Chicana/o Gothic – HASTAC 2016 – Researching with Students

(These notes form the rough basis for a panel talk with Anne Cong-Huyen and Anne Choi at HASTAC 2016.)

The idea that became a class that became a research project

The process began in fall 2011 when I began discussing on my personal blog and on Twitter whether or not “the gothic” would be a fruitful lens for examining Chicana/o literature, especially in the reading of classic works like Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima and lesser known ones such as Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s Calligraphy of the Witch. In building the idea of the course and imagining its syllabus, I received input from Chicana scholars and writers both online and in person. Loyola Marymount University’s department of Chicana/o Studies gave me the opportunity to teach this course in Spring 2014 as a Chicana/o literature course, cross listed with the English department. The class was made up of 32 students, mostly seniors, with a number of Chicana/o studies majors and minors as well as a significant number of English majors.

Idea – wondering about the existence of a Chicanx gothic as a way to read / understand Chicanx literature.
Class – defining and exploration of the Chicanx gothic
Archive – create a site where students could create and link to digital object / writings exploring an aspect of the Chicana/o gothic

Site: (used WordPress, Weaver theme, on personal domain)

As of Spring 2014, when this course was offered, while there was sizable exploration of the American gothic, even and including in connection with African American literature, there was only a single article and dissertation on the subject, both by Tanya Gonzalez.

Even now, when one Google’s Chicano Gothic (in various variations), my students’ work for the class forms the bulk of the first page results.

Offering this class and having us create an archive site is in keeping with both Chicana/o studies pedagogy, one which fosters student contributions to research, and helps counter the lack of significant Chicana/o studies content on the Internet. Students engaged in public research and writing, with our discussion our reading and research among ourselves in the classroom, on Twitter and through posts and comments on the class site.

Why is this important? It’s important for several reasons, on several levels. U.S. literary critic Leslie Fiedler wrote of American gothic literature that “it is the gothic form that has been most fruitful in the hands of our best writers,” yet since little has been written about Chicana/o literature as gothic, Chicana/o literature is not part of this discourse.

The Case for Reparations in Digital Spaces

These are my remarks as part of the MLA 16 roundtable: Repair and Reparations in Digital Public Spaces.

As I begin to pull together my thoughts on the subject of repair and reparations, I find the ideas I had in January 2015 when Adeline and I, over plates of Korean fried chicken first began discussing the subject of reparations in digital spaces are not the same as they are today in January 2016.

Originally, and in keeping with our Texas location, I was most concerned with issues of how digital tools, themselves at best neutral, are used and abused to re-enforce and expand the hegemonic imperial nation state, to militarize and police the US Mexican border against and at the expense of economically and politically colonized bodies.

I’m still concerned with this, but I want to focus my remarks this afternoon on issues of repair versus reparation. Much has been discussed recently on care and repair practices. So why then use the term “reparation”? Repair can be a positive thing. The term denotes fixing, making something that doesn’t work or properly function or function better. But repair is also utilitarian and philosophically neutral. Repair is not revolutionary. Physical repairs, as Gloria Anzaldúa discusses in Borderlands, are forever being made to the border wall, the 1,950 mile open wound, where the ocean meets the shore, where Tijuana touches San Diego. This decade has seen much fence and wall building and repair. Yet no one, I believe, would call these repairs “reparations.”

“Reparation” is not neutral term. It has revolutionary resonances. Reparations speak not simply to fixing something that’s broken, but of making something or someone who was harmed whole. Reparations demand acknowledging responsibility for past injustices and active resistance to their replication. Reparations are not simply repairs but compensation. Reparation judges. It is repeatedly returned to in critical race theory, post-colonial and ethnic studies. To deny reparation is to ignore that theory, history and philosophy. Reparations, the current and past border situation would suggest acknowledging and teaching the history of Operation Wetback, of the braceros. Of resisting the militarized wall. Of, as Homi Bhaba wrote and as my fellow panelist Linda Garcia Merchant does in her work, haunting the unwritten history.

