Pecking Order: Latinx Newcomers, Receptions, and Contested Racial Hierarchies in the Deep South

  • Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru

When Latin Americans began arriving to work in Central Mississippi’s poultry plants, local people didn’t quite know what to make of them. It was the late 1990s when they first became visible in checkout lines at grocery stores and walking along the side of the road. “All of a sudden they were everywhere, walking on the streets, speaking a language we couldn’t understand,” noted a forty-something African American plant worker. The newcomers were often mistaken for members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. “It was a long time before we realized that they were, you know, Spanish-speaking Mexicans,” she recalled. “Finally somebody at the chicken plant said, ‘Hey those aren’t Indians. Those are Mexicans!’” Only many were “Indians”—Indigenous Mam Maya from the highlands of Guatemala. This presentation considers the processes through which a diversity of Latin Americans from across the continent have become racialized as “Hispanic” in Mississippi’s poultry communities and how they fit into and upset the existing racial hierarchies of the region.