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Drawing the Color Line: Representations of Latinos in the Chicago Defender’s Editorial Cartoons

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Abstract:

Studies on race are dominated by scholarship that positions whiteness in opposition to people of color. Historians, for instance, have deftly charted how Latinos’ racial position as an “in-between space” as “white/not white” shifted in dominant discussions about race through the twentieth century. While extremely valuable, these histories have mostly considered the creation of racial categories as emerging from a comparison between whites and Latinos, whites and African Americans, or whites and Asians. Historically, however, all of these various racialized groups have been engaged in articulating their positions against multiple Others. Only a few historians have tentatively explored the ways that African Americans imagined Latinos, Asians, and other groups. This paper offers a starting corrective to this problem by considering how images from a prominent African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, represented their relationship to Latinos in the first decades of the twentieth century. By looking at these images, we start to see race as more complicated than previously assumed by making visible distinctive African-American racial ideologies.
Rather than presuming that Latinos and African Americans’ notions of each other came exclusively from the white dominated media, we need to consider how Latinos and African Americans created their own understandings about race in the U.S. For African Americans elites, the Defender became a venue to explore their relationship to the increasing Latino population. This is not to say, of course, that editors and cartoonists at the Defender operated completely outside of the dominant racial discussion. The majority of intellectuals and writers drew on the same problematic visions of race and nation that circulated throughout the U.S.
At times, however, the Defender’s assumptions about Latinos’ racial identity differed from whites in the same period. Visual images served as places where African Americans articulated, transformed, and elaborated the meaning of race and how it worked in the United States. African Americans navigated racial ideologies that created and named visible difference with Latinos. Because of their frequent dependence on exaggeration, cartoon images were some of the boldest evocations of racial difference. These images contain many layers of meaning and suggest the ways caricature and stereotype functioned as markers of social boundaries within and between racial groups.
Representations of Latinos in the Chicago Defender suggest the editors’ ongoing struggles with their own racial imagination. Significantly, the Defender consistently claimed Latinos as racially equivalent to African Americans. In this way, the Defender chimed into ongoing national debates about Latinos’ racial status. During the early twentieth century, Latinos did not always have guaranteed status as “white,” but they were also not invariably labeled as “black.” African American editors, however, clearly imagined that Latinos fell on their side of this color line. Over time, as Mexican migration to Chicago increased, the Defender made national identity the most salient issue in defining Latinos’ place in the U.S. The migration of Mexicans/Mexican Americans to Chicago coincided with the Chicago Defender increasingly distinguishing between the two groups based on citizenship. The Defender’s editorial cartoons connoted Mexicans as benefitting from preferential treatment in the United States despite their status as “non-white.”
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MLA Citation:

Mora, Anthony. "Drawing the Color Line: Representations of Latinos in the Chicago Defender’s Editorial Cartoons" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185437_index.html>

APA Citation:

Mora, A. P. , 2007-10-11 "Drawing the Color Line: Representations of Latinos in the Chicago Defender’s Editorial Cartoons" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185437_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Studies on race are dominated by scholarship that positions whiteness in opposition to people of color. Historians, for instance, have deftly charted how Latinos’ racial position as an “in-between space” as “white/not white” shifted in dominant discussions about race through the twentieth century. While extremely valuable, these histories have mostly considered the creation of racial categories as emerging from a comparison between whites and Latinos, whites and African Americans, or whites and Asians. Historically, however, all of these various racialized groups have been engaged in articulating their positions against multiple Others. Only a few historians have tentatively explored the ways that African Americans imagined Latinos, Asians, and other groups. This paper offers a starting corrective to this problem by considering how images from a prominent African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, represented their relationship to Latinos in the first decades of the twentieth century. By looking at these images, we start to see race as more complicated than previously assumed by making visible distinctive African-American racial ideologies.
Rather than presuming that Latinos and African Americans’ notions of each other came exclusively from the white dominated media, we need to consider how Latinos and African Americans created their own understandings about race in the U.S. For African Americans elites, the Defender became a venue to explore their relationship to the increasing Latino population. This is not to say, of course, that editors and cartoonists at the Defender operated completely outside of the dominant racial discussion. The majority of intellectuals and writers drew on the same problematic visions of race and nation that circulated throughout the U.S.
At times, however, the Defender’s assumptions about Latinos’ racial identity differed from whites in the same period. Visual images served as places where African Americans articulated, transformed, and elaborated the meaning of race and how it worked in the United States. African Americans navigated racial ideologies that created and named visible difference with Latinos. Because of their frequent dependence on exaggeration, cartoon images were some of the boldest evocations of racial difference. These images contain many layers of meaning and suggest the ways caricature and stereotype functioned as markers of social boundaries within and between racial groups.
Representations of Latinos in the Chicago Defender suggest the editors’ ongoing struggles with their own racial imagination. Significantly, the Defender consistently claimed Latinos as racially equivalent to African Americans. In this way, the Defender chimed into ongoing national debates about Latinos’ racial status. During the early twentieth century, Latinos did not always have guaranteed status as “white,” but they were also not invariably labeled as “black.” African American editors, however, clearly imagined that Latinos fell on their side of this color line. Over time, as Mexican migration to Chicago increased, the Defender made national identity the most salient issue in defining Latinos’ place in the U.S. The migration of Mexicans/Mexican Americans to Chicago coincided with the Chicago Defender increasingly distinguishing between the two groups based on citizenship. The Defender’s editorial cartoons connoted Mexicans as benefitting from preferential treatment in the United States despite their status as “non-white.”

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