As was learned through the cynical use of deconstruction of video in the Rodney King beating case, when police defense lawyers used a deconstructed reading to see resistance and danger in King’s beaten body, neutral tools may not remain neutral. It is the nature of hegemony that a neutral tool will tend to work to repair and reinforce white, neoliberal capitalism. It is therefore important not only to repair and care for our digital spaces, but to construct and reconstruct them as spaces where reparations are made.

 

Disrupting DH: Lowriding Through the Digital Humanities

This was written as a position paper for MLA16’s roundtable Disrupting DH.

Note: The title of this piece is shamelessly borrowed from Barbara Noda’s “Lowriding Through the Women’s Movement,” a piece which creatively addresses the power a group made up of women of color could have on individuals during the women’s movement. It was published in the classic, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

There has been wonderful work recently on #TransformDH by the TransformDH collective discussing how racial / gender / sexual / disabled bodies in the academy are and always have been doing digital humanities work. Nevertheless, because hegemony constantly replicates the dominant discourse, there needs to be a consistent and constant engagement with issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and able-bodiedness as its counter. To discuss this hegemony, I’m going to fall back on Chicana feminist praxis, which means locating myself and speaking from that position, with the hope that from that self-situated ethnography some insight into my concerns may come. This piece uses autoethnography to specifically discuss issues and effects of racial absence in the digital humanities community and what the costs of that may be. It begins to discuss how the discourse surrounding racial bodies and there absence in DH spaces replicates the discourse surrounding the invisibility / absence of women of color from second wave feminism.

Those who think Twitter is a waste of time, as opposed to it being a time-waster, are failing to see its potential. Or maybe they’re not following the right people. Twitter is the main way I keep up on what’s going on in two areas: digital humanities and ethnic studies, especially Chicana/o and Latina/o studies. My point of entry into both of these online communities is through Twitter, though in the case of ethnic studies, it also reflects my disciplinary background and my areas of research. Both Twitter streams are very active, some days more than others, but even so, more than I can read most days. Both use hashtags to discuss important issues, though Chicana/o studies somewhat less often than DH.

In 2011, as I struggled with the final revisions of my dissertation between adjuncting gigs, feeling the absence of intellectual community, I found academic Twitter. Although I had been active in online communities going back to Usenet alt.* groups in the mid-late 1990, except for a little work on a department lists erve, my online communities never intersected with my academic ones. Questions of why should probably be reserved for the digital equivalent of psychoanalysis (would that be blogging?).  By the end 2011 however, I’d been online as a Chicana doctoral student / recent Ph.D. for more than a year. I had engaged with an online community of Chicanos, of other academics, of Doctor Who fans (communities that frequently overlapped). And I’d participated in having a hashtag (#AztlanReads — a response to the general lack of knowledge about Chicana/o authors and books) become a small but vocal movement as a website and then an anthology. Being part of this made me imagine how the fields of digital humanities and digital pedagogy was intersecting with Chicana/o studies specifically and ethnic studies / critical race theory more generally.

Because of this experience engaging with and in technology with my digital community, I attended the 2012 MLA convention in Seattle with plans of branching out from attending mainly Chicana/o panels and into this DH community I’d grown to (virtually) know through social media. I’m taking a long time telling this. It is because the memory is painful. The panels and workshops I attended were a shock. Not only because the work was so exciting, especially, for me, the pedagogy, the mapping and time lining and other amazing projects. But because even at MLA, even at a literature conference, I had never experienced a stronger sense of being racially / ethnically other. The rooms, crowded to bursting were visibly, notably white spaces. This was a bit jarring, but what was even more so was that no one was taking about this. No one was asking where the brown people were. The absence of racialized bodies was un-noted.

