“Juan Crow in Georgia”

Check out this month-old but fantastic article from The Nation titled “Juan Crow in Georgia.” Author and activist Roberto Lovato provides us with a humanistic and compassionate look at immigration in the South. His main argument is that the current immigration regulation apparatus means Latino youth in the South “are growing up in a racial and political climate in which Latinos’ subordinate status…bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans who were living under Jim Crow.”

Lovato centers the human experiences of youth growing up in this highly racialized and increasingly stratified social system. He also helps to situate the causes and effects of some of the recent evolutions in immigration regulation being promoted by the Bush administration, namely, tactics which help blur the lines between federal and state responsibilities and jurisdictions. These tactics, says Lovato, owe more than coincidental connection to historic legal frameworks of the slave era of the South, as well as the Jim Crow era which followed in its wake.

The only concern I have with Lovato’s piece is that I think it leans too much toward the side of demonizing the South as the home of U.S. dysfunction with respect to race. I am sure he would agree, there is a potential danger in this kind of thinking, inasmuch as it absolves the rest of the nation for their own regionally-specific racisms as well as the many ways they are complicit in Southern racism.

One of the true intellectual gifts of fields of inquiry like Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies is the researched and grounded challenge it presents to the narrative characterizing U.S. racism as an aberration, as an exception to the rule, and/or as a localized affair. Racial oppression was/is not merely an imperfection within the American ideal of itself, confined to a region filled with bigots and their slaves. The experiences of Latinos in the U.S., largely concentrated in the Southwest and Northeast for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, testify to the rampant and systemic racisms north of the Mason-Dixon. Indeed, racism is as American as apple pie.

This Southern dysfunction/Northern absolution story is but one of the many consequences of the Civil War. Outside of Southern historical circles, the trend was to convict the South of the crimes against freedom while redeeming the North as its guardian. Of course, such analyses are filled with historical inaccuracies. To provide but one example, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves who resided in State which had seceded.

Chicano/Latino Studies, and Roberto Lovato’s story, are both reminders of the ways the U.S.’s racial problems are not only not a thing of the past, they are also woven into the fabric of what this nation is. I don’t mean to be dramatic or pessimistic in my analysis on these topics, but I do think it is vital for those of us engaged in the struggle for a more just, multiracial, and equitable society to be realistic of what it is we face.

All that said, I am sure you will find Lovato’s article a worth-while read.

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