'This Ruinous Element': African and Mexican Americans as 'Racial Problems' in early 20th Century California

Aragon, Margarita. 2013. 'This Ruinous Element': African and Mexican Americans as 'Racial Problems' in early 20th Century California. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis explores the contrasting practices and discourses through which African and Mexican Americans were managed and marked as supposedly racial populations. It focuses primarily on Los Angeles and on the first four decades of the 20th century. This focus, however, often shifts temporally and widens geographically, as I excavate the historical roots of each of these processes. I argue that the rigid exclusion of African Americans and the more flexible boundaries placed around Mexican Americans cannot be understood as resulting from variant racial differences but must be examined within the specific historical and material conditions from which they emerged, namely slavery, on the one hand, and conquest and immigration, on the other.
After an initial consideration of these circumstances, I trace their ideological and practical consequences in three areas. First, I examine how black and Mexican people were inversely defined within the regime of racial classification and anti- miscegenation law. Next, I examine how black and Mexican ‘difference’ was spatially imposed in the city of Los Angeles. Finally, I consider how patterns of collective violence, and the related segregatory practices of the World War II military reinforced substantially different social boundaries around each group.
I base this examination upon a wide range of primary sources, including official documents such as court transcripts, congressional hearings, and FBI reports, as well as popular and academic works from the period. Underlying my argument is the notion that race is produced within historically specific social relations; as such, it demands rather than provides explanation. Though historical in perspective, I believe the questions raised here, and the approach with which I attempt to answer them, will be relevant to more recent debates about the workings of racism, particularly those that focus on multiethnic contexts.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Racism, comparative racisms, Mexican American, African American, segregation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



February 2013

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Date Deposited:

28 Jun 2013 09:15

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 10:27



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