City & Society

“As Good As It Gets”: Undocumented Latino Day Laborers Negotiating Discrimination in San Francisco and Berkeley, California, USA

Authors

  • JAMES QUESADA,

    1. San Francisco State University
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    • James Quesada, Ph.D. (San Francisco State University), Sonya Arreola, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Alex Kral, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Sahar Khoury, M.F.A. (San Francisco State University), Kurt Organista, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley), and Paula Worby, Ph.D. (Multicultural Institute).
  • SONYA ARREOLA,

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    • James Quesada, Ph.D. (San Francisco State University), Sonya Arreola, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Alex Kral, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Sahar Khoury, M.F.A. (San Francisco State University), Kurt Organista, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley), and Paula Worby, Ph.D. (Multicultural Institute).
  • ALEX KRAL,

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    • James Quesada, Ph.D. (San Francisco State University), Sonya Arreola, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Alex Kral, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Sahar Khoury, M.F.A. (San Francisco State University), Kurt Organista, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley), and Paula Worby, Ph.D. (Multicultural Institute).
  • SAHAR KHOURY,

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    • James Quesada, Ph.D. (San Francisco State University), Sonya Arreola, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Alex Kral, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Sahar Khoury, M.F.A. (San Francisco State University), Kurt Organista, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley), and Paula Worby, Ph.D. (Multicultural Institute).
  • KURT C. ORGANISTA,

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    • James Quesada, Ph.D. (San Francisco State University), Sonya Arreola, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Alex Kral, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Sahar Khoury, M.F.A. (San Francisco State University), Kurt Organista, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley), and Paula Worby, Ph.D. (Multicultural Institute).
  • PAULA WORBY

    Search for more papers by this author
    • James Quesada, Ph.D. (San Francisco State University), Sonya Arreola, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Alex Kral, Ph.D. (Research Triangle International), Sahar Khoury, M.F.A. (San Francisco State University), Kurt Organista, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley), and Paula Worby, Ph.D. (Multicultural Institute).

  • The statement “as good as it gets” came from a lively exchange with a fellow academic colleague while contrasting varied state and municipal policies and treatment of undocumented Latinos. How undocumented Latinos are regarded and handled in Tucson, Arizona as compared to the San Francisco Bay Area, it was agreed, that the latter region is more salutary. And while the conditions and circumstances the undocumented contend with in Tucson and the San Francisco Bay remain difficult and demanding, the bay area is “as good as it gets” (Linda Green 2012, personal communication).

Abstract

Undocumented Latino day laborers in the United States are vulnerable to being arrested and expelled at any time. This social fact shapes their everyday lives in terms of actions taken and strategies deployed to mitigate being confronted, profiled, and possibly incarcerated and deported. While perceptions of threat and bouts of discrimination are routine among undocumented Latino day laborers, their specific nature vary according to multiple social factors and structural forces that differ significantly from locale to locale. The experience of discrimination is often tacitly negotiated through perceptions, decisions, and actions toward avoiding or moderating its ill effects. This essay examines urban undocumented Latino day laborers over a variety of sites in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which, compared to many metropolitan areas in the U.S. is “as good as it gets” in terms of being socially tolerated and relatively safe from persecution. Nonetheless, tacit negotiations are necessary to withstand or overcome challenges presented by idiosyncratic and ever changing global, national/state, and local dynamics of discrimination.

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