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"You talk 'Merican?": class, value, and the social production of difference in Helena Maria Viramontes's Under the Feet of Jesus.

While conventional wisdom posits a definition of capital grounded in processes of abstraction that efface the particularities of laboring bodies, the history of capitalism betrays a social reality wherein the valorizing of capital necessitates the continual deployment of race-making and gendering technologies to maximize profits and safeguard exploitative conditions of production. Through a reading of Helena Marfa Viramontes's Under the Feet of Jesus, this essay examines the foundational relationship that exists between capital accumulation and the social production of difference. In her novel, Viramontes expressly condemns the racist and sexist predatory operations of capital on the laboring body, deliberately foregrounding the significance of racial and gender divisions to capitalist accumulation. Under the Feet of Jesus juxtaposes the concrete social particularities of the laboring body to the abstracting and objectifying forces of the capital relation, thus exposing the intrinsic racial and gender inequalities that constitute the foundations for capitalist profit-making.

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Capital circulates, as it were, through the body of the laborer as variable capital and thereby turns the laborer into a mere appendage of thl circulations of capital itself

--David Harvey, The Limits to Capital

The central question is why and how in the new capitalist industrial labor system, in which, according to the operative myth, race and gender ought to have been irrelevant, they instead became central organizing features.

--Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Unequal Freedom

"Don't run scared," Petra instructs her daughter Estrella regarding la migra, or immigration officers: "You stay there and look them in the eye. Don't let them make you feel you did a crime for picking the vegetables they'll be eating for dinner. If they stop you, if they try to pull you into the green vans, you tell them the birth certificates are under the feet of Jesus, just tell them. ... Tell them que tienes una mad re aquf. You are not an orphan, and she pointed a red finger to the earth, Aquf" (Viramontes 1996, 63). In this key scene from Helena Marfa Viramontes's Under the Feet of Jesus, Petra posits a genealogy of place and labor that reclaims personhood for a community of historically disenfranchised and marginalized laboring bodies in the United States. Despite Estrella's US citizenship, which ought to guarantee basic legal protections and formal rights, Petra, as a migrant farmworker, understands the racism and historical processes of racialization that underpin the social control of (im)migrant Latina/o labor in the fields: Estrella's "brown"-complexioned skin (ioo) betraying the inscription on her very body of a racializing political discourse of illegality and criminality. Significantly, the passage couples present-day discriminatory anti-Latina/o immigration policies with a longer history of racialization, exploitation, and displacement of Indigenous populations in the Americas. Petra's "red finger" pointing to the ground as "madre aqui" is freighted with what Yarbro-Bejarano calls "indigenous connotations" (2013, 87) that evoke cultural nationalist tropes of the dispossessed land as Mother Earth. By positioning Estrella's labor and claims to legal citizenship status in relation to US historical acts of racialized accumulation by dispossession, Viramontes highlights the historical processes of race-making and othering that have supplied the foundation for the development of American democratic capitalism.

Viramontes's linking of citizenship, labor regimes, and dispossession underscores the fundamental inequalities at the heart of US social, juridical, and economic relations while reminding readers of the constitutive status that social difference has held in the accumulation strategies deployed by American capital. In the United States, Evelyn Nakano Glenn observes, "labor and citizenship are intertwined institutional arenas in which race and gender relations, meanings, and identities have been both constituted and contested" (2002, 2). Historically, state power has been mobilized in the service of race-making and gendering vis-a-vis the laboring body, functioning as the primary vehicle for the social production and codifying of difference in the labor market. As Glenn concludes: "Thus a central feature of the US economy has been its reliance on racialized and gendered systems of control, including coercion. Racialization in the labor market has been buttressed by a system of citizenship designed to reinforce the control of employers and to constrain the mobility of workers" (2002, 5). Petra's remarks to her daughter highlight this social production of difference under capitalism, drawing together the contradictory legal, political, and economic historical structures--the simultaneously particularizing and abstracting social processes--that impinge on the working-class lives of her (im)migrant farmworker community.

Not surprisingly, some of the most nuanced and revealing studies of the political economy of racialization and gendering in the United States have appeared in the creative literature by writers of color, and Viramontes's novel proves no exception. Under the Feet of Jesus juxtaposes the concrete social particularities of the laboring body with the abstracting and objectifying forces of the capital relation, and in so doing Viramontes exposes the intrinsic racial and gender inequalities that constitute the foundations for capitalist profit-making. The first section of this essay briefly outlines a theoretical and historical framework for examining the formative and mutually constitutive relationship between capital accumulation and the social production of difference. While conventional wisdom posits a definition of capital grounded in processes of abstraction that ostensibly efface the particularities of laboring bodies, the history of capitalism betrays a social reality wherein the valorizing of capital necessitates the continual deployment of race-making and gendering technics to maximize profits and safeguard exploitative conditions of production. Subsequent sections of the essay discuss in more detail Viramontes's subtle and nuanced treatment of the relation of class to race and gender in the United States. Turning to the figure of the (im)migrant farmworker in Under the Feet of Jesus, Viramontes expressly condemns the racist and sexist predatory operations of variable capital on the laboring body, deliberately foregrounding the significance of racial and gender divisions to the exploitive class practices of US agribusiness.

I. BODIES OF CAPITAL: THE VALUE FORM, LABOR, AND SOCIAL DIFFERENCE

As David R. Roediger points out, when discussing the democratic rights and freedoms safeguarded in the founding documents and legal policies of the United States, one must concede that the "relationship of race to property in slaves and in Indian land set stark limits on the contagion of liberty" in the new republic (2010, 45). This foundational grounding of citizenship rights and legal standing in race and property served the interests of slave-based and nascent capitalist production at the time of US independence and thereafter by establishing a political and legal apparatus that justified and worked to reproduce unequal conditions for labor extraction. Nakano Glenn argues that "just as the United States developed a duality in the structure of citizenship, it also developed duality in the labor system" (2002,58). For Glenn, the "denial of full citizenship to people of color and their subjection to coercion in the labor market were thus mutually created" (58). Similarly, Lisa Lowe explains "that legal institutions reproduce the capitalist relations of production as racializedgendered relations and are therefore symptomatic and determining of the relations of production themselves. In other words, immigration law reproduces a racially segmented and stratified labor force for capital's needs" (1996, 22). In spite of the fact that historians on the right and the left of the spectrum have largely understood capitalism as a homogenizing political and social force, one that erodes racial, ethnic, and national differences in the name of market equivalencies and abstract labor, the history of US capital reveals the essential role and primacy of racialization in the formation and reproduction of the underlying material basis for capital accumulation (Roediger 2010, 64-69). In the United State, Lowe insists, "capital has maximized its profits not through rendering labor 'abstract' but precisely through the social productions of'difference,' of restrictive particularity and illegitimacy marked by race, nation, geographical origins, and gender" (1996, 27-28). In order to augment profitably its rate of return, measured in abstract units of labor, capital paradoxically has proven historically that it must generate laboring bodies whose very material and social being is adjudicated on the basis of unequal and discriminatory terms. While the basic operations of capital presuppose legal and economic relations of equivalence, parity, and correspondence, such formal equality masks the fundamental institutional and structural disparities necessary for the profitable exploitation of labor.

In the American West and Southwest, the development of a racist and sexist division of labor kept pace post-1848 with the expropriation and proletarianization of Mexicana/os at the hands of expanding US capital. Subsistence farming, tenant farming, and the livestock export trade, commonly concentrated around precapitalist, quasi-feudalistic latifundios and minifundios, gradually gave way after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to capitalist agricultural production. State-sanctioned and extralegal forms of violence and theft dispossessed most Mexican cattle ranchers and farmers, proletarianizing not only formerpeones but also a small number of elite landowning families. The latifundio-minifundio system came to an end by the turn of the twentieth century, supplanted by monopoly capitalist agribusiness, which eventually would be almost exclusively fueled by cheap (im)migrant labor from Mexico (Gonzalez and Fernandez 2003,13). Suzanne Oboler maintains that the close of the nineteenth century witnessed "structural economic changes {that} forced many of the poorer Mexican populations to become seasonal migrant workers" for the fastemerging farm industry (1995, 24). This transformation in agricultural property relations culminated in the erosion of "the centuries-old class structure of the Mexican ranch settlements" and, by 1920, had reduced most Mexican-American communities "to the status of landless and dependent wage laborers" (Montejano 1987, 114). Marcial Gonzalez summarizes the historical and economic forces at play: "In California and throughout the Southwest, the monopolization of the economy and the socialization of labor necessitated, among other things, the proletarianization of Mexican Americans to meet the large demand for cheap labor" (2009, 62-63). Simply put, the sweat and blood of disenfranchised, expropriated, and superexploited Mexicana/o labor allowed for the profitable consolidation throughout the Southwest of monopoly capitalist agribusiness.

