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Cover of Racial Baggage by Sylvia Zamora
Racial Baggage
Mexican Immigrants and Race Across the Border
Sylvia Zamora


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July 2022
248 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503628526
Paperback ISBN: 9781503632240
Ebook ISBN: 9781503632257

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Winner of the 2023 ASA Section on Latina/o Sociology: Distinguished Contribution to Research Award, sponsored by the American Sociological Association (ASA) - Section on Latino/a Sociology.

Upon arrival to the United States, Mexican immigrants are racialized as simultaneously non-White and "illegal." This racialization process complicates notions of race that they bring with them, as the "pigmentocracy" of Mexican society, in which their skin color may have afforded them more privileges within their home country, collides with the American racial system. Racial Baggage examines how immigration reconfigures U.S. race relations, illuminating how the immigration experience can transform understandings of race in home and host countries.

Drawing on interviews with Mexicans in Los Angeles and Guadalajara, sociologist Sylvia Zamora illustrates how racialization is a transnational process that not only changes immigrants themselves, but also everyday understandings of race and racism within the United States and Mexico. Within their communities and networks that span an international border, Zamora argues, immigrants come to define "race" in a way distinct from both the color-conscious hierarchy of Mexican society and the Black-White binary prevalent within the United States. In the process, their stories demonstrate how race is not static, but rather an evolving social phenomenon forever altered by immigration.

About the author

Sylvia Zamora is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Loyola Marymount University.

"During the Mexican Revolution, nationalizing elites forged ideas about the Mexican character, which included the mistaken notions that racism or Black people did not exist in their country. Mexican immigration has since become the largest, longest, and arguably the most marginalized in U.S. history. Through rich interviews, Sylvia Zamora uncovers how immigration and changes in both societies transform immigrant ideas about race and racism."

—Edward Telles, author of Pigmentocracies

"Racial Baggage demonstrates how racial ideologies travel across the U.S.-Mexico border. This excellent and highly original book challenges many assumptions about how migrants develop racial awareness and offers a compelling transnational framework that represents a critical intervention in the field."

—Julie A. Dowling, author of Mexican Americans and the Question of Race

"Zamora has produced an important new contribution to the fields of sociology, history, immigration studies, ethnic/minority studies, and political science. Those interested in better understanding the historical and ideological forces shaping immigration and race will want to readRacial Baggage. Highly recommended."

—M. G. Urbina, CHOICE

"Drawing on a rich set of interview data with 75 non-migrants, return migrants, and immigrants in the United States, Zamora forcefully advances race relations, identity formation and meaning making, and transnational migration social science literature while also shedding new light on how the US–Mexico border operates as a race-making site."

—Stephanie L. Canizales, Social Forces

"Ideas about race and the attitudes and practices they elicit vary greatly between the United States and Mexico. But what happens with the large-scale migration and fluid mobility of people between both countries? With Racial Baggage, Sylvia Zamora makes a valuable contribution to understand the dynamic ideas and practices regarding race across the border. It is not only that migrants discover themselves as racialized in the eyes of those already living in the United States of America, but also that their experiences North of the border inform anew their relations back in Mexico."

—Raúl Acosta, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"A central lesson we learn from Zamora is to pay close attention to pre-migration experiences when making sense of how the nation's racialized boundaries are reproduced.... Racial Baggage offers important accounts about how Mexican nationals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border craft, share, and enact racialized ideas and scripts. Scholars documenting transnational ties and the exclusionary boundaries of American whiteness will find familiar and generative themes in these accounts."

—Juan Manuel Pedroza, Contemporary Sociology