The degree to which I was unnerved is hard to overstate. On the one hand, here were all these wonderful ideas, ways of thinking about literature and community and its intersection — merger even– with the digital that I had never considered. On the other there was a seemingly lack of awareness of the hegemonic replication of whiteness. I left with nothing to say, something that’s unusual as I’m generally a loud mouthed sort of woman. Yet I was unnerved and had felt a fear of participating. Most people, understand that it’s hard being the only woman in a room of 50 to 100 men. For people of color most of us know, it’s just as hard to be the lonely only. That’s how I felt. Alone and painfully self-conscious. When I’m one of the onlys, however kind and welcoming the environment, I experience stress. There’s a fear of asking questions lest I be seen as speaking for my race / culture and somehow reinforcing biases. I left those DH sessions with the thought of attending the Chicana/o Latina/o / Asian American / African American literature sessions.

On the way, I went and found coffee, sat in the hotel lobby and tried to sort out my thoughts and emotions.  On a personal level the moment was hard. After enduring the alienating damage of being one of a very few graduate students of color in my Ph.D. program, I had been enfolded, and to an extent, healed by MALCS, a Chicana / Latina community of scholars and community activists. Did I want to leap back into the world of unthinking micro and macro racial aggressions? As a scholar of color, there are few things as rare and wonderful as getting to be in a room with a multitude of scholars of color. For me, there’s a feeling of intellectual safety, of being able to take risks without risking being found intellectually naive, or worse still, reflecting badly on all Chicana/os. I feel I can be wrong, that we can build theoretical castles in the air, find their flaws, send them crashing down.

Alexis Lothian, someone I knew from graduate school, came into view and kindly came over. I poured out what I had seen and felt at my somewhat limited exposure to the digital humanities at MLA. She affirmed what I’d seen and felt and we began discussing issues of racial, gender and sexuality hegemony within the DH community. It seems this feeling was something of the zeitgeist of the moment and soon tweets began to appear with the #TransformDH hashtag.

There was and continues to be pushback, a sense that DH is welcoming to all and has no need to transform itself or to be transformed. In the four years since the Seattle MLA, I have witnessed the hostility and impatience that seems to greet discussions of how DH could / should imbue itself with critical race theory and feminist praxis. Enumerating DH projects by or about communities of color or women seems to substitute for engaging with the white male hegemony being reproduced from our academic institutions into DH structures and communities, for me, reproducing the experience of women of color with second wave feminism. Yet at the same time, the potential for change, the excitement for the field continues. If DH can learn from cultural studies and feminism to recognize and unsettle its privilege, to demand diversity of itself and its communities, that would go a long way in bridging these discourses. It means not waiting for scholars of color to find DH and ask us about it, but going to them, understanding and listening to their theories and practices and discussing with them how the digital works in connection with the work they’re already doing. We need to understand what it costs for a scholar of color to admit to not knowing or “getting” something and don’t take it lightly. Meanwhile, I know I speak English only. My code is as stumbling and ungraceful as my Spanish. I feel like Cherrie Moraga, trying to find a way to be a bridge and not being adequate to the task.


 

MALCS Institute Paper: The Case of the Second Chicana

This paper was written for and given at the 2011 MALCS Summer Institute held last weekend at Cal State LA. It was wonderful and energizing conference. I’m including some of the slides as images — we’ll see how that goes.

In the introduction to her anthology, Chicana Feminist Thought, Chicana sociologist Alma Garcia gives her criteria for the selection of writings:

the substance of a document;
the historical importance of a particular document; and
the historical importance of a particular writer.

I would further argue that writings coming from the underground presses and newspapers of political and cultural resistance movements — like the Chicano and feminist movements — can be said to gain intellectual capital by both the frequency of their publication (and re-publication) and the extent of their distribution.



On those terms Enriqueta Vásquez’s variously titled article can be counted as one of the most influential essays of the Chicano movement. Certainly it qualifies as one of the most widely read and republished Chicana-authored pieces, crossing and criss-crossing Chicano and feminist boundaries, including its publications in Sisterhood is Powerful and Liberation Now!.



