You are on page 1of 11

W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:46 PM Page 88

Can’t Live With Them; Can’t Landscape Without

Them: Racism and the Pastoral Aesthetic in
Suburban New York
James Duncan and Nancy Duncan

James Duncan has taught cultural Abstract: Landscapes are produced and maintained in ways that are largely unseen by
geography in Canada and the United those who happen to drive past, admiring the beauty of the landscape. Deeply embedded in
States. For the past seven years he has the landscape are human costs invisible to the eye. In this paper we investigate some of the
taught at the University of Cambridge many social and material relations that underlie the pastoral views that characterize one
and is a Fellow of Emmanuel Col- particularly beautiful village. Bedford, a suburb of New York City, is a site of aesthetic con-
lege. His research interests are in sumption practices in which the residents derive pleasure and achieve social status by pre-
landscape interpretation and elite serving and enhancing the beauty of their town. We explore the way in which the beautiful
landscapes in North America and landscape of Bedford is internally related to the poor living conditions of Latino day labor-
South Asia. He has been studying ers in a neighboring town, Mount Kisco. Global political and economic structures as well
Bedford, New York off and on for as the structure of local zoning, supported by a socio-spatial ideology of local autonomy
the past thirty years. His publications and home rule, lie beneath Bedford’s successful exclusion of its laborers and Mount Kisco’s
include The City as Text: The Politics failure to keep out what they see as Bedford’s and Latin America’s “negative externalities.”
of Landscape Interpretation in the Our argument is that aesthetic concerns dominate social and economic relations between
Kandyan Kingdom (Cambridge Uni- Latino immigrants and receiving communities.
versity Press 1990) and Landscapes
of Privilege: The Politics of the Aesthetic
in an American Suburb (Routledge
Nancy Duncan taught cultural
geography at Syracuse University
until 1996. Since then she has taught
at the University of Cambridge and
until 2001 was a Fellow of Fitzwilliam
College. Her research interests in-
clude landscape interpretation, gen-
der analysis, and culture theory. She
wrote her dissertation on exclusion-
ary zoning in Westchester County,
New York. Her publications include
BodySpace: Destabilizing Geographies
of Gender and Sexuality (Routledge
1996), and Landscapes of Privilege: The
Politics of the Aesthetic in an American
Suburb (Routledge 2004).

L atino day laborers are

part of a story that ties
Bedford, an affluent village in sub-
America where the workers have im-
migrated from. There is an ongoing
political struggle in Mount Kisco that
driven by a concern for protecting its
pastoral aesthetic (Figures 1 and 2).
Its residents, many of whom work in
urban New York where they work, to is intimately tied to the pastoral aes- New York City in business, law, and
Mount Kisco, an adjacent, middle- thetic and place-based identity of the media, see Bedford as a quiet and
income village, where many of them those who live in Bedford and hire beautiful country retreat away from
live.1 There is also, of course, a larger Latinos to maintain the landscape. the city and what they perceive as its
story that we don’t have time to tell: a Local politics in Bedford are largely characteristically urban problems of
story that connects both Mount Kisco race and poverty—problems they see
and Bedford to New York City and to as costly, occasionally dangerous, and
poor villages in Central and South unaesthetic. In Mount Kisco there is a

Landscape Journal 22:1– 03 ISSN 0277-2426

88 Landscape Journal 22:1– 03 © 2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:46 PM Page 89

politics of the aesthetic as well, how- scape are human costs invisible to preserving and enhancing the beauty
ever, here it is inflected by race in the eye. In this paper we investigate of their town. They accomplish this
ways that are present but masked in some of the many social and material through the use of exclusionary zon-
Bedford. relations that underlie the pastoral ing, stringent environmental protec-
Landscapes are produced and views that characterize one particu- tion legislation, and the exploited
maintained in ways that are largely larly beautiful village. Bedford is a labor of recently arrived Latino day
unseen by those who happen to drive site of aesthetic consumption prac- workers. A class aesthetic based in
past, admiring the beauty of the land- tices in which the residents derive such ideologies as localism, anti-
scape. Deeply embedded in the land- pleasure and achieve social status by urbanism, anti-modernism, anglo-
philia, and romanticism also under-
lies and lends a political dimension to
the desire to live in a beautiful place
such as Bedford. We believe that the
celebration of the natural environ-
ment, historic preservation, and the
proclaimed uniqueness of a local
landscape, while all positive in them-
selves, divert attention away from the
interrelatedness of aesthetics with
identity on the one hand, and with
social justice on the other. The seem-
ingly innocent pleasures derived
from natural and historical land-
scapes have complex cultural and
political histories. The numbers
and types of people who can live
and work in Bedford are restricted
through various social, economic, po-
litical, and legal practices legitimated
by appeals to an unquestioned desire
to preserve a valuable and unique
sense of place. This might not have
any significant social consequences if
Bedford were, in fact unique. How-
Figure 1. Pastoral scene (All photographs by James and Nancy Duncan) ever, a great many of New York City’s
northern suburbs are characterized
by similar aesthetic and exclusionary
practices. Cumulatively, these prac-
tices become in effect subsidies to the
rich that have the effect of reducing
available land for the potential devel-
opment of affordable housing and
contributing to the dearth of rental
housing in northern Westchester
County and thus to the exorbitant
rents the laborers are forced to pay.
Bedford Village is considered
by its residents to be an idyllically
beautiful landscape of gently rolling
hills. Tall maples and oaks overhang
dirt roads lined with stone walls and
wild flowers. Although they are hid-
den from view, the hilltops are dotted
with late nineteenth and early twenti-
eth century mansions, obscured by
tall trees and approached by long
winding gravel driveways. The aes-
thetic value of having a rural land-
scape is seen by most all of the resi-
Figure 2. Dirt road dents of the town as unquestionable.

