Institutional and State-Sanctioned Toxic

Gamez, Diana 2018. "Mapping Detention and Toxicity"in California at Risk, a class project for "Ethnographic Methods," Anthropology 215a University of California Irvine. Fall 2018.

California at Risk

California at Risk is a collaborative project to understand “late industrial” California through examination of ways interlaced scales (local to transnational and atmospheric) and systems (sociocultural, technical, eco-atmospheric, etc) together produce risks, vulnerabilities and governance...Read more


I am interested in the relationship between schools and prisons as mitigated by racialization, gendered, and sexed process upon Mexican and Central American youth in Southern California. My work seeks to expand current frames that explain the high number of incarcerated Latinx individuals in the U.S. To explore this, I seek to provide a nuanced critique of race, gender, and sexuality between schools and prisons using found images. The images I propose seek to complicate the notion of the school-to-prison pipeline that is absent from a historical and racial analysis, such as lynching of Mexicans in California, which shows the precarious relationship between blackness, and how schools enforces the nation state through surveillance and technologies of control within schools that are not always outward or explicit as society and researchers tend to elucidate technologies of control to be.  

Lynching of Mexicans in California

This image is was taken from Los Angeles Star, the first newspaper in Los Angeles, that covered the lynching of Pancho Daniel. The Flores Daniel group has been historically positioned by white settlers as a gang of Mexican thieves and outlaws. However, within the Mexican working-class community during 1856 and 1857, the Flores Daniel posse were seen as heroes that sought to defend their rights and fought western oppression. Their mechanisms were primarily based on taking back land and animals that were taken from Mexican families through capitalist practices through any measure necessary, including violence. Pancho Daniel and a posse of fifty men were accused for the robbery and murder of a German shopkeeper. Sheriff James Barton was investigating this murder and was killed along with four other men who ambushed Pancho Daniel and his posse. On November 30, 1858, Pancho Daniel was forcibly taken out of the county jail that he was housed in by a group of citizens and was hanged. The California Governor John B. Weller considered his lynching a barbarous execution and issues a reward for the arrest of the perpetrators. Although the perpetrators were never identified, it is within this struggle that Mexicans (and all Latinxs) have been positioned precariously with Blackness. In other words, the lynching of Pancho Daniel positioned Mexicans in an uncertain position in which technologies of control used with Black people would be applied to them, while simultaneously conveying that they would receive the benefits of the justice system in western society. Additionally, it established the use of technologies of control with Mexicans that have similar purposes to those used in schools and prisons. Furthermore, lynching with Mexicans established notions of gender in which men, particularly those in the working class, were to be held accountable with detrimental consequences if they defied the nation state and the authority of white men.

Foregrounding technologies of control

Police in Government (1974) sought to teach black youths how to behave under the façade of U.S. morality, which have been used as “…the legitimacy of physical and psychological violence against Black people in the United States and consequently served to legitimate the oppression of Black life” (Sojoyner, 2013) and were undermining Black organizing within public education and higher education. While the LAPD’s classes targeted Black youth, their mechanism to teach youth how to behave and teach moral standards did not stop with them. Latinx students, primarily Mexican students, were also in public education during the 1970s and were likely exposed to these classes.


The United States adopted the term Latino in the 2000 U.S. Census. The term Latino means Latin and was created to refer to people who are from Latin America. the current term “Latinx” has been proposed as a genderless term to make language more inclusive for gender non-binary and/or transgender folk. This term is primarily used online and in social media and is being used in academic settings, but older generations and people living in Latin America do not seem to be receptive to this term, which has been explained by linguistics floodgates and a disrespect to Spanish. However, it is important to unmask and interrogate how the Latinx community adheres to a binary view of gender and sexuality and it how it contributes to the tensions and struggles. On the one hand, Latinx serves as a homogenous label that groups people from Latin America or with an ancestry connected to Latin America. It has historically served as a way to organize and empower people who share similar cultural practices. On the other hand, it ignores how diverse Latinxs are and it hides and erases the lived experiences of people who have distinct histories, cultures, migration experiences, and many other factors. Existing theories and notions of race have failed to understand and complicate how Latinxs have been racialized as a homogenous group without understanding the historical and political contexts of Latin America and its various countries.