My first book, Fit to be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939, explored ways in which race is constructed relationally and regionally. In that work, I argued that race must be understood comparatively. My current book project, Racial Amnesia: The Search for a Usable Past, extends that argument to a different site, immigration. I investigate how Americans from various regions and disparate backgrounds went about creating and understanding racial categories during a period of peak immigration in the early twentieth century.
This article traces challenges to Mexicans' legal and racial status by various groups, including federal bureaucrats, nativist organizations, and everyday citizens. Early twentieth-century efforts to make Mexicans ineligible for U.S. citizenship, despite provisions in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, focused on the premise that Mexicans were neither "black" nor "white"; interest groups and politicians both strove instead to categorize Mexicans as "Indian." These efforts intensified after the 1924 Immigration Act and two Supreme Court decisions, Ozawa v. United States (1922) and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), which declared Japanese and Asian Indians ineligible for citizenship because they were not white. Underlying U.S. efforts to resolve Mexican immigration and citizenship issues was the ongoing problem of determining who could be considered white; this concern clashed with positive Mexican understandings of mestizaje.
Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1940, University of California Press, Spring 2006
“Medicalizing the Mexican: Immigration, Race, and Disability in the Early Twentieth Century United States,” Radical History Review, December 2005
“Inverting Racial Logic: How Public Health Discourse and Standards Racialized the Meanings of Japanese and Mexican in Los Angeles, 1910-1924,” in Racial (Trans)Formations: Latinas/os and Asians Remaking the United States, Duke University Press, Spring 2006
with Anne-Emanuelle Birn, “In the Name of Public Health,” (Editorial), American Journal of Public Health, July 2005, Volume 95, Issue 7
"Illustrating Cultural Authority: Medicalized Representations of Mexican Communities in Early Twentieth Century Los Angeles," Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, Spring 2003
"The Power of Racial Scripts: What the History of Mexican Immigration to the United States Teaches Us About Relational Notions of Race, Latino Studies"
(2010) 8, 156175
Abstract: This article examines Mexican immigration to the United States after the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act to better understand the construction of racial categories. Unlike traditional studies of Mexican immigrants in the United States, this article focuses on how discourses about other racialized groups, principally Indians, African Americans, and Asians, were crucial in informing people what “Mexican” meant at this time.
The post-1924 Immigration Act period is significant in cementing negative cultural constructions of Mexicans that last into the present day and thus is a key place to look to understand these racial constructions. The article draws on immigration hearings, debates, correspondence, and newspaper articles on Mexican immigration demonstrating how immigration discourse was central in cuing people what “Mexican” meant at this time.