Duncan and Duncan 89

W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:46 PM Page 90

According to an aestheticized view of

nature, Bedford’s many acres of pas-
ture, fields of wildflowers outlined by
stonewalls (some in disrepair but in-
creasingly being restored), forests,
and large wooded house lots indicate
that it has more nature than if the
town were composed principally of
houses surrounded by manicured
lawns and ornamental trees. This
romantic discourse lends support to
the exclusionary structures and natu-
ralistic design practices that maintain
Bedford’s scenic landscapes.
Andrew Sayer (2000, 169) has
argued that, “contemporary cultural
studies’ preoccupation with aesthetic
values is evident in its focus on style
and taste, indeed in the definition of
its object of study as ‘the stylization of
life’ (Featherstone, 1994). There is
less interest in moral-political values.”
We agree. However, we also believe Figure 3. House
that these two types of value are in ac-
tuality inextricably bound and can be
best theorized via the concepts of aes-
theticization and complex complicity. try life,” “rustic” or “rural charm,” garden. The richest people, having
Since the late nineteenth century, “farmer’s club” (actually an exclusive, both the greatest resources and feel-
Bedford’s residents have tended to elite association), “studied seedi- ings of entitlement, attempt to con-
be cosmopolitan and urbane in their ness,” and “old colonial simplicity.” trol long-distance views. They often
public and business lives, but deeply Self-assured in their attempts to go to great lengths to ensure that
anti-urban in many aspects of their maintain open green space, the resi- nothing they see from their own
private lives. Bedford has been pro- dents’ aesthetic pleasures are sus- property and nothing they pass by
duced as highly controlled space, a tained through spatial separation when they drive around their towns is
semi-privatized domain in which an (Figure 3). Residents spatially and unattractive (Figures 4 and 5). The
authentic rural republican American visually insulate themselves from un- pleasure they take in their property,
identity can be nurtured. Its land- comfortable questions of race and as well as its economic value, depends
scapes are treated as aesthetic pro- poverty and keep out of sight as many greatly upon control over the aes-
ductions, controlled so that as far as reminders as possible of the social thetic and spatial practices of a whole
the eye can see, even if one drives or consequences of what Steve Pile community. As residents of Bedford
rides on horseback for many miles, (1994) has referred to as “painless and similar towns believe, ownership
one views nothing industrial or dis- privilege.” of land gives them the right and re-
tasteful. Residents of Bedford main- The higher one goes up the sponsibility to produce a town’s land-
tain the illusion of disconnection scale of wealth in a community, the scape as a coherent whole, a visual
through the spatial separation of more control the owners of property production, or a unique work with
home and work and an aestheticized expect to have over their residential an aura derived from a sense of the
attitude that conflates images of the spaces. In the poorest neighborhoods town’s uniqueness.
English country gentleman, owner of people may have little choice about
all he surveys, with the sentimental the interiors of their rooms or apart- The Day Laborers of Mount Kisco
pastoralism of the Jeffersonian Amer- ments. Moving up the scale of wealth, The number of Latinos living in
ican small farmer and individualistic people begin to have control over Westchester County doubled between
agrarianism. their interiors and, if they own prop- 1980 and 1990. By 2000 it had in-
This conflation can be seen in erty, their front and back yards. With creased an additional 67 percent. In
the language of residents as found in more money to spend, the rich can Mount Kisco the number of Latinos
interviews, newspaper articles, town display more personal choice in pro- rose from 400 (or 5 percent of the
and club histories, and real estate ad- ducing a well-designed house and village’s population) in 1980 to 2500
vertisements in which the terms “aris- (or 25 percent of the village’s popula-
tocrat,” “great estate,” “commanding tion) in 2000. Latino immigrants
distant views,” sit comfortably along- have been drawn to places like West-
side terms such as “the simple coun- chester County where they fill a grow-

