Breaking into the Public Sphere: Temporality, Context, and Innovation in the Politicization of Latin American Immigrants

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This dissertation aims to improve our understanding of the political life of Latinos in the U.S., in specific local contexts and historical moments. To that end, I propose to reframe the understanding of politics and the political. Borrowing elements from political philosophy, I propose using the concept of politicization, which is primarily defined by the introduction of innovation in the public realm; the generation of consequences that affect not only those directly involved in a situation but others as well; and the intervention in a public domain that is not limited to state structures.

To elaborate on this idea of politicization as well as to bring history, context, and in particular, temporality, to the center of this research, I look at two major events that crystallized the most critical landmarks in the recent political history of Latinos in the Washington D.C. area: the Mount Pleasant Riots of 1991 and "La Marcha" of 2006. In order to disentangle the process of politicization in each of the events analyzed, I examine the interplay of context (including demographic, political, and organizational features of the local Latino community), episodes of contention, attribution of opportunities and threats, social and organizational appropriation, and innovation. I then reconstruct these cases by inscribing them in their contexts and analyzing how, why, and when different consequential actions were performed.

Both the Mount Pleasant riots and La Marcha involved the engagement of ordinary people in the Latino community in contentious public acts which led to the emergence of a transformed ethnically-centered political actor. I argue that this actor constitution was the result of the way in which ordinary people and various collective actors proceeded throughout the exceptional public performances, before, during, and after. My main argument is that the profile and structural location of leading organizations (e.g., dependency on government contracts, foundations' grants, employers, or ordinary people) involved in the events had a decisive impact on the actions adopted by community leaders which, in turn, affected the direction of the political path that the Latino community undertook.