After years of shying away from bipartisan compromise of any kind, Congress finally appears ready to act on the issue of immigration reform. Those who look only at headlines, however, would be hard-pressed to grasp the enormity of what is at stake. Most news stories focus on the minutiae of the legislative process and partisan political calculations. From the perspective of the inside-the-beltway crowd, this is a story that begins and ends in Washington, D.C. The longer arc of reform is difficult to find.
Now is a good time to look at the bigger picture and place this moment in its historical context. A carefully argued book can galvanize a conversation otherwise deadened by talking heads droning and opining about political machinations. Serious works of Chicano/a and Latino/a studies, for instance, can provide much essential background for understanding immigration and immigration reform, by both recalling activists’ efforts that made reform inevitable and demonstrating how a changing American society led us to this turning point.
Scholars’ attempts to analyze and recover the roots of the current moment form the backbone of the University of North Carolina Press’s award-winning list in Chicano/a and Latino/a studies. A few recent examples may illustrate this: Braceros by Deborah Cohen takes readers back to the beginning of World War II, when the U.S. and Mexico signed labor agreements that brought Mexican laborers into the United States. Power to the Poor, by Gordon Mantler, sheds new light on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, revealing a moment of intense and productive collaboration between African American and Mexican American activists that until now has been largely overlooked. Mario T. Garcia and Sal Castro’s Blowout! presents a unique and compelling story of Chicano activism in 1968, seeking to reform neglected high schools in East Los Angeles.
Our forthcoming titles promise to uphold that same tradition. In Spring 2014, we will publish Sonia Lee’s new work chronicling the rise and fall of the powerful alliance between Puerto Rican and African American activists in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s. Also coming next Spring, Mario Garcia’s LATINO GENERATION looks to the future, collecting stories of the children of the “New Immigrants” of the 1970s and 1980s. He examines what it meant for these children to come of age in the United States, influenced at once by their parents’ national background and by American mass culture and non-Latino ethnic influences.
Watching cable news or skimming newspaper headlines, you would think that the struggle to reform this country’s systems was the work of a group of Senators brokering compromises or a political party looking to revise its electoral fortunes. In reality, scholarship in the fields of Chicana/o and Latina/o studies defies such easy simplifications, revealing that the struggle for citizenship, inclusion, and social justice in this country has historic, deep roots, and that forces for change do not always begin and end in Washington.
UNC Press is proud to support scholarship in these fields that speaks within the academy and to wider audiences and we look forward to continuing to discover and make available new work that brings important historical insight to some of the most critical issues we face today.