90 Landscape Journal
W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:46 PM Page 91

Figure 4. Bedford Village Figure 5. Village green

ing niche in the local service econ- “far reaching ‘Latin Americaniza- more) waited to be picked up by con-
omy, especially in landscaping. The tion’” of New York and other metro- tractors and householders on the
jobs are typically seasonal, non- politan areas of the U.S., driven by a main streets of Mount Kisco. We in-
union, and low pay, with few benefits “formidable demographic engine: a terviewed some of these men. One
and little security. The increase in Spanish-surname population that is group came from Chiquimula in the
wealth generated by Wall Street and increasing ten times faster than the highlands of Guatemala. One man
other sectors of the economy of the Anglo population.” said, “We wait here every morning to
New York metropolitan region, which The perception of an invasion be picked up by someone who needs
includes sprawling edge cities such can be explained in large part by workers. On a good day we can make
as White Plains, has produced a de- conflicting cultural conventions of $70 or $80, but sometimes the boss
mand for status-creating personal public space based in an ethnocen- doesn’t pay us. We argue with him,
services that poor Latino workers tric and class-based aesthetics. This but what can we do? There is no one
are largely providing as there is little has created a paradoxical situation in to complain to.” Some Latino work-
competition for such jobs. While which those whose labor maintains ers have steady work and rarely or
there are clearly deep structural, eco- Bedford’s landscape aesthetic are never stand out waiting for work. We
nomic, and political inequalities that themselves considered an unaesthetic talked to a man from Honduras who
explain why the Central Americans element of the streetscape of neigh- came to the U.S. seven years ago. He
find themselves in a hostile North boring Mount Kisco where Bedford pays $250 a week and sleeps in a liv-
American environment, economic residents habitually go for shopping ing room with three other men. After
and political factors alone are insuf- and services. Many residents of the first few years he managed to find
ficient as an explanation of the unar- Mount Kisco and other nearby towns a patron who gave him part-time
ticulated, deep-seated psychological resent their towns becoming what work and helped him to find work
insecurities and ambiguities that they describe as “dumping grounds” with other people.
shape social relations between im- or “servant’s quarters” for places like The number of Latinos spend-
migrants and non-immigrants. Bedford. These are the negative ex- ing many hours either waiting for
Over the past decade the burn- ternalities of an increasingly labor- offers of day-laboring jobs or social-
ing political issue in the village of intensive landscape taste.2 izing on the streets has, in the past
Mount Kisco has been what is per- For a decade until 2001, every ten years, reached what many non-
ceived to be “an invasion” of Latinos. weekday morning from 6:30 a.m. on, Latinos consider to be an unaccept-
In this regard, the village is one of groups of men (one hundred or able critical mass. This highly visible
countless suburban towns that find non-white presence has become a
themselves at the leading edge of constant topic of conversation, not
contemporary cultural change, which only in Mount Kisco but to a lesser
Mike Davis (2000, 5) speaks of as a degree in Bedford as well. Local

