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Hello I need with my Sociology homework. I will provide the question and the sources to cite from.


Using Anzaldúa, define

mestiza consciousness

. Then, using 4 different articles and 1 video, discuss

mestiza consciousness

in “borderlands spaces.” Please note that the readings you choose do not have to use the terms, “borderlands spaces” or

mestiza consciousness

. Your task is to extend these concepts to the readings to explore whether or not they offer insight to Chicanx/Latinx identities in the borderlands.

J E N N I F E R F. R E Y N O L D S
New Immigrant Youth Interpreting in White
Public Space
Bilingual children are frequently called on to use their linguistic and communicative virtuosity to interpret for monolingual
speakers. In this article, we theorize child interpreters’ positionalities within the interstices of several borderlands: as children; as
interpreters and translators interpreting different languages, registers, and discourses; and as immigrants seeking services within white
public space. We analyze how youths are positioned to provide service and surveillance within overdetermined interpreter-mediated
practices. In examining these practices, we raise to consciousness some of the social and ideological conditions that circumscribe
working-class Latino/a and new Mexican immigrant children within inherently unequal subject positions. [Keywords: interpreter-mediated
interactions, childhood, Mexican new immigrants, racialization, white public space]
FIGURE 1. Amanda’s journal entry: Daughter of “new immigrants.”
N THE ABOVE journal entry (see Figure 1), 12-yearold Amanda revealed one of the many ways in which
she used her linguistic and communicative virtuosity to
interpret the world for monolinguals.1 Such interpretermediated practices are illuminated by Mikhail Bakhtin’s
(1981) concept of “dialogism”: the notion that words carry
histories and ideologies that frame subsequent interactions
as they unfold ontologically. On a different scale, these histories regiment languages, and by extension their speakers,
within an increasingly unequal international division of labor according to the logic of late capitalist time–space compression (Harvey 1989) that “calls forth new kinds of social
C 2009 by the American Anthropological Association.
AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, Vol. 111, Issue 2, pp. 211–223, ISSN 0002-7294 online ISSN 1548-1433.
All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2009.01114.x
American Anthropologist • Vol. 111, No. 2 • June 2009
organization that require intercultural communication and
are deterritorialized, flexible, and highly mobile” (Nonini
and Ong 1997:10). Bonnie Urciuoli (1998) notes that these
transnational social forms are extensions of centuries-long
globalizing processes. She writes, “When people migrate,
become political minorities, or become colonized, they
find their lives structured in ways that force them to work
across languages and place on them the burden of understanding and responding correctly” (Urciuoli 1998:4).
Within late-capitalist transnational circuits (De Genova
2005; Rouse 1991) and quotidian, microinteractional exchanges, the children of immigrants are often pivotal participants in emergent intercultural forms of communication (cf. Vásquez et al. 1994). Practices of interpretation
and translation are one important example of these flexible
discursive practices.
To argue that such discursive practices are deterritorialized is to suggest that the speakers who engage in them
simultaneously embody several borders, as children and
adolescents, bilingual interpreters, and immigrants operating in both the “inner sphere” of kin and neighborhood
relations and the “outer sphere” of institutional and commercial contexts (Urciuoli 1998). To suggest that multiple borders intersect in these interactions is to invoke the
trope of “borderlands,” metaphorical sites defined by binary categories of difference. These borderlands constitute
a particular social and political economic history of U.S.–
Mexico geopolitical relations; as Chicana poet and theoretician Gloria Anzaldúa wrote: “The U.S.-Mexican border es
una herida abierta [an open wound] where the Third World
grates against the first and bleeds” (Anzaldúa 1987:3). The
hemorrhage defines a culture of people caught betwixt
and between multiple ideologies of normalcy (cf. Calderón
and Saldı́var 1991; Farr 2005; González 2001; Urciuoli
1995). In the case of young language brokers, these categories include childhood–adulthood, Mexican–American,
noncitizen–citizen, “Spanish”–“English,” brown–white,
and working class–middle class.
Children stand at the intersection both literally and
figuratively as they serve as linguistic and cultural mediators within particular spaces of multilingualism (Blommaert
et al. 2005), speaking languages and language varieties accorded distinct symbolic capital. They are expected to understand and interpret different linguistic registers and to
convey referential, ideological, and pragmatic dimensions
of meaning in both languages within participant structures and frameworks that do not usually accommodate
multiparty formats. In these interactions, youth are subjected to adult coparticipants’ evaluations of their linguistic, communicative, and social performances as well as to
the surveillance of ethnicizing and racializing discourses
predominant in white public space (Hill 1999). Drawing on
empirical data gathered in the global city that Nicholas De
Genova (2005) called “Mexican Chicago,” we examine how
the emergence of the phenomena of “child interpreters”
follows a logic of neoliberal governance, and we reveal the
ethnolinguistic profiling that takes place when “language”
is variously ethnicized and racialized.
On May 13, 2005, the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox,
weighed in on the U.S.–Mexico immigration debate to an
audience of Texas businessmen. In Spanish he said, “There’s
no doubt that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness
and ability to work, are doing jobs that not even blacks
want to do there in the United States” (CNN 2005).2 Fox’s
statement tapped into histories of ethnicizing and racializing discourses that delimit representations of (im)migrants
within the United States (Chock 1991; De Genova 2005; De
Genova and Ramos-Zayas 2003; Lippi-Green 1997; Milroy
2001; Santa Ana 2002; Urciuoli 1998), elevating Mexicans
to the status of “good ethnics” in contrast with racialized
African Americans.
This “ethnicizing” discourse (Urciuoli 1991, 1998), in
the form of immigrant success stories, construes immigrants as an essentialized group that contributes positively
to the ethnic diversity of an imaginary melting pot (Chock
1989, 1995). Urciuoli (1998) contrasts this with racializing
discourses that presuppose a generative system of binary
social categories that strip the referent (a person or social
group) of dignity and common humanity. In Urciuoli’s
work, these two discourses shaped how Nuyorican (New
York Puerto Rican or NYPR) community members oriented
differently to what Urciuoli identified as inner and outer contextual spheres of language use, which distinguish withincommunity interactions, especially between kin and close
friends, from interactions with strangers and representatives of mainstream institutions. Although English and
Spanish (and different varieties thereof) were employed in
both spheres, their respective regimentation shifted. There
was variation in how and why each code was valued in
inner spheres of interaction, but in all outer-sphere interactions Standard English was valued above both NYPR
English and varieties of NYPR Spanish. Nuyoricans, moreover, were subjected to evaluations on how they spoke
English. Some subjects reported feeling so self-conscious
that at times felt unable to speak in either language. De
Genova likewise found that Mexican migrants in Chicago
workplaces “experienced racialization of their language as
a palpable feature of the discrimination against them”
Jane Hill (1999) demonstrated another way in which
hegemonic language ideologies enforce the compartmentalization of linguistic practices. She noted that although
Spanish speakers are sanctioned for speaking Spanish or
nonstandard varieties of English in white public space, predominantly monolingual English speakers are not similarly
sanctioned when they utter mock Spanish. Instead of being held accountable for their disorderly speech, they are
viewed as executing clever verbal performances, ones that
Reynolds and Orellana • New Immigrant Youth Interpreters
index cosmopolitan or “cool” social identities. Hill suggested that the direct indexical messages of these verbal
acts construct the speaker as a “congenial person,” even as
the indirect indexical message denigrates Spanish speakers
by racializing them as stupid, lazy, dirty, and uncouth (Hill
Both Urciuoli and Hill focus on borderland spaces of
interaction. Urciuoli’s framework adopts NYPR community
members’ points of view, highlighting degrees of membership within different social networks that pattern according to domains of situated language use. Hill’s framework
underscores the societal, hegemonic point of view where
all spaces are potentially informed by a dominant, racializing language ideology. In Hill’s terms, Urciuoli’s “outer
spheres” are stripped of their unmarked status to reveal how
they are de facto monoglot Standard English (Silverstein
1996) and racially coded white. These works moreover reflect shifts within scaling processes inherent in U.S. multilingual spaces, many of which are shaped by institutionally
specific ideologies and procedures. The criteria for evaluating communicative competency changes depending on
how particular polycentric interactional spaces orient to different orders of indexicality, which in turn presuppose different scales of social structure (Blommaert et al. 2005). We
will elaborate this point in our analysis of ambiguous, outersphere, interpreter-mediated encounters, wherein racialization took the form of misrecognition of language as
autonomous code, rather than register in translation. In
other instances, linguistic profiling was more clearly the
The logic of late capitalism, especially as it has been examined in the critical scholarship on transnationalism
(Kearney 1995; Nonini and Ong 1997; Stephen 2007), presumably marks an era historically and qualitatively different from that out of which borderlands writing initially grew. Increasingly, children play an important role
within the global political economy, with its disjunctive
transnational flows of capital, media, and labor. Immigrant children’s legal status as nonfree citizens—as children as well as sometimes undocumented ones—and the
work of translation and interpretation are multiply marked.
