Citizens But Not Americans: Race & Belonging Among Latino Millennials

Citizens But Not Americans: Race & Belonging Among Latino Millennials The US Census Bureau recently announced that it will use the 2010 Census’s separate racial and ethnic category questions for the 2020 Census (Fontenot 2018),1 disregarding research indicating that a single, combined race/ethnicity question would provide more accurate population data. Though US Census racial and ethnic category decisions are not its main concern, Nilda Flores-González’s timely book Citizens But Not Americans offers crucial insight into how such a decision, if approved, would underscore Latino millennials’ sense of estrangement from their homeland by miscounting or misrepresenting them. By examining Latino millennials’ self-understandings of race and belonging, Flores-González contributes to ongoing debates concerning conceptual distinctions between race and ethnicity, the transformation of the US color line, and the ethnoracial dimensions of citizenship. To set the stage for these contributions, which emerged from a careful analysis of 97 in-depth interviews with second-, third-, and fourth-generation Latino millennials in the Chicago area, Flores-González first documents how this group experiences exclusion and discrimination in public spaces that continue to be racially segregated. While signals such as dark skin and Spanish language use subjected some youths to more intense experiences of discrimination, all youths experienced exclusion in public white spaces due to a shared Latin American ancestry that marked them as “not white.” These experiences contributed to youths’ self-understandings of their de jure inclusion but de facto exclusion from full participation in American life. The remainder of the book documents how these self-understandings were manifest in youths’ understandings of their ethnoracial identity, their “racial middle” position within the US racial hierarchy, and their strategies to recast themselves as “real” Americans. First, Latino millennials often used panethnic and ethnic categories interchangeably when describing their racial identities, challenging traditional conceptual distinctions between race and ethnicity and providing evidence for Latinos as an “ethnorace,” or a group distinguished not only by physical traits (“the Latino prototype”) but also by culture, nationality, and geographic origin. These youths experienced frustration when asked to choose from conventional categories that split race and ethnicity because these classifications did not align with their self-understandings or lived experiences. As Flores-González (64) emphasizes, “the interchangeable, simultaneous, and contextual nature of ethnicity and race for Latino millennials…renders the separation of ethnicity and race, as well as the separation of national origin and panethnic terms, meaningless.” Second, Latino millennials largely understood their position in the US racial hierarchy as occupying the space between whites and blacks. Flores-González enriches previous theorization of the “racial middle” (e.g., Bonilla-Silva 2004) by demonstrating how the placement of specific groups within the US racial hierarchy is a multidimensional, dynamic process in which relative positionality depends on the racial criteria in question. In terms of privilege, for example, Latino youth placed themselves higher than blacks but, in terms of civic ostracism, they placed themselves lower than blacks. Overall, Flores-González finds that only a few youths placed themselves at either the white or black ends of the racial continuum. Instead, the large majority placed themselves in a racial middle, though the specific contours of their placement depended on individual characteristics (e.g., skin color, social class) and experiences with discrimination. Finally, Flores-González demonstrates how Latino millennials strategically challenged the American ethnoracial ideal and reconfigured what it means to be American. In addition to contesting the white, European-origin, and Christian ideal of American citizenship, they deployed common American ideological tropes, such as freedom and opportunity, and counternarratives like multiculturalism, to emphasize their belonging. Again, this was a dynamic process that depended on individual characteristics such as gender; Flores-González posits that women, for example, more often used the trope of opportunity because they had fewer experiences of discrimination than their male counterparts. Additionally, Latino youths crafted integrated subjectivities that blended their ethnic and American identities and allowed them to move across the boundaries of multiple social worlds. My reading of Flores-González’s excellent analysis left me with two questions. First, I wanted to know more about the relationship between youths’ racial residential contexts and their narratives. Some parts of the analysis—especially in chapter 4, when Flores-González argues that physical proximity and residential context affect youths’ understandings of positioning within the racial middle—directly engage this question. But details about youths’ residential contexts are vague: at least some grew up in white suburbs (103), but elsewhere we learn that the sample largely came from working-class families that did not fit the white suburban ideal (123). Further, we learn little about how youths’ experiences of discrimination in (white) residential contexts may have compared to microagressions they encountered in public white spaces (chapter 2), or how residential context affect may have affected their understandings of Latino as an ethnorace (e.g., chapter 3, 68–69). Overall, more specificity and consistency in documenting these youths’ racial residential contexts would have enriched the analysis. Second, I wanted to understand why racial identification may have affected Latino youths’ strategies to recast themselves as “real” Americans. For example, unlike her analysis of why gender affects use of the “opportunity” trope (see above), Flores-González notes that racial identification was related to youths’ deployment of the “opportunity” (129) and “patriotism” tropes (132) and the counternarrative of intercontinentalism (138) but does not explain why this pattern may have emerged. Here, drawing on and extending prior work connecting Latinos’ racial identification with racial attitudes (e.g., Bonilla-Silva 2004) and behaviors (e.g., Valdez 2011) would have deepened her analysis. Despite these lingering questions, Flores-González provides a compelling analysis of how Latino millennials make sense of race and belonging at a time when public discourse repeatedly construes them as unwelcome and public policy decisions threaten to miscount or misrepresent them. In line with other recent work on youth and race, such as Neda Maghbouleh’s (2017)The Limits of Whiteness, Flores-González’s book provides timely direction for researchers interested in examining on-the-ground understandings of race/ethnicity and the everyday processes that contribute to belonging and exclusion in contemporary American life. Note 1 As of this writing, the decision is pending approval by the Office of Management and Budget. References Bonilla-Silva , Eduardo . 2004 . “ From Bi-Racial to Tri-Racial: Towards a New System of Racial Stratification in the USA .” Ethnic and Racial Studies 27 ( 6 ): 931 – 50 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Fontenot , Arnold Jr . 2018 . “Memorandum: Using Two Separate Questions for Race and Ethnicity in 2018 End-to-End Census Test and 2020 Census.” https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=4360640-2020-Memo-2018-02. Accessed January 29, 2018. Maghbouleh , Neda . 2017 . The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race . Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press . Valdez , Zulema . 2011 . “ Political Participation Among Latinos in the United States: The Effect of Group Identity and Consciousness .” Social Science Quarterly 92 ( 2 ): 466 – 82 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Social Forces Oxford University Press

