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Spaces of Encounters: Immigration, Race, Class, and the Politics of Belonging in Small-Town America

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Small towns throughout the rural upper Midwest have been experiencing dramatic economic restructuring and an unprecedented influx of new immigrants of color, triggering conflicts and tension between almost exclusively white residents and the new immigrants. Analyzing the roots and content of white residents’ responses to their encounters with new immigrants in a small town in rural Minnesota, the concept of spaces of encounters draws attention to the relational quality of identities and attitudes and the active role of emotions and spatiality in processes of Othering and racialization, as well as the potential of the encounter to disrupt preconceived boundaries and racial stereotypes. White residents racialize immigrants and space, although the specific form taken by processes of racialization is inflected by individuals’ social positionality and place identities and by longer term and broader scale racial stereotypes and dominant discourses about immigration, race, and nation in the United States. The racialization of immigrants defends white privilege and culture; recovers an imagined idealized place, past, and future; and establishes that belonging to the national and local community is conditional on immigrants conforming to white American values and norms—an assimilationist imaginary that runs up against the multicultural and multiracial reality of the town. Residents’ reflections on their own racial prejudice and different forms of racism, as well as intimate social relations they forge with individual migrants, hold promise for social relations that transcend differences across racial and cultural divides.

Keywords: Estados Unidos provinciano; encounter; encuentro; immigration; inmigración; politics of belonging; política de pertenencia; racialización; racialization; small-town United States

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography,University of Minnesota,

Publication date: July 1, 2012


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