When children speak to and for adults, they overstep the
bounds of U.S. mainstream notions of childhood, becoming liminal subjects who have responsibility but lack authority. They speak on behalf of a heterogeneous group of
new immigrants who occupy subaltern positions within a
racially coded system of class distinction. In U.S. labor markets, for example, many immigrants classified as “Latino/a”
(working-class Mexicans, in particular) are segmented into
subcontracted, deskilled, low-wage jobs—“mobility traps”
(Davis 1999)—that compete with out-sourced industries
Historically, the children of immigrants likely played a
role as language and culture brokers for their families, but
there is scant mention of this work in immigrant memoirs and other explorations of child immigrants in history (Orellana 2009). For example, Selma Cantor Berrol’s
1995 classic, Growing Up American: Immigrant Children in
America Then and Now, offers many fascinating details about
the work, school, and play experiences of the children of
immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s. She
considers intergenerational conflict and other aspects of
parent–child relationships but makes no mention of children’s activities as linguistic or cultural brokers. The absence
of attention to language brokering in historical reports and
literature suggests both the invisibility of the practice and
of children as actors and agents.
Brian Harris (2008) notes that focused disciplinary attention to the study of translation services in the United
States and Britain only emerged in the 1980s, coinciding
with large-scale immigration. He suggests that individualand minority-rights discourses called attention to the need
for expanded services in “community” or “public service
interpreting.” A logic of neoliberal governance informs
these discourses: the individual as consumer-subject, often stripped of historical and social positioning, is afforded certain “rights” and “responsibilities.” How different
institutions and commercial enterprises view individual
rights versus responsibilities shapes the degree to which
ethnolinguistic minorities are provided translation and
interpretation services. From a monolingual immigrant
parent’s perspective, the use of a family member to provide translation services when not rendered by institutions is a strategic response—an assertion of a competent
How adults hear what children say is also filtered
through racializing and ethicizing discourses, indexically
presupposing ideologies that differentially value kinds of
language(s) and new immigrants. Child interpreters have
been portrayed in episodes of the popular U.S. TV shows
ER and Law and Order; in the Hollywood film Spanglish; and
in various newspaper reports (e.g., Flores 1993; Gold 1999).
But the voices in these portraits are framed by adults and
ideologically interpolated through authoritative discourses
(Bakhtin 1981), which present the children’s work as deviant and potentially dangerous to themselves and to others, without critically examining the power relations that
shape the experiences.
Social-scientific labels often obscure power differentials. In the literature, these children have been referred
to as Natural Translators (Harris and Sherwood 1978), language brokers (Shannon 1987; Tse 1996), immigrant children mediators (Chu 1999), and informal interpreters (Cohen
with Moran-Ellis and Smaje 1999). These terms provide
no sense of the inherent power differentials that children
are expected to mediate, and some suggest that children
are somehow neutral rather than aligned with their families. Guadalupe Valdés’s (2002) term, family interpreters,
American Anthropologist • Vol. 111, No. 2 • June 2009
is an exception, and Valdés makes clear that she sees
children working with their parents as part of a performance team, presenting a public face for the family
(cf. Katz 2007).
In our own work (Orellana et al. 2003b), we coined the
term para-phrasing to refer to these interstitial social practices.4 This term deliberately invokes a play on the Spanish
preposition para and its English translation (for, in order
to) to name what children do when they phrase things for
others and in order to accomplish social goals. The term
para-phraser may be critiqued in the same way as the other
terms; it suggests political neutrality that is of course not
the case when children speak to and for adult authority
figures. At the same time, the prefix para-, as in paralegal or paramedic, does index a disparity of power between
what these children do and what is seen as “real” translating. Like other paraprofessionals, para-phrasers may act
in capacities for which they have no formal preparation
and in which their qualifications are open to question and
The U.S. Census Bureau lists Illinois as one of six gateway states, or ports of entry, for many new immigrants
to the United States (Perry and Schachter 2003). In 2000,
Illinois was ranked the top fifth Latino/a state with an estimated population of 1,527,573. Chicago was the top third
Latino/a city with 26 percent of the total population selfidentifying as “Hispanic or Latino” (approximately 752,964
residents). Finally, Cook County was deemed the top third
Latino/a county in the country (approximately 1,071,740
residents), following Dade County, Florida, and Los Angeles
County, California.5
In “Chicagoland” neighborhoods, class-based patterns
of ethnoracial segregation shape Latino/a migrants’ access
to quality goods and services.6 We locate our own work
within two of these communities, one urban and one suburban. The urban context was a predominantly Latino/a
neighborhood, with a small Polish immigrant population.
The families in our study had been there for 15 years or
more and maintained close ties to their Mexican states of
origin (Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, and Durango). Many
families owned their homes and rented out floors to extended family, friends, or other new immigrants. The second site for our research was a bifurcated mixed-ethnic,
mixed-income, suburban community near Chicago that
is home to a small but growing number of immigrants
from Mexico. The families we worked with hailed from
the Mexican state of Guanajuato within the last five to
ten years. In both communities, the majority of these
working-class families segmented into the service sector and
Fieldwork focused on documenting the para-phrasing
experiences of 18 young people (12 girls and six boys) living
in these two sites. Some of these youth had immigrated to
the United States with their families, whereas others were
born here to immigrant parents. Thus, the youth are all
members of a borderland space not really from here but
not really from there either: what Alejandro Portes and
Rubén G. Rumbaut (2001) call the 1.5 generation. Participants were between ten and 12 years old at the time we
began working with them.
Data include thousands of pages of field notes based on
participant-observations of these children in their homes
and classrooms; transcripts of interviews with the children,
their teachers, parents, and administrators; transcripts of
more than 80 audio-taped para-phrasing encounters; and
132 journal entries about youth’s translation situations.
Written informed consent was obtained for all active participants in this study; we also secured consent from the people for whom children translated regularly, following Internal Review Board protocol. Identifying information was
removed or changed to ensure confidentiality.
For this manuscript, we drew on observations recorded
in field notes, youths’ journal accounts, and interviews.
We coded all audio-taped examples with an eye to children’s positions within these encounters and the discourse
strategies that indexed or potentially made salient participants’ ethnicized, racialized, or class-based identities. In
the following sections, we sketch the social processes that
shaped children’s subject-positions in these public interactions and engage in focused analyses of events reported
in journals, interviews, and two live interpreter-mediated
events to unpack each of the three named dimensions. Our
discussion of these cases is also informed by our analyses of
the larger body of data (Dorner et al. 2007; Garcı́a Sánchez
and Orellana 2006; Orellana with Dorner and Pulido 2003a;
Orellana and Reynolds 2008; Orellana et al. 2003b).
Mrs. Aguilera, an immigrant parent from Guanajuato, Mexico, described a situation in which she relied on her son,
whom she described on other occasions as her “little man
around the house,” to speak to the police when she felt
incapable of speaking.
Ahora tuvimos un percance
aquı́ en el lago con unas
personas que nos agredieron, él
habló con la policı́a. Él tuvo que
hablar con la policı́a porque nos
estaban molestando. Nosotros
estabamos allı́ bien, y yo le
digo, porque yo como estaba,
ya, este, yo tenı́a miedo de ver a
esa gente yo ya ni podı́a ni
hablar. Entonces le dije, ‘Mijo
ven y ustedes dı́ganle, ustedes
dı́ganle lo que está pasando.’ Y
ellos empezaron a decirle.
Como Nova, empezó a decirle a
la policı́a.
Now we had an incident here
at the lake with some people
who were bothering us, and he
spoke with the police. He had
to speak with the police
because they were bothering us.
We were fine there, and I, I tell
you, because I was like, like, I
was afraid because of seeing
those people and I couldn’t
even speak. So I said to him,
‘Come my son, and you
(plural) tell, you tell what is
happening.’ And they began to
tell. Like Nova, he began to tell
the police.
Reynolds and Orellana • New Immigrant Youth Interpreters
In another immigrant household, Mrs. Gutiérrez asked her
daughter, Marı́a, to handle a phone call from the doctor’s office regarding the results of a tuberculosis test.