Duncan and Duncan 91

W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:46 PM Page 92

opinion ranges from what might be metaphor for insecure national ence of cultural others attempting to
termed moral panic to paternalistic boundaries. Immigrant bodies are share one’s residential space can be
“tolerance,” including a desire to marked as separate, marginal, and deeply threatening. The blurring of
help the newly immigrated assimilate different. The idea of insecure bor- insider and outsider undermines
to proper American ways of using ders is aggravating or alarming to place identity and leads to the rup-
public space. David Sibley (1995, 43) many Americans, especially after Sep- ture of the relationship between
uses the term “moral panic” to de- tember 11. Many residents feel that place and identity. Iris Marion Young
scribe a situation in which a group the visibility of racialized difference adopts Julia Kristeva’s (1982) notion
defined as different destabilizes the acts as a daily reminder of the vulner- of the abject as a kind of loathing
social order. Such panics tend to ability of Mount Kisco to the negative and fear to explicate aversive racism.
erupt when spatial and social bound- externalities of more affluent towns. The abject is that which perpetually
aries are threatened. This is often They say things like: “Our town is a threatens the physical and psycho-
heightened by alarmist media cover- dumping ground.” “We want our logical borders between the self and
age. Moral panics articulate beliefs town back!” others and thus undermines identity.
about belonging and not belonging, Contemporary immigration The abject upsets the proper func-
about the sanctity of territory and the is generally viewed with suspicion. tioning of a spatial or moral order.
fear of transgression. They bring Although diversity and multicultural- Racial others are considered pollut-
boundaries into focus by accentuat- ism are sometimes successfully em- ing or dangerous when deemed out
ing differences. Mike Davis (2000, braced as enriching aesthetic and of place and uncontrolled in relation
109) describes the panic associated commercial themes, as political val- to a particular historical, cultural,
with the visibility of street corner day ues they are too often associated with and landscape context.
labor markets in suburbia across the what is thought to be a political People may feel aversive racism
country as “a nativist hysteria that fre- correctness foisted on the non- for different reasons. Less affluent
quently reaches an occult pitch.” immigrant population. non-Latinos of Mount Kisco often
In Mount Kisco, those who are feel it because their place-based iden-
noticed as being Latinos are those White Privilege and Place-Based Identity tity is undermined by being spatially
whose visible, physiologic charac- Iris Marion Young (1990, 141– and economically close to members
teristics of skin color, stature, and 42) distinguishes between domina- of a disliked group. Some of the
features mark them as indigenous tive and aversive racism. While domi- more highly educated residents of
(Amerindian) or moreno (African native racism characterized much of Bedford and Mt. Kisco feel it, but
or West Indian), mestizo, or mulatto nineteenth-century race relations, es- due to their social and educational
looking. It is this racialized differ- pecially in the American South, the background, they are expected to re-
ence as well as certain highly visible most common form in the U.S. dur- ject discursive racism. Kristeva’s con-
practices, especially among males ing the twentieth century was aversive cept of the abject introduces the idea
(such as socializing in public and racism. Aversive racism is avoidance of ambiguity as threatening or loath-
walking or bicycle riding along roads and separation. The change signals, some. When one’s social relations to
designed for driving), that differenti- in part, a shift from racism at the dis- others are not clear or agreed upon,
ates them. cursive level to racism in practical if they seem uncontrolled, illegal, or
Many of the remarks made in consciousness. Explicit theories of disrespectful of norms, then these re-
the residents’ survey reveal an im- white or Anglo-Saxon supremacism, lations become difficult to tolerate.
plicit, unreflexive form of national- while not uncommon, tend to be While some may indeed enjoy
ism/racism.3 Among many non- marginalized today. Although re- the color and enrichment of “ethnic”
Latinos there is a strong, visceral actions of aversion are profound, restaurants, world music, foreign
distaste for the foreign looking, in- they are largely unacknowledged as travel, and multiculturalism in their
digenous Amerindian features and racism. Such reactions are primarily urban experiences, they choose a
skin color of Latino men whom they bodily, material, and unconscious. more familiar, culturally homoge-
accuse of loitering. Loitering here is They include nervousness, avoid- neous aesthetic at home often pre-
a racialized, gendered, and class- ance, disgust, and distancing. Nega- cisely because their liberal ideology
based concept in that it is the differ- tive aesthetic reactions to the bodily requires them to embrace a narrative
ence in appearance, bodily comport- presence, sounds of speech or music, of equality that disallows overt
ment, and ways of being male of and consumption styles of the Latino racism. In other words, those persons
those socializing on street corners others are particularly apt examples appreciated as romantic and colorful
that makes their behavior offensive in this context. in their proper foreign place may be-
and sometimes threatening to non- Because places, especially come a repugnant and intrusive
Latinos. The same behavior by un- homeplaces, are so closely associated presence in middle-class Americans’
marked middle class whites might with one’s sense of identity, the pres- own home spaces where they seek a
not be so immediately defined as secure and stable retreat from the
loitering. complex challenges of a globalizing
Furthermore, the very bodies of world.
undocumented immigrants act as a

92 Landscape Journal
W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:47 PM Page 93

The idea of white privilege can out, “as the unmarked category While Mount Kisco has had
be added to the notions of domina- against which difference is con- to face up to its racism in the public
tive and aversive racism. White privi- structed, whiteness never has to and legal arenas, residents of affluent
lege is an unconscious form of racism speak its name, never has to acknowl- towns like Bedford need not be
that results from a lifelong inculca- edge its role as an organizing prin- racists, or at least not confront any
tion that takes as natural “the privi- ciple in social and cultural relations.” racism they may harbor, in order to
leges and benefits that accrue to According to Pulido (2000, 16), white enjoy their privilege because of insti-
white people by virtue of their white- privilege underlies institutional tutional racism that creates uneven
ness.” It “thrives in highly racialized racism: “The full exploitation of geographies and mechanisms of
societies that espouse racial equality, white privilege requires the produc- exclusion such as large lot zoning.
but where whites will not tolerate be- tion of places with a very high pro- While many residents of such pas-
ing inconvenienced in order to portion of white people. ‘Too many’ toral communities as Bedford are not
achieve racial equality, or being de- people of color might reduce a entirely unaware of the exclusionary
nied the full benefits of their white- neighborhood’s status, property consequences of large lot zoning they
ness” (Pulido 2000, 15). White privi- value, or general level of comfort for focus their political attention on
lege is such a powerful force precisely white people.” We would argue that, defending their aesthetic on environ-
because most whites are unconscious as well as underpinning institutional mental grounds which they see as not
of it, and so whites may exonerate racism, white privilege is in turn also only wholly worthy but also in their
themselves from any form of racism. greatly enabled by institutional personal interests in terms of the use
As George Lipsitz (1995, 71) points racism. value as well as resale value of their

