Greetings from Chicago, Illinois! From the 13 to the 16 of October, 2016, urban historians, city planners, biographers, architects, and public policy specialists convened at the Philip Corboy Law Center of Loyola University Chicago for the Urban History Association’s Eighth Biennial Conference. David-James (DJ) Gonzales and I had the opportunity to attend and present at this year’s meeting.
We arrived on Friday, October 14 and were able to visit some amazing panels that interrogated the themes of carcerality and the state, urban history before the “city,” settler colonialism, and the lack of scholarship on urban Latinx history. It is exciting to see over the years how each urban history conference features more and more panels on Latinx neighborhoods, community activism, and radical political thought. Some of the panels that were scheduled for the weekend included: “The Fight for Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, Post-1965,” “Latino Studies and the New Urban History,” “Urban Latinos: Ethnic Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Transnational Communities, and Cities in the Postwar United States,” “Latinos and the Changing World of Urban Work,” and “Rethinking the Boston ‘Bussing Crisis’”
Moreover, there were some great sessions on the connections between ethnicity, immigration, and urban space, as with a plenary on “A City of Immigrants: Immigration Reform since 1965 and its Urban Consequences.” The panel sought to present post-1965 as a defining point not just for civil rights, but for new groups of Latinx immigrants to the country. There was also a roundtable titled, “Settler Colonialism in American History?” This panel was absolutely terrific, especially because of the open conversations the panelists had with the audience. An individual from the audience posed the question, “Can only native scholars utilize settler colonialism in their research and can settler colonialism only be used to understand native pasts?” Nathan Connolly, a Black historian of property rights and land in Florida, responded that the moment we start to put restrictions on who can write certain pasts or operate specific optics is the moment white supremacy succeeds. Llana Barber, a specialist in immigration and Latinx history, concurred and suggested that settler colonialism helps attenuate the differences between different historically-marginalized ethnic groups. She compared Puerto Rican and Native American pasts, referring to land sovereignty and citizenship rights through the guise of a friendly state. The roundtable concluded that settler colonialism can and is helpful in thinking through ethnic histories like the Latinx past.
Last year at the Western History Association in Portland, DJ and I conceptualized a panel that would assess the connections between Chicanx/Latinx and urban histories. We both felt that scholarship on urban history either left out Latinxs entirely, or were addressed as a simplistic monolith, leaving out how one’s class, national origin, and/or phenotype altered the experiences of all Latinxs. One year later, we were happy to have a panel on “Metropolitan Borderlands in Twentieth-Century America” that was scheduled for 8:00am on Saturday, October 14th.
Genevieve Carpio, Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, presented on her research detailing housing practices and postwar property in Pomona Valley, among other sites, in southern California. Carpio’s talk, “Racial Brokers: Re-visioning the Suburban Ideal in Minority-Majority Los Angeles, 1945-1965,” looked beyond white flight to illuminate how folks of different racial and ethnic backgrounds served as “racial brokers” in Los Angeles’s suburbs.
DJ Gonzales, a PhD candidate in History at the University of Southern California, presented on the development of Orange County from the 1860s to the 1920s, titled, “Converging Migration and the Remaking of Place in the Metropolitan Borderlands of Orange County, CA.” Examining the simultaneous and converging migrations of Anglos, Europeans, and ethnic Mexicans, Gonzales finds that early Orange County resembled a multiethnic borderland where identities, space, and social relations remained in constant flux until citrus based agriculture came to dominate the region’s political economy in the early 20th century.
Our panel was chaired by Lilia Fernández, who is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University, and our comments were prepared by Associate Professor of History Andrew K Sandoval-Strausz from the University of New Mexico.