When Marı́a faced difficulties with the register (correctly
identifying the type of test using the medical term) and
the procedure (coordinating talk over the phone with a
stranger while managing a synchronous, multiparty interaction with incomplete visual cues), she asked whether
there were any Spanish-speaking staff that could speak
with her mother. In this case, such a person was available. After the call, Mrs. Gutiérrez spoke disapprovingly
of Marı́a to the researcher, accusing her of “not wanting to help” (“no me quiere ayudar”). Marı́a countered
that she lacked contextual knowledge about the reason for the call and the specialized lexicon (i.e., how
to say tuberculosis in English). Mrs. Gutiérrez dismissed
her reasoning, arguing that Marı́a knew English and
therefore was more qualified than she to handle the
These incidents reveal the anxieties that immigrant
parents feel in outer-sphere encounters and their sense
that their bilingual children are more capable of managing these situations than they are. They also suggest
some of the challenges that children must grapple with
when they are placed in these complex positions. The
situations themselves can be anxiety provoking (for children and for adults), as Amanda’s journal testimony,
quoted in the introduction reveals. An older youth,
Luz, pinpointed one source of anxiety: the realization that her words could be used against her disabled mother when she translated for social service
I just remembered that it wasn’t “how much do you need
this time?” but instead they would always ask, “Have
you had any changes in your income or situation? Are
you receiving any other sources of income? Do you have
a job now?” They would always insist on asking these
questions in an interrogating way that was meant to put
pressure on my mom, as if they were seeking her to confess or something. It was really bad, especially because I
would sense it and I would have to be the one to respond
to these sorts of accusations. [Interview, October 17,
In spite of these pressures, these young people assumed
the head position of a performance team (Goffman 1959;
Valdés 2002), representing their families’ interests to the
There are structural and ideological reasons
why children emerge at the forefront of these interpretermediated interactions. The U.S. compulsory system of
education grants children access to English language and
literacy instruction (Vásquez et al. 1994). Most children
in our study were the oldest siblings and, because of
their years in U.S schools, had more familiarity with
English and U.S. institutional and cultural practices
than did their siblings. Older siblings were more likely
than younger siblings to retain high levels of Spanish,
in part because of a school-cultivated shift in dominance toward English, which influenced the linguistic
milieu of the household. Sometimes parents viewed a
child who was not the eldest as possessing a natural
proclivity and willingness to take on the role but, more
often than not, the oldest was considered the most
talented and prepared for the tasks in terms of bilingual
Second, there is indirect evidence that the
child’s role as mediator served to shelter parents from
directly experiencing racializing valuations through
ethnolinguistic profiling. Sammy, aged 15 at the time,
remarked in a journal entry how his mother, an apartment
manager, would ask him to interpret for her when she
collected rent from her tenants because she spoke with
a “huge accent.” His observation suggests the possibility
that his mother was wary of speaking English even in an
outer-sphere encounter in which she occupied a relative
position of power. Although the policing of Standard
English proficiency is certainly an issue, many of the
observed cases reveal the situation to be more complex.
Immigrant parents (like Mrs. Gutiérrez, cited above) and
participants representing outer-sphere public and private
organizations and businesses often misrecognized language
as autonomous code, rather than contextually specific
instances of language as register (Agha 2006). Thus, the
type of racialization may have had to do with how well one
performed register-specific demands. Demands included
knowledge of a specialized lexicon (e.g., tuberculosis) and
grammar, procedural knowledge of how to effectively
make an inquiry or request a service, constraints within
routine institutional participant structures and frameworks
that rendered multiparty formats problematic, and tacit
institutional practices constraining participation in speech
acts and activities.7 To consider another case, Marina’s
musings on this last point are instructive. She wondered
if her parents’ reliance on her might have led to them
being infantilized: “I felt embarrassed, because there I
was, a child translating for adults. I felt that people would
think bad of my parents because they did not know
the language. I did not want them to be stereotyped.
At times I felt that they would be looked at like little
kids. I did not want that” (interview, September 30,
Third, and perhaps most significantly, the emergence
of child interpreters as social phenomena may be viewed
as a creative response to the current neoliberal order that
holds the individual immigrant (and, by extension, individual families) responsible for self-representations within
civil and state social institutions. Take, for example, the
case of a friend of Fernando’s extended family who enlisted his help in inquiring about a legal matter over a
domestic dispute (see Figure 2). Fernando wrote in his
American Anthropologist • Vol. 111, No. 2 • June 2009
FIGURE 2. Fernando’s journal entry: Legal encounter.
This seems to be the case even in medical spheres
where hospitals are required by law to provide interpreter
services; children are still called to interpret when no
one else can. In a live, audiorecorded encounter, Sammy
provided a nurse receptionist with his family’s proof of
insurance, social security information, and informed consent. Sammy knew all of the information by heart, a reflection of his accumulated expertise in navigating these
encounters. When it came time to sign the paperwork, the
nurse receptionist told him, “No, you don’t sign. You’re
not old enough to sign anything” (excerpt from an audio recording of an interpreter-mediated event, October 17,
2001). It is ironic that the sole person capable of providing this service is considered legally incapable of representing himself or his family because of requirements delimiting authorized participation in this particular type of legal speech act. This case, like Marina’s experiences, reveals
how a neoliberal logic of flexible but unauthorized subjectivity materializes in routine institutional discourse practices within particular spheres of communicability (Briggs
Finally, indifferent and negligent institutional policies and practices also necessitate the creation of child
interpreters. Consider the following statement made by
a researcher who was examining the haphazard ways in
which judicial settings provided immigrants with translation services:
I once testified as expert witness in a case in which Oregon and federal police arrested a man after serving a warrant later reading the accused his rights using the man’s
own 13-year old daughter—the only person present during the search and seizure raid who spoke both Spanish
and English—as “translator.” [Haviland 2003:774]
In this high-stakes encounter, representatives of the U.S.
system of law are responsible for positioning the child as
“translator” (with the quotation marks as used here serving to discredit the child’s competencies). Haviland’s reaction suggests that this act contradicts dominant views
of what children should be allowed or expected to do
(Scheper-Hughes and Sargent 1998; Stephens 1995). But beyond stepping outside of the presumed “protected” space of
childhood, this Mexican immigrant girl has been made an
extension of state practices of surveillance, expected to police the actions of her own kin. In the following sections, we
examine two institutional contexts where children adopt
dual roles, providing service and surveillance for different
parties represented in the exchanges (Wadensjö 1998). Even
in the most mundane circumstances, racializing discourses
are palpably experienced, sometimes based on overt acts of
Reynolds and Orellana • New Immigrant Youth Interpreters
racial and linguistic stigmatization and sometimes based on
more covert or ambiguous actions.
Educational Interpreter-Mediated Encounters
Research on parent–teacher conferences within the ethnomethodological tradition reveals that adults treat these
events as a problem-solving activity (Pillet-Shore 2003). In
cases where children serve as interpreters, they become extensions of institutional surveillance over their own social
and intellectual development, and racializing discourses
may play a role in shaping interactional dynamics. For
example, in the public schools we observed, new immigrant “Hispanic” students were often compared either to
working-class African American or middle-class white students. Assessments of parental involvement in school were
an outlet for racializing discourses (Delgado-Gaitan 1990).
Deficit perspectives informed presuppositions about homelanguage and literacy practices (Spindler 2000; Zentella
2005). In some of the parent–teacher conferences, ethnicization and racialization occurred simultaneously. Children were ethnicized for successfully interpreting in English
just as their parents were racialized; they were presumed to
“lack” English and thus considered incapable of supporting
children’s academic achievement, especially in the practice of enforcing the dominant storybook to chapterbook
progression of literacy development (Bialostok 2002; Heath
1986). Valdés’s (2002) work with young interpreters has
sought to challenge this bias by expanding notions of “giftedness” to include bilingual child interpreters. However,
in practice, bilingual immigrant children generally are not
viewed through this lens.
In other cases, the procedural orientation of the speech
event itself contributes to the racialization of the child interpreter. The following interaction took place in a progressive suburban school. It illustrates how the student’s
performance as translator is transformed into surveillance.8
The teacher, Ms. Johnson, was unusual among the suburban teachers in that she was able to speak some Spanish.
Throughout the conference, she focused on Nova’s weaknesses, following the problem-focused orientation that was
common to the teachers’ narratives (Garcı́a Sánchez and
Orellana 2006). At one point, she invited a positive evaluation of Nova and asked him to translate some classmates’
written comments. The text described Nova as a good friend
and an intelligent, kind, energetic, clever, and funny person who enjoys drawing and making everyone around him
Excerpt 1. Nova’s parent–teacher conference (February 28,
2002). In lines 16–24, the teacher theorized that what
she had previously thought to be Nova’s problem with English was also a problem with Spanish. At this conversational turning point, Nova’s mother suggested a contextually sensitive and more plausible conclusion: that perhaps
the “problem” had to do with stage fright. Ms. Johnson rejected this possibility. Instead, she declared that Nova had
a reading problem. She assured Nova that she would be able
to help him improve his reading skills while noting “que
tiene un problema en español también” (lit., he has a problem in Spanish as well). Ms. Johnson thus rendered Nova’s
competency inadequate in both Spanish and English.
There was no real empirical basis to support that he
had a “problem.” Nova simply engaged in self-initiated repair, something that most interpreters routinely do as they
Excerpt 1:
do you want to translate for for your mother?
okay, okay [??] and I don’t know how to say like cool
cool is cool
((laughter from teacher and Nova))
uhm él es un buen amigo y
inteligente bueno (.) y
simpático, cool inte- interestante y
buen- bueno
ene ene- energético
muy gracioso
y dibuja muy bien
muy- fel-es es gracioso
muy feliz porque él le gusta dibujar
uhm huh, now Nova that was interesting.
I was noticing what you were translating for your mother,
that you do the same thing in Spanish that you do
when you are reading aloud in English.
que a veces a veces no
que que cuando lee en voz alta
en la clase de literatura
por ejemplo él
es lee e- e- lee ası́ ((staccato voice))
que con con quiebra.
