Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race

By Riopelle, Cameron | Social Alternatives, October 1, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race


Riopelle, Cameron, Social Alternatives


Wendy D. Roth 2012, Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race, Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978004777964 by Cameron Riopelle.

What can be gained from examining race as a cognitive aspect of culture? In Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race (Stanford University Press, 2012), Wendy D. Roth makes several claims. First, that race should be examined within the context of the sociology of culture. Second, that a mixed-methods approach bridging psychology and symbolic interactionism might best bring to light the contested situation of Latinos in the United States, where Latinos complicate the black and white binary racial schema. She argues that racial formation is not a one-way process. Instead, the 'racial schémas' that migrant Latinos bring to the United States affect not only other migrants but non-migrants as well. If race is a transnational cultural phenomenon, it is also a repertoire, a series of learned codes, in an ongoing process of internalisation.

Examining Puerto Rican and Dominican "migrants" and "non-migrants," Roth's primary method is to show participants a series of photographs of what she considers to be archetypal skin colors of Latinos and then inquire about the race of the archetypes. These photographs range in skin color and other characteristics, such as sex, hair type, and nose width. She finds a host of racial schémas, creating a "racial schema portfolio" (13). The schémas discussed by Roth (18) include a continuum racial schema (a range from white to black), nationality racial schema, U.S. racial schema (white or black), and Hispanicised U.S. racial schema (white, black, and Hispanic). The four main chapters deal with the writers' life stories and early traumatic experiences (Chapter 1), their pressures on the job as journalists (Chapter 2), experiences as observers of war and military correspondents (Chapter 3), as well as their history of substance abuse (Chapter 4). Rather than simply adding writer after writer, Underwood sorts his analysis by themes, which gels well with his theoretical framework and avoids too descriptive an account. In what is perhaps too short an epilogue, Underwood speculates about the extent to which modern developments in journalism, such as the increasing isolation of journalists but also the higher awareness of trauma may be leading to different experiences or expressions of the issues affecting their lives. An added bonus is the appendix, which presents separate tables on writers' traumatic experiences outside of and within journalism, making for an easily accessible overview of the main commonalities between them.

Roth argues that migrant Latinos in the United States do not abandon Hispanic Caribbean racial schémas; instead, they think in terms of different schémas depending on the setting.

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