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Making Race in the New South: Mexican Migration and Race Relations in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

  • Author(s): Jones, Jennifer Anne Meri
  • Advisor(s): Smith, Sandra S
  • et al.

In this dissertation, I investigate how race is produced by looking at the reception experiences of Afro and Mestizo Mexican migrants to the New South. Despite the fact that Afro and Mestizo Mexicans are both phenotypically and culturally distinct from one another, they now assert a shared racial identity as minorities and as Latinos. Based on ethnographic field work in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I argue that pervasive discrimination due to status drives Mexicans to assert a minority identity that is shaped by their understanding of African-American experiences, and that Mexicans as a whole in this context find themselves increasingly distanced from whites.

The literature on intergroup relations argues that racial and ethnic relations, particularly between minority groups, are rife with conflict and competition. Moreover, the immigration literature suggests that relations with African-Americans are particularly poor in part because upward mobility is achieved by avoiding associations with Blacks, and aspiring toward whiteness. However, in the case of contemporary Mexican migrants in Winston-Salem, I find the opposite processes emerging. Rather than a sense of closeness with whites, Mexicans express a sense of closeness with Blacks, increasingly viewing themselves as minorities and as similar to Blacks. I describe these positive interminority relations as emerging in three ways- through contact and social closeness; solidarity and a sense of shared discrimination; and an emerging sense of linked fate. Using a 12-month ethnographic case study of Winston-Salem, I seek to explain this counterintuitive outcome. My study shows that these positive relations are facilitated by their sense of shared status with African-Americans, an absence of resource competition, sustained positive contact with Blacks, and identifying a common enemy in whites. The implications of these findings for other U.S. communities are considered.

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