He’s a very good friend
intelligent. nice and funny,
cool inte-interesting and
good good
ener- ener- energetic
very funny
and he draws very well
very hap- he’s he’s funny
very happy because he likes to draw.
that sometimes sometimes no
that- that- when he reads out loud
in literature class
for example he
it’s he- reads- e- e- reads like- this
like with with break(s)
American Anthropologist • Vol. 111, No. 2 • June 2009
attempt equivalent translations (e.g., line 14). This interaction suggests how the problem-seeking nature of this
speech event, combined with overdetermined racializing
discourses, can shape on-the-spot teacher evaluations.
Commercial Interpreter-Mediated Encounters
Commercial encounters are governed by the laws of the
marketplace. In financial transactions, perceived socialclass positions—inferred through symbols of social distinction (Bourdieu 1984), including clothing, linguistic style,
phenotype, and general comportment—may impact social interaction through judgments that store personnel
make about families’ ability to purchase commodities. Unlike high-stakes legal and medical encounters that not all
children experience, commercial contexts of translation
were common to all our participants.
Beatrı́z recalled a commercial transaction that seems
humorous, but the humor is predicated on Beatrı́z’s heightened awareness that her race–ethnicity was open to scrutiny
when she was sent by her mother to purchase cheese:
I was about seven years old. My mother and I were at
XXX [a grocery store]. My mother told me to stand in
line and order a pound of American cheese from the deli
while she shopped for other items. After about 15 minutes of waiting my turn, the woman behind the counter
asked for my order and I told her that I wanted a pound
of cheese. The woman then asked, “American, Italian,
Swiss . . . ” I thought she was asking for my nationality. I
responded by saying, “Mexican.” In a frustrated tone of
voice, she told me that they did not have any Mexican
Beatrı́z was a young adult at the time we interviewed her,
and she recounted this memory from that vantage point.
Although we do not know how Beatrı́z thought as a sevenyear-old, nor what exactly transpired, we do know that she
felt that her ethnicity was being interrogated.
Eleven-year-old Miguel recounted an incident in a journal entry (see Figure 3) that also intimates his sense of racial-
FIGURE 3. Miguel’s journal entry: Commercial encounter.
ized discrimination in another commercial transaction. The
circumstances surrounding this encounter are ambiguous.
It is not clear what the service representative intended by
this comment, nor what inspired it. This event may be unusual; families in our study were usually able to secure the
services and products they needed without being subjected
to evaluations of their mental capacities, as seems to have
transpired in this transaction. But this episode reveals how
Miguel experienced an arguably racialized discourse that
was not explicitly marked. Children were positioned to mediate tacit messages that were denigrating to their families.
Josh (age 16) recounted his experience at a car dealership. Josh felt that the sales representative did not even
want to try and sell his family a car; he reported an overheard conversation: “that guy (was) talking about how Mexicans can’t buy a car” (interview, February 17, 2005). He
reflected, “That’s not right, though. I mean, they would
not want to be the customers, you know, and be made fun
of like that. I don’t think they’d like it. I mean, I don’t
know why they do it. It’s just wrong” (interview, February 17, 2005). In this case, we do not know how the sales
representative treated Josh and his family, but we can imagine how Josh would have experienced the transaction after
overhearing this commentary.
Next we detail another encounter involving what
Daniel Solórzano and colleagues call “microagressions of
race” (2000). In this episode, Estela (age ten) and her father, Mr. Balderas, tried to rent a musical instrument. Estela’s father played in a band with other men from his
hometown, and another band member had rented from this
music store. The store also served families who rented instruments for school lessons, and thus the personnel could
be assumed to have experience dealing with children, although perhaps not in the capacity of interpreters. This
transcript illustrates particularly well how original texts can
be as imperfect and as fraught with ambiguities, contradictions, and silences as the translations that seek to re-present
them (see Excerpt 2a).
Excerpt 2a. Estela and father at the music store (December
1, 2001). The exchange began with the salesclerk providing information about each instrument (lines 2–5). Mr.
Balderas indicated that he was tracking the information
when he responded, “Yeah” (line 6). When Estela began
to translate, the clerk stopped providing information about
the products—information that might be useful for the informed consumer. Instead, he reframed his role to provide
information only about the cost of items. This may have
been in part because of the fact that he had to wait for
Estela to translate. To wit, his powers of persuasion were
filtered through the voice of a child. But we wonder if the
salesclerk had judged the family to be not well-informed
about music or not able to afford the pricey instruments.
As we show, this is suggested by the clerk’s response when
Estela asked about payment options.
These exchanges, which involve stating and translating prices, continued for a few more turns until the clerk
excused himself to check on a price. Estela and her father
Reynolds and Orellana • New Immigrant Youth Interpreters
Excerpt 2a:
Mr. Balderas:
Mr. B:
dice que es
B & S is the name.
B & S.
It’s a very- It’s like Bach?
only better made and cheaper?
pa dice que (?) dice
okay, okay
this one? this is eleven ninety five
once noventa y cinco
oh no, no, no
this is one is uh
this one is nine ninety five
nueve noventa y cinco
eleven ninety five
once noventa y cinco, once noventa y cinco
discussed the payment options and posed questions when
the clerk returned. Mr. Balderas asked Estela to explain to
the clerk that he and others (inclusive we) had rented from
this store before, implying that he was an experienced consumer and a musician.
Excerpt 2b. Estela and father at the music store (con’t.) (December 1, 2001). Beginning at line 28, Estela translated
faithfully, maintaining parallel syntactic and lexical forms
in English with that her father had used in Spanish as well
as making explicit the implicit referents when she rendered
line 33, “hemos sacado muchos instrumentos aquı́,” as “his
band has taken out a lot of instruments from here” in line
34. Her gloss recovered the implied referent of the original
utterance, making clear that her father played in a band.
She transformed the first-person plural and inclusive conjugation of nosotros (we) to simply “his band,” but the clerk
could infer that the referent “his band” would also include
Mr. Balderas.
The salesclerk, however, did not pick up on the substance of the comment. Instead of providing information
He says that it’s
Pa, he says that (?) he says
Eleven ninety five
Nine ninety five
((pointing to another one))
Eleven ninety five, eleven ninety five
about payment options, he focused only on Estela’s preservation of the nonspecific term; in English as in the original
Spanish, the verb left ambiguous just how the instruments
were “taken out.” He emphasized the fact that the instruments were paid for in line 35, “They’ve paid for them.”
Up until and including this moment, Estela’s father had
provided information that presented himself as a good, reliable, and return customer. When they identified a person
they knew in common (José Rodrı́guez), instead of aligning with Mr. Balderas’s stance of affiliation with a reliable
customer, the clerk’s stance as assessment (Goodwin and
Goodwin 1987) framed his customer as one who might not
pay for the instrument. Specifically, the clerk said of Mr.
Rodrı́guez in line 45, “um he still pays it, um.” “Still” may
serve pragmatically, like disjunctive “but,” to juxtapose two
different points of view: one who pays versus one who
does not. Who customers were assumed to be—in particular, their perceived social-class status, as marked especially
through imputed ethnicity and language—shape the translation, especially in terms of what was uptaken and ignored
Excerpt 2b:
Mr. B:
Mr. B:
he says he wants credit
like =
a payment plan?
ok, uh::
dile que hemos sacado muchos
instrumentos aquı́
he says that his band has taken out a lot of instruments from here?
they’ve paid for them.
who, who’s uh?
is that uh, José Rodrı́guez or,
who’s? =
= yeah, José Rodrı́guez.
José? Yeah.
(that one) tuba
tubas and stuff. yeah,
um he still pays it, um =
dice que todavı́a lo paga (?)
Tell him that we have taken out
many instruments from here.
He says that he still pays for it (?)
American Anthropologist • Vol. 111, No. 2 • June 2009
even when para-phrasers stayed very close to the original
wording. Racialization in this instance became linguistic
profiling. Although this business did not adopt the explicit
practice of posting signs “No English, No Service,” as other
Chicagoland businesses did (cf. De Genova 2005:45–46),
the result was identical.
Interpreter-mediated interactions are similar to interethnic crosstalk encounters where participants operate
with different systems for contextualizing conversational
meanings (Bailey 1997; Gumperz 1982, 1992; Jupp et al.
1982). Within today’s politicized climate around Mexican
immigration, para-phrasing encounters, however, are
unique because outer-sphere representatives may engage
in linguistic profiling; the very fact that families “need”
translation in these quotidian encounters functions as a
metacommunicative cue, drawing undue attention to their
citizenship status. Further, coparticipants do not simply
negotiate their own interethnic crosstalk; rather, children
shoulder the responsibility of mediating these exchanges
for others while lacking the institutional authority to do so.