Pervasive racism and sexism served to rationalize, justify, and condone the violence and subsequent exploitation linked to the widespread accumulation by dispossession that unfolded in the aftermath of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. As Oboler indicates, "'Mexican-hating' (to use Ronald Takaki's expression) also justified the systematic expropriation of many Mexican small village farmers' communally owned grazing lands (ejidos) and underlay the eventual political and social subordination of large sectors of the Chicano populations" (1995, 23). Expanding on the work of Mario Barrera, Gonzalez identifies a fundamental relationship between "capital's need to exploit the working classes to a greater degree" and "the continued (re)articulation of racial categories as a rationale for class domination" (2009, 66). Gonzalez explains:
   The racialization of Chicanos, as a historically determined social
   formation, develops in conjunction with the transformation that
   takes place as a result of the conflict between competing modes of
   production, which is to say, the transition from pre-1848
   semifeudal relations in the Southwest to full-blown monopoly
   capitalism by the end of the century; ... The decades immediately
   preceding 1900 witnessed an increase in the publication of
   literature that depicted Mexicans in a derogatory manner,
   paralleled by an increase in the demand for Mexican labor
   throughout the Southwest. ... Clearly capitalism had a material
   interest in maintaining an image of Mexican workers as docile,
   subservient, and loyal; that interest was the large-scale
   proletarianization of Mexicans to fill the demand for labor,
   especially in those industries that required workers willing to
   accept bare subsistence wages. ... The derisive depictions of
   Mexicans ... facilitated and justified the proletarianization of
   Mexicans and their relegation to the lowest economic and political
   rungs of society. (Gonzalez 2009, 65-67)


Crucially, processes of racialization and class formation share a deep and mutually determining history in the Southwest United States. The increasing reliance on superexploited and racially subjugated (im)migrant Mexicana/o farmworkers would deepen during the Mexican Revolution and the interwar years, ultimately becoming in the post-World War II period a fixed feature of US agricultural production under the auspices of the bracero program.

A clear contradiction surfaces here: capital valorizes itself through a process of abstracting and objectifying labor, but the very material circumstances allowing for such a process to unfold rest on a historical and societal dynamic in which laboring bodies are systematically particularized and differentiated. "Far from reducing labor to abstract and raceless inputs into the labor process," concludes Roediger, "capital and management helped to reproduce racial differences over long stretches of US history and to divide workers in ways that compromised labor's efforts to address either race or class inequalities" (2010,98). Paradoxically, racialization has proven foundational to the accumulation strategies of global capitalism. Its inherent logic of abstraction notwithstanding, capital has acted as a fully vested partner, not a countervailing force, to the social production of difference.

Capital traffics in abstract labor, i.e., in exchange value or value; however, value-creation is the sole province of individuated and segregated laboring bodies actively engaged in concrete labors. Moreover, the capital relation rests not simply on the production of value (abstract labor) from use value (concrete labor), but more specifically, on the production of surplus value, which means that a disconnect or contradiction exists between objectified "dead" labor and concrete "living" labor as well as between the magnitude of value produced in the labor process and the cost or value of the wage-labor employed. Workers always receive wages that are lower than the value created by their labor--wages represent the value or price of the commodity labor power, not of the labor performed--and the greater the discrepancy between wages and the value generated during the production process, the higher the profits extorted from the body of the laborer. The perennial goal of capitalists is therefore to lower wages, which results both in living labor's growing enslavement to dead labor, marked by a desperation to secure any type of employment, and in a wider gap between the value created by labor and the cost of labor power.

Racialization and the modern notion of "race" provide the key material and ideological mechanism by which capital depresses wages and accordingly intensifies exploitation by deeming bodies disposable and thus available for cheap, brutalizing labor. According to Marx (1977), despite appearances, wages depend not on the actual labor performed by the worker, but rather on: (i) the basic means of subsistence demanded daily to sustain the worker within the given requirements and expectations of a historically specific society; (ii) the requisite education or training received by the worker; and (iii) the necessities and resources vital to supporting a family unit and to the reproduction of workers generationally as a class. However, Marx stresses that the determination of wages ultimately hinges on "a historical and moral element," one affected by the vicissitudes of class power and struggle: "the number and extent of his [the wage worker's] so-called necessary requirements, as also the manner in which they are satisfied, are themselves products of history, and depend therefore to a great extent on the level of civilization attained by a country; in particular they depend on the conditions in which, and consequently on the habits and expectations with which, the class of free workers has been formed" (1977, 275; emphasis added). While Marx does not pursue the issue in Capital, since roughly the sixteenth century, white supremacy, along with its attendant modern processes of racialization and the concept of race, has served as a principal measure for determining the "level of civilization attained" by a group of workers and has subtended the "conditions," "habits," and "expectations" ascribed to particular working-class formations. Glenn notes that, historically in the United States, the relative value of labor power has been largely determined by the racial logic "that blacks, Chinese, Mexicans, and other less evolved peoples could survive on next to nothing" (2002, 82). Adopting what Roediger labels "race management" (2010, 82), US capital has consistently turned to race and racializing practices in order to regulate and decide the wages, conditions, and productivity of labor.

The justification for using Mexican labor offered by one California grower in 1938 evinces the logic of race management: "We want Mexicans because we can treat them as we cannot treat any other living men. ... We can control them at night behind bolted gates, within a stockade eight feet high, surmounted by barbed wire. ... We make them work under armed guards in the fields" (quoted in Mitchell 1996, 88). Similarly, the editor of Engineering and Mining Journal concedes in the June 9, 1906 issue: "The Mexican peon is characteristically a docile laborer ... with only simple wants, which are easily satisfied" (quoted in Gonzalez and Fernandez 2003, 75). Within the racialized framework for such "easily satisfied" conditions, habits, and expectations, the wages of Mexican agricultural laborers have stagnated at exceedingly profitable rates for US agribusiness. Moreover, racialized divisions of labor and segmented labor markets at the same time reinforce racist ideas regarding the natural and innate aptitude of certain workers to perform certain (odious) jobs (Glenn 2002, 82). In the eyes of growers, Mexicans display a "natural" ability and fitness to work in the fields, as a bracero program field-placement supervisor affirms: "[They] could scuttle down a row of sugar beats, crab-wise, faster than I could walk down a row behind them. They would have their short-handled hoe in one hand and swipe the loose plants and crud away with the other hand. And they could keep that up all day" (quoted in Gonzalez and Fernandez 2003,107). For Don Mitchell, such racialized reasoning and justification for superexploitation reveal a clear purpose: "to create in the bodies of Mexican workers a container for the total control of labor power" (1996, 88).

In this context, the designation of racialized communities as "uncivilized," "barbaric," "savage," "backward," "primitive," or "inferior" speaks not only to the dehumanizing and degrading status racism and white supremacy impose on people of color, but also to the expressly economic motivations underlying the twin violence of racialization and proletarianization since the advent of capitalist modernity. In the words of Walter D. Mignolo, the celebrated decolonial theorist:
   America propelled capital into capitalism. How come? Again, the
   massive appropriation of land, massive exploitation of labor, and
   massive slave trade came together with a common goal (to produce
   the commodities of a global market, from gold to tobacco and sugar)
   and a dramatic consequence (the expendability--dispensability--of
   human lives in the pursuit of commodity production and capital
   accumulation). ... The consequences of the conversion of capital
   into capitalism were the devaluation of human lives and the
   naturalization of human expendability. That is the beginning of a
   type of racism that is still well and alive today. (Mignolo 2005,
   29-30)


Within the historical coordinates of capitalism, racism and racialization are not epiphenomena or externalities of capital accumulation, but vitally integral to the sociohistorical development and normal operations of the value form.

II. "YOU ALWAYS GONNA WORK IN THE FIELDS?": ACCUMULATION, RACEMAKING, AND THE LABORING BODY

While capital systematically subjugates living labor to dead labor, subordinating use-value/concrete labor to exchange value/abstract labor, the goal of augmenting and maximizing capital returns has historically necessitated, since the inception of capitalist modernity, the racialization of laboring bodies. In Under the Feet of Jesus, Viramontes calls attention to the racialized laboring body in order to undercut the invisibility and marginalization cast upon workers by the abstracting forces of capitalist commodification and reification. While working in the fields, Estrella fails to "recognize her own shadow. It was hunched and spindly and grew longer on the grapes" (1996, 56). The "shadow" of Estrella's laboring body, "hunched and spindly," displays the violent toll of exploitation in the agricultural industry, as the ghostly concrete labor forcefully extracted and abstracted piecemeal from Estrella's body now falls across the grapes and hau ntingly "shadows" the products of her labor. (1)

However, it is not only the shadow of her own racialized laboring body that Estrella misrecognizes under the distortions of abstract labor:
   Then she noticed another {shadow] overshadowing her own, loitering
   larger and about to engulf her and she immediately straightened he
   knees and rubbed her eyes. She went over to the vine clutching her
   knife.

   She saw a piscador {picker} running down the row, as if the person
   was being chased by something. The hot soil burned through her
   shoes as she made her way to the other side of the row. There she
   saw the bend of a back, and at first could not tell whether it was
   female or male, old or young, and Estrella called out. The back
   unfolded and it was Toothless Kawamoto. He pressed his hand on the
   small of his back and arched. (Viramontes 1996, 56)


Estrella senses the effacement of her laboring body and reacts to the threat of being overshadowed and engulfed by the specter of objectified dead labor. As Marx observes in Capital, the capitalist labor process brings together abstract and concrete labor for the sake of valorizing capital, a productive activity that systematically transmogrifies concrete living labor into abstract dead labor: "The two kinds of labor are distinguished only by the fact that the one is already objectified in use-values while the other is in the process of being so objectified. The one is in the past, the other in the present; the one dead, the other living; the one objectified in the past, the other objectifying itself in the present" (1977, 994; emphasis in original). Walking over to the adjacent row, Estrella is unable to identify any distinguishing individual features in a fellow piscador, so that the laboring body--"objectifying itself in the present"--is reduced to the utilitarian and instrumentalized "bend of a back." The passage appears to capture the systematic erasure of concrete labor and the laboring body itself under the sign of capitalist valorization and abstraction. As variable capital, the laboring body is steadily extinguished in the act of work, its shadowy afterimage residually expressed in the value form. However, Viramontes reminds the reader that value (or dead labor) emerges from the exploitation of concrete living labor, from the laboring body in motion, as the "bend of the back" unfolds into Toothless Kawamoto. Viramontes thus establishes a direct connection between Kawamoto's laboring body and the continuous transformation of living labor into abstract dead labor. Importantly, in the scene with Toothless Kawamoto, the abstract body of variable capital reverts into the racialized laboring body of a Japanese (im)migrant worker. In so doing, Viramontes foregrounds the long history of exploited (im)migrant labor in California and the Southwest, in which entire communities of workers have historically been racialized, socially and culturally marginalized, and legally disenfranchised of citizenship rights in order to facilitate and maximize US capitalist accumulation and imperialist expansion. (2)

Focusing on California, Don Mitchell surveys the mutual development of US immigration policies and enforcement on the one hand, and on the other the intermittent influx of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Asian Indian, and Mexican and Central American workers commanded by capitalist agribusiness. As with racialized Latina/o (im)migrant labor, Mitchell observes that from the perspective of California growers, Asian and Asian-American laborers were "'naturally' suited" to perform agricultural work and were "consigned to the farm workforce by a mechanism of natural selection" (1996, 92-93). Hence, Mitchell surmises: "Racism thus intersected complexly with the demands of a ruthless agricultural system that ... absolutely demanded huge numbers of highly marginalized workers." Indeed, California agribusiness leaders, as with US capital more generally since the time of chattel slavery, have relied heavily on racialized (im)migrant labor, "adapting their theories of natural inferiority along the way to suit the specifics of the group in question" (93). Viramontes is well aware of this historical legacy and practice of exploitation and racialized class formation in the United States. By assigning Toothless Kawamoto to the representative role of racialized labor in her novel, Viramontes extends "the destinations and dislocations that shape (im)migrant routes along an east-west axis" and, according to Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, therefore "acknowledges other imperial and colonial histories not often referred to as a matter of course in Chicana and Chicano fiction" (2013, 76). In her depiction of "a piscador running down the row, as if the person was being chased by something," Viramontes punctuates the link between the political e conomy of capital valorization and the legal, juridical, and social processes by which a racialized division of labor and workforce are necessarily assembled. The line registers the twofold forms of social oppression so crucial to the overall scene, with thepiscadores doubly "chased" by the abstracting, consuming shadow of the value form and by the latter's racializing repressive state apparatuses--in this specific case, la migra. The dialectical movement of race and class translates into the abject, disassembled laboring body of Toothless Kawamoto and the other itinerant farmworkers populating the idyllic California landscape in Viramontes's novel.

Not by accident does Viramontes select the young migrant farmworker Alejo as the silhouetted figure "running down the row" before Estrella in the above passage for, more than any other character in the novel, Alejo believes wholeheartedly in the promises, values, and ideals of the American dream. Reassured by his grandmother of the potential to succeed "in this great and true country," Alejo invests his hopes and future dreams in the goal of obtaining an education that will allow him to leave behind the hard life and labors of the migrant farmworker: "His grandmother had reassured him, this field work was not forever. And every time he awoke to the pisca, he thought only of his last day here and his first day in high school. ... Alejo's grandmother had reassured him... seize the chance and make something of yourself in this great and true country" (Viramontes 1996, 52, 54). Unfortunately, the "chance" to prosper in the United States is denied to his first-generation (im)migrant grandmother, who finds herself condemned to work every job available in order "to allow her grandson to get schooling" (51). The novel strikes a familiar thematic chord heard across US literature of immigration: education affords the path to cultural assimilation, social acceptance, and economic success. Yet Viramontes extends the critique typically offered in this literary subgenre since, in Under the Feet of Jesus, the steps toward the promise of middle-class security, prosperity, and assimilation remain blocked for even the second- and third-generation children of migrant families.

Victims of the twin social processes of racialization and proletarianization, Alejo, Estrella, and other young (im)migrant farmworkers must face the truth about the illusory promises of American assimilation and prosperity. According to Aviva Chomsky, "for Latin American immigrants, assimilation more often means shedding their American dream and joining the lowest rungs in a caste-like society where Native Americans and African Americans, the most 'assimilated' people of color, have been consistently kept at the bottom. ... Assimilation has historically meant finding, learning, and accepting one's place in the racial order" (2007,104-105). Characterized as idealistic from the start of the narrative, Alejo (unlike Estrella) fails to grasp the deep-seated racializing logic that structures and overdetermines the hierarchies of wealth, power, and wage labor within US capitalist "democracy."

Alejo's name signifies the complex desires and difficulties confronting racialized (im)migrant workers in the United States. From the Spanish verb alejar, meaning to distance oneself from something, to move away, estrange, or alienate, the name denotes both Alejo's present situation and his foremost wish. Geographically estranged from his family and community in Texas as he travels the migrant trail in search of work, Alejo's circumstances reflect the overwhelming reality of his fellow (im)migrant farmworkers, for whom returning home is proscribed by economic and imperialist coercion, a militarized border, and racist US immigration policies. However, Alejo's name also signals his deep longing to escape the constraints of his working-class community, to free himself from brutalizing and dehumanizing labor, a possibility he associates with education and the move away from manual labor it can provide. Equally, the name intimates the alienation from community and family that typically accompanies successful assimilation to dominant cultural values and social hierarchies via formal education. After falling ill with pesticide poisoning, Alejo asks Estrella if she is "always gonna work in the fields?" (Viramontes 1996, 117). While the question is innocent enough, especially given the nature of agricultural work under the auspices of US agribusiness, both Petra and Estrella note an undertone that devalues the racialized manual labor performed by (im)migrant farm workers: "What a stupid boy! Petra thought. ... What right did he have to ask that? If Estrella wasn't working, there would be nothing for him to eat" (117). Estrella responds to Alejo's question by asking "What's wrong with picking the vegetables people'll be eating for dinner?" to which he retorts, "But you always wanna do it?" Estrella's simple answer points to the onerous reality of fieldwork: "I sure hope not" (118). The exchange conveys two main concerns central to the thematic thrust of Viramontes's novel: to expose the inhuman and brutalizing conditions of labor forced upon (im)migrant workers while at the same time recognizing the (use) value, importance, and necessity of productive manual labor. Petra and Estrella emphasize the vital use value of the products of labor yielded from the toil of underpaid (im)migrant agricultural workers--despite the fact that, under the law of capitalist value and its division of intellectual and manual labor, being a productive worker and using one's hands is socially devalued, diminished, and, as Marx puts it, "a misfortune" (1977, 644). Moreover, their defensive reactions betray a recognition of the ways in which capitalist society's racializing gaze not only demarcates certain kinds of unattractive, offensive, and odious work as the sole province of workers of color, but also assigns an equally abject status to the racialized laboring body, thus deemed justifiably expendable and dispensable in the most debilitating and injurious of employment occupations. (3)

It is telling that Viramontes destines Alejo, the sole character associated with the trope of socioeconomic advancement through education, to crippling illness and quite possibly death in Under the Feet of Jesus. The rosy rhetoric of the American dream notwithstanding--with its promise of equal opportunity and prosperity for the hardworking and faithful immigrant or citizen--Alejo's fate seems preordained by the overriding and intractable racialized class relations that compose the modus operandi of US capitalism. If Alejo's name partly contains the trace of an unfulfilled yearning to escape the social fetters of class and race that keep him bound to the soil, then his renaming at the close of the narrative suggests his positioning within a broader history of racial oppression, imperialist dispossession, and capitalist exploitation that belies any patriotic Horatio Alger's tale of economic prosperity and emancipation "in this great and true country":

--He was named after his grandfather on his father's side.

--Yes, but his last name.

--Hidalgo, like in Hidalgo County, Texas, Estrella lied....

--How long has Alex-hoes been sick?

--A few months. (Viramontes 1996,138)

Alejo is renamed twice in the passage, once by Estrella and once by the uncaring white nurse, for whom Alejo-the-migrant-worker represents more of an annoyance to her day than a fellow human being in desperate need of medical attention. Upon encountering Alejo, Estrella, and Estrella's family in the waiting room to the ramshackle clinic, a small "white trailer [that] stuck out like partially buried bone in the middle of the vacant plot" (133), the nurse reacts with a "surprised and distraught look," exclaiming: "What have we got here? ... Some people have all the luck" (137). The nurse's exasperation and dismissive attitude and behavior betray the same racist ideological predisposition found in race-management theories that reify and regulate the racialized laboring body of workers of color as disposable, expendable, dispensable--as no more than a beast of burden. In Cecilia Lawless's estimation, "for this nurse, and much of mainstream American society, Estrella and her family represent mere means to an end: they exist as part of a larger labor force, not as individuals with needs and desires" (1996, 372). The nurse thus renames and reacts to Alejo through the dominant optics of American society. Assimilated as "Alex," Alejo nonetheless remains racially marked and defined as one who "hoes" the land, underscoring his "place" within the US's racialized division of labor. The new appellation confirms the compulsory (albeit disavowed) union between body and labor, between self-identity and class status. Ironically, rather than imply a potential for flight, as alejo connotes in Spanish, the nurse's Anglicizing of Alejo's name upholds his predestined social lot to labor on the earth. "Alex-hoes" reaffirms Alejo's position(ality) within a preexisting set of social coordinates fixed by the racialized class relations of capitalist accumulation in the United States. Despite Alejo's American dream of socioeconomic advancement through education, the lesson of his final fate teaches one that the chains binding (im)migrant farmworkers to the land are not so easily undone.

Conversely, Estrella's renaming Alejo situates the social circumstances of his life within a historical genealogy of accumulation by dispossession, racialized exploitation, and indigenous resistance that unsettles the implicit ideological reification behind the alias "Alex-hoes." The conferred surname "Hidalgo" carries a polysemous political signification, referencing more than simply Alejo's hometown. The simultaneous mention of Hidalgo and Texas evokes the history of US military encroachment into Mexican territory that began with the Texas War of Independence and ended with the annexation of the resource-rich northern lands of Mexico with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The allusion to 1848 reminds readers of the longstanding racialized oppression and exploitation of Mexicana/o communities in the US Southwest. As Gilbert G. Gonzalez and Raul A. Fernandez sum up, "in the post-1848 years in the newly acquired southwestern frontier, Anglo settlers frequently treated the Hispanic population much like it dealt with the native Indian population: as people without rights who were merely obstacles to the acquisition and exploitation of natural resources and land" (2003,1). Likewise, citing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo calls to mind the acts of legal and extralegal violence perpetrated against Mexican-American landowners and peasants that aimed to dispossess and proletarianize the majority of the Mexicana/o population in the United States. This successful legacy of US "primitive accumulation" stands as the historical precursor to contemporary practices of political intimidation, legal disenfranchisement, racialized violence, and economic superexploitation and labor abuses across the Southwest. However, Estrella equally pays tribute to the long history of colonial resistance in the Americas, signaling with "Hidalgo" not only a past moment of imperialist subjugation but also of colonial liberation. Formed in 1852, Hidalgo County bears the name of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the famed priest responsible for the "Grito de Dolores" speech that sparked the war to end Spanish colonialism in Mexico. Viramontes thus contextualizes the actions in the clinic, as well as the broader social and political situation facing Alejo, Estrella, and their fellow piscadores, within a historical genealogy of colonial violence, racialized economic exploitation, and revolutionary resistance.

Viramontes makes clear that processes of racialization and racism fundamental to US nation-building as a whole have buttressed the specific history of imperialist accumulation by dispossession, proletarianization, and superexploitation in the Southwest. Contemporary scholars have revealed the ways in which racism and the concept of race operate as part of a "ruling-class social control formation" (Allen 1998, par. 8), themselves the product of a system of ideological rationales and material disparities between white workers and workers of color that historically has functioned as the basis for white supremacy and racial antipathy within the working classes. For instance, Michelle Alexander traces the uses of modern anti-Black racism as a mode of social control to safeguard the sociopolitical and economic conditions required for profitable labor extraction. She notes that the "racial bribe," which ultimately led (im)migrant European workers to embrace "whiteness" and the ideology of white supremacy, originated in the strategic and calculated extension of material benefits to impoverished working-class Euramericans (2012, 25). The intent of seventeenth-century Virginian planter elites (and their ruling-class successors) who embraced racialization and the legal institutionalization of "whiteness" as a stratagem for labor control proved simple enough: to divide and conquer. Theologian and critical race scholar Thandeka offers a useful overview of the purpose and dire consequences attached to the legal and social entrenchment of white supremacy and racial consciousness as a ruling-class social control formation:

Racial contempt would function as a wall between poor whites and blacks, protecting masters and their slave-produced wealth from both lower-class whites and slaves ... The race laws and the racial contempt they generated not only severed ties of mutual interest and goodwill between European and African servants and workers, but they also provided the ruling elite with a "buffer" of poor whites between themselves and the slaves to keep blacks down and prevent both groups from challenging the rule of the elite. A. Leon Higgenbotham Jr., the former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, is right when he says the Virginia race laws, which were soon imitated throughout the colonies, were designed to "presume, protect, and defend the ideal of superiority of whites and the inferiority of blacks." But we must not forget that white racism was from the start a vehicle for classism; its primary goal was not to elevate a race but to denigrate a class. White racism was thus a means to an end, and the end was the defense of Virginia's class structure and the further subjugation of the poor of all "racial" colors. (Thandeka 1998)

In the American colonies, anti-Black racism and racialization based on the logic of white supremacy thus provide the groundwork for a capitalist apparatus of social control and highly profitable labor extraction that persists to the present day, now targeting Black workers as well as racialized (im)migrant workers. Documenting the history of race and class in the United States, David R. Roediger and Elizabeth D. Esch show "race management to be crucial not only to the undermining of trade union unity and the lowering of wages but also to the very extraction of production from day to day" (2012, 5). Unfortunately, the evolving strategies of US race management have enjoyed enormous success and endurance, to the detriment of both white workers and workers of color.

Viramontes's portrayal of poor white workers, mainly with the character of Maxine Devridge, subtly points to what Roediger and Esch describe as "management's purposeful use of difference-within-commonality at the point of production" (2012, 5). "You talk 'merican?" Maxine ungrammatically asks Estrella when the two young girls first meet (Viramontes 1996, 29). The question bears the marks of prevailing nativist xenophobia and anti-immigrant racism, especially during the 1990s: the racially charged political push for English-only legislation and the eventual passage of Proposition 187 in California undoubtedly serve as the backdrop to Viramontes's characterization of Maxine and other white characters in the novel. (4) The Devridge clan, a white migrant family of farmworkers, apparently settled in California's Central Valley "forty some-odd years" back (Viramontes 1996, 33), linking them to the Dust Bowl exodus from the Midwest to California of predominantly white agricultural laborers. (5) Despite the poverty of the Devridge family, Maxine's question exhibits the longstanding ideological and juridical equation of "Americanness" with "whiteness" that automatically casts African Americans and (im)migrants of color, regardless of their citizenship status, as "Other," "illegal," "foreign," and thus "un-American"-permanent interlopers in the legally recognized land of white households like the Devridges.

Ironically, despite the racial presumptions registered in the tenor of Maxine's question, the Devridges live in an economic and social state of precarity akin to, if not more dismal than, the situation confronting Estrella's family. With a number of her siblings and relatives imprisoned for petty theft, Maxine lives in a "wooden shack" decorated with a "crooked awning" and a "lumpy mattress" set outside each day, for "the Devridges had no shame sun-drying the peed mattress in full view every morning" (Viramontes 1996,29). Besides her implicit "whiteness as property," Maxine possesses no valuable assets and, like Estrella, is disenfranchised of any real social power: "Maxine owned what her brothers stole, and what she owned was a crate of comic books" (31). To enjoy her comic books, however, Maxine needs Estrella, whose English reading and speaking skills are much stronger than those of her white friend. Indeed, Maxine's illiteracy underscores Viramontes's point on the dialectic of race and class, illuminating the ideological and political implications for multiracial, anti-racist worker solidarity at the heart of the racist question, "You talk 'merican?" (29). As Thandeka suggests, the enduring belief on the part of white workers in the logic of white supremacy and inter-class racial alliance has been "largely illusory" (1998). Estrella's friendship with Maxine ends abruptly, with a fight that ensues after another instance of misunderstanding and failed communication in the narrative. Instructively, Viramontes stresses the intricate and ubiquitous relationship between race and class, as it moves to the foreground during the altercation:
   Estrella pulled Maxine's stringy sandy hair with such pure hatred
   it startled even her. For a moment she felt as if she could kill
   the white girl. ... Finally, they locked so tightly, so
   concentrated were their efforts to hurt one another, they fell
   silent, each grasping the other's hair with clawed fingers, their
   workshoes crushing and tearing the pages of the comic book under
   them. (Viramontes 1996, 35)


In the moment of conflict, Estrella can only see her close friend Maxine as "the white girl," to some extent reproducing and acceding to the racial logic that originally authorized Maxine to ask her, "You talk 'merican?" The "workshoes," which draw attention to their mutual class position(ality), become the vehicle for destroying the symbol of their common friendship, the comic book. The opportunity for unity falls short and lacks fruition. Quite skillfully and subtly, Viramontes dramatizes in the Maxine Devridge section of the novel the long, tortuous legacy of intra-class race relations among workers in the United States.

