Racial Formations within Social Movements: Forging Solidarities and Complicities

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS), the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA), and the Western History Association

Saturday, April 4, 2020, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: African American; Asian American; Latino/a


Racialization is a process that is typically known as a product of white elites’ manipulation, but this panel seeks to broaden our understanding of this process by analyzing racial formation within seemingly egalitarian social movements and progressive coalitions. We pay attention to the processes through which negative sets of characteristics have been attached to groups of people both wittingly and unwittingly, by those who see themselves as enemies and allies of people of color. Christian Paiz analyzes the ways in which Filipino farmworkers have been erased out of the history of the United Farm Workers movement, even as the movement has been championed as a pivotal moment within the Chicano/Latinx movement. Cecilia Marquez considers the political potentials and limitations of the term “Juan Crow” within immigrant justice movements. Although the term suggests Black-Brown solidarity, it inadvertently erases the historical and contemporary presence of Afro-Latino/as and denies the persistence of black oppression in the South. Sonia Lee critiques the therapeutic culture created by community psychiatrists in the 1950s and 60s. Community psychiatrists sought to include poor patients of color within the field of mental health by highlighting the extra layers of mental suffering they had to endure under racism and capitalism. Despite their attempt to understand black and Latino patients’ political subjugation, however, they ended up focusing on “black” and “Hispanic” culture as the locus of healing, and unwittingly reinforced their racialization. In these various contexts, the presenters find that campaigns for racial egalitarianism often faced the prospects of re-inscribing racial inequality and inadvertently participating in the marginalization of racialized communities.

Papers Presented

More than “Radicals” or “Junkies”: Blacks, Latinos, and the Pursuit of Psycho-Political Liberation

This paper challenges medical and political elites’ narrative about the mental health of people of color by reexamining the scholarship on community psychiatry. The rise of community psychiatry in the 1950s marked the first time in U.S. history when mental health professionals began to pay attention to the ways race shaped the field of mental health care. The literature on community psychiatry, however, describes the relationships that developed between white mental health professionals and patients of color through a declension or deficiency model. They characterize the political struggles of that radical experiment as a “failure,” and they frame racial and ethnic difference mainly as a “pathology.” Despite the sympathetic lens through which these narratives are written, they have racialized people of color by portraying them as mentally weaker than whites: African Americans are more “vulnerable” due to poverty, discrimination, and incarceration; Latinos’ verbal capacities are limited by their lack of English proficiency; Native Americans have high rates of suicide; and Asian Americans are undiagnosed entirely due to cultural stigma and shame. This narrative, however, ignores the mental strength that poor people of color demonstrated. This paper re-centers blacks and Latinos as scientific innovators within community psychiatry in the 1960s and 1970s—especially within the subfield of substance abuse treatment. It highlights the solutions that they developed to achieve individual and collective well-being through a combination of political education, group therapy, and non-Western forms of healing.

Presented By
Sonia Song-Ha Lee, Indiana University

Soldiers of the Soil: On the Filipino History of the United Farm Worker Movement

The United Farm Workers (UFW) movement of the 1960s and 1970s has long been recognized as a key force in bringing attention to farm worker life in post–World War II America—especially farm worker marginality and the contradiction of mid-twentieth-century claims of egalitarian American citizenship. Through its labor strikes and consumer boycott, the UFW movement has also been credited with playing a catalyzing role in the early Chicano movement, and has since served as a shorthand for Chicanx/Latinx legibility within an overarching framework of American social movements. This paper will pivot away from this narrative and foreground the Filipino farm workers who first initiated the Delano Grape Strike in 1965 and who continued to play central roles in the UFW’s history in the 1970s. For them, the UFW movement represented a way to improve their material conditions and to rectify the continuing legacies of racial violence and colonial dispossession. More contentiously, some Filipino leaders argued that participation in the labor movement offered strikers psychological emancipation from past marginalization, whether experienced in the United States or in the Philippines. Lastly, many Filipino UFW members would spend the late 1970s publicizing their contributions to a now-iconic movement. Their continued erasure in our historiographies and popular culture compels us to reflect on the hidden layers of inequality in seemingly egalitarian social movements.

Presented By
Christian Oswaldo Paiz, University of California, Berkeley

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: John D. Marquez, Northwestern University

Presenter: Sonia Song-Ha Lee, Indiana University
Sonia Lee is a social, political, and intellectual historian of twentieth-century United States, with particular interests in constructions of race, ethnicity, racial politics and the history of medicine, with a special focus on Latinx history and African American history. Her first book, Building a Latino Civil Rights Movement: Puerto Ricans, African Americans and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in New York City (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014) traces the strategies used by Puerto Ricans and African Americans to conceptualize their racial and ethnic identities, and to build a common civil rights agenda in New York City from the 1950s through the 1970s. Her second book project, Diagnosing Difference: Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and the Racialization of the Rehabilitation Ideal, 1940s-80s, moves from examining racialization through the lens of social movements to that of psychiatry, psychology, and drug policies. It brings together the history of black radicalism with that of drug addiction and mental health to highlight the intellectual contributions of drug addicts, mental health professionals, and political activists of color in the 1940s-80s. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend and the John W. Kluge Fellowship from the Library of Congress.

Presenter: Christian Oswaldo Paiz, University of California, Berkeley
Christian Paiz is an assistant professor in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His book, A Feast of Brief Hopes: A Rank-and-File Account of the United Farm Worker Movement in Southern California, follows the distinct lives of Filipino and Mexican farm workers in the UFW campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, accounting for their alternating moments of intersection, collaboration and dispersal. He teaches undergraduate courses on the history of race and ethnicity in the American West, and on the politics and discourses of American social movements since World War II. His graduate seminars are on approaches to relational formations of race, the history of the U.S.-Mexico border and on American Labor in the 20th century.