Citizens But Not Americans: Race & Belonging Among Latino Millennials

Social Forces , Volume Advance Article (4) – Mar 7, 2018

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Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.
ISSN
0037-7732
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1534-7605
D.O.I.
10.1093/sf/soy010
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Abstract

The US Census Bureau recently announced that it will use the 2010 Census’s separate racial and ethnic category questions for the 2020 Census (Fontenot 2018),1 disregarding research indicating that a single, combined race/ethnicity question would provide more accurate population data. Though US Census racial and ethnic category decisions are not its main concern, Nilda Flores-González’s timely book Citizens But Not Americans offers crucial insight into how such a decision, if approved, would underscore Latino millennials’ sense of estrangement from their homeland by miscounting or misrepresenting them. By examining Latino millennials’ self-understandings of race and belonging, Flores-González contributes to ongoing debates concerning conceptual distinctions between race and ethnicity, the transformation of the US color line, and the ethnoracial dimensions of citizenship. To set the stage for these contributions, which emerged from a careful analysis of 97 in-depth interviews with second-, third-, and fourth-generation Latino millennials in the Chicago area, Flores-González first documents how this group experiences exclusion and discrimination in public spaces that continue to be racially segregated. While signals such as dark skin and Spanish language use subjected some youths to more intense experiences of discrimination, all youths experienced exclusion in public white spaces due to a shared Latin American ancestry that marked them as “not white.” These experiences contributed to youths’ self-understandings of their de jure inclusion but de facto exclusion from full participation in American life. The remainder of the book documents how these self-understandings were manifest in youths’ understandings of their ethnoracial identity, their “racial middle” position within the US racial hierarchy, and their strategies to recast themselves as “real” Americans. First, Latino millennials often used panethnic and ethnic categories interchangeably when describing their racial identities, challenging traditional conceptual distinctions between race and ethnicity and providing evidence for Latinos as an “ethnorace,” or a group distinguished not only by physical traits (“the Latino prototype”) but also by culture, nationality, and geographic origin. These youths experienced frustration when asked to choose from conventional categories that split race and ethnicity because these classifications did not align with their self-understandings or lived experiences. As Flores-González (64) emphasizes, “the interchangeable, simultaneous, and contextual nature of ethnicity and race for Latino millennials…renders the separation of ethnicity and race, as well as the separation of national origin and panethnic terms, meaningless.” Second, Latino millennials largely understood their position in the US racial hierarchy as occupying the space between whites and blacks. Flores-González enriches previous theorization of the “racial middle” (e.g., Bonilla-Silva 2004) by demonstrating how the placement of specific groups within the US racial hierarchy is a multidimensional, dynamic process in which relative positionality depends on the racial criteria in question. In terms of privilege, for example, Latino youth placed themselves higher than blacks but, in terms of civic ostracism, they placed themselves lower than blacks. Overall, Flores-González finds that only a few youths placed themselves at either the white or black ends of the racial continuum. Instead, the large majority placed themselves in a racial middle, though the specific contours of their placement depended on individual characteristics (e.g., skin color, social class) and experiences with discrimination. Finally, Flores-González demonstrates how Latino millennials strategically challenged the American ethnoracial ideal and reconfigured what it