Latino Mass Mobilization, Immigration, Racialization, and Activism: A Review

By Maria Mora

Latino Mass Mobilization, Immigration, Racialization, and Activism by Chris Zepeda-Millán


Latino Mass Mobilization, Immigration, Racialization, and Activism is a must-read book for the summer for any social movement scholar, immigration scholar, community organizer or labor activist. Chris Zepeda-Millán’s multiple award-winning book makes an important contribution by offering one of the first systematic analysis of the 2006 immigrant rights movement. Zepeda-Millán examines the emergence of one of the largest social movement campaigns in the 21st century for the working class and the various mechanisms that made the mobilizations possible with separate chapters focusing on coalitions, threats, racialization, and everyday organizations. Zepeda-Millán also incorporates geographical variation in his study by scrutinizing immigrant collective action in Los Angeles, New York City and Fort Myers (Florida) to better understand movement emergence and obstacles at the local level.

In his first chapter, Zepeda-Millán gives a brief history of the economic policies that led to migration to and within the US. This includes the need for undocumented immigrants to fill low-wage work, and the nativist sentiment against immigrants. In addition, he mentions some of the pre-existing organizational infrastructures that helped mobilize millions during 2006. He provides an important overview of the previous organizing efforts and key pre-existing organizations in immigrant communities. In chapter 2, using Fort Myers as a case study, Zepeda-Millán shows the significance of everyday organizations like small ethnic business and soccer clubs that mobilized communities in an unexpected location. In chapter 3, the critical role of ethnic media in mobilizing participants is discussed, which has been given less attention by movement scholars. Ethnic media like Spanish DJ’s, radio stations, newspapers, Spanish television (e.g.,Univision), and magazines influenced mobilizing immigrants and Latinos across various localities (Zepeda-Millán 79). In Chapter 4, multi-racial coalitions are examined in New York City. New York had some of the most diverse coalitions, but participation in the marches was not as broad as the groups that came together to organize the marches. This is important because New York has one of the most diverse immigrant communities in the United States. Part of his explanation resides in the proposition that the threat of HR 4437 was not felt the same across all immigrant groups with divisions by race, ethnicity, and national origin. In Chapter 5, on “The Suppression of Immigrant Contention,” Zepeda-Millán examines the role threat plays in mobilizing and demobilizing communities. This chapter is one of the most important contributions of the book because it expands our knowledge of the concept of threat as multi-dimensional and engages the reader to think of which types of threat can mobilize marginalized communities such as  immigrants in mass numbers and which threats are so likely to be suppressing that communities are too fearful to act. Lastly, Chapter 6 discusses some of the political impacts of the 2006 immigrant rights movement, although the HR 4437 bill was stopped, legalization was not achieved. Nonetheless, Zepeda-Millán shows that the mass marches did help increase the number of Latino voters in the 2008 election and increased the number of Latinos who naturalized.

Another major contribution of Zepeda-Millán’s book is how he highlights the importance of everyday organizations and non-traditional leaders in mobilizing immigrants and their families. For instance, in his Florida case, it was unexpected activists who helped mobilize the local community because they had built up trust via assisting recently arrived immigrants integrate into the local city with translation services and including them into neighborhood activities (Zepeda-Millán 44). These informal brokers included domestic workers, owners of restaurants, grocery stores, members of neighborhood soccer leagues, Spanish language radio DJs, and owners of local ethnic newspapers (Zepeda-Millán 45). This chapter is critical in expanding our notions of what mobilizes marginalized communities and that even when people are excluded and outside traditional political institutions, they still use their own resources and community to come together and take action. It was the local everyday organizations and people that use their individual, social and economic resources to create a coalition and mobilize against a legislate threat that was not only impacting their local community. The HR 4437 bill would criminalize individuals and organizations that would assist immigrant communities and racialized all Latinos as undocumented. Participants in Fort Myers saw nationally other Latinos (documented and undocumented) on the streets, and this gave them a sense of group membership (Zepeda-Millán 49). It was the collective sense of identity that motivated individuals to take part in the actions, but also being connected to other families and community. Moreover, such perceptive findings force movement scholars to reflect on the role of everyday organizations in promoting collective action in their own work.

Latino Mass Mobilization offers additional insight into the extended discussion of immigrant suppression in Chapter 5. The chapter examines the role of threats in social movements, which is often under-theorized by movement scholars. During 2006, the political or policy threat of HR 4437 led to mass protests. However, some threats can also ignite fear and result in non-participation, such as anti-immigrant ordinances, deportations, detention, ice raids and hate crimes. Zepeda-Millán contends that although there are deportations and detentions, they may not explicitly impact current participation, but these threats do impact future participation. In future rounds of mobilization, individuals might not want to participate because they might be afraid of being detained. Also, workplace raids likely have a large impact on organizing efforts and participation. Specifically, if the Spanish language news draws media attention to an ICE raid, that can create fear in the local community since a larger audience will be aware of the roundups and repressive sweeps. In the end, multiple forms of immigrant suppression result in immigrant communities feeling targeted for their collective participation. Hence, this chapter offers new understandings of the relationship between protest participation and state repression dynamics in the United States.


Furthermore, it is important to discuss how multi-racial coalitions can form and how various groups can come together to mobilize, and perhaps even more so with the rise of Trumpism. New York had the most diverse coalitions during 2006 (Zepeda-Millán 101). However, the degree of participation from other immigrant groups, such as Haitians, Chinese, Korean, and Muslim immigrant groups was less because they did not feel as targeted by the HR 4437 bill since it was framed as mostly a Mexican or Latino issue. It was largely Mexicans and Dominicans that participated in the marches. Mexicans are racialized as undocumented, and Dominicans have been disproportionately targeted for deportation.

In summary, this book highlights the positive social change that can occur when multiple groups and people of color unify and mobilize for a common goal, such as halting anti-immigrant legislation from passing. Latino Mass Mobilization is already an instant classic and an indispensable choice for summer reading to keep abreast of the state of the art in social movement scholarship in general as it makes several contributions to our understanding of social movements and everyday collective action. Zepeda-Millán demonstrates how marginalized, and racialized groups overcome enormous barriers to sustain collective campaigns to defend their families and communities.

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