough in the morning that the air was still dewy and cool, though the white summer sun was already beginning to shine brightly through the homes on a crowded block ofel pueblo mexicano. I had returned for the third time to this small white house intent upon talking to Santiago Martinez, whose schedule always seemed to conflict with my own. That morning, I found the ninety-year-old lifelong resident of La Feria sitting, shirtless, on the porch enjoying the cool morning while eating a plate ofmigas. When he saw me, he stood graciously and said, “Pásale,”...

    • CHAPTER THREE FORMAL AND INFORMAL MEXICAN EDUCATION WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF SEGREGATION
      (pp. 57-82)

      In the epigraph to this chapter, Nicasio Idar, editor and publisher of the Spanish-language newspaperLa Crónica, laments the kind of schooling that Mexican-origin children received in Texas at the beginning of the twentieth century. He articulates what many Mexican parents must have been feeling as their children were subjected to a barrage of Americanization programs with an emphasis on English-language instruction in segregated, under-resourced schools throughout South Texas. While some scholars have discussed the ways in which Mexican people fought for equity in the school system through lawsuits and protests, few, if any, have looked substantively at the ways...

    • CHAPTER FOUR AN ACCOMMODATED FORM OF SEGREGATION
      (pp. 83-106)

      Pauline Kibbe, a member of the Good Neighbor Commission, writes in 1946 about Mexicans in Texas, following her “one-syllable” response to whether or not discrimination exists with a sentence riddled with qualifiers. The Good Neighbor Commission had been established by then Texas governor Coke Stevenson to assuage the concerns of the Mexican government that discrimination was rampant in the state (Kibbe 1946; McWilliams 1948). Because of the Mexican government’s negative perception of Texas’s racial environment, it blacklisted Texas from receiving workers through the bracero program (McWilliams 1948). Within that political context, Kibbe might have been attempting to soften her assessment...

  6. PART 2. Processes of Racial Integration
    • CHAPTER FIVE TROUBLING THE CULTURE OF SCHOOL SEGREGATION: MEXICAN AMERICAN TEACHERS AND THE PATH TO DESEGREGATION
      (pp. 109-133)

      Maria Paredes was one of the first Mexican American teacher’s aides employed by the La Feria School District in the 1960s. In the above excerpt from her oral history interview, she intimates that Anglo administrators treated her and other Mexican American women who worked as teachers and teacher’s aides well during their time working at Sam Houston Elementary School. She reasons that the administration supported them because they were not “troublemakers.” Paredes and her Mexican American coworkers were generally among a group of Mexican-origin people whose families attained higher levels of economic and cultural capital beginning in the late 1940s...

    • CHAPTER SIX SURGIENDO DE LA BASE: COMMUNITY MOVEMENT AND THE DESEGREGATION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
      (pp. 134-153)

      The preceding vignette represents a typical experience for Mexican Catholics in La Feria during the period of segregation throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In discussing incidents of racial separation within the context of the local Catholic church, several Mexican-origin community members recounted similar stories to me. Though Anglo and Mexican parishioners worshiped in the same sanctuary, Mexicans were relegated to a separate side of the church. Many Mexican people remember that an Anglo usher would make them feel “uncomfortable” if they were to sit on the “wrong” side of the church. After years of coerced separation, Mexican...

  7. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 154-164)

    I approach the brightly lit stadium nervously that fall Friday night. Because I have arrived late, I have had to park on the frontage road along the expressway instead of at the high school. There are throngs of people in maroon on the La Feria side, blue and gold on the opposing side, representing the Brownsville-Lopez Lobos. I climb the stadium steps feeling lost in the crowd; everyone has already taken their seats and is engrossed in the game. I finally spot the roped-off section along the fifty-yard line that marks the beginning of the reserved section. Through new friendships...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 165-170)
  9. REFERENCES
    (pp. 171-176)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 177-183)