Cristina Beltrán

May 13, 2021

Cruelty As Citizenship

How Migrant Suffering Sustains White Democracy

University of Minnesota Press 2020

Cristina Beltrán has written a thoughtful and interrogating analysis of the concept of citizenship, particularly in the United States, and how the history of the United States as a country has shaped an understanding of who gets to be “belong” as a member of this society. The book, Cruelty as Citizenship: How Migrant Suffering Sustains White Democracy is part of the Forerunners book series published by the University of Minnesota Press—this series, as we discuss in our conversation, publishes shorter works that dig into ideas across a broad and interdisciplinary spectrum. And this is precisely what Beltrán has done in this book, in terms of engaging historiography, Cultural Studies, LatinX Studies, political theory, American Studies, and other disciplines to aid her unwrapping of our understanding of immigrants and migrants, and why there is an interest in seeing these groups as “others” and, among certain segments of the population, wanting to make sure they suffer in this exclusionary position. Beltrán takes the reader through both imagined and real spaces in terms of the place of the immigrant and the migrant in the United States, weaving the role of the American frontier, the way that settler-colonialism operated inside the U.S., and an understanding of white identity within all of these contexts.

Cruelty as Citizenship is an accessible exploration of the tensions within the United States that surround our reactions to those coming to this country (forcibly, or by choice) and how racial identity has shaped the varied experiences and responses of those who come to the United States and those who have proceeded them here. As Beltrán noted in our discussion, she had come to this work in an effort to tease out the different political affiliations within the LatinX population in the U.S. What she found was that in order to understand the political responses by LatinX voters, the entire dynamic between different racial groups and the role of racial domination needs to be explored. Thus, Cruelty as Citizenship is the result of digging into the political dynamics within different racial groups in the United States, and getting at the role of white identity, and thus white democracy, within American cultural concepts and expectations of political and state power. Cruelty as Citizenship guides the reader through multiple facets of American history, politics, culture, and ideas about what it is to be American and who has the right to claim this identity as their own.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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