How race is made in America; Immigratioin, citizenship, & the historical power of racial scripts by Natalia Molina.

Author:Roper, John Herbert, Sr.
Position:Book review

Molina, Natalia. How Race is Made in America; Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. xv + 208 pages. Paper, $27.95.

Historian Natalia Molina's previous work, Fit to be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939 (2006), was a monograph that paid close attention to the issues of public health and treatment of immigrants in Los Angeles, especially Japanese, Chinese, and Mexicans. That study, while carefully (even narrowly) focused on issues of public health and public policy, noted that the concurrent majorities of voting powers, dominated then by relatively wealthy white bourgeoisie, discriminated against all ethnic immigrants but was less oppressive--even occasionally relatively "tolerant"--of Mexicans in particular and Latinos in general. Despite her precise focus on health in a bygone era, the heated debates about immigration in recent years brought her monograph and her ongoing scholarship into much broader concerns about public policy and race relations, with special emphasis on race relations in all societal contexts, especially the processes by which Californians define race--and how they "write scripts" for such descriptions. That more public and controversial set of concerns eventuates in this study, How Race is Made in America, which attempts no less than a description of how power elites interact with working-class blacks and whites and with immigrants to define race for each kind of people in the ethnic polyglot that is our largest and wealthiest state. Her study would be important simply because of California's size and influence, but it is even more important since all of the U.S., most especially the Deep South (once so completely a two-color "script") is trending toward California, that is, rapidly becoming truly multicultural (a point made well in 2014 by Tracy Thompson in The New Mind of the South).

Molina's study emphasizes the "salad bowl' of many diverse ethnic identities (most of which retain clearly distinct features) rather than the once fashionable "melting pot" in which assimilation eliminates the differences in such distinctions in favor of a California/American identity that subsumes Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, and any other specific Asian or Latin American identities. Instead, she uses the much more politically charged word race--a political rather than a biological construct--to examine how the complexities of debate...

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