Beyond Norma Rae: How Puerto Rican and Southern White Women Fought for a Place in the American Working Class

Univ. of North Carolina. (Gender and American Culture). Nov. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781469676135. pap. $29.95. HIST
Loiselle (history, Central Connecticut State Univ.) explores the lives of two textile workers and labor activists: Gloria Maldonado, a Puerto Rican woman in New York City, and Crystal Lee Sutton, a white woman in North Carolina. Only Sutton’s story spawned a book—Henry P. Leifermann’s Crystal Lee: A Woman of Inheritance—and the movie Norma Rae, whereas Maldonado’s exists as a niche public history project. Loiselle starts by contextualizing the policies of the United States and their effects on Puerto Rico and on the manufacturing industry in the Jim Crow South. She also looks at the development of Norma Rae to show how Sutton’s story was acquired and altered to be more acceptable to Hollywood, maximize profits, and promote a specific legacy in popular culture. She notes that the movie emphasizes individual actions and downplays the roles of people of color, even though Sutton herself emphasized collective action and the contributions of workers of color. Loiselle’s book provides pointed insight on why Maldonado’s story did not circulate more widely.
VERDICT A deft analysis of the ways in which race, gender, and immigration status determine how media has portrayed the labor movement. Recommended for readers interested in labor history and popular media.
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