Quand les exclus font de la politique. Le Barrio mexicain de San Diego, Californie.
Tourists visiting San Diego will be familiar with Balboa Park, the museum and zoo complex, and with the southern waterfront area housing the Marina and where Coronado Bridge connects with the select Coronado peninsula. The district directly below the bridge’s northern access, Barrio Logan, is the area chosen by the author, Emmanuelle Le Texier, to analyse how, in the American context, a marginalised community has developed political strategies which give the lie to analyses describing political apathy among such populations. The discussion ranges over issues of citizenship and participation, urban development and inner exile, immigration and naturalization processes in this study of the Californian Chicano community on San Diego’s dockside Council District 8. The book opens with a pilgrimage to Chicano Park, at the foot of the bridge, housing an example of urban art celebrating the Chicano mobilisation in the civil rights movement.
Physically cut off from the Logan Heights residential district by the construction of the freeway which now acts an administrative boundary, bounded to the west and east by docks and the Naval Station, by Downtown San Diego to the north, it is the political space arising from the spatial divisions and urban displacement that is examined in this study of the Barrio Logan as an example of social segregation and exclusion. Anchored in the theory and historiography of urban sociology, social movements and the sociology of immigration, the author examines the range of concepts that are then checked against the evidence provided by the case in hand resulting from lengthy fieldwork. The author examines the literature around the nature and formation of ghettos, ethnic enclaves and barrios, and the link between the sociological phenomenon of ghettoization and its presumed corollary, political apathy.
The book’s first chapters review the theoretical background to such a study and examine the definitions of marginalised districts (ghetto and barrio), the link between exclusion and political action or its absence, and the political exclusion of marginal populations (poor and/or ethnic communities).
In the second half of the monograph, the fieldwork gives rise to more specific considerations concerning ethnic politics, gendered political mobilisation, the process of bringing politics to the district, and the link between identity and political practice. The final chapter examines the idea of a separate political space as materialised by public spaces devoted to the expression of Latino political action.
The chapter concerning the traditional or classical political sphere provides an object lesson in the workings of the American political system. The notions of “majority minority,” gerrymandering, the principle of rotation of office, the recent history of San Diego city hall elections, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the redrawing of political boundaries (known as reapportionment and redistricting) in California in 1991, Proposition 187 (proposing to withdraw welfare rights from illegal immigrants) are all explored in connection with ethnic representation. Also raised is the trend by which despite greater voter registration and a larger electoral body, participation levels among the Latinos have dropped. However, no hypothesis is adduced to begin to explain this paradox. Non-participation is not merely the result of obstacles . In view of the composition of the traditional WASP and conservative San Diego political elite, and the failure of the few Latino representatives who were elected to represent their Latino constituents, the latter may simply have voted with their feet. Abstention is not just a passive submission to exclusion, it is also a political act. The combined effects culminate in the law of inverse returns: “the harder you try, the less you succeed.” Attempts to legislate away the democratic deficit ethnic communities suffer from, or affirmative action, have merely resulted in, at best, continuing, and at worst, reinforced alienation from the political system, in turn resulting in a continuing and hardening sense of political incompetence and inefficiency. If “practice makes perfect,” then not participating breeds ineptitude.
Women’s participation in local groups is described as “visibility in the shade” . Paradoxically the emphasis placed on anonymous individuals, on the local, unsung militant, means that those who have risen above that anonymity, who have become visible, are ignored. This can be excused. The role and career of human rights activist Rachel Ortiz, a disciple of César Chávez, would justify a specific study in itself.7 The role of women emerging as agents of social capital, becoming visible,8
bonding and bridging different milieux, becomes evident in their spontaneous creation and participation in committees set up following a second wave of development and ensuing gentrification of the neighbourhood in the 1990s.
A discussion of the evolving denominations of the Latino population highlights how self-representation can reflect and disguise the realities experienced. The fluctuating use of the terms Americano, Chicano, Hispano, Latino, Mexicano, Mexican American (in alphabetical order) is given a historic and sociological analysis. Le Texier produces a classification of the terms, which cross-references the variables of country of birth (USA./Mexico) and sense of belonging to the barrio (insider/outsider) resulting in a double-axed hierarchy of identity and identification.
The methodology, historiography and bibliography provided by this study are rich sources of information and pertinent models for all researchers in social science, be they specialists in American studies or not. The use of works by the French school of sociological research10 anchors the study firmly in the debate and issues on both sides of the Atlantic. To be regretted is the absence of an index and the tantalising mention of a website  for which no reference is given.
2. Mancur Olson, Logique de l’action collective (Paris: PUF, 1978); Anthony Oberschall, Social Conflicts and Social Movements (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1973). back
3. Oscar Lewis, Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty (New York: Basic Books, 1959); Oscar Lewis, “The Culture of Poverty,” in Daniel Moynihan, ed., On Understanding Poverty (New York: Basic Books, 1968) 187-200. back
4. Mary Waters, Ethnic Options. Choosing Identities in America (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1990); Iris Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001). back
5. For a discussion of this, see: Salah Oueslati, “Exclusion et processus politique: le cas des populations pauvres aux États Unis,” CahiersduMimmoc, 1, février 2006, <http://edel.univ-poitiers.fr/cahiersdumimmoc/> . back
7. Wilson A. Schooley, “A Hunger for Justice: The Passion of Rachel Ortiz,” Human Rights, vol. 27, no 4 (Fall 2000) 5-7. back
9. James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990). back
10. Alain Touraine, Sociologie de l’action (Paris: Le Seuil, 1965);Pierre Bourdieu, Raisons pratiques. Sur la théorie de l’action (Paris : Le Seuil, 1994) ; Serge Paugam, ed., L’Exclusion. L’État des savoirs (Paris : La Découverte, 1996) ; Hélène Thomas, La Production des exclus : politiques sociales et processus de désocialisation sociopolitique (Paris : PUF, 1997). back
11. Social Science Quarterly, vol. 87, issue s1 (December 2006). Special Issue on Ethnicity and Social Change, concentrating on the Hispanic community in the United States.back