Accepted Paper:

Effecting 'whiteness': Galician immigrants and ideas about 'race' in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil  

Author:

Elena Calvo-Gonzalez (Federal University of Bahia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses ‘whiteness’ as a processual experience that encompasses notions about difference beyond ‘natural’ physical bodily features, using as case study the historical experience of poor Galician immigrants in Salvador, Brazil.

Paper long abstract:

This paper aims to discuss 'race' in general, and 'whiteness' in particular, as a processual experience that goes beyond physical bodily characteristics. The experience of lower-class Galician immigrants in the city of Salvador, Bahia, to which they arrived during the first half of the 20th century with little symbolic or economic capital, but with bodies that exceeded, in terms of phenotypical characteristics associated with being of European-origin, the physical 'whiteness' of the majority of local elite members, can be helpful as a way to understand how 'racial' categories in general, and 'whiteness' in particular, incorporate notions about difference beyond having a 'European' phenotype. The reception of local elites towards these immigrants, which considered them as inferior and not worthy of mingling with their circles, as well as the social trajectories of upward and, in some cases, downward mobility of some of these immigrants and their offspring, offers us a window into understanding how 'whiteness' is not a natural characteristic of these bodies, but it is rather performed, even when describing the experience of groups and/or individuals who have no phenotypical marks of non-European ancestry whatsoever. Based on ethnographic and archival work, I show how these immigrants had to effect their 'whiteness' through different strategies so as to attain their dream of upward social mobility, but also how this very process contributed to the upkeep of some of the ideas about galician inferiority found both in the past and, to a lesser extent, nowadays.

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