Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Mexican State of Mind: New York City and the New Borderlands of Culture
by Castillo-Garsow, Melissa Ann, Ph.D., Yale University, 2017, 294; 10783442
Abstract (Summary)

A Mexican State of Mind: New York City and the New Borderlands of Culture examines the cultural productions of Mexican migrants in New York City within the context of a system of racial capitalism that marginalizes Mexican migrants via an exploitative labor market, criminalizing immigration policy, and racialized systems of surveillance. I begin by juxtaposing three images: "Visible Border," from filmmaker Alex Rivera's The Borders Trilogy; the Brookes Ship, which still powerfully recalls the business of transatlantic slave trade and has been significant for visual artists working from the 1960s to the present; and "la Bestia" ("The Beast"), a freight train running the length of Mexico and frequently used by immigrants on their travels. Although Mexican migrants rarely cross the border in containers, shipping container consumerism is what has allowed for the re- commodification of brown bodies, post-slavery. As such it is not ironic that the original purpose of the Beast was to move standardized containers across the US-Mexico border, yet ended up as a tragic symbol of migrant desperation. Here, as in The Borders Trilogy, I find a through line to understanding the connection between traditional border crossing and historical Mexican settlement in the southwest and Chicago, and the development of Mexican migration to New York City in a post-NAFTA, post-9/11 world.

Inspired by a dialogue of the landmark works of Paul Gilroy and Gloria Anzaldüa, I develop an analytic framework which bridges Mexican diasporic experiences in New York City and the black diaspora, not as a comparison but in recognition that colonialism, interracial and interethnic contact through trade, migration, and slavery are connected via capitalist economies and technological developments that today manifest at least in part via the container. This spatial move is important, not just because Mexican migration is largely understudied in a New York--East Coast context, but because the Black Atlantic also emphasizes the long history and significance of New York as a capital of the slave trade. As the unearthing of the African burial ground in lower Manhattan in 1991 demonstrates, the financial center of New York is literally built on the bodies of black labor. Since the 1990s, it has been built on the backs of Mexican migrant labor.

As a result of these interventions, I find a rich and ever evolving movement toward creative responses to the containments of labor, illegality, and racial and anti-immigrant prejudice. In five chapters, I present a rich archive of both individual and collaborative expression including arts collectives, graffiti, muralism, hip hop crews, through which the majority young male Mexican population form social networks to cope with this modern-day form of "social death." The first chapter, "Mexican Manzana: The Next Great Migration" introduces the context of Mexican migration to New York City since the 1980s, focusing on the economic changes undergone by the city because of the adoption of the shipping container from an industrial economy to one focused on finance, real estate, and service. It also discusses NYC as an immigrant destination and outlines the characteristics of Mexican migrants and the conditions that greet them in their new destination. Particularly iconic to New York City is the restaurant industry for which the Mexican presence is both vital and largely invisible. Thus. Chapter two, "Solo Queremos el Respeto: Racialization of labor and hierarchal culture in the US Restaurant Industry," uses that industry as a case study of Mexican migrant containment, to explore active forms of resistance. Chapter three, "Hermandad, Arte y Rebeldia: Art Collectives and Entrepreneurship in Mexican New York" focuses on the development of arts entrepreneurship and successful collectively owned businesses such as tattoo parlors that double as arts spaces. The next chapter, "Yo Soy Hip Hop: Transnationaiisrn and Authenticity in Mexican New York," employs lyrical analysis of Mexican hip hop to explore alternative forms of identity making. The final chapter "Dejamos una huella: Claiming Space in a New Borderlands," describes the way Mexican migrants are claiming space and performing a politics of anti-deportation via the aggressive visibility of graffiti. Consequently, in loosening the bounds of border and mexicanidad, I find new identities that take surprising shapes. And following my subjects on the long journey to and within the Atlantic Borderlands, they teach me the significance of blackness in Mexican lives as well as black scholarship in Chicano/a and migration studies. Here, there is so much more than comparison – rather it is a rich flow of ideas that no border could ever impede.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Schmidt-Camacho, Alicia, Stepto, Robert
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 79/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, American studies, Hispanic American studies
Keywords: Borderlands, Graffiti, Hip Hop, Mexican Culture, Migration, New York City
Publication Number: 10783442
ISBN: 9780355709087
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