No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture

Image: Border Field State Park, California. An individual sits on top of the wall while he keeps an eye on National Guard troops. Photo by Adriana Jasso, November 23, 2019.


by Harry L. Simón Salazar

No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture is an examination of the political marginalization of raza[1]In the preface to No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture, I provide a brief etymological assessment of why I prefer “raza” rather than … Continue reading communities within the United States and the Latin American geographies of political influence that perpetuate their balkanization.

The book begins with the premise that the denigration of Latin American people is the cornerstone of the socio-political movement known as “Trumpism.” Indeed, through the relentless vilification of Latin American people, particularly people of Mexican descent, militant right-wing forces channel deeply-rooted anxieties about demographic change. The “browning of America” is perceived as an existential threat to the status quo within the United States, and is used to rally the trumpian base to seize significant electoral gains and policy outcomes, while simultaneously redirecting public attention away from various large-scale scandals and systemic crises.[2]For information about trumpian media practices, see Benkler et al. 2018, Bennett et al. 2020, Boczkowski et al. 2018. These anxieties were outlined during the 1990s and early 2000s in works by Samuel … Continue reading

Each chapter of No Walls For Donald opens with a unique case study that demonstrates how the trumpian movement mobilized anti-Latin American tendencies. These six examples center on what was new within the movement, such as Trump’s truculent enthusiasm to engage in this type of political communication, the ideological discipline of the GOP and their cable news allies to reproduce it, and the speed and scale of right-wing social media to ensure maximum exposure. Yet, as the title suggests, the analyses provided in each chapter are not limited to trumpism. Instead, the book builds on the recognition that Trump did not introduce this type of calculated bigotry to the U.S., where there is a well-documented history of bipartisan, media-centered racial scapegoating entrenched within North American political culture.[3]Hughey & González-Lesser 2020, González & Torres 2011; Jacobs 2009. Despite the conjuring of spiked walls, migrant caravans, tattoo-faced gang members, drug dealers, and rapists, the ordering logic of this anti-Latin Americanism is not only a short-term bigoted tactic for political gain, but also a medium-term strategy to maintain the political balkanization/marginalization of raza communities within the United States.

No Walls For Donald makes the case that the United States is now a part of Latin America, and treats the anti-raza nature of contemporary U.S. politics as a primer to support a closer examination of how globalized right-wing interests in the U.S. and Latin America converge in an undemocratic and violent defense of the political and economic status quo in North, Central, and South America.[4]Gonzales 2014, González 2011. Home to at least 65 million people of Latin American heritage (19.6% of the total U.S. population) who are now the “principal driver of U.S. demographic growth,”[5]How the US Hispanic population is changing | Pew Research Center the U.S. ranks as the third most populous Latin American country, after Brazil and Mexico. Despite this burgeoning population, the demonstrable lack of raza representation within the U.S. civic landscape is understood as the northernmost manifestation of long-standing anti-democratic policies and political-economic norms experienced throughout Latin America. These anti-democratic tendencies are rationalized through neoliberal cold-war logics and the internal contradictions of Latin American transnational political communication.

I employ a range of quantitative and qualitative methods organized around a conceptual framework known as the mediatization of politics. Mediatization is “shorthand for all the transformations of communicative and social processes, and the social and practical forms built from them, which follow from our increasing reliance on technologically and institutionally based processes of mediation” as a metaprocess linked to globalization and neoliberalism.[6]Couldry & Hepp 2013. See also Couldry & Hepp 2017, Landerer 2013, Hjarvard 2008, Krotz, 2009, and Simón Salazar 2018. I build on this definition by focusing on the dynamic relationship between mediated and natural manifestations of a phenomenon, particularly the differentiation between these two dimensions (for example, the trumpian vilification of Latin American people versus the legacy U.S. interventionism, the political economy of border enforcement, etc.). The differentiation, or gap, between these two dimensions, is most representative of the mediatization circuit when it signals a disjuncture between political culture and the corporeal configuration of political and economic power.[7]Simón Salazar 2020.

My contribution to this topic is rooted in a raza-centered, media studies perspective. My use of this sociocultural-mediatization framework in No Walls For Donald enlists conceptual tools necessary to track and compare common dynamics within contemporary media practices, particularly the instrumentalization of ethnic and racial conflict as an increasingly salient aspect of U.S. political communication and civic culture. Current experiences with trumpism provide a glimpse of how the ongoing political crisis will manifest in our proximate future, particularly within the context of the ongoing Latin Americanization of the United States.

