The Utah Minuteman Project and Symbolic Boundaries: Legal Status, Nationalism, Culture, and Race

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Charlie MORGAN , Sociology, Ohio University, Athens, OH
The boundaries that groups like the Minutemen construct not only leave a record of how these boundaries were constructed, but also a view of what these boundaries will look like in the future.  The literal and symbolic meanings attributed to the U.S.-Mexico border were the motivating factor for Utah citizens to go to the border as Minutemen and to establish the Utah Minuteman Project (UMP).  We used fieldnotes and interviews with 20 members of the UMP and found that the importance of the literal border gradually faded as the group expanded to include members who had not gone to the border and shifted to symbolic boundaries within the state of Utah as issues centered on crime and employment.  In spite of the unifying identity surrounding the literal and symbolic U.S.-Mexico border, individual members of the UMP constructed symbolic boundaries using the following boundary markers: legal status (illegal vs. legal), nationalism (American vs. un-American), culture (English vs. Spanish), and race (white vs. Latino).  The legal status boundary is the most salient boundary among the UMP, and became the key symbolic boundary that all other boundaries are measured against.  We found that a wide variety of members conflate legal status with nationalism, culture, and race, whereas other members maintain clear distinctions between these symbolic boundaries.  In the end, this calls into question the social boundary that defines the group they are fighting against as the symbolic boundaries are used to create the social boundaries between the average Utah citizen and undocumented immigrants.  It is the accumulation of symbolic boundaries that defines the social boundary.