In so doing, Viramontes also exposes the mystificatory and deleterious operations of "whiteness" and white supremacy for workers of color and white workers combined. Estrella and Maxine's friendship unfolds around their shared interest in the Millie the Model comic, the popular Stan Lee publication that chronicled the misadventures of professional model Millie Collins and her photographer boyfriend Clicker. Both young women are drawn to the "glossy page[s] of the magazine" (Viramontes 1996, 30), simultaneously attracted to and alienated from the racialized, gendered, and classed representations of American life depicted in the comic strip. Estrella immediately associates the comic's "glossy page"--an attribute that already links the magazine to the one-dimensionality and superficial pleasures of mass commodity culture--with well known commercial advertisements: "Clorox makes linens more than white.... it makes them sanitary, too! Swanson's TV Dinners, closest to Mom's Cooking. Coppertone-Fastest Tan Under the Sun with Maximum Sunburn Protection" (31). The advertisements prove less than innocuous, as Viramontes carefully selects these billboard signs to showcase the discursive affiliations between whiteness, social definitions of cleanliness and hygiene, so-called "family values," gender roles, leisure time, and the concurrent exoticization and containment of brown and black bodies in the cultural imaginary of American consumer society. While in school, Estrella wonders why her teacher, Mrs. Horn, "asked how come her mama never gave her a bath. Until then, it had never occurred to Estrella that she was dirty, that the wet towel wiped on her resistant face each morning, the vigorous brushing and tight braids her mother neatly weaved were not enough for Mrs. Horn" (25). Mrs. Horn's question again betrays a set of racially and class coded assumptions, parroting as it does hegemonic social discourses that rely on stereotypes of the "immigrant as pollutant" and that pathologize poverty and its consequences. Estrella recognizes that, in the eyes of Mrs. Horn and the mainstream American society she typifies, no amount of personal grooming by her mother will purify from her body the racialized societal label of "dirty." As the Clorox advertisement spells out, notions of cleanliness and salubrity rest on a wished-for world that is "more than white."

Later in the novel, when standing before the "nurse's white uniform," Estrella grows equally self-conscious: "She became aware of her own appearance. Dirty face, fingernails lined with mud, her tennis shoes soiled, brown smears like coffee stains on her dress where she had cleaned her hands." Her laboring body bears the mark of the worked land, and as in the scene with Mrs. Horn, the objectifying and dismissive gaze of the white nurse betrays unspoken racial and class biases, which lead Estrella to wonder: "It amazed Estrella that some people never seemed to perspire while others like herself sweated gallons" (Viramontes 1996, 137). The "glossy" magazines and billboard signs obfuscate the class and racial dichotomies that Estrella begins to question in the clinic scene. Advertisements present a "more than white" middle-class world of comfort, consumption, and leisure pledged by the American dream but systematically denied and placed far out of reach for poor working-class women and men of color. According to Paula M. L. Moya, the billboards Estrella enumerates advertise commodities "produced by and for a consumer culture from which she is excluded: bleach is irrelevant to someone who own no linens; TV dinners are useless to someone who has no oven; and suntan lotion sounds like a cruel joke to someone who is already brown and for whom the sun is associated not with leisure time and lolling on the beach, but with sunstroke and unquenchable thirst" (2002, 197). Race and racialization are key to the exclusionary practices Moya identifies, for discriminatory hiring practices, high rates of unemployment and underemployment, differential wage scales, and segregation and redlining have historically circumscribed the "consumer power" of communities of color in the United States. From this perspective, Viramontes's novel echoes Susan Willis's contention that "American culture means white culture, and that this in turn is synonymous with mass media culture" (1990, 77).

Interestingly enough, Viramontes goes a step further, since in Under the Feet of Jesus white workers like Maxine are similarly excluded from attaining the normative societal expectations promoted by mass consumer culture:

Estrella stared at Maxine's red burnt cheeks. Her hair was so white on her face, her eyebrows were invisible. The glossy page of the magazine shone in the sun.

--You deaf, girl? Looky here, ain't this purty? and Maxine pointed to the picture of Millie the Model, her bold yellow hair in a flowing flip, her painted breasts perfect smiles on her chest. The model was crying, big tears melting from her ice blue eyes. ... Maxine narrowed one eye and her hair, thin and stringy, laid flat on her round head. Orange peelings, cracked and chewed sunflower seeds were scattered around the porch steps. A dirty mason jar squatted on the railing with a trace of water in it. ... Maxine got up and the porch plank creaked. The dress she wore had a faded print of yellow corncobs with kernels falling and the corn kernels tumbled to her ankles. Standing on the step, she seemed taller and skinnier than her brother. ... She stood as straight as the ARGO woman on the box of corn starch. Then she looked down at her bare feet. She wriggled her yellow toes on the planks. (Viramontes 1996, 30-31)

The "purty" picture of Millie Collins stands in stark contrast to the laboring body of Maxine Devridge, in spite of the latter's fascination with the portrait of white womanhood and American middle-class life depicted on the "glossy page." The class chasm separating Millie and Maxine is clearly stressed by the novel, whose delineation of Maxine is reminiscent of the impoverished white sharecroppers and migrant farmworkers featured in the Depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Moreover, Maxine's racial claim to whiteness is undercut in the passage, as Viramontes explores the intricate contradictory relation of whiteness and racialization to class power and class hierarchy. Maxine's "red burnt cheeks" and "thin and stringy" hair are at odds with the "bold yellow hair in a flowing flip" and the "ice blue eyes" normalized in the illustration of Millie. As with the other piscadores, Maxine labors daily under the "too hot" sun (28), her laboring body exposed to the physical abuses of farm work and thus disfigured accordingly by the conditions of labor in the fields. In addition, the Devridge household, with a urine-stained mattress leaning against one side of the wooden shack and the front porch littered with orange peelings and chewed sunflower seeds, contradicts every element of the pristine white middle-class experience reflected in Millie the Model and in the Clorox and Swanson advertisements. Ultimately, Viramontes likens Maxine not to the white professional Millie Collins but instead to the commodified image of a Native American, the "ARGO woman on the box of corn starch." As surprising as the comparison might strike one at first--Maxine's corncob dress and the ARGO woman's corncob body no doubt providing the basis for the simile--the juxtaposition perhaps intimates, yet again, the "difference-within-commonality" shaping the history of intra-class race relations as far back as colonial times. In other words, the comparison makes sense if one agrees with Thandeka, who finally sees the creation of the "white race" not primarily as a social means "to elevate a race" but rather as a racial project "to denigrate a class" (1998). Roediger insists that the historical realities of capital accumulation in the United States teach "that the benefits of white citizenship were both tenuous and fatefully connected to property" (2010, 68). Viramontes's account of Maxine and the Devridge family seconds his point.

III. "DON'T YOU EVER GET TIRED?": PRODUCTION, SOCIAL REPRODUCTION, AND THE GENDERED LABORING BODY

Patriarchal gender norms and the sexist division of labor also play a crucial role in Viramontes's examination of the social production of difference in Under the Feet of Jesus. Both Estrella and Maxine, for slightly different reasons, fail to match the image of normative white femininity mirrored on the pages of Millie the Model. The "bold yellow hair" and the "painted breasts {like} perfect smiles on her chest," the vulnerability and emotional sensibilities on display in the "big tears melting from her ice blue eyes" (Viramontes 1996, 30), speak to Maxine, in particular, who feels compelled to emulate the hegemonic middle-class ideal of white femininity embodied in Millie Collins. The two young girls' encounter with Millie the Model underlines the social reality that "normative femininity-softness, passivity--is associated with middle-class whiteness; it is a fantasy of femininity constructed by middle-class white men for middle-class white women" (Fast 2011, 232). No wonder Maxine sneers with respect to Millie's predicament in the comic: "Figured it had to be over some man" (Viramontes 1996, 31). In the end, Estrella, as a working-class woman of color, and Maxine, as a poor white worker, find themselves excluded from participating in the dominant patriarchal fantasy of white middle-class femininity upheld by mainstream American society and culture.

Petra confronts a similar situation. Throughout the novel, Petra is repeatedly referred to simply as "the mother" (Viramontes 1996, 3), the moniker signaling the link between her identity and her social positioning and role. Abandoned by her husband for "a woman who wore pumps so high she was almost as tall as him" (17), Petra is torn between her performance as "the mother," the conventional domestic gender role for women, and the dominant projections of female sexuality and white femininity that abound in the culture. In discussing the "ideology of femininity" in the United States, Angela Davis points out that "'woman' became synonymous in the prevailing propaganda with 'mother' and 'housewife,' and both 'mother' and 'housewife' bore the fatal mark of inferiority" (1983, 12). However, the alternative presented to Petra "the mother"--woman as sexualized object of male desires and patriarchal fantasies--proves equally unappealing.

Despite the "mark of inferiority" that disparages female domesticity and domestic labor in the eyes of the greater society, Petra finds solace in her role as mother and identifies with the quintessential Mexican cultural icon of feminine docility and sacrifice:
   A lopsided poster of the holy Virgen, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was
   tacked between the posters of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe
   holding her white billowing dress down. La Virgen was adorned by
   red and green and white twinkling Christmas lights which surrounded
   the poster like a sequin necklace. Each time the lights blinked,
   Petra saw herself reflected in La Virgen's glossy downcast eyes.
   Unlike Marilyn's white pumps which were buried under the shriveled
   pods of Chile Negro, La Virgen was raised, it seemed to Petra,
   above a heavenly mound of bulbous garlic. (Viramontes 1996, 110)


Although "it seem{s} to Petra" that La Virgen is elevated in relation to the equally iconic image of Marilyn Monroe, the gendered and objectified figure of woman as seducer rather than mother, Viramontes problematizes Petra's identification with the "lopsided poster" of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The "glossy downcast eyes" of La Virgen recall the "glossy page" on which a crying Millie Collins reproduces the dominant stereotype of white femininity, perhaps suggesting an analogous ideological function for representations of La Virgen in Mexican and Chicano cultures. La Virgen's "downcast eyes" connote female submissiveness and passivity, much like the Millie the Model magazine sans the overt sexualization. Adorned by the colors of the Mexican national flag, the "red and green and white" necklace of twinkling lights surrounding the poster, La Virgen is also directly associated with the largely patriarchal historical project of nation-building, which in the cases of Mexico and Chicano nationalism has played out in relation to the sexist binary between La Malinche--the mythic whore and traitor of the Mexican peoples--and La Virgen/Tonantzin--the sexless, nurturing, and pure mother of the mestizo nation. According to Rosa Linda Fregoso, "in Chicano nationalist discourse, Chicanas can occupy only one position, either as the self-renounced female, lamadre abnegada (suffering mother), the passive virgin, or the embodiment of female treachery and sexual promiscuity, respectively sublimated into the either/or binary of 'virgen de Guadalupella malinche'" (1999, 78). Emma Perez supplies a helpful review of the key issues Viramontes figuratively addresses in the passage:
   The virgin/whore dichotomy continues to rear its head in
   contemporary society. The nation's phallogocentric discourse
   insists on inflicting a dichotomy that authorizes patriarchal
   institutions so they may continue to have power over women, both
   real and imagined. Chicano nationalist discourse constructs its own
   discursive trappings by reinforcing the good woman/bad woman
   binary. Woman should not aspire to be Malinche, the whore, but at
   the same time women can never be as holy and pure as La Virgen de
   Guadalupe. The challenge is that they must try to be. There are no
   in-betweens. (Perez 2011, 153-154)


Petra faces this very "challenge"--of simply trying "to be" within the profoundly gendered societal spaces that curtail her ability to achieve autonomy and self-awareness as a woman, and that circumscribe her choices for self-identification and self-naming. Petra gravitates toward La Virgen de Guadalupe, the caring and nurturing blessed mother, which momentarily affords her hope, strength, and a sense of meaning vis-a-vis the inequitable and backbreaking conditions of her (im)migrant farmworker life. By novel's end, however, after the shattering of her Jesucristo statue and the wavering of her faith, Petra acknowledges the tenuous solidity and relief such identification finally offers: "That was all she had: papers and sticks and broken faith and Perfecto, and at this moment all of this seemed as weightless against the massive darkness, as the head {from the Jesus statue} she held" (Viramontes 1996,169). The virgin/whore dichotomy leaves Petra exposed and defenseless "against the massive darkness" of a precarious social existence, and as with Perez, Viramontes forcefully questions the stifling limitations and coercion imposed by prevailing ideologies of normative femininity.

Significantly, Viramontes insists on an examination of gender-based forms of oppression in relation to the social production of difference based on the labor requirements and necessities of a capitalist regime of accumulation. Under the exploitative class relations of capitalism, one witnesses the simultaneous and incessant movement of two social processes: the production of value (via the labor process and circuits of exchange and consumption) and the social reproduction of labor power and of the very (preconditions for valorization. Particularly with the character of Petra, Viramontes's feminist critique underscores the centrality of the gendered laboring body to both processes:
   Estrella was not more than four when she first accompanied the
   mother to the fields ... The mother showed pregnant and wore large
   man's pants with the zipper clown and a shirt to cover her
   drumtight belly. Even then, the mother seemed old to Estrella. Yet,
   she hauled pounds and pounds of cotton by the pull of her back,
   plucking with two swift hands, stuffing the cloudy bolls into her
   burlap sack, the row of plants between her legs. The sack slowly
   grew larger and heavier like the swelling child within her. ...

   Estrella remembered the mother trying to keep her awake, but the
   days were so hot, and the sun wanted her to sleep so badly, she
   became cranky and angry. Finally, the mother gave in, laid
   four-year old Estrella right on top of her bag of cotton, hushing
   her to sleep and Estrella never realized the added weight she must
   have been on the mother's shoulders as she dragged the bag slowly
   between the rows of cotton plants. (Viramontes 1996, 51-52)


The passage explicitly establishes a direct and vital connection between Petra's body as an instrument of value-creation and surplus extraction in the production process and her body as a means for the social reproduction of labor power. Petra's productive labor in the fields powerfully intersects in this key scene with her responsibilities and duties as "the mother." Viramontes's key simile intertwines the accumulation of value via variable capital, or wage labor in motion (the "sack slowly grew larger and heavier"), with the gendered obligations of childbirth and childrearing ("like the swelling child within her"). The ensuing paragraph again stresses Petra's double burden, foregrounding Estrella's "added weight" to an already heavy bag of cotton the mother must laboriously fill and drag between the endless rows of cotton plants to support her family.

Viramontes thus implies that gendered oppression and capitalist exploitation historically go hand in hand. Arianne Burford argues that Under the Feet of Jesus critically attacks "a long history of a political economy within which mothers' labor is doubly exploited: their bodies labor in the fields but the labor of childbearing also produces children, the products and laborers of a future capitalist system" (2008, par. 17). Burford is absolutely on point and, while she does not expand on the theoretical implications, her observation echoes a wide-ranging body of Chicana and Marxist-feminist criticism that locates the "differential role tof women} in the reproduction of labour-power ... at the root of their oppression in class-society" (Vogel 2013, 150). For instance, Fregoso ties contemporary gender inequalities to the needs of late capitalism and to the legacies of coloniality in the Americas: "Chicanas' confinement to domesticity is not simply derivative of the division of labor in advanced capitalist societies, but rather is intensified by the dual legacy of Catholicism and the Spanish Conquest" (1999, 77). Marxist-feminist scholar Martha E. Gimenez elaborates on the basis for gender disparities under relations of capitalist accumulation:
   The historically specific structural determinants of gender
   inequality under capitalism are located in the specifically
   capitalist articulation between production and reproduction, which
   makes the latter dependent on the former. ... Under capitalism,
   production is for profits, not for the satisfaction of needs; the
   needs of reproduction (e.g., marriage, wage or salary levels
   sufficient to permit the daily and generational reproduction of
   labor of different qualities by giving access to education, health
   care, housing, family size, etc.) are subordinate to the needs of
   production and have never been fully met. (Gimenez 1991, 340-42)


In other words, the two processes should be understood as mutually constitutive, with the overall necessities and constraints of surplus-value extraction ultimately delimiting the avenues available for organizing and consolidating social reproduction. Viramontes, at least in Under the Feet of Jesus, would seem to agree.

Indeed, her decision to focus on cotton farming in the above passage evinces a palpable subsemantic association between present-day US agribusiness and its historical origins in chattel slavery, an institution whose social relations violently organized and regulated the interrelated functions of private property and the laboring bodies of women of color. In stark terms, Davis delineates the foundations of capitalist social reproduction in the United States under slavery: "Ideological exaltation of motherhood--as popular as it was during the nineteenth century-did not extend to slaves. In fact, in the eyes of the slaveholders, slave women were not mothers at all; they were simply instruments guaranteeing the growth of the slave labor force. They were 'breeders'--animals, whose monetary value could be precisely calculated in terms of their ability to multiply in numbers" (1983, 7). The mainstream political discourse on motherhood and women of color today no doubt owes many of its biased premises and much of its vitriol to the historical legacy of anti-Black racism and sexist domination developed under the discrete labor regime and market relations of chattel slavery. Beyond the allusive reference to cotton, the novel perhaps affords an additional connection to the legacy of slavery in the Americas by indicating in Petra's first physical description a potential Afro-Latin American ancestry: "Petra had deep coffee-colored skin and black, kinked hair that she tamed with a short braid" (1996, 7). (6)

Both Petra and Estrella understand, if only subconsciously, that the children of (im)migrant farmworkers belong to the fields, each child bound to the class relations that foretell a life of exploitation and endless toil for the sake of capitalist profit-making. As Estrella plainly puts it, "Morning, noon, or night, four or fourteen or forty it was all the same" (Viramontes 1996, 53). Alejo echoes Estrella's sentiments: "The vast field of grapevines was monotonous--without beginning, without ending--always the same to the piscadores and then to their children" (50). Seeing Estrella cradling "a watermelon like a baby," Petra confesses, "this vision saddened her." Petra realizes that, while she might want "her children to stay innocent and honest," the social realities of working-class existence called on her to "forc[e} them to be older for their own safety" (40). The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs reports that four to five hundred thousand children currently labor in the US agricultural sector, and even more disturbing, child farmworkers account for nearly 20 percent of all farm labor related deaths. From 1992 to 2000, the period in which Viramontes's novel is set, the agricultural industry accounted for 42 percent of all labor fatalities for minors (AFOP 2013). No doubt, Petra's concerns are well founded; given the social context, it is not difficult to understand why, at the close of the novel, "the mother embraced Estrella so firmly ... {that} Estrella felt as if the mother was trying to hide her back in her body" (Viramontes 1996,171). Estrella's younger brother Ricky almost suffers heatstroke while working in the fields, "look{ing} feverish" to Estrella, who warns him, "You don't know how to work with the sun yet" (53; emphasis in original). At the young age of thirteen, Estrella's own body already exhibits the toll of the brutalizing labor conditions in the fields: "Her muscles strained with every movement and when she reached for the hem of her dress or pulled her arms out of the sleeves of her muslin undershirt, she felt as if her body had been beaten into a pulp of ligaments and cartilage" (170). In the novel, farmworkers' children are consistently embodied in the figurative language of the land, underscoring the formative relationship between the laboring body (in both senses of the term) and the social spaces and relations within which the body takes shape. After her bath, Estrella's baby sister Cookie reveals "her buttocks like shiny garbanzo beans" and a young mother nurses her child during a respite from fieldwork, the infant figuratively captured in the vivid image of "plump, bare feet" and wiggling "pealike toes" (84). The stillborn child of Mercedes and Perfecto Flores is "the color of a plum" (80). Moreover, Petra imagines her own pregnancy through a metaphor of the sown land: "Petra thought of the lima bean in her, the bean floating in the night of her belly, bursting a root with breath" (125). Viramontes thus emphasizes the place of the gendered laboring body, motherhood, parenting, and the family within the broader sociopolitical and economic structures of capitalist labor extraction and exploitation. As Gimenez maintains, social and biological reproduction--the daily and generational reproduction of labor power--remains largely subordinate to and determined by the dictates of capital accumulation and production for profit.

Estrella captures this truth in one of the most troubling lines from Viramontes's narrative: "The money felt wet and ugly and sweaty like the swamp between her legs" (Viramontes 1996,150). Estrella's unsettling instance of bodily self-awareness occurs during the confrontation with the nurse that leads to her secular political "epiphany," a felicitous term given the overriding Catholic iconography and references in Under the Feet of Jesus. Throughout the scene, Estrella grows increasingly self-conscious over her physical appearance, ashamed by her "dirty face" and "fingernails lined with mud" (137). Her appearance stands in contrast not only to that of the nurse but also to that of "her smiling boys" (141), whose pictures sit on the nurse's desk. To Estrella, the discrepancy between her own disheveled look and the pristine "whiteness" of the nurse and her family rests on a class difference: "some people never seemed to perspire while others like herself sweated gallons" (137). In the scene, Estrella suddenly recognizes that the racialized laboring bodies of Alejo, her young siblings, and other (im)migrant farmworker children prove disposable and expendable: they exist only to supply the "sweated gallons" of what Viramontes calls "energy money" and "energy matter," which keep the nurse's white middle-class world in motion. "The oil was made from their bones," Estrella concludes, "and it was their bones that kept the nurse's car from not halting on some highway, kept her on her way to Daisyfield to pick up her boys at six. It was their bones that kept the air conditioning in the cars humming, that kept them moving on the long dotted line on the map" (148). The whole inequitable system runs on the labor power of the working masses, and the money Estrella reclaims by the end of the section--"wet and ugly and sweaty"--exudes the residual surplus labor exploited and extracted from the very bones of her (im)migrant working-class family and community. The scene rehearses Marx's labor theory of value and his notion of commodity fetishism, with the "energy money" embodying the abstract labor expropriated from the working classes during the process of production. Viramontes reminds readers that value creation and capital accumulation depend directly on the brutalized and effaced laboring bodies of workers, on their stolen labor and lives. Yet Viramontes further extends the point, also drawing attention to the fact that the gendered laboring body of social reproduction subtends the generating of value and surplus value in the capitalist production process. Without the reproduction of labor power, both daily and generationally, there is no exploitation of productive wage labor. Hence, Estrella likens the "sweaty" feel of money to "the swamp between her legs." Exploited labor, figured as "sweat," is metaphorically linked via "sweaty" money to Estrella's sexual and reproductive organs. By way of the simile, Viramontes stresses the constitutive bond between production and reproduction under capitalism, a relationship largely mediated by the money form and market exchange. The consummate fetish, money conceals the origins of value, its genesis in the working-class "sweat" both of laboring bodies and of bodies in labor.

Viramontes thus captures, with artistic subtly and nuance, the double burden and exploitation of working-class women of color. However, the novel foregrounds not only the place of women's oppression in relation to the generational reproduction of labor power, but also the key role played by the gendered laboring body in the daily maintenance of working families. Although pointing to the significant ways in which patriarchal practices and sexist gender roles shape the lives of female characters in the novel, Viramontes equally exposes the hypocrisy behind hegemonic ideologies of femininity, especially as it relates to working-class women of color. Petra wears "large man's pants with the zipper down and a shirt" when working in the fields (Viramontes 1996, 51). Similarly, Estrella dresses in male clothing to work in the fields, donning "a pair of trousers under her dress and an oversized, unbuttoned, long-sleeved shirt which would fly open and bend around her body" (32). The narrator confesses that, except "for the dress she'd pulled over her work clothes, she [Estrella] resembled a young man" (74). Sexist ideologies proclaim the home and its domestic tasks and labors to be the domain of women, their proper place and responsibility, while paid work outside the home fittingly remains the charge of men. As Evelyn Nakano Glenn documents, such gendered divisions of labor historically have proven foundational to the development and expansion of capitalist accumulation in the United States:
   The growing capitalist sector was characterized by separation
   between workplace and place of residence and between the activities
   of producing goods and those of social reproduction. Reproductive
   activities remained lodged in the home and were assigned to women
   and thus became "women's work." "Men's work" in the meantime,
   increasingly took place in the public labor market. The ideological
   split between the public world of the market and politics and the
   private world of the household became more sharply delineated. ...
   Women, as maintainers of the home, were cast into the idealized
   role of domestic angels who provided respite and comfort to wage
   workers. (Glenn 2002, 70-71)


Viramontes undercuts such sexist assumptions and the patriarchal fantasies of "domestic angels" in her cross-dressed depiction of Petra and Estrella performing "men's work." In addition, she simultaneously emphasizes the historical fact that large numbers of women, especially women of color, have always been expected to work both inside and outside the home, their economic survival predicated on securing employment in the wage-labor market.

Viramontes's portrayal of the gendered laboring body thus stresses the formative ways in which capitalist accumulation was both shaped by and worked to shape dominant understandings of race and gender. Glenn reminds readers that US capital has historically relied heavily on race-making strategies in its calculations of the value of productive and reproductive labor:
   Motherhood and domesticity were elevated as virtues for white
   women. ... In contrast, the caring that black women performed for
   their families was not deemed worthy of protection. ... Black women
   were considered "useful" only for work performed outside the
   family, whether in production or reproduction. The older belief
   that people of color's labor was owed to the community, and the
   emerging capitalist calculation that each individual constituted an
   individual unit of labor, came together in the treatment of women
   of color. Poor black and Latina mothers were deemed to be
   "employable." (Glenn 2002, 75)


In her critique of the notion that "work liberates women," adopted by some white middle-class feminists during the 1960s and 1970s, bell hooks points out that "a vast majority of women were (even at the time The Feminine Mystique was published) already working outside the home, working in jobs that neither liberated them from dependence on men nor made them economically selfsufficient" (2000, 96). Fregoso notes that economic necessity creates precarious familial circumstances wherein "Chicana working-class women are allowed to work outside the home in the 'private' official economy of paid employment," with the proviso that "as potential wives young Chicanas are instructed to view the home in feminine terms as a 'safe' haven and the public sphere of the streets as 'dangerous' or 'male' terrain" (1999, 77-78). In her study of the cotton industry in California, Devra Weber cites Rosaura Sanchez in noting that "women often worked in agriculture, for ... although cultural traditions frowned on Mexican women working 'outside the home as waitresses, maids or laundry help, {they} were nevertheless needed to work in the fields during the seasonal harvest to which families migrated'" (1994,59). The steadily rising employment over the last century of (im)migrant Mexican and Central American women in occupations ranging from domestic and custodial positions to farm labor and various foodindustry jobs is only the most recent historical example of a gendered division of labor in the United States that exploits newly arrived female workers.

Viramontes also links the exploitation of women in the workforce to the patriarchal gender roles within the home that label "private," unpaid domestic labor the sole province of women, deeming it inferior to the "public," paid wage labor of men. (7) Under the Feet of Jesus offers several extended, exhaustive descriptions of the work completed in the fields, an attempt on Viramontes's part, as Sarah Wald indicates, to "disrupM pastoral images of farming by emphasizing the physical difficulty of the work" (2011, 573). Likewise, Viramontes includes in the narrative a lengthy and painstakingly thorough delineation of domestic labor in order to challenge the exploitative gendered binary between the public and the private, between paid and unpaid labor, that condemns women to work the sexist "double shift." It is worth quoting the passage at length:
   Three fingers of Clabber Girl baking powder, sprinkle of salt (a
   little salt over the left shoulder for luck), a few handfuls of La
   Pina flour, Rex lard, and warm water from the aluminum coffeepot.
   Knead. Let the white mound stand with a dishcloth over it. Boil.
   Put the coffee grinds in the pot. Saute the papas with diced onion
   and tomato and lard. Remove the dishcloth, begin rolling the
   tortillas.

   Petra stopped to look at the bird which pumped its wide wings
   upward, a twig in its beak. The smell of woodsmoke brought Petra
   back to her place and she took another small mound of kneaded
   dough, dusted it with flour and began to roll it on an oval cutting
   board. She did this like awakening without a clock, like taking a
   drink when she was thirsty, sometimes singing under her breath,
   sometimes thinking about too many things at once.

   Starting in the middle, she rolled from north to south, flipped the
   dough, sprinkled flour, turned to remove the tortilla already
   baking on the comal, returned to roll from east to west until the
   tortilla was perfectly round, then place it on the comal, get more
   dough, sprinkled flour, turned to remove the baked tortilla from
   the comal and stack it on top of the others. Spoon the potatoes in
   the flour so nothing would spill. Fold the bottom of the tortilla,
   then the top, then the sides so that the burrito was a perfect
   envelope, then rewrap the burritos in foil for the lunches. She
   could do this in the dark, ill or healthy, near some trees, by a
   road, on a door made into a table or while birds flew past her with
   twigs between their beaks because tortillas filled her children's
   stomachs and made their stomachs hungry for more. (Viramontes
   1996,119-120)


Viramontes's portrayal of domestic work mirrors the types of labor more generally associated with employment outside the home, thus establishing a direct link between waged labor and unpaid household work. Repetitive and toilsome, domestic labor is presented in such a fashion as to debunk the myth that so-called "women's work" is any less demanding, intensive, tiring, or necessary than the more socially valued labor performed by men (and women) in public workplaces. No doubt, the passage aims to undermine the gendered binary between wage labor and unpaid housework that bestows an inferior status on women and locks them into specific tasks and jobs based on patriarchal gender roles.

However, the detailed narration also suggests a more expansive reading, which once again stresses the vital tie between production and social reproduction at the heart of capitalist profit-making. The scene reads almost like a training manual, with the depiction technical and precise. In fact, in her description of Petra's early-morning cooking, Viramontes appears to echo the language of Taylorization, with its instrumentalized and routinized bodily movements. The rationalized monotony and numbing efficiency of the Taylorized factory proves an apt counterpart to Petra's mechanistic activities in the passage, performed with an automatic consistency comparable to "awakening without a clock." Within the domestic sphere, the clock--that key figure for capitalist productivity and discipline in the workplace--has been internalized; nevertheless, the clock and the profit motive behind it rule Petra's labor in the home as much as outside of it. While Petra briefly imagines escaping by flying away like "the bird which pumped its wide wings upward," she must abide in "her place" and, as "the mother," continue to supply her unpaid labor to sustain the family of workers needed in the fields of corporate agribusiness.

"Don't you ever get tired?" Estrella asks Petra, to which she simply responds, "And?" (Viramontes 1996, 42). Her responsibility as "the mother" is one she does not take lightly, and Petra definitely does not begrudge her obligations to her children, willing to cook whether "ill or healthy ... because tortillas filled her children's stomachs and made their stomachs hungry for more." Yet Viramontes accentuates not the potential sentimentalism of Petra's reaction in the scene, powerful and important as it is, but rather her labor. Not by accident does Viramontes decide to set this representation of domestic labor at the start of the working day: Petra wraps "the burritos in foil for the lunches" her family, including the children, will eat in the fields while laboring for the profits of California growers. Petra's racialized and gendered labor serves as the backbone for a class system of exploitation and profit-making, not only producing surplus value while working in the vineyards and cotton fields of the Southwest, but also sustaining the labor power necessary for value creation in the first place. As Estrella watches the "tortilla baking on top of the black cast-iron comal" and "the mother stirring sugar in the black coffee," she realizes "this morning was no different." The familiar domestic scene signals to Estrella another working day and leads her to pose the question: "What would it take to get out of the fields?" (121). At some level, Estrella recognizes that the food furnished by her mother's hard work serves only to fortify her for the day's labor. Petra's role as "the mother," her labors of love for her children and Perfecto Flores, remains locked within and predominantly (over)determined by a structural division of labor that locates the gendered laboring body at the nexus between the production of value and the social reproduction of labor power.

Centering attention on the racialized gendered formation of the laboring body, Viramontes reveals the importance of socially produced difference to the accumulation of capital, both in the valorization and labor process itself and in the social reproduction of the very preconditions for the exploitation of wage labor. Ultimately, then, Under the Feet of Jesus reminds readers of an essential but too often overlooked fact about the class relations of capitalist accumulation: the circulatory movement of capital, its journey to valorization, fundamentally depends on mapping out coordinates fixed by race and gender within the broader social spaces of production and consumption.

NOTES

(1) For alternative readings of the scene, see Yarbro-Bejarano (2013, 70-72) and Burford (2008, par. 22).

(2) Gonzalez and Fernandez offer a useful synopsis of this exploitative history of racialization and proletarianization in the Southwest:
   In the last third of the nineteenth century, southwestern
   agribusiness began to grow simultaneous with the beginnings of US
   intrusion in the Mexican economy to the south. With the growing of
   specialized fruit crops in the late 1860s and 1870s, large numbers
   of Chinese workers became indispensable in California agriculture.
   But a combination of labor and small farming interests, appealing
   to racism, succeeding in driving the Chinese from the California
   fields. The large California growers, in search of a new source of
   labor, promptly found one in the Japanese, who became a prime labor
   pool from the last few years of the nineteenth century to the
   beginning of World War I. But the japanese were to meet the same
   opposition as the Chinese and eventually shared the same fate. In
   desperation, California agribusiness began to import East Indian
   and Filipino workers. Asian labor continued to provide the bulk of
   the labor needs of California agriculture until a better choice was
   found. (2003, 99)


Eventually, the "better choice" became authorized and undocumented Mexican migrant workers, who, because of US immigration policies, "could be expected to be ... loyal and hardworking laborer[s], always in the sights of bosses and immigration officers" (2003, 99).

(3) Roediger highlights this correlation between race, class, and occupation in his study of the history of racism in the United States: "The practice of race management blurred the division between free blacks and slaves in a tangible, not just symbolic, way. The regular exposure in the workplace to danger and filth, and the overwork and subservience that could be particularly demanded of African American workers, free and slave, had spawned a linguistic Americanism. 'Nigger work' entered, and endured, in the language, while the related phrase 'slave like a nigger' bespoke the thorough amalgamation of race and class. When poor, often immigrant, whites were so desperate for work that they displaced or joined black workers in doing it, they were referred to as 'white niggers'" (2010, 87). While the common practice of referring to contemporary farm work as "slave labor" may too easily elide the significant differences present in the historical institution of chattel slavery and the anti-Black racism underpinning it, the term does help to point out the persistence of racialization and racism in determining the capitalist division of labor within the United States and classifying specific laboring bodies as abject and therefore expendable and disposable in the name of maximizing capitalist accumulation.

(4) In November 1986, California passed Proposition 63, which amended the state constitution to make English the official language and called on state legislators to "take all steps necessary to insure that the role of English as the common language of the State of California is preserved and enhanced" while prohibiting legislation "which diminishes or ignores the role of English as the common language of the State of California" (CA Const. Art. Ill, sec. 6). Proposition 187, the so-called "Save Our State" initiative, was voted into law on November 8,1994. The ballot measure aimed to curtail access to public services for undocumented workers and their children.

(5) Depression-era historian James N. Gregory offers an overview of early twentieth-century migration to California: "Southwesterners had been coming to California in large numbers since World War I. About a quarter of a million had settled in the state in the 1920s; during the depression another 350-400,000 came. But the biggest influx came during World War II, when defense work lured between 600-700,000 more Southwesterners to California. Migration continued at a somewhat reduced pace in the 1950s. ... By i960, there were more than 1.7 million Oklahomans, Texans, Arkansans, and Missourians living in California, constituting one-eighth of the state population. The vast majority of them were whites" (1989, 76).

(6) In a different context, Yarbro-Bejarano makes the same observation, noting that "the description of Petra at the beginning of the novel suggests an Afro-Hispanic heritage" (2013, 87).

(7) The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor reports that, between 2003 and 2007, women labored 10.8 hours per week more than men on unpaid domestic work. For women between the ages of twenety-five and thirty-four, unpaid household labor amounted to 31.7 hours per week, almost twice as much as men in the same age group, who spent 15.8 hours per week performing domestic labor. The findings are slightly higher for women between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four: women in this age group spend 33.1 hours per week completing household work (Krantz-Kent 2009, 49).

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DENNIS LOPEZ is Assistant Professor of English at California State University, Long Beach. His teaching and research focus on Chicana/o and Latina/o literature, US ethnic literature, and radical protest literature of the United States.
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