means to be American. In addition to contesting the white, European-origin, and Christian ideal of American citizenship, they deployed common American ideological tropes, such as freedom and opportunity, and counternarratives like multiculturalism, to emphasize their belonging. Again, this was a dynamic process that depended on individual characteristics such as gender; Flores-González posits that women, for example, more often used the trope of opportunity because they had fewer experiences of discrimination than their male counterparts. Additionally, Latino youths crafted integrated subjectivities that blended their ethnic and American identities and allowed them to move across the boundaries of multiple social worlds. My reading of Flores-González’s excellent analysis left me with two questions. First, I wanted to know more about the relationship between youths’ racial residential contexts and their narratives. Some parts of the analysis—especially in chapter 4, when Flores-González argues that physical proximity and residential context affect youths’ understandings of positioning within the racial middle—directly engage this question. But details about youths’ residential contexts are vague: at least some grew up in white suburbs (103), but elsewhere we learn that the sample largely came from working-class families that did not fit the white suburban ideal (123). Further, we learn little about how youths’ experiences of discrimination in (white) residential contexts may have compared to microagressions they encountered in public white spaces (chapter 2), or how residential context affect may have affected their understandings of Latino as an ethnorace (e.g., chapter 3, 68–69). Overall, more specificity and consistency in documenting these youths’ racial residential contexts would have enriched the analysis. Second, I wanted to understand why racial identification may have affected Latino youths’ strategies to recast themselves as “real” Americans. For example, unlike her analysis of why gender affects use of the “opportunity” trope (see above), Flores-González notes that racial identification was related to youths’ deployment of the “opportunity” (129) and “patriotism” tropes (132) and the counternarrative of intercontinentalism (138) but does not explain why this pattern may have emerged. Here, drawing on and extending prior work connecting Latinos’ racial identification with racial attitudes (e.g., Bonilla-Silva 2004) and behaviors (e.g., Valdez 2011) would have deepened her analysis. Despite these lingering questions, Flores-González provides a compelling analysis of how Latino millennials make sense of race and belonging at a time when public discourse repeatedly construes them as unwelcome and public policy decisions threaten to miscount or misrepresent them. In line with other recent work on youth and race, such as Neda Maghbouleh’s (2017)The Limits of Whiteness, Flores-González’s book provides timely direction for researchers interested in examining on-the-ground understandings of race/ethnicity and the everyday processes that contribute to belonging and exclusion in contemporary American life. Note 1 As of this writing, the decision is pending approval by the Office of Management and Budget. References Bonilla-Silva , Eduardo . 2004 . “ From Bi-Racial to Tri-Racial: Towards a New System of Racial Stratification in the USA .” Ethnic and Racial Studies 27 ( 6 ): 931 – 50 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Fontenot , Arnold Jr . 2018 . “Memorandum: Using Two Separate Questions for Race and Ethnicity in 2018 End-to-End Census Test and 2020 Census.” https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=4360640-2020-Memo-2018-02. Accessed January 29, 2018. Maghbouleh , Neda . 2017 . The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race . Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press . Valdez , Zulema . 2011 . “ Political Participation Among Latinos in the United States: The Effect of Group Identity and Consciousness .” Social Science Quarterly 92 ( 2 ): 466 – 82 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

Social ForcesOxford University Press

Published: Mar 7, 2018

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