Julie M. Weise § Weatherhead Resident Scholar

“Corazón de Dixie: Migration and the Struggle for Rights in the US South and Mexico, 1910–2010”

Julie M. WeiseJulie M. Weise2011–2012 Weatherhead Resident ScholarJulie M. Weise2011–2012 Weatherhead Resident Scholar

I grew up in Los Angeles in largely white private schools, but in parts of the city that were very mixed. In 1994, Proposition 187 was on the ballot in California, the big anti-immigration proposition, and part of that mandated that undocumented kids shouldn’t be allowed to go to schools or use the emergency room, which of course was unconstitutional. I thought it was so dumb, I didn’t even pay attention. And then it won with more than 60 percent of the vote. And I was just like, ‘I am missing something big time.’ I was fifteen.
—Julie M. Weise

California’s Proposition 187 was Julie Weise’s wake-up call. Its passage led her to a life of research, writing, and teaching about the history and dynamics of immigration. While at SAR, Weise revised and completed her book, Corazón de Dixie: Migration and the Struggle for Rights in the US South and Mexico, 1910–2010. Her research shows that, contrary to scholarly assumptions, Mexican immigration to the southeastern United States is not exclusively a late twentieth-century phenomenon. Rather, Mexican immigrant communities have challenged the region’s social, political, and economic structures since the early twentieth century.

Weise conducted thorough research on Mexican immigration, studying sources, most of them previously unused by historians, from Mexican consular archives and US state, municipal, and church records, as well as dozens of newspapers. Weise says, “To capture the experiences of those who left little trace in written records, I collected immigrants’ family photographs and papers and conducted oral history interviews, many in Spanish, with Southern whites, African Americans, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans, all from a variety of political and social class backgrounds.”

Through five case studies, Weise reports on the largely middle-class Mexican immigration to New Orleans during and after the Mexican Revolution; the Mississippi Delta’s Mexican cotton laborers, who drew the Mexican consulate into transnational cultural and political strategies to achieve the social mobility that had eluded them in Texas; and Mexican braceros (guest workers) in Arkansas, who found themselves ultimately marginalized, being socially and economically exploited even after they had gained admission to white public spaces with the assistance of the Mexican government. Her last two case studies explore Mexicans’ place within the “color-blind” but racially informed class politics that came to dominate the South during the final decades of the twentieth century. Her study of the migration of Mexicans and Mexican Americans between Florida and rural Georgia showed that in agricultural areas, whites were eager to incorporate Mexicans socially as long as they kept silent about labor abuses, asked little of Great Society programs, and distanced themselves from African Americans and the civil rights movement. Lastly, responding to changes in US border policy and the Mexican economy, Mexican immigrants to Charlotte, North Carolina, brought their families and settled in suburbs and exurbs, provoking a negative reaction from their white middle-class neighbors, who did not need laborers since they weren’t farmers and instead saw the newcomers as a threat to their own resources.

Weise recently attended a tribute to the seminal book, Becoming Mexican American, by George Sanchez, which is about Mexicans in Los Angeles. A woman who is now dean at a prominent university recalled opening that book as a college student to find her family’s experiences in print for the first time in her life. At the symposium, she tearfully explained how painful it had been to go through all of school and not see her family’s experiences recorded anywhere, as if they were not part of American history or didn’t exist at all. Weise said, “This was a big reminder for me of why I do this stuff, because there’s a whole generation of Southern and Latino college students who are coming of age now and dealing with many of the same challenges. My personal biggest hope for my book is that it will be assigned reading in their class. There’s the scholarly contribution, but there’s also the very basic level of bringing people into the record who were hidden in plain sight, denied even by people in the area. But they were there.”

Find out more about Julie M. Weise by visiting the SAR website (opens in new browser window).

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