Although at times children expressed ambivalent feelings about their work “in the middle,” noting the uncomfortable nature of encounters like the ones we have detailed, at other times children wrote in their journals and
talked with us about powerful feelings of accomplishment
and self-worth when other participants positively acknowledged their services. This included times when the child
volunteered his or her services to mediate between strangers
in outer-sphere commercial encounters. These encounters
were still simultaneously about service and surveillance;
however, the child interpreter did not necessarily become
the object of racializing discourses. Sammy wrote about his
interpretation of an ambiguous service encounter between
different adult coparticipants, generalizing from a specific,
situated instance in his reflection (see Figure 4). In this interaction, he went out of his way to help a Spanish-speaking
stranger, even when the service representative would not,
and he felt that the service he provided was “all worth
Children who occupy the subject position of para-phraser
are pivotal participants. They stand, literally and figuratively, “in the middle” between speakers, mediating conversation between their kin and others. They engage in realworld activities alongside adults, commanding a powerful
position through which they shape the flow of interaction
while developing register-specific competencies. They also
enable things to happen in the world more than is often
possible, given that young people are usually not authorized to participate in these activities because of their social
status as children. Thus, Latino/a and Mexican immigrant
child interpreters experienced the libratory potential of borderland experiences as they forged new roles and identities
for themselves (Anzaldúa 1987). When we interviewed Es-
FIGURE 4. Sammy’s journal entry: Commercial encounter.
tela at age 15, she told us of recently having called the manager at Burger King to protest the treatment her mother had
received as an employee. “So I just left messages and I was
like if we have to go to court, you know, cause I had to say
something, so I was like if we have to go to court we’ll go to
court because I don’t like people like mistreating the people
working there and stuff” (interview, June 14, 2006).
But hegemonic discourses circulating within white
public space circumscribed child translators’ power, as well
as did their parents’ cultural and generational perspectives.
Reynolds and Orellana • New Immigrant Youth Interpreters
The very work of service opened them to ethnicized and
racialized surveillance. As well, because they were children,
they easily became the objects of adults’ evaluations of
their competencies. Ironically, the very act of speaking for
adults exposed children to adults’ critiques of their linguistic, cognitive, social, and behavioral competencies. The fact
that their translations were evaluated and judged by adults
who were incapable of translating underscores that irony.
Judgments were especially searing when they were infused
by racialized assumptions about the youth and their families; in some cases, children were left feeling responsible
for their families’ maltreatment, despite the fact that they
had no real institutional authority to manage the events.
Hence, Estela backed her threat by indexing the power of
law through mention of practices of litigation. This is the
type of flexible, neoliberal positionality that emerges when
outer-sphere spaces refuse to offer translation and interpretation services.
Immigrant children were not merely the objects of
surveillance in these encounters, nor were they merely
exposed to adults’ racialized judgments about them and
their families. As subjects who can and do speak, and who
spoke for institutions of power as well as to them, they
unwittingly became extensions of institutional practices of
surveillance over their families. Even as they represented
their parents to others, they interpreted institutional registers, representing the voices of teachers, doctors, lawyers,
store personnel, and others to their families. Sometimes
these voices were infused with discourses that constructed
their families, and themselves, as deviant.
In commercial white public space, racialization takes
the form of differential delivery of customer service. Employees may adopt unwilling or impatient stances, make
untoward comments, and simply not interpret the substance of a child interpreter’s translation, leaving families
to question their intentions. And children are not able to
fully conceal racializing effects from their family members.
Marina worried that her parents had been infantilized just
as Miguel wrote how he had to translate “all these things,”
including the salesperson’s rude remark, which angered his
father. In the interaction at the music store, Estela initially did not translate the salesclerk’s emphatic comment
in line 35 that the other band members paid for the instruments. She merely acknowledged his stance with “mhm”
(line 36) and thereby avoided revealing the commentary’s
implicit message to her father. However, eventually she had
to translate the salesclerk’s position (line 46). She retained
the disjunctive “still” within her gloss. This afforded her
father the chance to infer that this comment had been
stated already and that the salesperson was sustaining an intractable position. In parent–teacher conferences, children
were sometimes expected to explain their teachers’ evaluations of their academic competencies through naturalized
discourses that presumed their language or home life to be
a problem. In these cases, children were often ethnicized
“good ethnics” learning English, whereas their parents re-
mained racialized subjects, those who required the service
of interpretation.
Finally, children’s social positions in an age-graded
world mean that the power they acquired as translators
was not one, generally speaking, that they got to choose
for themselves. Many children told us how they “had to”
translate or were “put to do so” by others because there was
no one else who could. In this sense, the power they achieve
is one that they were often powerless to refuse. They occupied a borderland subject position—one in which they had
to speak for others in voices that sometimes reproduced
authoritative discourses, with both symbolic and material
JENNIFER F. REYNOLDS Department of Anthropology and
the Linguistics Program, University of South Carolina,
Columbia, SC 29208
MARJORIE FAULSTICH ORELLANA Department of Education, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095
Acknowledgments. The research presented here was funded by
grants from the Culture, Brain and Development program at
UCLA, the William T. Grant Foundation, the International Reading Association, the Joyce Foundation, the National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development (1 RO3 HD39510–01), and
Northwestern University. It was also supported by a postdoctoral
fellowship from the Spencer Foundation/National Academy of Education to Marjorie Faulstich Orellana. Thanks to Lily González,
Marı́a Meza, Melissa Ponce, and Lucila Pulido for their transcriptions and insights into the translating experience, to Sean DoyleMorales for his work compiling the census figures, and to Lisa
Dorner, Marı́a Meza, and Janina Fenigsen for their collegiality. We
would also like to recognize AA Editor-in-Chief Tom Boellstorff
and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback. Finally, we recognize the support and feedback from the children
and families whose experiences we “translate” here.
1. All names are pseudonyms, selected by participants.
2. The CNN article did not provide the original utterance in Spanish.
3. For example, De Genova (2005) noted that the implementation
of ESL workplace courses, instead of promoting empowerment,
served to discipline and stigmatize the workers who participated.
4. Throughout the entire article, we italicize and hyphenate these
5. In the entire Cook County area, Latinos and Hispanics of any
self-declared race who self-identified on the 2003 American Community Survey U.S. Bureau as Mexican numbered 875,580, as
Puerto Rican 139,698, as Cuban 10,270, and as “Other” 120,270
for an estimated total of 1,145,585.
6. De Genova and Ramos-Zayas (2003) and Marcia Farr (2005) provide historical accounts of Chicago’s two largest Latino/a populations, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.
7. Celia Wadensjö (1998) examined how the discourse practices
used during police interrogation and medical examinations presumed dyadic formats.
8. The transcription conventions used here are loosely adapted
from those used in conversation analysis. A period indicates a
downward utterance final contour, a question mark indicates an
upward contour, and a comma indicates an up–down contour.
Colons inserted within an utterance indicate sound stretches, and
underlined words indicate increased volume. A hyphen indicates
a self-interruption or cut-off speech and a tilde indicates rapid or
compressed speech. Overlapping talk is indicated by brackets at
the point where overlap occurs, and latched speech across turns
of talk is indicated by the equals sign. Other paralinguistic, facial
expressions, and gestures are included in double parentheses. Our
American Anthropologist • Vol. 111, No. 2 • June 2009
translations are offset into a column parallel to the utterance. Lines
are generally hard returned at in-breath points. Significant pauses
are indicated in tenths of a second within parentheses. Quotation
marks indicate that the speaker is directly quoting reported speech.
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G i l b e r t o Ro s as
University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
A b s t ra c t
Shifts in border and migration governance since the 1990s evident
in the intensification of militarized policing in the Mexico–US borderlands and
crystallized in the funneling of a large percentage of migrants into the treacherous
geography of the ‘‘killing deserts’’ constitute managed forms of violence that are
inextricably linked to the racialization processes of American empire. Such
managed violences generated another treacherous geography, the critical and
‘‘contaminating’’ socio-spatial formation of Barrio Libre, a transnational ’hood
incarnated by a severely marginalized population of young people and instantiated
in a sewer system that ran under the border. I advance the concept of policeability
to capture the daily instantiations of the managed violences of the borderlands,
evident in dramatic displays of state power and in the informal managements
of everyday life.
Ke y wo rds
border; immigration; empire; race; violence; state
Latino Studies 2006, 4, (401–418) c 2006 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1476-3435/06 $30.00
1 Previous
versions of this
essay were presented to the
Department of
Anthropology at
University of
California at
Riverside, the
Department of
at Rutgers
Latino Studies
Initiative, and
University of
California at
Santa Barbara’s
Department of
latino studies – 4:4
The US–Mexico border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates
against the first and bleedsy
Gloria Anzaldúa (1987).
Increasingly, wars, the practices of war, and the institutions of war tended to
exist, so to speak, only on the frontiers, on the outer limits of the great State
units, and only as a violent relationship – that actually existed or threatened
to exist – between States.
Michel Foucault (2003).
2 Terminology such
as immigrant or immigration implies ‘‘a
unilinear teleology
that is posited from
the standpoint of the
nation-state’’ (De
Genova, 2002, 3).
