Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Article excerpt

The Borderlands of Race: Mexican Segregation in a South Texas Town. By Jennifer R. Najera. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. Pp. [xii], 183. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-292-76755-3.)

In the rush to discuss the larger themes of racism, race relations, and civil rights activism, historians can take for granted the daily social reality of racial segregation. In The Borderlands of Race: Mexican Segregation in a South Texas Town, Jennifer R. Najera of the University of California, Riverside, a cultural anthropologist by training, offers a sophisticated microhistory of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the South Texas border town of La Feria. This study uncovers the everyday reality of racial segregation, the ways its victims experienced it, and how they have come to interpret it.

Najera argues that in La Feria racial segregation was established in the 1910s as a precise system of social distance and labor control. By the 1940s it had evolved into a somewhat "accommodated form," as segregationists, grudgingly and under some external pressure, adopted token exceptions to the system of racial segregation, which "enabled the blurring of certain racial boundaries" (p. 104). By the 1970s and 1980s, after the arrival of the Chicano movement, the formal system of racial segregation unraveled significantly. In several topical chapters Najera analyzes school policy, the Mexican American middle class, the teaching profession, and the Roman Catholic Church. The author holds that "de jure Mexican segregation was at odds with de facto practices of segregation" (p. 17). While this concept is neither new nor especially profound, The Borderlands of Race successfully complicates segregation as it is most commonly understood. Such nuances mattered a great deal since, as the author notes, "The contradictions in the structure of Mexican segregation actually made processes of desegregation all the more difficult" (p. 3).

The Borderlands of Race, a slim book, would have benefited from a deeper engagement with the existing historical literature on Mexican American education, civic organizations, and civil rights. …

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