Monday, June 19, 2017

Llana Barber's "Latino City"

Llana Barber is assistant professor of American Studies at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945–2000, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Latino City explores how Latino Lawrencians “were blamed for the very obstacles they had to overcome in the city.” This does indeed capture a twinned emphasis of my book: Not only did urban crisis create hardship for the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans who settled in the city, but white residents also scapegoated the newcomers for the city’s economic troubles.

Latino City explores Lawrence’s transformation to New England’s first Latino-majority city in the late twentieth century. Lawrence today is nearly three-quarters Latino, mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican, yet this demographic shift was fraught with struggle. White flight, suburban competition, and deindustrialization devastated Lawrence’s economy in the postwar decades, and Latinos entered into a city in crisis. Many white residents correlated the city’s economic decline with the arrival of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, and became convinced that if they could halt the Latino influx into Lawrence, they could restore the city’s prosperity.

Although this scapegoating took multiple forms, page 99 focuses on the street level contestations between white and Latino residents, as daily issues became racialized within the broader political processes operating in the city, culminating in two nights of rioting in 1984:
In the larger context of white hostility, ostensibly neutral issues could become sources of bitterly racialized tension. One Dominican Lawrencians who lived in the Lower Tower Hill neighborhood where the 1984 riots would take place recalled the tension leading up to the explosion. She described frequent arguments in the neighborhood, as white and Latino residents yelled and cursed at each other about seemingly superficial things that had become racialized only in the context of the larger changes in the city, such as “‘why are you parking here’ or ‘pick up your garbage.’” White and Latino Lawrencians even fought over whose music would fill the air... In 1984, one presumably white resident summed up how racial tension was reflected in cultural terms in his assertion that Lawrence needed “more Van Halen and less Michael Jackson.”
While this page captures well the quotidian struggles Latinos had to engage in to settle in the city, it is missing the book’s larger emphasis on the metropolitan political economy that generated urban crisis and the role of U.S. intervention in Latin America in generating Latino migration, as these points are addressed in other chapters.
Learn more about Latino City at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue