Synopses & Reviews
"The Filth of Progress
persuasively outlines the dark underbelly of the much-celebrated 'progress' that transportation improvements wrought between the 1820s and 1870s. Dearinger skillfully brings together the histories of Irish immigrants, Mormons, and Chinese workers. This compact, vividly written book will be of benefit to students and scholars of U.S. labor history, U.S. immigration history, and the history of the American West."—Thomas G. Andrews, Associate Professor of History at the University of Colorado and author of Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War
and Coyote Valley: Deep History in the High Rockies
"The Filth of Progress unmasks the strangely neglected work and self-advocacy of immigrant and Mormon transportation workers in the building of the American West. Dearinger’s clear and polished prose reveals the commonalties and differences in how diverse workers tried to better their lives and conditions. This book will appeal to western historians, cultural historians of nineteenth-century American 'improvement' and 'progress,' labor historians, and historians of immigration."—Katherine Benton-Cohen, Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University and author of Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands
"Just twenty years ago Peter Way introduced American historians to the harrowing lives of the 'navvies' working on New York’s Erie Canal. Now Ryan Dearinger offers a rich, new, up-to-date study of the hard-working armies of laborers who dug the canals and spiked the rails that eventually knit together a transcontinental United States. The Filth of Progress deftly links the cultural enthusiasm for technology and development with the enormous suffering wrung from the hands and backs of thousands of marginalized persons from the opening of the Erie through the celebratory Golden Spike nearly half a century later. Irish immigrants, Mormons, and contract Chinese laborers—each group held in some degree of contempt by 'free' and 'white' Americans—greased the skids of progress with their sweat and blood. Familiar racial and ethnic hostilities, rank exploitation, and shameless manipulations ornament the story; but lest we forgive the principles for the 'standards of the day,' Dearinger displays one after another the outrageous fictions concocted to fix blame on the victims after the fact. Americans not only did not build their greatest achievement themselves, they lied aggressively to rob those who did of any scrap of credit or dignity. Not an uplifting story, Dearinger’s account helps to balance scales too long tipped in the direction of bloodless triumph and Yankee ingenuity. Read ’em, and weep."—John Lauritz Larson, Professor of History at Purdue University and author of The Market Revolution in America: Liberty, Ambition, and the Eclipse of the Common Good
"Natalia Molinaand#8217;s examination of racial construction of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans is notable and thorough . . . Terms are well defined, arguments are soundly presented, and commonly known historical events are explained."
The Filth of Progress explores the untold side of a well-known American story. For more than a century, accounts of progress in the West foregrounded the technological feats performed while canals and railroads were built and lionized the capitalists who financed the projects. This book salvages stories often omitted from the triumphant narrative of progress by focusing on the suffering and survival of the workers who were treated as outsiders. Ryan Dearinger examines the moving frontiers of canal and railroad construction workers in the tumultuous years of American expansion, from the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 to the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads in 1869. He tells the story of the immigrants and Americans--the Irish, Chinese, Mormons, and native-born citizens--whose labor created the West's infrastructure and turned the nation's dreams of a continental empire into a reality. Dearinger reveals that canals and railroads were not static monuments to progress but moving spaces of conflict and contestation.
Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Fit to Be Citizens? demonstrates how both science and public health shaped the meaning of race in the early twentieth century. Through a careful examination of the experiences of Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles, Natalia Molina illustrates the many ways local health officials used complexly constructed concerns about public health to demean, diminish, discipline, and ultimately define racial groups. She shows how the racialization of Mexican Americans was not simply a matter of legal exclusion or labor exploitation, but rather that scientific discourses and public health practices played a key role in assigning negative racial characteristics to the group. The book skillfully moves beyond the binary oppositions that usually structure works in ethnic studies by deploying comparative and relational approaches that reveal the racialization of Mexican Americans as intimately associated with the relative historical and social positions of Asian Americans, African Americans, and whites. Its rich archival grounding provides a valuable history of public health in Los Angeles, living conditions among Mexican immigrants, and the ways in which regional racial categories influence national laws and practices. Molinaand#8217;s compelling study advances our understanding of the complexity of racial politics, attesting that racism is not static and that different groups can occupy different places in the racial order at different times.
"Fit to Be Citizens
is tightly organized, crisply and clearly argued, and beautifully written throughout. Molina paints a vivid portrait of an understudied dimension of southern California social history."and#151;David G. Gutiand#233;rrez, author of Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity
"This riveting study crosses boundaries of both discipline and nationality to marvelous effect."and#151;David Roediger, author of Working Toward Whiteness
exposes a shocking story of ethnic cleansing in California and the Pacific Northwest when the first Chinese Americans were rounded up and purged from more than three hundred communities by lawless citizens and duplicitous politicians. From 1848 into the twentieth century, Chinatowns burned across the West as Chinese miners and merchants, lumberjacks and fieldworkers, prostitutes and merchants' wives were violently loaded onto railroad cars or steamers, marched out of town, or killed.