My research builds on the idea that trumpism represents a new arrangement between contemporary digital media practices, political power, and political culture. In this regard, we have much to learn from Latin America because the trumpian reconfiguration of right-wing media practices and contemporary political power has been deployed successfully by anti-democratic forces throughout the region since the 1980s. What distinguishes this new arrangement is how contemporary digital media practices are used to quickly weaponize ossified forms of estranging political communication in the wake of neoliberal crises and the undermining of democratic norms.

The vilification of Latin America in U.S. political culture plays a critical role in shoring up hemispheric right-wing identities that since the 1980s have been significantly constructed by media.[8]Davis 2018, HoSang & Lowndes 2019, Jardina 2019, Peck 2020. It is safe to say that the transnational right’s racialized construction of national and class identities stimies working-class identity formation, collective action, and international solidarity. Indeed, the book’s principal arguments are that the trumpian vilification of Latin America embodies the mediatization of U.S. political culture, and places raza working-class peoples in the crosshairs of North American and Latin American fascism.


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1In the preface to No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture, I provide a brief etymological assessment of why I prefer “raza” rather than “Hispanic” or “Latina/o/x.” Generally, I use the term raza as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-national, gender-neutral identifier for people within the United States who are of Latin American and/or indigenous heritage. Furthermore, raza is a historically rooted, socio-political, and cultural identity. Most importantly, it is comprehensible to broad, working-class sectors within the United States and throughout Latin America.

The U.S.-based history of la raza used as a collective identity is best introduced with accounts of how Hispanic and Latino nomenclatures were put into use in the 1970s/80s. This etymological assessment presumes awareness of the underlying values informing the adoption of Hispanic and Latino in the during that period. Indeed, “Hispanic,” “Latino/a,” and most recently “Latinx” are pan-Latin American identifiers embedded in European and U.S. colonial and imperialist power. Furthermore, these institutional identifiers are rooted in the political, cultural, and class balkanization of U.S.-based communities of Latin American heritage.

Conversely, non-institutional Latin American and indigenous identities that took shape in the 1960s demonstrate closer proximity to Latin American anti-imperialist, anti-colonial struggles. Indeed, 1960s working-class, community-centered leftist publics within the U.S. and across Latin America began to identify themselves using similarly derived liberation-minded terms. The politics of la raza took shape within the context of 1960s-70s Chicano and Puerto Rican liberation movements. Examples are the popularization of “Boricua” and “Chicana/o.”

Activists from these movements embraced la raza as the preferred pan-Latin American identity. They rightly argued that the use of Hispanic erased their people’s histories and cultural roots that predate European colonialism. Their movements rejected the notion that their shared point of origin inevitably rested on legacies of genocide, enslavement, dispossession, and European colonial oppression. Instead, the liberation politics of la raza embodied a shared anti-colonial experience, transnational solidarity, and contemporaneous anti-imperialist struggle.

Within North American identity politics, “Latinx” is primarily employed by U.S.-based academic institutions and non-profit organizations, while the current cultural context of raza is broad-based and working-class. Existing community-centered leftist organizations use raza to acknowledge the indigeneity of Latin American people and cultures, likewise capturing the diversity of the Americas. While raza recognizes and celebrates the shared indigenous ancestry of all the Americas, the concept includes African and Asian selfhood. People who use the term in its political form accept European ancestry, but in no way do they celebrate colonial oppression. In contrast to performative land acknowledgments that mark all non-native people as colonizers, raza builds on a history of solidarity, cultural resilience, and political/territorial sovereignty with organic links to native cultures.

Some criticisms of the term claim that it is racist because of its literal English translation into “the race.” In the preface to this book, I trace how these criticisms are rooted in right-wing, anti-communist misrepresentations of “la raza” that seek to suppress any potential U.S. manifestations of Latin American transnational solidarity, struggles for self-determination, national liberation, and socialism.

2For information about trumpian media practices, see Benkler et al. 2018, Bennett et al. 2020, Boczkowski et al. 2018. These anxieties were outlined during the 1990s and early 2000s in works by Samuel Huntington and Pat Buchanan, and are a central theme within “the Great Replacement” theory. The political potency of these ideas was tested and confirmed during the rise of Pete Wilson to the governorship of California. For information about “the browning of America,” see Chavez 2013, Flores-González 2017, Gonzales et al 2021, Jardina 2019, Rodríguez-Muñiz 2021, Sundstrom 2008.
3Hughey & González-Lesser 2020, González & Torres 2011; Jacobs 2009.
4Gonzales 2014, González 2011.
5How the US Hispanic population is changing | Pew Research Center
6Couldry & Hepp 2013. See also Couldry & Hepp 2017, Landerer 2013, Hjarvard 2008, Krotz, 2009, and Simón Salazar 2018.
7Simón Salazar 2020.
8Davis 2018, HoSang & Lowndes 2019, Jardina 2019, Peck 2020.
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