The Metropole Bookshelf: Historian Genevieve Carpio discusses the intersection of mobility and ethnic studies in her new work, Collisions at the Crossroads

The Metropole Bookshelf is an opportunity for authors of forthcoming or recently published books to let the UHA community know about their new work in the field.

Genevieve Carpio. Collisions at the Crossroads: How How Place and Mobility Make Race. University of California Press, 2019.

By Genevieve Carpio

Collisions at the Crossroads seeks to bring the insights of both mobility and ethnic studies to bear on the histories of race-making across the 20th century, particularly in places with large multiracial populations. In this effort, I foreground not just migration and immigration, but the everyday movement of people and the practices shaping those movements in Californiafrom bicycle laws criminalizing Japanese agricultural workers in the era of the Alien Land Laws; to popular radio broadcasts that treated Mexican drivers with suspicion as joyriding laws incarcerated Mexican youth in unprecedented numbers during the Depression era; to the hyperpolicing of Latino motorists through sobriety checkpoints that targeted undocumented drivers prior to 2015.

 When I looked across time, I found that restrictions and permissions on mobility were intimately tied to race-making. I focus on inland Southern California and the networks flowing from it, which were symbolically and economically tied to the production of citrus. But, the need for mobile labor consistently came into contact with a hegemonic desire to maintain strict racial lines. When the mobility of nonwhite (and poor white) workers challenged that flow, it was met by staunch efforts to manage it.

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In some of its more extreme forms, people of color’s mobility was met by criminalization and, subsequently, imprisonment. Even bicyclists were arrested at high rates for behaviors as common as riding without a light in the evening. In inland communities, three or more violations of such rules could result in six months of jail time, not to mention hefty fees. These trends have persisted historically—the mobility of people of color has been met with state efforts to immobilize it. This is a story that cannot be told without placing (im)migration history, particularly that of aggrieved groups, alongside the continually unfolding process of settler colonialism. There is debate about exactly how these various groups are positioned alongside one another, but there is large consensus that the attempted control of each group has been a key component of advancing the white settler colonial project.

I also aim to show that groups we think of as stuck in place have come up with innovative mobility strategies to overcome the confinement that state forces would thrust upon them. For instance, we see this with prisoners and their allies, who created periodicals that circulated where they themselves could not, worked collectively to foster family visitation across geographic divides, and risked further incarceration by running away when living conditions were unbearable. There are parallels across time. For instance, I also include stories about the ways those who would be confined resist their immobility, such as American Indian children who ran away from federal boarding schools at the turn of the 19th century and Mexican American youth who manipulated their registration records to avert police arrest in the mid-twentieth century.

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Traffic on Interstate 405, Los Angeles, California, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

We cannot fully understand current battles against oppressive forms of containment and the pursuit of mobility equity (migration, transportation, and otherwise) without considering a historical perspective. In this endeavor, it is imperative to foreground analyses of everyday mobilities. Part of what inspired this project was witnessing the injustice of traffic checkpoints across Southern California during the twenty first century, as well as responses to them by activists. Although erected in the name of stopping inebriated drivers, by and large they targeted undocumented immigrants in majority Latinx communities. They were held during peak commuting hours, between school dismissal and the end of the workday, and often far from bars or pubs. That is, they were targeting everyday mobility. It turned the street into a minefield that could be triggered at anytime. But, it did not target everyone equally. It is through practices such as these that we learn who does and who does not have access to the street and, by extension, public space and cultural belonging.

This is not just an academic conversation. Rather, spatial mobility continues to be an important battleground on which aggrieved groups struggle for equity. This struggle is fought through grassroots activism and litigation, cultural claims for inclusion through the reimagining of car culture, and cries for public transit justice here in Los Angeles. I find great inspiration in these efforts and the futures they make possible.

CEBA9419Genevieve Carpio is an Assistant Professor in UCLA’s César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. She is author of Collisions at the Crossroads: How Place and Mobility Make Race (University of California Press, 2019).

 Featured image (at top): Map of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains, Automobile Club of Southern California, circa 1915, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

 

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