Figure 6. Pastoral scene Figure 7. Manor house

Figure 8. Colonial copy Figure 9. Hispanic gardeners

Duncan and Duncan 93

W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:47 PM Page 94

properties. In general they see the and five others—sometimes of other specific in ways often unacknowl-
landscape as innocent and pride national origins whom they dislike. edged by those who complain. One
themselves on their environmental One said, “I feel I am not really living can see in the following remarks that
consciousness. However, the immi- here, just working. I have only one loitering is often seen in aesthetic
grants who stand on the streets of little window.” Because of inadequate terms as a visually offensive behavior.
Mount Kisco are there in large part private space in which to entertain, One person said, “The loitering prob-
because of the increasing demand and a culture of male socializing in lem on Maple Avenue and along Lex-
for their labor on Bedford’s estates large groups in public, they tend to ington is getting to be an eyesore.”
(Figures 6, 7 and 8). They help to sus- spend many hours of the day in Another said, “The beautiful benches
tain Bedford’s pastoral landscape by public places. This use of space are occupied by day workers” (Figure
recreating and maintaining miles of deeply troubles many non-Latino 11), “young men perched on the
centuries-old dry stone walls, plant- Americans for it challenges key tenets benches [are] unsightly,” and “illegal
ing and tending gardens, mowing of privatism and individualism that aliens are cluttering up the Kirby
lawns, and repairing and repainting have become extended to the level Plaza” (Figure 12). Given the large
country houses (Figure 9). But they of community. number of comments made about
don’t fit the Anglo-pastoral narrative A suburban community for noise and the sounds of Spanish be-
structure being created in the land- many Anglo-Americans is an exclu- ing spoken in town we can only as-
scape. They don’t quite look like An- sive, semi-private space where people sume that people object to what they
glo-American farm workers; their of like minds, incomes, and similar see as aural as well as visual pollution
very presence is seen as a manifesta- tastes do not so much interact as (Figure 13). As another person said,
tion of the suburbanization of urban maintain similarly aestheticized “The new immigrants take away from
racial and immigration problems. private lifestyles. The presence of the beauty of the village by hanging
They are, in other words, seen by racially marked outsiders offends the around and not learning the lan-
Bedford residents as a very mixed aesthetic of homogeneity necessary guage.” Others remarked that they
blessing indeed. to the maintenance of such a commu- “despised” “the Latinos who hang out
nity. It is not so much the actuality of in the town on the street corners and
Mount Kisco and the Politics of the presence of Latinos in the area as gazebo,” and that “loitering detracts
Disappearance their visibility that disrupts the spa- from the quality of life in Mount
In Mount Kisco it would appear tial/moral order of suburban society. Kisco.” As Don Mitchell (1997, 326)
that the existence of illegal immi- To put it bluntly (as many of our in- points out, this notion of “quality of
grants is a license for various forms of formants did), the presence of the life,” prioritizes the aesthetic values of
disguised racism. Because as many as Latino day laborers on village streets the middle class over the survival of
40 percent of the Latinos in Mount is thought to “spoil the look of the the poor.
Kisco may be undocumented and are landscape” (Figure 10). The public outcry in Mount
unmarked as such, many of the other Towns in southern Westchester Kisco over what one interviewee
residents act as though the whole composed a flier to familiarize immi- termed “the deteriorating ‘quality
Latino population has forfeited the grants with what one journalist of life’ in the town due to an influx
right to be treated as belonging in (Berger 1993) termed the “tacit of a high number of illegal aliens”
the village. To many residents of codes of the suburbs.” The fliers ex- became so insistent that the Mayor in
towns such as Mount Kisco and Bed- plain cultural differences between the mid–1990s created a Committee
ford, every (recognized) Latino’s Anglicized Americans and newly ar- on Community Relations to find a so-
bodily presence attests to the weak- rived Latinos in the “proper” use of lution to the problem. They met with
ness of the government of the United public space. They point to the fact representatives of the Immigration
States in the face of illegal immigra- that locals assume that public spaces and Naturalization Service, the Inter-
tion. Some respondents to the village are to be used for walking and that nal Revenue Service (IRS), and the
survey made such remarks as “there is socializing is to be done in private, Department of Labor, but in effect,
a lack of control over ‘diversity’ is- either in the home or in a bar or were told that if they wanted to get
sues. The Hispanic population seems restaurant. In Mount Kisco, Latino rid of the Latinos, they had to do it
uncontrolled.” Such a perception of advocacy groups now provide this themselves. Such agencies do not feel
the others as being “out of control” is kind of cultural information to day they have the resources to spend on
precisely how Kristeva describes ab- laborers. small suburban towns. And in fact
jection. The presence of Latinos is A large number of respondents this view has encouraged the subur-
threatening because parents think to the residents’ survey see loitering banization of poor Latinos.
that the high quality of education as the major problem facing Mount Having failed to enlist outside
and other privileges they, as middle- Kisco. The naturalized concept of help, the Committee recommended
class whites deserve, are threatened. loitering is culturally and historically that the village “help ensure that all
Many of Mount Kisco’s Central members of our community—His-
Americans live in appalling condi- panic, Anglo and the rest—respect
tions. Those we talked to told us of the rules of our village and the cus-
sleeping in living rooms with four toms of our culture.” One can see