But the Chinese fought backand#151;with arms, strikes, and lawsuits and by flatly refusing to leave. When red posters appeared on barns and windows across the United States urging the Chinese to refuse to carry photo identity cards, more than one hundred thousand joined the largest mass civil disobedience to date in the United States. The first Chinese Americans were marched out and starved out. But even facing brutal pogroms, they stood up for their civil rights. This is a story that defines us as a nation and marks our humanity.
"Driven Out is the most comprehensive history of the period, written with a keen eye for the horrifying, heartbreaking, and often uplifting and triumphant details."and#151;Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Chronicling the rise of Los Angeles through shifting ideas of race and ethnicity, William Deverell offers a unique perspective on how the city grew and changed. Whitewashed Adobe
considers six different developments in the history of the cityand#151;including the cementing of the Los Angeles River, the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1924, and the evolution of America's largest brickyard in the 1920s. In an absorbing narrative supported by a number of previously unpublished period photographs, Deverell shows how a city that was once part of Mexico itself came of age through appropriatingand#151;and even obliteratingand#151;the region's connections to Mexican places and people.
Deverell portrays Los Angeles during the 1850s as a city seething with racial enmity due to the recent war with Mexico. He explains how, within a generation, the city's business interests, looking for a commercially viable way to establish urban identity, borrowed Mexican cultural traditions and put on a carnival called La Fiesta de Los Angeles. He analyzes the subtle ways in which ethnicity came to bear on efforts to corral the unpredictable Los Angeles River and shows how the resident Mexican population was put to work fashioning the modern metropolis. He discusses how Los Angeles responded to the nation's last major outbreak of bubonic plague and concludes by considering the Mission Play, a famed drama tied to regional assumptions about history, progress, and ethnicity. Taking all of these elements into consideration, Whitewashed Adobe uncovers an urban identityand#151;and the power structure that fostered itand#151;with far-reaching implications for contemporary Los Angeles.
"This magnificent book, the fruit of a decade of original research, is a landmark in Los Angeles's difficult conversation with its past. Deverell brilliantly exposes the white lies and racial deceits that have for too long reigned as municipal 'history.'"and#151;Mike Davis
How Race Is Made in America
examines Mexican Americansand#151;from 1924, when American law drastically reduced immigration into the United States, to 1965, when many quotas were abolishedand#151;to understand how broad themes of race and citizenship are constructed. These years shaped the emergence of what Natalia Molina describes as an immigration regime,
which defined the racial categories that continue to influence perceptions in the United States about Mexican Americans, race, and ethnicity.
Molina demonstrates that despite the multiplicity of influences that help shape our concept of race, common themes prevail. Examining legal, political, social, and cultural sources related to immigration, she advances the theory that our understanding of race is socially constructed in relational waysand#151;that is, in correspondence to other groups. Molina introduces and explains her central theory, racial scripts, which highlights the ways in which the lives of racialized groups are linked across time and space and thereby affect one another. How Race Is Made in America also shows that these racial scripts are easily adopted and adapted to apply to different racial groups.
"Molina provides a fresh, sophisticated analysis of the powerful racial 'scripts' generated in twentieth-century US political and legal culture, and of the Mexican population's unique vulnerability in the 1920s and after as eminently 'deportable.' This book's importance is sadly substantiated by twenty-first-century headlines about immigration policy, 'papers please' laws, and urban policing. A critical contribution." --Matthew Frye Jacobson, author of Whiteness of a Different Color
and Barbarian Virtues
"Bridging Mexican American history and immigration history, How Race Is Made in America is a fascinating study of how deeply ingrained prejudices structure institutional and social power." --Monica Perales, author ofand#160;Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community
"A compelling, briskly written, deeply researched, and closely argued book that makes signal contributions on many fronts." --David Roediger, co-author of The Production of Difference: Race and the Management of Labor in U.S. History
About the Author
William Deverell is Professor of History at the University of Southern California and Director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. He is the author of Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850-1910 (California, 1994); coauthor of The West in the History of the Nation (2000) and Eden by Design: The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for Los Angeles (California, 2000); and coeditor of Metropolis in the Making: Los Angeles in the 1920s (2001) and California Progressivism Revisited (1994), both from California.
Table of Contents
List of IllustrationsAcknowledgments
1 • “Bind the Republic Together”: Canals, Railroads, and the Paradox of American Progress
2 • “A Wretched and Miserable Condition”: Irish Ditchdiggers, the Triumph of Progress, and the Contest of Canal Communities in the Hoosier State
3 • “Abuse of the Labour and Lives of Men”: Irish Construction Workers and the Violence of Progress on the Illinois Transportation Frontier
4 • “Hell (and Heaven) on Wheels”: Mormons, Immigrants, and the Reconstruction of American Progress and Masculinity on the Transcontinental Railroad
5 • “The Greatest Monument of Human Labor”: Chinese Immigrants, the Landscape of Progress, and the Work of Building and Celebrating the Transcontinental Railroad
6 • End-of-Track: Reflections on the History of Immigrant Labor and American Progress