Law and order in Latino lives: the incarceration and racial construction of Latinos in the United States, 1845-present
Hernandez, Adrea Lauren
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While recent scholarship has documented the long history of African American disenfranchisement leading up to mass incarceration, it has evaded a comprehensive investigation of Latino encounters with the U.S. criminal justice system by relying on a false dichotomy between black and Latino carceral experiences. The historical roots of Latino criminalization and punishment in the United States, dating back to the 1845 annexation of Texas, merit a study that both particularizes Latino experiences and problematizes essentialized racial categories. Thus, this dissertation charts the trajectories of Latino racial constructions as shaped by incarceration, revealing how prisons have defined and destabilized the boundaries of Latinidad. Furthermore, this project finds that these racializations have served as decisive factors in determining the incarcerability of Latinos, with mass incarceration and deportation acting as intertwined, complementary systems of control. Utilizing a wide range of sources including prison records, personal memoirs, political discourses, local newspapers, survey data, and imagery from street and prison culture, this study also highlights the conflict between the concept of race as a social construct and efforts to quantify racial disparities in U.S. institutions. The first chapter identifies the ways in which Latinos were perceived and recorded as racial others in registers from the nation’s flagship prisons between 1850 and 1950. The personal histories of Latinos in this early era and later in the twentieth century also capture the normalization of interactions with law enforcement and the routine of jailtime. To address the systemic complexities that have dictated Latino racial developments, in the next chapters, I introduce an analytical framework based on three different racial paradigms. Chapter Two deconstructs understandings of Latinos as perpetual foreigners paired with the notion of immigrants as criminals. Chapter Three explores Latino experiences with criminalized blackness due to African ancestry and shared socioeconomic disadvantage. Chapter Four examines Latino disenfranchisement founded on Amerindian heritage and the reappropriation of Indianism as a tool of resistance in response. Finally, the last chapter analyzes longitudinal survey data, finding nuances within the racial disparities typically cited in criminal justice reports, while unpacking the role of incarceration in Latino racial formations over time.