Yet, for the purposes
of clarity, and in
order to catch the
specific connotation
exercised in legislation, policing, and
discrete power relations, I will use such
problematic terminology.
3 I choose the term
‘‘hood’’ over neighborhood, another
meaning for the term
‘‘barrio’’ because of
the term’s significance
in terms of social
struggle. Barrios in
the United States have
a long history of
Mexicano and other
This essay visits particular debates concerning forms of sovereignty and violence
premised in the capacity, power, and calculations of those who must live and
those who must die. It emerges from critical readings of Michel Foucault’s
interrogation of sovereignty and its articulation to what he identifies as racism
in his lectures given at the Collége de France (Foucault, 2003). Mounting public
anxiety about Latin American migration and lax US–Mexico border
controls, recent Border Patrol shootings of immigrants, galvanized vigilante
movements, and the thousands of corpses found in a treacherous geography of
the southwestern deserts provide an entrée from which to explore such notions
from the context of the borderlands.2 To this end, I draw upon my research on a
severely marginalized population of young people, who in the 1990s
incarnated a socio-spatial formation that they called Barrio Libre (the Free
’hood).3 They and other immigrants undermined the border through a sewer
system connecting Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to Nogales, Arizona. Yet, the
young people rendered this dark liminal space a treacherous geography;
they mugged immigrants in it. The young people also frequently journeyed
to an ‘‘actual’’ Barrio Libre in Tucson, Arizona, where they struggled to
perform Chicano identity to escape the intensifying regimes of policing and
In this paper, I propose that the shift in border and immigration governance,
evidenced in the intensification of militarized policing of immigrants in the
borderlands and crystallized in the funneling of thousands of the undocumented
into treacherous geographies, constitute managed forms of violence, or the effects
of dehumanizing rationalities pervading the borderlands that are inextricably
linked to the white supremacist underpinnings of American empire. Such managed
violences generated the young people’s critical and ‘‘contaminating’’ socio-spatial
formation of Barrio Libre. I further propose the concept of policeability to
capture the daily instantiations of these managed violences, evident in the
sporadic instantiations of militarized border policing, in vigilantism, and in the
informal managements of everyday life, occurring in the borderlands. Finally, I
maintain that ongoing vast undocumented border-crossings and the young people’s
undermining of these historically configured power relations, especially their
incarnation of a transnational ’hood, gesture to the fragility of such forms of
T h e M a n a g e d Vi o l e n c e s o f t h e B o r d e r l a n d s
Gilberto Rosas
R a c e t o t h e b o rd e r
Foucault’s conceptualization of the relationship among political power, what he
terms biopower and racism, initiates this discussion. Foucault privileges the
formation of the state in conquest. The operation of political power in
conditions of peace, or what he characterizes as ‘‘silent war,’’ embodied in
institutions such as law continuously reinstates relations of conquest (Foucault,
2003, 15–17). Yet, as in his other writings, he seeks to decenter political power.
He posits that it operates both inside and outside the domains of the state
(Foucault, 1991). In this respect, his concept of biopower refers to the modern
political rationality that addresses populations as explicitly political problems.
It is organized around two over-riding logics, those of ‘‘making live’’ and
‘‘letting die.’’ With respect to the former, certain domains of knowledge such as
healthcare, welfare, and the birth-rate, and, as Foucault elsewhere underscored,
sexuality, are marshaled to optimize collective life, ‘‘making’’ particular
populations thrive. Conversely, ‘‘letting’’ a particular population or subset of
a population die constitutes the negative referent for biopower, which he
couples to racism. ‘‘Letting’’ a particular population die requires an appearance
of biological difference between those who must live and those who must die.
Racism constitutes this divide (Foucault, 1990, 2003, 239–263).
Nevertheless, Foucault’s notions of biopower as well as racism problematically retain residues of his emphasis elsewhere on ‘‘the disappearance of torture
as spectacle’’ (Foucault, 1979). That is, biopower minimizes the continued use
of invasive techniques of power in privileging undifferentiated – normatively
white – bodies (James, 1996, 24–41). Likewise, the concept fails to address the
specific conditions attendant to colonialism, as well as imperialism (Stoler,
1995; Luibhéid, 2002; Mbembe, 2003). Many thinkers have articulated the
politics of labor subordination with those of racial subordination (e.g. Barrera,
1979; Balibar and Wallerstein, 1991; Quijano, 2000). At issue is the
foundational premises of racism: the tensions between those theorists
privileging anti-fascist critiques of the Holocaust, or a racism of extermination
or state-sanctioned murder, and those investing in a politics of subaltern antiimperialism, where racial and labor subordination prove difficult to analytically
disarticulate. The processes of racialization embedded in American empire,
specifically the unity of imperial design and white supremacist ideology (De
Genova, 2006; Rana and Rosas, forthcoming), organize the managed violences
of the borderlands. For the purposes of this paper, I refer to the conquest and
colonization of over half of Mexico in the 19th century by the United States.4
The war was organized discursively and ideologically in racial terms. The 19th
century Mexicans were largely conceived of as debased because of their
intermarriage with indigenous peoples. They were likewise strongly associated
with the enslaved Black population. Consider that those expansionists who
desired to conquer all of Mexico were refused because of a predominant concern
Latin American immigrants as a site of
racial formation and
social struggle.
(Velez-Ibañez, 1996;
Koptiuch, 1997;
Dávila, 2004).
4 For the theoretical
and political implications of competing
genealogies of racism,
see Hesse (2004).
latino studies – 4:4
5 Although out of the
scope of this essay, it
must be noted that
such views were
largely gendered and
largely held toward
Mexican men.
Mexican women
tended to be viewed
erotically and as
which plays out in
contemporary antiimmigrant discourse
(Horsman, 1981,
217–238; Carrillo
Rowe, 2004,
6 Several scholars
have drawn upon
James Cockcroft’s influential ‘‘revolving
door’’ concept or the
suggestion that
periods of large-scale
immigration and
massive deportation
simultaneously occur,
and constitute a form
of labor control
(Cockcroft, 1986, 15;
Dunn, 1996; De
Genova, 2002, 2004;
Rosas, 2004). This
essay captures the
minutiae of these
processes and the
imperial racializing
logics behind such
forms of labor
control since the
7 I do not wish to
minimize the
character of the
Mexican immigrant
of incorporating such an ‘‘inferior’’ population (Horsman, 1981, 217–238; De
Leon, 1983; Menchaca, 2001).5
An incautious deployment of Foucault’s framework may erase the specificities of
uniquely ‘‘United Statesian’’ forms of biopower operating in the borderlands,
including ongoing coercive exercises of power. The rationalities of making live and
letting die converge in the centrality of labor and its subordination (Holloway,
1995). Indeed, the dramatic demographic transformation occurring in the United
States evident in the scholarship of illegality and indigenous transnationality
suggests that the overwhelming majority of immigrants who attempt to circumvent
immigration controls at the border succeed (e.g. Kearney, 1995; Mountz and
Wright, 1996; De Genova, 2003). The grinding and grueling processes of
undocumented border crossings via treacherous geographies, which approximately
25% of the Mexican immigrant population attempt (Martinez, 2005a), or being
subjugated to militarized policing or other forms of managed violence, constitute a
coercive inauguration to the protracted subjection of life as an immigrant laborer.6
I thus propose the term ‘‘policeability’’ to capture the permutations of
biopower in the borderlands. Unlike Foucault’s more diffused conceptualization
and its problematic genealogy, policeability retains critical scrutiny on the
coercive powers of state agents, such as the Border Patrol, customs agents, and
local police departments, including those powers exercised that exceed official
authority, as well as the politics of labor subjection and subordination. It thus
analytically complements Mexican and Latin American studies of ‘‘illegality,’’
which have largely privileged the ‘‘state’’ and the ‘‘law’’ as the site of its
production (Behdad, 1998; Coutin, 2000; Nevins, 2002a; De Genova and
Ramos-Zayas, 2003; De Genova, 2004; Coutin, 2005). Policeability also
analytically complements what a body of critical social science as well as activist
knowledges has come to recognize as the militarization of the border (Dunn,
1996; Palafox, 1996; Palafox and Jardine, 1998; Parenti, 1999; Andreas, 2000;
Brownell, 2001; Dunn, 2001; Falcón, 2001; Jimenez et al., 2001; Palafox,
2001). Yet, the concept also captures the more diffuse yet nonetheless potent
processes of population management, which the undocumented and sometimes
populations who culturally or phenotypically resemble them experience.
Policeability elaborates upon the epistemological, theoretical, and ultimately
political interrogations of ‘‘illegality.’’ It likewise captures the associations of
‘‘whiteness,’’ and politically and historically specific notions of ‘‘Hispanicity,’’
that inform normative notions of citizenship in the borderlands, contributing to
projects invested in disrupting the hegemonic black-white binary that frequently
characterize discussions regarding race in the United States (De Genova, 2002,
De Genova, 2002, 2006).7 In other words, the concept operationalizes the
blurring of documented with the undocumented in the borderlands as a distinct
system of racialized management in a context where migrants are left not only
to die but are subject to official and extra-official surveillance and vigilance as
well as forms of state-mandated policing.