94 Landscape Journal
W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:47 PM Page 95

here how the American ideologies of

individualism and privacy are cross-
cut by a powerful desire for conform-
ity. Expressions of individualism are
encouraged only as long as the
broader cultural frameworks such as
the public-private space dichotomy
remain undisturbed.
The village’s attempted solution
to the problem of loitering was to
pass a set of laws to protect the day
workers from exploitation, thereby
significantly reducing their numbers
because they can only survive in a
place as expensive as Mount Kisco if
officials turn a blind eye to their ex-
ploitation. The village made it illegal
for workers standing on a street or
sidewalk to solicit employers or for
employers in a vehicle to hire work-
ers standing on the street. People
who employ casual workers were
henceforth to have licenses guar- Figure 10. Moger Avenue, Mt Kisco
anteeing that they would abide by
national and local laws. This had a
predictably chilling effect on employ-
ment, as employers feared the finan-
cial and legal implications of hiring
those they assumed were illegal
The second part of the village’s
plan to “protect” the Latinos was to
designate the back of a parking lot
next to the railway tracks away from
the center of the village as the only
place where workers could be picked
up for work. When put into law, this
plan temporarily improved the ap-
pearance of the village from the
point of view of locals; however, it
soon became apparent to the workers
that they were no longer visible to
employers. A week later nearly 200
day workers met with village officials
to express concern about the new
law. An ad hoc committee was
formed which included representa-
tives of the Center of Immigrant Figure 11. Hispanics on benches
Rights, the Westchester Hispanic
Coalition, and the Civil Liberties
Union. The committee met with
Mount Kisco officials to urge them to
change the law. Workers said that be-
cause of the licensing requirement,
employers feared an IRS sting. This
requirement and a heavy police pres-
ence in the parking lot to enforce the
new law kept employers away.
A village official told us, “We
don’t want residents of Mount Kisco

Duncan and Duncan 95

W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:47 PM Page 96

tors are required to pick them up

for work here on the outskirts of
the village.
During the 1990s, midnight
raids on overcrowded housing, charg-
ing tenants as well as landlords, was
yet another tactic used by the village
to make life in Mount Kisco difficult
or impossible for Latinos, while pro-
fessing to protect their interests.
Spreading fears of disease and urban
problems thought to be caused by
overcrowding, and curtailing any
possibility of building more multi-
family housing through zoning legis-
lation, all work to limit the numbers
of poor Latinos who can live in the
Again the Civil Liberties Union
filed a class action suit, this time
charging the village with selectively
enforcing the housing code. The vil-
lage settled this and another suit in-
Figure 12. Waiting for work volving the midnight raids out of
court at a cost of approximately
$900,000, a large bill for a small vil-
to be abused. That’s why we have end the village settled the suit out of lage. The village survey showed the
passed a no panhandling ordinance. court at great expense and rewrote non-Latino residents to be extremely
It is not safe for people to stand on the local law. The residents and mer- concerned about illegal apartments
the street asking for money or jobs.” chants still wanted the workers out of and dirt and decay in the neighbor-
It is disingenuous of this official to sight and the village next claimed to hoods. Along with loitering, the resi-
label this an anti-panhandling law, be worried about workers impeding dents speak of these in coded terms
as the Latinos are waiting for work traffic flow. as “quality of life issues.” However,
rather than begging. Such language At the forefront of the drive for the quality of life referred to is not
can best be interpreted as official cultural assimilation is the Neighbors the quality of life of Latino residents
spin intended to enforce a norm- Link, organized by the Presbyterian of overcrowded buildings. Rather, it
ative geography by delegitimizing the Church and the Westchester His- is the “white privilege” of the rest of
Latinos’ behavior in public spaces panic Coalition. A local minister the village residents to not want to
while professing to represent their argued that outdoor socializing is a see day laborers in the center of the
interests. principal problem: “Anglos don’t do village.
The Westchester Branch of the that, so we assume [Latinos are] up In another round of legal
American Civil Liberties Union filed to no good when they do.” In re- battles, the village has recently been
a class action suit against the Village sponse to pressures for an indoor charged with modifying the housing
of Mount Kisco. One of the issues in place for Latinos to socialize, a com- ordinance to exclude groups of
the suit was the right to free assembly munity center and hiring site was single men living together by impos-
being denied to Hispanics by village eventually opened in April 2001 in a ing a stricter definition of a family.
law. Some of Mount Kisco’s residents warehousing district on the outskirts Once again the village has had to set-
cannot understand why the courts of the village (Figure 14). The Center tle out of court. They have rewritten
and some newspaper reports paint provides coffee, donuts, some pre- the ordinance and contributed
Mount Kisco as racist. One wrote, arranged jobs, classes in English lan- $10,000 to the Westchester Hispanic
“I have to question why the town guage and American culture, voca- Organization for the social services it
of Mount Kisco is being unfairly de- tional skills, advice on citizenship, provides to Mount Kisco. Although
picted as a racist town and how the housing and health care, and space the past two mayors, one Democratic
rights of workers have anything to for socializing. The Center seems a and the other Republican, have lost
do with racism. It is unethical for success from the point of view of their jobs for what many residents see
employers to exploit the day workers most day laborers. It is certainly help- as failure to solve this so-called
and it is an issue that must be dealt ing to hide the Latinos, for contrac- “Latino problem,” opposition contin-
with.” It would appear that this ues to rally around the slogan “We
woman fails to recognize the village’s want our town back!”
unarticulated racist practices. In the In 1999 the owner of a Chinese

