Latino Heartland

Of Borders and Belonging in the Midwest

304 pages

15 halftones, 1 table

July, 2015

ISBN: 9781479896042



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Sujey Vega is Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University.

All books by Sujey Vega

National immigration debates have thrust both opponents of immigration and immigrant rights supporters into the news. But what happens once the rallies end and the banners come down? What is daily life like for Latinos who have been presented nationally as “terrorists, drug smugglers, alien gangs, and violent criminals”? Latino Heartland offers an ethnography of the Latino and non-Latino residents of a small Indiana town, showing how national debate pitted neighbor against neighbor—and the strategies some used to combat such animosity. It conveys the lived impact of divisive political rhetoric on immigration and how race, gender, class, and ethnicity inform community belonging in the twenty-first century.  
Latino Heartland illuminates how community membership was determined yet simultaneously re-made by those struggling to widen the scope of who was imagined as a legitimate resident citizen of this Midwestern space. The volume draws on interviews with Latinos—both new immigrants and long-standing U.S. citizens—and whites, as well as African Americans, to provide a sense of the racial dynamics in play as immigrants asserted their right to belong to the community. Latino Hoosiers asserted a right to redefine what belonging meant within their homes, at their spaces of worship, and in the public eye. Through daily acts of ethnic belonging, Spanish-speaking residents navigated their own sense of community that did not require that they abandon their difference just to be accepted.  
In Latino Heartland, Sujey Vega addresses the politics of immigration, showing us how increasingly diverse towns can work toward embracing their complexity.


  • Latino Heartland is an important read for anyone who is an instructor or graduate student of Latino studies, or who teaches of researches the sociology or anthropology of immigration. I also wholeheartedly recommend this book to all K-12 teachers and administrators.”

    Lat Stud

  • “[…] Vega notes in closing, Latinos in central Indiana, like all populations in all places and times, ‘created new networks, new tradition, and new ways of coping with the realities they faced.’  They are truly imaginative ones, and Vega rightly urges anthropologists (and good citizens) to pay more attention and respect to these fascinating and courageous acts.” 

    Anthropology Review Database

  • “Vega has written a wide-ranging study of Latinos in Greater Lafayette, IN, that challenges the notion of Midwestern homogeneity and the novelty of Latino immigration to the region….[T]he interviews that form the core of Vega’s source base provide invaluable insight into the immigrant and non-white experience in the Midwest.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.”


  • Latino Heartland is an important read given the current atmosphere regarding the issue of immigration.”

    American Anthropologist

  • “Overall, this is a fascinating work that offers a fresh perspective on a frequently overlooked community (Latinos) in a frequently overlooked place (the rural Midwest). It is indeed a wake-up call to those of us who have the privilege of forgetting.”

    Contemporary Rural Social Work

  • "Latino Heartland is brilliant because it provides a ground-level analysis of the ways racist immigration policy affects the lives of Latino immigrants in a region where many people see them as a threat."

    The Annals of Iowa

  • "Latino Heartland illuminates how community membership was determined yet simultaneously re-made by those struggling to widen the scope of who was imagined as a legitimate resident citizen of this Midwestern space."

    Law Professor Blogs Network, ImmigrationProf Blog

  • "Writing with grace and compassion, Sujey Vega shows how Latinos seek to belong to the heartland of America, even while suffering from daily hurts and insults that wound their souls. A book about the heartland that is utterly heartbreaking, Vega makes a passionate call for justice and the urgent need to rethink U.S. immigration policy on humanistic terms."

    —Ruth Behar, author of Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys

  • “Finally, an ethnographically rich work documenting the Latinization of a Midwestern city. Vega challenges us to rethink notions of community and belonging in our increasingly ethnically and racially diverse society, and offers a much-needed corrective vision to counter many of our fictive and obsolete ideas about our contemporary Midwestern cities, and of the United States in general.”

    —Arlene Davila, New York University