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ACTION ALERT: Please forward Aldo Lauria Santiago’s email that he recently sent to the Latino Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) far and wide. Without consulting the section’s leadership or membership, LASA has eliminated our section.
It is profoundly disappointing that the section leadership was not consulted. As Aldo notes below, to collapse “Latinos” under the rubric of “migrations” and/or “diasporas” evacuates the very history that Latino studies in the U.S has so struggled to instantiate as a field and as a practice of democratic enfranchisement.
Please contact LASA and let them know how you feel about their regrettable decision (emails will have the most immediate impact):
Latin American Studies Association
416 Bellefield Hall
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
FROM ALDO LAURIA SANTIAGO:
I’m writing from Rio. Yesterday the new Call for Papers for LASA 2011 was distributed and it excludes the Latino Studies track. We have learned that it was a decision made by the new incoming Program Chair as part of some process of revision and consolidation of tracks. We have since discussed the issue with incoming Executive Director Milagros Pereyra who explained the origin of the decision and suggested we work within the new track designations (Transnationalism & Globalization; Migration and Latin American Diasporas; Migration and Borders). We also talked with LASA president John Coatsworth who promised to look into the question. We are looking to have a meeting with the new program chair and other LASA officers while still here to express our strong disagreement with the elimination of the track that is so closely linked to our section’s work and that we believe has a significant coherence and justification (fought over in the past in order to get into LASA) and that resembles the sort of intellectual dismissal that so often recurs within the US academy with Latino Studies content, program and departments. The current and past co-chairs of the section and others who signed on at last night’s reception are sending a formal note to LASA administrators requesting the re-inclusion of the track. We will post the note to this list as soon as it is completed.
Whatever the origin of the decision, we consider it a highly troubling step, especially considering the lack of consultation with members and Section leaders.
This is not the first time this question is posed by LASA leaders. Last year I was contacted by Evelyne Huber, Program Chair for LASA 2009, about reorganizing the track into “Latin American Diasporas or Migration.” I successfully convinced her that it was not appropriate to collapse the study of Latinos in the US into this sort of supposedly encompassing umbrella. As a result, this year we had a Latinos in North America designation and a Latin American Diasporas theme. I’ll post the memo I wrote to her later.
In the meantime you might want to write to the LASA leadership questioning this decision, although I suspect the matter will require a more concerted effort on behalf and with the participation of you, the nearly 300 members of this Section.
Aldo Lauria Santiago
Writing in the New York Times Frank Rich observed not too long that “Gay people… aren’t the surefire scapegoats they once were. Hence the rise of a jucier target: Hispanics. They are the new gays, the foremost political piñata.” Rich’s observation took on literalist meaning this week when Creators Syndicate’s Chip Bok depicted Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor hanging from a rope and strung up like a piñata along with a Mariachi sombrero-wearing President Obama handing out bats to Republican Congressmen.
Recall, for example, how the “lynching” that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said he indignantly “suffered” when Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings years ago drew ire for obvious though ironic reasons. After all, the conservative Thomas, who wouldn’t have been able to marry his Anglo American wife in the state of Virginia, where he lived, until Loving vs. Virginia (1968) made it legal for Blacks to marry whites, used the proverbial race card when all through his career he had eschewed the “racisim” inherent to affirmative action policies that, for him, discriminated against whites. So suddenly, from his race-free worldview, he was being lynched by, not inconsequentially, a black woman.
Fast-forward to our present and now Sotomayor, of Puerto Rican descent, and hanging, ahem, presumably from a tree, is a stand-in for all Latinos in the U.S. as the upcoming cover of Time Magazine suggests. Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens by birth, are somehow like Mariachi sombrero-wearing and presumably piñata loving Mexicans in the public imagination though the they are routinely discriminated against with a fervor and hate that makes politicians spend billions on paper-walls to keep “them” out though they’ve been “in” the U.S. for longer than current political and historical memory can account for. Political piñatas indeed. And thus the problem with representative personhood for “Latinos” as it is understood in the public imagination.
