Multiculturalism in Crisis: 60 Years of Housing Illness in a Pa Mushroom Town
John Mirsky ’23
David Rojas, Latin American Studies
Douglas K. Candland Fund, Presidential Fellowship
Advancing recent literature that critically examines multicultural efforts to generate socio-economic inclusion, this article studies how, in a small yet affluent Pennsylvania town, multicultural festivals are part of a social milieu in which Latinx people face continuing erasure and exploitation—manifested in precarious health and housing conditions. Using ethnographic and qualitative methods (including 60 interviews—24 with non-Latinx white and Latinx NGO staff members and 36 with Latinx agricultural workers), I show that, although multicultural festivals in the town aim to give a voice and recognize minority communities, they have been part of a social milieu in which Latinx peoples have been actively silenced and overlooked over the last half-century, resulting in heightened rates of key health issues related to substandard and dangerous housing (including diabetes, obesity, and coronavirus). From a semiotic theoretical approach, the disconnect between increasing performative-visibility and ongoing marginalization of Latinx individuals can be explained by multicultural festivals relying upon floating signifiers. My findings shed light on the nuanced cultural ways that the structural social and material suffering of minoritized populations is overlooked through the invocation of purportedly emancipatory acts of dubious efficacy. I finish by elaborating broader relevances and making a case for possible hope.