96 Landscape Journal
W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:47 PM Page 97

restaurant in the center of the village couldn’t make weekly phone calls
that began to serve Guatemalan food or buy cheap airline tickets home
and attract Latinos to eat and drink and stay all winter living well on
beer in the evenings was served an their 100 dollars a day they get
here in the summer.
eviction notice after the Mayor told
the owner of the building to “get rid The popular American assump-
of your problem tenant” (Gross tion that immigrants will slowly assim-
1999). The restauranteur filed a $1.5 ilate to American culture is increas-
million civil rights suit in Federal ingly thrown into doubt. Not only
Court against her landlord and the are there increasing transnational
Mayor. The Judge granted an injunc- movements of people and goods, but
tion against the eviction saying, “no Figure 13. Sign in Spanish
whereas previously economic success
one wanted to talk about race—but and social status depended exclu-
race was the issue at hand.” She con- sively on rapid acculturation, now for
cluded that they had showed hostility some it depends more on cultivating
towards those who were “culturally strong social networks across national
alien to suburban Americans.” The borders.
restauranteur’s attorney charged the A local Latino minister told us
village with “ongoing efforts to re- that the dislike of Latinos is a visual
move the visibility of Latinos from thing: “people don’t like the look of
the Mount Kisco area which is de- these poor people.” He says, “We
plorable and unconscionable.” The need to assimilate to prosper. In
Judge wrote, “The real problem in private we can have our own culture,
the eyes of all was not that Mrs. Stern but in public we must fit in.” We can
(the restauranteur) served too much see from his words that invisibility is Figure 14. Neighbor’s Link Center
alcohol but rather that it attracted considered necessary among some
Hispanics to the downtown area. Latinos who have adopted the domi-
Thus it appears that her lease was not nant culture’s view of themselves. being in a school full of kids who
renewed because of hostility to the The urge to teach a minority popula- don’t know English.
presence of day workers. The land- tion to conform to dominant ways
lord was basing his complaints on Compared to many Mount
and help them in an assimilation pro- Kisco residents, Bedford residents are
people who exhibit racial animus.” cess is an example of toleration in the
Again the population was outraged at more ambivalent about the Latinos
sense that the other is incorporated living in Mount Kisco. As Bedford
the charge of racism. Letters to the only on one’s own terms. As we have
editor argued that it was behavior, residents tend to use Mount Kisco for
seen, many of the village’s residents shopping and services, they too are
not race, that was objected to. feel surprised and hurt at the nega-
Confusion among non-Latinos concerned with its appearance. A
tive publicity they have received in long-time resident of Bedford de-
about the legal status of the immi- the press over the issue of racism.
grants produces a profound uneasi- scribed the difference between Bed-
There is also resentment to- ford and Mount Kisco as follows:
ness. Their diasporic identities, con- wards Bedford and other towns ex-
tinuing strong transnational familial “When you step across the border
pressed by many of Mount Kisco’s res- into Mount Kisco, it’s like a frontier,
ties, their remittances home, the con- idents, sometimes with overtones of
tinued use of their native language, like crossing into a different country.”
social class resentment. For example, One interviewee stated, “I don’t go to
and the “incompleteness” of their one man we spoke to said:
families (wives, children, parents Mount Kisco anymore because of all
often left behind), make it difficult We are portrayed in the press as the Guatemalans hanging around on
for other residents of Mount Kisco to the bad guys. Now that’s unfair. In the streets. It looks dangerous.” An-
imagine them ever becoming equal Bedford they aren’t called racist. other said, “It is horrific to walk into
They don’t have to be—they have a supermarket and no one speaks
and fully participating members of exported their problem to us.
the community. As one of our inter- English.” One interviewee spoke in
We’re the ones offering affordable strongly nativist terms of Mount
viewees said: housing and social services— Kisco as an extension of New York
they’re the ones with the big houses
I can’t imagine the Guatemalans City, which to him represents a
ever becoming volunteer fireman, and gardens that they don’t want to
take care of themselves so they get disfigured, racialized landscape of
for example. They seem inwardly civil strife and illegal aliens.
focused as a community, or maybe Jose and Pedro to do all the work.
I should say outwardly focused on Then they send their kids to private
school so they aren’t held back by Conclusion
Central America. Other immigrant
groups in the past couldn’t main- Our concern throughout the
tain the same links. They had to be- larger research project from which
come Americans to survive. They this paper is drawn is the active con-