T h e M a n a g e d Vi o l e n c e s o f t h e B o r d e r l a n d s
Gilberto Rosas
Policeability thus also captures the daily evaluations of the cumulative effects of
numerous, historically configured, ideological processes that dehumanize a
population to the point that state violence, merciless disposability, and other
forms of population management appear appropriate or inevitable. It resonates
with scholarship invested in denaturalizing state and social power, as well
as the taken for grantedness of the international boundary (Nevins, 2003). Popular
ontological signifiers of race, such as the speaking of subordinated languages,
hygienic practices, forms of dress, as well as phenotype, render immigrants and
sometimes those who resemble them subject to such official and extra-official
scrutiny. Policeability thus captures the politically organized investment in fixing
difference. It thus renders race in the borderlands an ideologically charged social
and political relation instead of an attribute or simply ‘‘color’’.
Nevertheless, immigrants, including those as marginalized as the young
people of Barrio Libre, exploit these biopolitically organized managements of
immigrant labor. They thus underscore the fragility and sheer unpredictability
of racialized biopower in the borderlands. Such practices disrupt teleological
concretizations of historically specific power relations, which could be
conceptualized as the reproduction of global capital social relations (Holloway,
1995, 158–159) (compare: Rodrı́guez, 1996). As my ethnography illustrates,
the everyday lives of the young people of Barrio Libre, their illicit bordercrossings through a below-border sewer system, their vexing muggings of other
immigrants, and particularly their formation of a transnational Free ’hood,
capture the political dynamism of race in the borderlands, specifically the
managements, appropriations, disruptions, and reversals of such forms of power.
N o ga l e s , A r i z o n a
Two men climb over the border fence on this day, like most other days, in 1999.
An INS agent and police officer arrive on the scene. One of the immigrants flees.
Neither officer gives chase. The police officer pulls his radio from his belt and
communicates, presumably with other officers in the area. A police car arrives
and pursues the fugitive. Resigned, the second immigrant waits. He seems to get
on his knees without orders from either officer. The agent binds him in handcuffs.
Later that day, like on most other days, a man peers over the border into
Nogales, Arizona. Suddenly, he signals to a group waiting below him in
Nogales, Sonora. A mad scramble ensues. Approximately seven men climb to
the top of the fence and jump onto the steaming pavement of the United States.
Three sprint for the neighborhoods of Nogales, Arizona. They will likely be seen
on video cameras, which connect to the local Border Patrol station that in turn
will then dispatch agents accordingly. Yet, the others have a chance. They run
toward the mass of ‘‘documented’’ Mexicans, and probably the undocumented
ones as well, who have managed to cross the border through the regular means
via the port of entry, and who along with Mexican American citizens move
population (Fox,
2006). Moreover, the
Mexican nation-state
has a competing set of
racial formations
(Almaguer, 2003).
Yet, the politics of
race and racism have
long functioned as a
process that homogenizes groups with
ethnic distinctions.
latino studies – 4:4
8 Occasionally, undocumented migrants
‘‘bluff’’ their way
across the border
by claiming US
9 This moment points
to one of the
limitations of Louis
Althusser’s (1971)
influential essay,
‘‘Ideology and the
Ideological State
Apparatuses (Notes
toward an Investigation).’’ Althusser’s
structuralist premises
emphasize social
reproduction in the
internalization of a
singular ideology in
the oft-cited interpellation scene, or the
production of subjects through official,
even bilingual, hailings. Yet, the fragility
of this process is
evident in the need
for coercion. For
related critiques of
such formulations,
see Cleaver (1979)
and Holloway (1995,
10 The inauguration
of JTF-6 in the 1980s
marks the formal
involvement of US
military forces in
anti-drug enforcement on the
through the shopping districts of dollar and second-hand stores of Nogales,
Arizona.8 A few appear to have made it. I later learned that a truck hit a man as
he ran through an intersection. About an hour later, several figures sprinted
down the Grand Avenue of Nogales, Arizona. A Border Patrol agent runs
around the nearby corner, pursuing them.
A few minutes later, the process renews. Three people peer over the border
The next day, as with most other days, more arrests occur. Three presumably
Latin American immigrants lie on their stomachs on the cement. Border Patrol
officers handcuff them. Behind me, an authoritative voice commands ‘‘Stop!
Alto!’’ A would-be subject resists; he sprints toward the safety of downtown
Nogales, Arizona. A Border Patrol officer in a blur knocks over a brown body,
presumably a Latin American immigrant who had managed to illicitly cross the
Down the street, a manhole cover pops up from the pavement. Several figures
emerge from the sewer and scamper to a nearby house. Close by, Border Patrol
agents search a shuttle bus that makes regular trips to Tucson, Arizona. Some of
the passengers appear to be arrested. Others wait patiently. Others bow their
Noga les, Sonora
On this Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in 1998, a popular holiday that
honors the deceased, I am at a cemetery in Nogales, Sonora, nestled against the
fence that severs the city from Nogales, Arizona. A branch of the US military
involved in domestic drug enforcement efforts along the Mexico–US border
region called Joint Task Force-6 (JTF-6) renovated the fence using surplus
mobile military runways from the First Persian Gulf War only a few years ago,
gesturing to the architectural continuities of empire.10 Atop a surveillance tower
in Nogales Arizona, a video camera shoots everyday life.
A seemingly new, shiny, green and white sport utility of the Border Patrol
parks and overlooks this cultural veneration of death from the steep, brown,
desert hills of Nogales, Arizona. Its passengers apparently observe us as we do
them. ‘‘Roman,’’ a sixteen-year-old man-child with a goatee and squared
shoulders, makes an obscene gesture in the direction of the vehicle. He laughs.
He had lived in Chicago and Seattle before his father’s deportation landed him
in Nogales, Sonora that eventuated in his becoming a member of the severely
marginalized population of the young people of Barrio Libre.
It is five years after Border Patrol agent Michael Elmer shot to death a
Mexican citizen, Dario Miranda Valenzuela, in a close-by canyon.11 Despite
Elmer’s partner’s admission that the two agents considered planting evidence at
the scene and that the victim was shot in the back in the United States v. Elmer,
the jury ruled that Valenzuela’s murder was reasonable at the border (Human
T h e M a n a g e d Vi o l e n c e s o f t h e B o r d e r l a n d s
Gilberto Rosas
Rights Watch, 1993). Notably, in 1997, a clandestine Marine reconnaissance
unit shot to death a US citizen of Mexican descent, who was shepherding his
goats in the border region of Texas. They mistook him for a drug trafficker.
Several human rights reports documented a resurgence in Border Patrol abuse,
harassment, and even rape of immigrants and those who resembled them at this
time (Human Rights Watch, 1992, 1993, 1995; Dunn, 2001). In 2005, the
Border Patrol shot several immigrants and committed other brutalities (NA,
In the surveilled cemetery, a boy sits at a grave eating his cup of stewed corn,
dripping in mayonnaise and chili powder, which he has just bought from a street
vendor. A guitar player takes requests. A man in a black suit holds the hands of
a young woman. She caresses the hand of a little girl, who carries a basket and
who in turn holds the hand of another child. They walk through rows of graves,
scanning the headstones. Another family picnics in the cemetery. Four young
people pray at a grave.
I tell Roman of a University of Houston Study that I had learned would soon
be published. It estimated that approximately 1,600 immigrants had died trying
to cross the border (Eschbach et al., 1999). Early in the 1990s, INS operations in
El Paso, in San Diego, in South Texas, and in southern Arizona, positioned
Border Patrol agents en masse along traditional immigrant routes. These
displays of state power at precisely the sites where immigrants could blend in
with the local US–Mexican population steered immigrants into the unforgiving
deserts of the southwest where the Border Patrol, presumably free of
antagonizing or arresting the US citizens of Mexican descent, gained advantage.
Notably, similar tactics had been tried before. In 1979, the Border Patrol used
such a strategy in San Diego, admitting that it would likely cause deaths
(Cockcroft, 1986, 82) and later in south Texas. Yet, such efforts failed to
capture policymakers’ imaginations or garner public support until the eve of
NAFTA (Brownell, 2001, 78). The study notes that the estimated number of
immigrant deaths was then a conservative estimate. The amount later grew to
2,000 (Nevins, 2002b), and currently has almost doubled to 3,600, not
including approximately 400 more deaths in 2005 (Martinez, 2005b). Bodies
decompose quickly in the desert.12
Roman replies: ‘‘And that does not account for the violence. I bet you Beto’s
death doesn’t count.’’
‘‘L e t t i n g ’’ B e t o Di e
Beto left his home in central Mexico in 1996 when he was 14. The country still
suffered from the effects of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression
that began in late 1994 as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
commenced. Mexicans in Nogales, Sonora and throughout the country
commonly referred to the country’s dire financial situation as ‘‘la crisis’’ or
Mexico–US border
(Dunn, 1996, 133).
