Friday, September 26, 2008

Leo R. Chavez's The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation

I read Leo R. Chavez's The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation. The book is organized around the idea of what he calls the "Latino Threat Narrative," which is a neat way of describing the paranoid discourse about Latinos. Even more so than other immigrant groups, Latinos are persistently viewed as a threat for many reasons, based on myths, or rather "taken-for-granted" truths that are perpetuated, particularly in the media. Chavez takes each of these components of the Latino Threat Narrative apart, examining their origins and explaining empirically why they are false. It's very effective.

He concludes with the idea that the entire notion of "assimilation" is misunderstood, since as commonly used it suggests there is a linear path toward something called "American." Yet, in fact, "American" is a constantly changing amalgam and, as he points out at the end of the book, historically has strong Mexican influences (he uses the cowboy as an example).

My only quibble is the academic lingo. He discusses the emphasis on the "other" to underline how Latino immigrants are stigmatized, but the argument is not really enhanced by sentences like "Policy makers, using Foucauldian techniques of governmentality, construct classifications to further bureaucratic control of populations, including, and perhaps most especially, migrants" (p. 25) or "Biopower includes modes of subjectification, through which individuals are constructed as subjects who work on themselves in the name of the individual or collective life or health" (p. 175). How governments use power with regard to "others" is very important, but I felt the postmodern influence tended to obscure rather than illuminate, though I should note that most of the book is very accessible.

It is worth checking out.


Miguel Centellas 10:04 AM  

My impression has always been that postmodernism's main goal is to obscure things. Because if you can't decipher them, then you're not really enlightened. Or something like that.

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