In this Sawyer Seminar, we are most interested in engaging questions of Latinidad in the United States. This exploration will be shaped by the interdisciplinary formations offered by Latina/o Studies. These diverse perspectives implore us to ask politically and culturally engaged questions about the world and to challenge what Chela Sandoval (2000) calls the “apartheid of theoretical domains.” This body of work offers a host of intellectual and material resources to map the patterns of meaning-making, resistance, and consolidations of power that shape this intimate relationship between the (United States of) America and the Latina/o/x peoples who will soon become a plurality of its inhabitants. Our proposal is driven by what we see as one of the greatest challenges to the future of Latina/o Studies—the ways majority culture imagines Latinas/os and the ways these communities, both in response and in resistance, try to imagine themselves. We need the meaning-making, interpretive theories and methods of the humanities to find the intersections of data, laws, fears, fantasies, stories, and lived experience of U.S. Latina/o/x and to map future directions for Latina/o Studies.
Thematic Thread 1:
Through models like cultural syncretism, pastiche, and political organizing, we will examine internal and external forces that shape the Latinidad imaginary. Those external forces include political parties, so-called “culture warriors” defending whiteness, and legal professionals who articulate a Latina/o/x threat through tropes of criminality and other “killing abstractions” rooted in racism. We also see the need for intersectional exploration, for example, of the ways other minoritized communities are enlisted into the rhetorical struggle of what Cacho (2012) calls “differential devaluation,” where “human value is made legible in relation to the deviant, the non-American, the nonnormative, the pathologized, and the recalcitrant.” Coming from communication studies and rhetoric, political science, literary studies, and cultural studies, the co-directors are deeply committed to bringing as many disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and anti-disciplinary voices as possible together to interrogate the contemporary problematics of imagining Latinidades.
At its most basic level, Stuart Hall (1986) describes articulation as “the form of the connection that can make a unity of two different elements, under certain conditions. It is a linkage which is not necessary, determined, absolute and essential for all time. You have to ask, under what circumstances can a connection be forged or made? So the so-called ‘unity’ of a discourse is really the articulation of different, distinct elements which can be re-articulated in different ways because they have no necessary ‘belongingness.’” The work of Hall and others who have elaborated articulation within cultural studies and beyond helps explain the myriad ways Latina/o/x are constituted as political subjects and the ways “Latinidad” is linked to other cultural elements to form the appearance of “unity.” We echo Hall in asking “under what circumstances can a connection be forged or made?” and what are the limits of this cohesion? How does the “locus of enunciation” (Mignolo 1993) affect the articulations of Latinidad emanating from Latina/o/x people in contrast to those directed to them?
The theme of articulation, then, raises several sets of interrelated questions that will be addressed across Seminar sessions. First are questions about competing articulations of political and cultural subjectivity emanating from Latina/o/x peoples. Latinidad is a complicated construct. The interpretive tools of humanities scholars and the data-driven questions of social scientists will help us to dismantle any homogenization and the flattening of ethnic and racial difference. Exploring the stories that different groups tell—for example, migration tales from people of Mexican origin and Puerto Rican origin—create opportunities for comparative and relational analysis that raise deeper questions about the nature and power dynamics of terms like “migration” and “citizenship.” Second are questions about how Latina/o/x people are implicated in articulations generated from the outside and imposed upon them. How do Latina/o/x people articulate relationships to other Latina/o/x groups? How do other minoritized groups (Asian Americans, African Americans, etc.) generate linkages to Latina/o/x communities and craft themselves in relation to Latina/o/x peoples? How do white Americans implicate (or eradicate) Latina/o/x people in their various articulations of community, culture, politics, economics, and more? Third are questions about the technologies of articulation. What are the affordances and constraints of speech? Print? Images? Film and Video? The Internet? And how do those different mediations change what articulations can be made and how they can be remade? Finally, we have questions about how scholars marshal evidence regarding articulations in the context of imagining Latinidades. What methods work? How do comparative, relational, and conjunctural approaches affect how we can engage questions of Latina/o/x articulation?
