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UNSETTLING THE GEOGRAPHY OF OAKLAND'S WAR ON POVERTY: Mexican American Political Organizations and the Decoupling of Poverty and Blackness1

  • Juan C. Herrera (a1)
Abstract

Historical studies of the War on Poverty have overwhelmingly focused on its consequences in African American communities. Many studies have grappled with how War on Poverty innovations co-opted a thriving African American social movement. This paper explores the impact of War on Poverty programs on the development of a political cadre of Mexican American grassroots leaders in Oakland, California. It investigates how coordinated 1960s protests by Mexican American organizations reveal Oakland's changing racial/ethnic conditions and shifting trends in the state's relationship to the urban poor. It demonstrates how a national shift to place-based solutions to poverty devolved the “problem of poverty” from the national to the local level and empowered a new set of actors—community-based organizations—in the fight against poverty. This essay argues that the devolution of federal responsibility for welfare provided the political and institutional opening for the rise of powerful Mexican American organizations whose goal was the recognition of a “Mexican American community” meriting government intervention. This essay also demonstrates how Mexican American organizations mobilized in relation to African American social movements and to geographies of poverty that were deemed exclusively Black.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
*Juan Herrera, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 506 Barrows Hall #2570, Berkeley, CA 94720-2570. E-mail: jherrera@berkeley.edu
Footnotes
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1

I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Donald S. Moore for his enduring support and guidance throughout the multiple stages of this project. Special thanks to Thomas Biolsi, Sara Ramirez, Teresa Gonzales, Carolyn Finney, and Jake Kosek for providing critical feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. I thank the librarians at Stanford University's Department of Special Collections for their help throughout my data collection process. I would also like to thank the participants and organizers of the Race and Immigration in the American City Conference at the University of Chicago for their generative feedback and support. I am especially grateful for the edits and substantial comments from Ramón Gutiérrez. Support for data collection and analysis came from The University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC-Mexus) and from the UC Dissertation Fellowship.

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