11 In 1992, five
agents of the United
States Border Patrol
were patrolling an
area near Nogales,
Arizona. They
encountered three
men who they
thought to be lookouts for Mexican
narcotics smugglers
in a remote canyon.
In violation of Immigration and Naturalization Service
firearms policy, one
agent fired three shots
over the head of one
of the men. The three
men fled toward
Mexico. Agent
Michael Elmer then
shot a dozen times at
one of the men, Dario
Miranda Valenzuela,
who was unarmed.
Two bullets struck
Valenzuela in his
back, killing him
(Human Rights
Watch, 1993).
12 Several scholars
have noted the
gendered effects of
these strategies,
which seemed at least
in the mid-1990s to
have dissuaded
women (and children)
from attempting to
cross the border, or
having successfully
crossed to have made
them decide to settle
latino studies – 4:4
in the United States
(Chavez, 1997;
Wilson, 2000;
Brownell, 2001;
Huspek, 2001).
the crisis. It marked an intensification of political conditions for migrancy.
Along with the tearing asunder of Mexico’s one-time corporate state,
neoliberalism wreaked havoc with Beto’s family finances. He and his parents
decided he would go to the United States and become an agent of remittances.
He would find work in Los Angeles, probably bussing tables at the same
restaurant at which his aunt worked. He would send money home when he
could. Yet, as with many of the young people of the Free ’hood, he could not
make history as he pleased.
Beto knew that ‘‘los chiles verdes’’ or the green chilies, what some of the
young people of Barrio Libre referred to as the Border Patrol because of their
green uniforms and because ‘‘they make the border hot,’’ were making crossing
difficult. He headed to Sonora, where he hoped to slip through the border at
Nogales. He arrived during one of the highpoints of a border Patrol Campaign.
He tried to cross and was quickly caught: ‘‘the migra told me they had seen me
on the cameras . . . they sent me to [the local youth authority].’’ At the county
youth authority, Beto began literacy classes and counseling.
Over one hundred young immigrants overwhelmed the Santa Cruz county
youth authority and among them were many of Barrio Libre at this moment.
Eventually, the county decided to send Beto and the other young people to the
juvenile authority of Nogales, Sonora. Yet, crisis crippled public welfare
programs such as the Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia
(DIF) and others, designed to manage street youth, lacked sufficient financing to
grapple with the complex problems of the young people of Barrio Libre. DIF’s
principal agent in Nogales, Sonora often took young people into his own home.
Moreover, the understaffed and underfinanced youth authority brimmed with
young people who, like Beto, had migrated from throughout Mexico looking
for work.
Beto also met several youth from Barrio Libre. Their promises of freedom and
open defiance of the youth authorities impressed him. Beto soon was ‘‘freed.’’
He was sent to the streets with no family, a few pesos in his pocket, fewer
options, but new friends and a developing deeply subjugated knowledge of
crossing the international boundary and subverting the authorities and social
Almost two weeks to the day of his original attempt to cross the border, and
while the Nogales region remained ‘‘hot,’’ Beto tried to cross again. He chose
the preferred route of the young people of the Free ’hood, and literally
undermined the border through the moist underground world of a transnational
sewer system, passing proclamations of ‘‘Barrio Libre’’ scrawled in gold spray
paint on the cement walls. For much of the 1990s, small groups of immigrants,
holding flashlights, some carrying with them their children and their life
savings, would seep under the border via these tunnels. Yet, the border runs
deep; a door marks the border underground, separating the US sewer from the
Mexican. Occasionally, the authorities managed to solder rod iron over the
T h e M a n a g e d Vi o l e n c e s o f t h e B o r d e r l a n d s
Gilberto Rosas
opening, but the young people, or other more regular immigrants, would force it
As luck would have it, when Beto exited the sewer system via a large drainage
ditch in Nogales, Arizona, the authorities captured him again. Yet, Beto’s new
knowledge in the art of the undermining of the state had prepared him. He had
grown bristly stubble, which many of the young men of Barrio Libre cultivated.
His not-quite-five-o’clock shadow aided him in claiming adulthood and the then
underfinanced and understaffed US border authorities believed him. He thus
avoided returning to the youth authorities of Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales,
Released near the border, Beto tried again. On his third attempt to cross the
border, and his second navigating the dark world of Barrio Libre, he was
successful. He exited the tunnel from the drainage ditch to the United States. He
then hid on a train to stow away to the northern terrain of Barrio Libre, the
‘‘real’’ Barrio Libre, an ethno-racialized Mexican neighborhood in Tucson,
Arizona about 60 miles to the north. As he jumped from one boxcar to another,
probably trying to hide from the Union Pacific police force that was on high
alert for immigrants, he slipped and fell onto the track. The train severed his
body only a few blocks from the international boundary.
The US government’s then recent investments in boundary enforcement
configured the power to ‘‘let [Beto] die.’’ Although the aforementioned shooting
of a US citizen by a marine squadron led to the suspension of the use of troops at
the border, the long-running collaboration between the military and the Border
Patrol and the shrouded inner workings of the state veil the continued use of
military technology, equipment, and tactics in immigration policing.13 These
tendencies obscure the deployment of a variant of Low Intensity Conflict
Doctrine, a doctrine specifically designed to quell domestic insurgencies in the
‘‘Third World’’ that, according to Timothy Dunn in his ground-breaking work,
is being deployed at the border (Dunn, 1996; Dunn, 2000, 2001; Dunn and
Palafox, 2000). Indeed, the Pentagon’s Center for the Study of Low Intensity
Conflict aided in the writing of the Border Patrol Strategic Plan: 1994 and
Beyond, and particular officials have publicly acknowledged this being the
case.14 Moreover, military officials have acknowledged that the armed service’s
participation in drug law enforcement has aided the Border Patrol in its
immigration enforcement duties (Dunn, 2001, 8–11). In addition, militarism
informs the workings of the Border Patrol (Dunn, 2000, 2001; Dunn and
Palafox, 2000; Rosas, 2002, 2003). Indeed, beginning with the origin of the
immigrant police force early in the 20th century in the Johnson–Reed Act, the
organization has relied upon former military personnel to fill its ranks. Several
of the original members of this police force were former Texas Rangers (Dunn,
1996, 13), a paramilitary organization with a notable legacy of racial terror in
the southwest that triggered an incipient, semi-organized insurgency and broad
cultural forms of resistance (Paredes, 1971; Rosenbaum, 1981; De Leon, 1983;
13 The 1982
relaxation of the
Posse Comitas Act in
the Defense
Authorization Act
marked a shift in US
border policing. The
1879 Posse Comitas
act had outlawed the
armed forces participation in civilian
policing except for
extreme and rare
circumstances. In this
new, yet unexceptional, legal context,
military personnel
were allowed to assist
civilian law enforcement agencies in
matters of law
including the training
latino studies – 4:4
of federal, state, and
local police officials
in the operation and
maintenance of military equipment. Soon
the army began conducting surveillance
operations using
Blackhawk helicopters in the Texas
border region and an
oft-repeated Army
training exercise in
southern Arizona
commenced, among
other military–Border Patrol
collaborations (Dunn,
1996, 106–111). The
Border Patrol was
created in the
Johnson–Reed Immigration Act of 1924.
14 See the testimony
of Gus de la Vina,
Border Patrol Chief
on the collaboration
of the Department of
Defense and the Border Patrol (US House
Committee on Government Reform and
Oversight (1996), 65,
as cited in Falcón,
2001, 33).
15 Analyses of border
policing largely
overlook the Mexican
government’s own
amplification of law
enforcement at the
international boundary. Mexico City
formed Grupo Beta,
and later other police
forces, for reducing
violence in human
trafficking in the border region (Dunn,
1996). While working with the young
people of
Limón, 1994; Flores, 2002; Callahan, 2003).15 In the 1990s, several wellrespected international human rights organizations published reports documenting the effects of militarized policeability, specifically Border Patrol abuse,
harassment, and rape of immigrants, including those from Central America, as
well as the US Latinos (Human Rights Watch, 1992, 1993, 1995).
That said, throughout my time at the border, the militarization of the border
would be evident. Then, it would not. Indeed, late in the 1990s, the Border
Patrol had established certain units designed to render humanitarian aid to
immigrants in the deserts (Rosas, 2004, 95). This sporadic organization of
militarized policing and humanitarian aid captures the aforementioned tensions
among making live and letting die or the inaugural violence of undocumented
border-crossing that produces a readily policeable, laboring, population.
In terms of social struggle, the success of organizations as diverse as the
Coalición de Derechos Humanos/Alianza Indı́gena sin fronteras (the Human
Rights Coalition/Indigenous Alliance without Borders); the Border Action
Network; No More Deaths; and the American Friend’s Service Committee’s
Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project must be recognized. They
challenge the militarization of the Mexico–US border, vigilantism, and the
mistreatment of immigrants and other marginalized borderlanders in various
forms of social protest, documentation, and the like. Nevertheless, as Beto’s
singular death and the growing number of corpses found in the killing deserts
suggest, the sporadic, yet intensifying, militarization of the bo…
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