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West of Sex

Making Mexican America, 1900-1930

West of Sex

Making Mexican America, 1900-1930

Sex can be an oppressive force, a tool to shame, divide, and control a population. But it can also be a force for change, for the legal and physical challenge of inequity and injustice. In West of Sex, Pablo Mitchell uses court transcripts and criminal cases to provide the first coherent picture of Mexican-American sexuality at the turn of the twentieth century, and a truly revelatory look at sexual identity in the borderlands.

As Mexicans faced a rising tide of racial intolerance in the American West, some found cracks in the legal system that enabled them to assert their rights as full citizens, despite institutional hostility. In these chapters, Mitchell offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of ethnicity and power in the United States, placing ordinary Mexican women and men at the center of the story of American sex, colonialism, and belonging.

Other chapters discuss topics like prostitution, same-sex intimacy, sexual violence, interracial romance, and marriage with an impressive level of detail and complexity. Written in vivid and accessible prose, West of Sex offers readers a new vision of sex and race in American history.

176 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Gender and Sexuality

History: American History

Women's Studies


“Pablo Mitchell has combed courthouses in the Southwest to bring to life vivid stories of sexual transgression. He persuasively shows how Mexican Americans struggled for both protection from violence and support for unconventional desire. By turns bracing and disturbing, West of Sex lays bare how American colonization of the West reached deep into the people’s intimate lives and how Mexican Americans challenged sexual containment and racial inequality in the first third of the twentieth century. Mitchell offers refreshing insight into the making of a ‘law and order’ world.”

Nayan Shah, author of Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West

“Beautifully crafted, tightly argued, and capaciously documented, West of Sex brilliantly shows how Mexican Americans turned to American courts to contest discrimination and to demand their rights as citizens decades before formal civil rights organizations were formed.”

Ramón A. Gutiérrez, University of Chicago

Table of Contents


ONE / Introduction
TWO / Colonial Convictions
THREE / Home Fires and Domesticity
FOUR / Uncommon Women and Prostitution
FIVE / Sexual Borderlands
SIX / Courtship and the Courts

Conclusion: From the Outskirts of Citizenship

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