Duncan and Duncan 97

W222LJ_ch2 12/18/03 1:47 PM Page 98

stitution of places through cultural pastoral Bedford. And, unfortu-

struggle (Duncan and Duncan nately, when one takes a sufficiently References
2004). It is about the relative success critical look at the social relations Berger, J. 1993. Bienvenidos a los suburbios:
of Bedford in keeping its social land- underlying many places such as Bed- Increasingly, New York’s outskirts take
scape unspoiled by the labor that ford and Mount Kisco, it becomes on a Latin accent. New York Times ( July
maintains its landscape aesthetic. It clear that there is often an equally Davis, M. 2000. Magical Urbanism: Latinos Rein-
is about the frustrated short-term unhappy history and continuing so- vent the U.S. City. New York: Verso.
failure of the non-Latino residents of cial injustice deeply structured into Duncan, J. S., and Duncan N. G. 2004. Land-
Mount Kisco to enforce their norma- the beauty of the landscape. scapes of Privilege: The Politics of the Aes-
thetic in an American Suburb. New York:
tive geography of “proper” behavior Routledge.
in public places. It is about how the Gross, J. 1999. In Westchester, trouble on the
beautiful gardens in Bedford are in- menu: as Hispanic clientele grows, a
ternally related to the poor living restaurant loses its lease. New York Times
conditions in Mount Kisco. As Don Editors’ Note (November 8).
Kristeva, J. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on
Mitchell (2000, 140) argues in an- An earlier version of this paper was presented Abjection. Translated by Leon Roudiez.
other context, “each sort of land- by Dr. James Duncan as a keynote address at New York: Columbia University Press.
Groundwork: the CELA 2002 annual meeting
scape depends on the other: Our hosted by SUNY College of Environmental Sci-
Lipsitz, G. 1995. The possessive investment in
ability to consume is predicated on whiteness: racialized social democracy
ence and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, 25–- and the ‘white’ problem in American
‘their’ low wages and the miserable 28 September, 2002. The paper has since been studies. American Quarterly 47: 369–387.
conditions that exist elsewhere.” edited for clarity and length appropriate to Mitchell, D. 1997. The annihilation of space by
Global political and economic struc- Landscape Journal. law: the roots and implications of anti-
All photographs by James and Nancy homelessness laws in the United States.
tures, as well as the structure of local Duncan.
zoning, supported by a socio-spatial Antipode 29: 303–335.
_______. 2000. Cultural Geography. Oxford:
ideology of local autonomy and Blackwell.
home rule lie beneath Bedford’s suc- Pile, S. 1994. Masculism, the use of epistem-
cessful exclusion of its laborers and ologies, and third spaces. Antipode 26:
Mount Kisco’s failure to keep out Notes 255–77.
Pulido, L. 2000. Rethinking environmental
what they see as Bedford’s and Latin 1. The material in this article is drawn from a racism: White privilege and urban
America’s “negative externalities.” long-term study of the politics of landscape development in Southern California.
Our main argument, however, is that taste in Bedford, New York (Duncan and Dun- Annals, Association of American Geogra-
aesthetic concerns dominate social can 2004). The data for this study were based phers 90: 12–40.
in part on three large surveys and 76 semi- Sayer, A. 2000. Critical and uncritical cultural
relations between Latino immigrants structured interviews with residents and public turns. Cultural Turns/Geographical
and the receiving community. Racism officials of both Mount Kisco and Bedford. Turns. I. Cook, D. Crouch, S. Naylor,
in the form of feelings of aversion The Mount Kisco village-wide survey of was and J. Ryans (eds.). Harlowe: Prentice
and abjection, nervousness and dis- conducted by the village government in 1999 Hall, pp. 166–81.
to help in the preparation of a new master Sibley, D. 1995. Geographies of Exclusion: Society
gust, and anxieties over maintaining plan. The survey (Frederick Clark Associates) and Difference in the West. London: Rout-
social distance and containing pollu- was sent to 5,500 residents and returned by 710 ledge.
tion appear most clearly in the closer or 13%. In addition some of the material came Young, I. M. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Dif-
confines and integrated spaces of from newspapers and government publica- ference. Princeton: Princeton University.
Mount Kisco and less obviously in the tions.
2. Many such remarks were written by resi-
exclusivist residential spaces of Bed- dents and merchants in the Mount Kisco sur-
ford where laborers are seen prima- vey on problems facing Mount Kisco.
rily in clearly marked service roles. 3. The terms “race,” “racist,” and “racialized”
While residents of Bedford react to are appropriate because non-Latinos see the
Latino population in Mount Kisco in racialized
poor Latinos on the streets of Mount terms. Latinos are in fact a heterogeneous
Kisco with aversion, their presence as group ethnically, nationally and racially.
servants in Bedford is naturalized as
white privilege. One could even go so
far as to say that the Latino day labor-
ers, through their labor in the land-
scape, form a constitutive part of the
status claims and, by extension, the
identity of Bedford’s residents. It is
Latino labor that reproduces Anglo-

98 Landscape Journal