This post is part of our #WHA2020 blog series. Learn more at our WHA virtual exhibit.
We’re excited to announce that Genevieve Carpio has won the Western History Association’s 2020 Owens Book Award for Collisions at the Crossroads! As part of our virtual WHA 2020 conference blog series, we reached out to Carpio to ask about why she wrote the book, how it helps us better understand race, and what she’s working on next.
First off, congratulations on winning the Western History Association’s 2020 Owens Book Award for Collisions at the Crossroads! We’re honored to be the publisher of your work. This award is given each year to the best book on the history of the Pacific West, including Alaska, Hawaii, Western Canada, and the U.S. Pacific territories. How does it feel to receive this award?
It feels great! And, humbling because there are so many wonderful books that came out this year. I’m also feeling grateful to the scholars who served on the selection committee, which especially now reflects a real commitment to the discipline and recently published authors.
Can you tell us more about your research background and areas of expertise?
My research background is as an interdisciplinary historian. I trained in American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, where I focused on 20th century US history, urban studies, and relational race studies. I came into the program with a master’s in urban planning from UCLA, so I was already committed to thinking about the spatial practices and their relationship to community formation and power.
My research and areas of interest are further shaped by a postdoctoral fellowship I held in the Department of History and the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale. Perhaps surprising, it was writing from the East Coast that I partly credit with refining my understanding of what was unique about my work in the Pacific West.
Collisions at the Crossroads is a fascinating study of how mobility shaped racial formation in the West—specifically in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire—in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. What motivated you to write the book with a focus on spatial analysis?
Having grown up at the crossroads of two counties and in the shadow of a freeway has greatly shaped my view of how space shapes inequity and the pursuit of justice. So, I think the questions were always there. But the direct inspiration was seeing the rise of police checkpoints in my hometown. Although the stated aim was to serve as sobriety checks, police largely netted undocumented Latina/o/x drivers, who at the time were unable to attain a California Drivers License. As one example, they held a checkpoint after a municipal Cinco de Mayo event. At the same time, the region had invested a lot in a Route 66 revival. I’m talking about major car shows, municipal streetscape designs, and private development. And, when I looked in the archives, I kept finding examples of these types of tensions manifesting at key moments in the region’s history, especially in times of economic and demographic change. I wanted to know more about why certain forms of mobility were criminalized in the region while other ways of moving (or movers) were celebrated.
How does your book help expand our understanding of racialization in the 19th and twentieth centuries?
My hope is that Collisions at the Crossroads provides an example of how place-based and mobility-based research can spark new insights into race-making, especially how it unfolds over the 20th century. The spatial-turn and place-based studies were so important to me in graduate school. I see similar potential in mobility (or mobilities) based research. I hope that my book contributes to this exchange.
I am also keenly invested in showing the ways race was produced relationally in the specific context of the Inland Empire and Los Angeles. As somebody trained in ethnic studies, it was natural that the history of Japanese bicyclists would exist in the same book as the formation of multiracial neighborhoods and of Mexican motorists. Because they are all part of a larger set of 20th-century tensions between race, place, and mobility that form the focus of the book.
I also hope that my book makes us rethink our perspectives on California history by focusing on the relationships and networks emerging from the Inland Empire and that, in fact, comprise it. One review described my book as akin to Zinn’s A People’s History, which I’m pretty proud of. I am fortunate to be writing among a group of scholars who demonstrate a renewed focus on the Inland Empire, like Juan De Lara, Mark Ocegueda, Alison Rose Jefferson, and others who have brought important insights on struggles for justice in this region, which often get overshadowed by Los Angeles.
What are you currently working on?
My new project looks at the movement of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture (and others) across the Pacific World. I’m interested in following these forms across the Native Pacific to see what they can tell us about settler colonialism and relational racial formation in the early 20th century. A piece based on my research in Australia is coming out in Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies this Spring. So, keep an eye out!
What book is on your nightstand right now?
I actually have two books on my nightstand! One is Laura Barraclough’s Charros: How Mexican Cowboys are Remapping Race and American Identity, which is a brilliant text on masculinity, nationalism, and urban/rural geographies through the history of the charro. The other is Vanessa Díaz’s Manufacturing Celebrity: Latino Paparazzi and Women Reporters in Hollywood, a piercing ethnography that looks at the racialized and gendered labor behind celebrity culture.
And, Goodnight Moon, which is highly recommended by my toddler.