On my first readings of Robin Morgan’s anthology I assumed that the single Chicana author included in Sisterhood Is Powerful was Enriqueta Vasquez. I believed that Vasquez’s piece stood alone in representing Chicana feminists, as if saying that Vasquez was the solitary Chicana feminist not only in the text, but perhaps also in the larger feminist community. Its inclusion in Sisterhood Is Powerful does not stand on its own, however, but the five-page article is powerfully mediated by Elizabeth Sutherland in a three-page introduction explaining the article’s context. An identical version of “The Mexican American Woman,” complete with the same introduction by Sutherland, appeared in the 1971 anthology Liberation Now! under the title “Colonized Women: The Chicana.” However, in the case of the version in Liberation Now! the article is indexed as being by Sutherland, with the Vasquez article appearing as though within it.

The inclusion of Sutherland’s introduction is significant and striking. Among the anthology’s sixty-nine articles, only the contribution by Vasquez merits an introduction by another author. The structure of the introduction is itself interesting. Elizabeth Sutherland, in the tradition of the slave narrative, appears to function as an Anglo authenticating feminist voice. As such, she seems to vouch for Vasquez’s inclusion in the text as a feminist, as if otherwise there would be some doubt about the article — or even about Vasquez herself belonging in this community of sisterhood. Sutherland explicitly calls on the — presumably white — readers to “listen for her [Vasquez’s] own voice, not merely for echoes of their own.” The assumption, based solely on her name and the fact that Sutherland does not identify herself as ‘of-color’ — that Sutherland herself is white is one that should be examined, but is one that readers (myself included) would be likely to make.

However, a careful reading of the contributors list at the anthology’s end gives more information, (re)naming and identifying the author as “Elizabeth Sutherland (Martínez),” giving a clue she may not be as Anglo as her name would make her seem, though again it would take both careful reading and some insider knowledge or research to decipher the clues. The (Martínez) addition is not included in either the table of contents or the article text. It can only be read by going to the “Contributors” biography section at the end of the anthology. There she is further identified as the editor of the New Mexican based Chicano movement newspaper El Grito Del Norte. Further research into El Grito — reveals that Sutherland to be the second Chicana contributor to Sisterhood Is Powerful, Elizabeth (Betita) Martínez. Martínez was the founding editor of El Grito where Vasquez wrote regular columns and where the article was originally published. The name “Elizabeth Sutherland” is Martínez’s Anglo pseudonym, one that, by 1969, she had employed for several years.




Betita Martinez - Photo by Margaret Randall

Sutherland’s curious mediation, and the editor’s feeling that the introduction should be — or needed to be — included would be interesting in its own right. However, it is all the more so when one realizes that “Elizabeth Sutherland” is not in fact an Anglo feminist, but Vasquez’s Chicana editor writing under her Anglo-assumed name. Read with this knowledge, Martínez becomes the second Chicana contributor to the anthology; one with an extensive publication history, both before and subsequent to this contribution, and one arguably far better known (to the east coast Left community) than Vasquez would have been.

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NACCS Presentation: “for those who dream of roses / swallow thorns”: Aztlán as Cosmopolitical Space

[This is the exact text of my talk. You can download a pdf version of all the slides: NACCS though I haven’t been able to reach Maria Teresa Fernandez to get her permission to repost them to the internet. She did give me permission to use them in my research when I spoke to her at USC in 2010.  If anyone has a current email address for her, please send it to me at annemarie (dot) perez (at) me (dot) com ]


“for those who dream of roses / swallow thorns”: Aztlán as Cosmopolitical Space

I’ve included in this talk a photographs by Mexican artist Maria Teresa Fernandez.  She’s documented the building of the Wall between the US and Mexico and the increasing militarization of the border.  These first images are about the demise of Friendship Park, the point where the US and Mexico meet the Pacific ocean.  Here’s the park as it was, a space for meeting friends and family on the other side.

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Here it is as the barricade was erected in 2009, creating a yards wide distance between US residents and the border fence, dividing people.

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New rules are in place forbidding contact that was, until recently, relatively casual and free.

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Modern usage of the term Aztlán dates from the 1960s-1970s civil rights movements. . The poet Alturista gave Aztlán’s mythology in his poem introducing the journal Aztlan Continue reading