Political enfranchisement through appeals to pan-Latinidad leaves an empty space where our old political selves use to be. And, what’s more, it leaves too many Latino stripes missing in action. Central Americans, Brazilians, all sorts of homies form the Global South in the U.S. run the risk of being read the same way in the public sphere; not to mention the history that is evacuated every time “Latinos” are seen merely as a recent intrusion onto the national fold, or presumed have the same educational opportunities the nominee herself had. “See,” the media implores, “if she can do it, so can you.” A reverse salvo of the “¡Sí se puede!” that so many of us have been fighting for so long runs the risk of leaving us unable to make clear why an appeal for political enfranchisement under the rubric of a collective identity (“Latinos” writ large) binds us to a history of representative personhood incapable of addressing how our differences, and contributions, need to be made intelligible in the public sphere. The prospect of having to do so on the horizon might require our losing Sonia Sotomayor. Not the person, of course, or the judiciary record she brings that must be as scrutinized as that of any other nominee (especially as it relates to abortion freedoms for all women), but the belief in the benevolence of the state to embrace us as the “Latinos” the state thinks we are.
Refusing such a gesture, the belief that we’re in an inclusive U.S., on a level playing field and alike in some fundamental way—like the belief in benevolence of the state—allows us to awaken from the elusive embrace of a national fantasy incapable of reciprocating our possibilities for self-making and the deep historical accounting required in order to make it so. Such are the limits and responsibilities of becoming political subjects, forsaking representative personhood, in order to awaken from the elusive, albeit seductive, dream of inclusion.
Sleep Dealer is set on the U.S.-Mexico border where high-tech factories allow the protagonist, Memo, and other migrant workers, to plug their bodies into a network to provide virtual labor for the North. Sleep Dealer constitutes one of the first instances of “Latino Sci-Fi” film and genre making and this is significant. Why? Because there is no tradition of science fiction writing to speak of in Latino literary and cultural studies. There are no Octavia Butlers or Samuel Delanys, as in the African American tradition, no Laurence Yeps or S. P. Somtows, as in the Asian American tradition, to engage in a sustained critique of the ideology of genre as it pertains to a future subject position yet to be imagined; an ideation of Latino futurity that has not yet achieved an ideology of form in the present. What are we to discern from the absence of science fiction writing in Latino literary and cultural studies? What are we to make of this and how should we read this absence?
As I’ve noted in The Latino Body and elsewhere, from “the American 1848” to the present, Latino literary and cultural interventions have been surprisingly consistent in making their relationship to the state historical. From one the earliest “Mexican American” novelist like Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton writing in the XIX century to the extreme contemporary of Latino memoir, literary production has sought to create a logic of presence in the past, anticipating one of the fundamental conundrums raised by Fred Jameson’s recent work; namely, how to own the “inevitable failures” of the past without making defeatism the foregone conclusion of their inheritance. Understood from the confines of a “Latinocentric” perspective, Jameson’s observation might be rendered in the form of a question: By haunting the cultural sphere of the past, do we depoliticize the possibility for a viable Latino future? Or, even better, Why have we allowed the very futures of Latinidad to be colonized through an insistence on the narrative renderings of our stories, our lives, our Latinidades, in the preterite and imperfect tense of the historical imagination? Exile, diaspora, loss, memory, trauma, history, U.S. military campaigns in our countries, language barriers and borders, all emblematic of the Latino experience in the U.S. and carved into niche marketing strategies for publishers, only tell, retell, and package part of historical desire. What those stories can’t imagine is the possibility of making our relationship to the state anything other than historical. In the process, I believe we run the risk as cultural agents in the academy of allowing majortitarian political actors to colonize the very futures of Latinidad.
One of the fundamental questions of Latino studies, then, should be: How do we decolonize the future? If following Jameson, “History is what hurts,” then how might, say, Latinos in space redress that hurt by imbricating our “ethno-racial” particularisms in a future imagined from our present as owners of that future before it is wrested from us like our seemingly unwritten past? I believe that such a decolonizing move, both in the theoretical gesture of investigating why this is so as well as the creation of futurity projects, might have us instantiate the emancipatory potential of a Latino studies project for our moment. A paradigm shift within our inherited race and ethnic studies models would require a recognition that what is at stake is not the location of the known but, rather, how the location of the knower dictates what counts as a legitimate object of study. Ethnic studies, after all, exists because other disciplinary formations aren’t doing their job. Yet the move requires that our students learn to ask more than how they can identify as social and political beings in a racist culture, but how the unequal distribution of social and material resources is in part managed through understanding the ethnic subject as a fractured subject who must answer the inevitable “Who am I?” before being allowed — if at all — to state the declarative “I will be.” And we, all of us in the academy, are imbricated in this impasse. Being able to move away from just such navel gazing makes it more difficult to substitute culture for the state, thereby preventing us from confusing culture with the politics of the state. As when Memo’s father in the movie asks, “Is our future a thing of the past?,” Sleep Dealer, along with the histories it haunts, admonishes us not to sleepwalk through history lest we be tempted to dream somebody else’s dream.