The dissertation develops our theorizing about the dynamics of racialization, and the role of race and ethnicity, in the United States, particularly in order to account for the dynamics and processes unique to Latinos. It does so by examining white attitudes towards Latinos in Orange County, California through public discourse analysis of the "Ask a Mexican" column, a survey instrument and a series of in-depth interviews to triangulate whites' use and logic of racial stereotypes and policy preferences. Orange County is a good testing ground for contemporary Latino racialization because it is a majority minority area, which has a long history of migration from Mexico, with deep racial segregation that reflects racial inequalities between whites and Latinos. While Latinos in the United States as a whole are a heterogeneous group my data demonstrates how the current racialization of Latinos in the United States has a homogenizing effect.
Empirically my data maps racial stereotypes whites have had and continue to reference as the Latino population has increased. These include: Latinos are inherently criminal; do not value education; abuse public assistance; and do not assimilate. They further diametrically oppose what it is to be an American and from being Mexican. Whites use the illegality frame, but frequently assign characteristics to all Latinos regardless of their status and generation. The findings demonstrate how the perceptions of whites towards Latinos are used when whites make daily decisions and also form their larger policy preferences. While some supported a pathway to citizenship most of the respondents overwhelmingly held negative and frequently racist views of Latinos.
Theoretically, my work interrogates how Latinos/Mexicans have their own complex, multifaceted dynamics, including the implications of proximity to Mexico, the torrid race relations between whites and Latinos that included labor exploitation, segregation and lynching as well as the ongoing dominant discourse centered around Latinos being "illegal," a threat, and undeserving of citizenship. My research reveals that whites often use "ethnic" terms to really mean biological, racially fixed terms. Thus, the extent to which Latinos are imagined to be a race or ethnicity among populations outside the academy have major implications. Importantly, whites consistently express the belief that Latinos are not assimilating and consistently assert that an alleged "backward" culture is passed down from generation to generation, leading whites to believe Mexicans are an inferior group. Furthermore, my data account for context of reception, measured by white attitudes towards Latinos, that the literature does not take into account. My data also supports Ngai's and other scholarship about Latinos treated as perpetual foreigners, but also adds how other parts of the Latino community are labeled and treated as racial minorities. Thus, my data challenges past literature that examines the Latino experience solely through an immigrant paradigm. Lastly, my findings challenge Black exceptionalism and a black/non-black color line, because it proves in fact that whites have racist sentiments towards Latinos and do not see them similar to themselves.