Thematic Thread 2:
Imaginaries, in the way we approach them, offer a conceptual link between processes of human understanding and particular social practices. According to Taylor (2002), imaginaries addresses “the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings” and are “carried in images, stories, and legends.” Social imaginaries are dispersed through and “shared by large groups of people.” They are a kind of alleged common sense, a “common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy.” Imaginaries invoke a host of related concepts that help to generate linkages between our thematic threads. Imaginaries are constituted through stories and carried through different technological practices. They create social bonds and mark out who can belong (or not) to a given body politic. Imaginaries call us to be attentive to questions of knowledge and knowability. Although scholars like Taylor and Gaonkar link imaginaries to a particularly modern political and epistemic project, scholars like Wanzer-Serrano point to the ways in which imaginaries break down colonial histories and refuse what Mignolo (2011) calls “zero point epistemologies.” Flores (2000) even goes so far as to posit a “Latino imaginary.”
Framing the project as “Imagining” Latinidades, then, points to two senses of the term. On the one hand, the Seminar explores the activity of imagination vis-a-vis Latinidades. We want to investigate the ways, through narratives and other technologies of mediation, Latinidades are crafted from within Latina/o/x communities and from the outside to frame Latina/o/x as part of or apart from the nation. How are Latina/o/x peoples imagined? What specific practices of imagination—through literature, music, dance, visual arts, film, testimonio, and more—define Latina/o/x experience and tensions with the nation, and how? How can we push something like Flores’s “Latino imaginary” further, given technological and political changes in the last two decades? On the other hand, the Seminar explores the ways Latina/o/x people are imagined into their social surroundings. What are the various and differential ways in which Latinidad is generated in concert with and in tension to different modes of modern social imaginaries? How are Latina/o/x people linked to civil society and how is civil society bordered in ways that preclude such linkages? How are Latinidades made knowable and unknowable through the practices and technologies of (human) sociality?
Thematic Thread 3:
Citizenship and Belonging
Who is part of our nation? Who belongs to our polity? Is everyone living on American soil entitled to the inalienable rights articulated by the founders? Reading from his dissent in Jennings vs. Rodriguez on February 27, 2018, Justice Breyer noted with alarm the erosion of immigrants’ rights. The case signaled the Supreme Court’s willingness to allow the indefinite detention of all immigrants, authorized or unauthorized, without a bond hearing. Justice Breyer asserted that “no one can claim, nor since the time of slavery has anyone to my knowledge successfully claimed, that persons held within the United States are totally without constitutional protection.” But his opinion was a minority one. And so determining who is and who is not entitled to protections and rights is a critical intellectual battleground for the foreseeable future. Our Seminar therefore engages the topic directly. The injury incurred by depriving rights is felt broadly. Latina/o/x citizens feel it because they live in mixed-status households, or because valued members of their social networks lack the rights afforded by citizenship. They feel it because their own rights are challenged by those who believe that they were attained illegitimately.
The theme of citizenship and belonging brings together each of the other threads we have identified. The points above show how articulation and imaginaries affect both the meaning of citizenship and whether Latina/o/x peoples feel a sense of equality in our polity. New articulations of belonging are facilitated by technologies, which can help Latina/o/x communities connect, but can also allow the dissemination of anti-immigrant and anti-Latina/o/x messages, and allow for the more efficient enforcement of immigrant law. The highly publicized forced removal of Iowa City pastor Max Villatoro is but one example of this process. It shows how the most sympathetic of stories—that of a pastor, father, and long-settled member of the community—can still be understood through the lens of criminality. Villatoro’s story also highlights how the power of the state increasingly reinforces this contestation. Given that President Trump, with both his words and policy directives, has eroded the distinction between immigrants who belong and immigrants who do not, this topic has become one of the most pressing issues of our time.
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