I’m writing this as I sit next to my mom. She’s dying — no more treatment for her cancer is possible. All I can do is sit with her, sometimes help her drink something or take pain medication. It’s hard to even imagine my family’s world without her in it. It’s hard even now to accept that she can’t be my first phone call anymore, that she can’t talk on the phone to my sister who is unable to be here because of COVID. As recently as May 2019 when I fell in my university’s parking lot, my mom’s number was the one I called first for help finding a dentist who could see me right away. Of course she knew one. All my life, in every crisis, she has helped me find solutions, been embarrassingly proud of my smallest successes, and made light of even the worst of my failures, always taking it as given that I’d start over and try again. So much of what I know I know because of her. So much of who I am is because of her.
I’ve thought a lot over the past week. I had to have emergency abdominal surgery last week and was in the hospital alone for four days. I used the time to reflect on my job, my family, and my friends. One of the wonderful things about the way Chicana feminist scholarship has worked for me is that the scholars I work with are among my closest friends. They’re the ride and die kind who I trust completely. I start with this because the YouTube video above is a link to the DH2020 panel #whereislatinxDH is a panel made up of those sort of trusted friends — we all know each other and look forward to each chance to meet. The panel is ultimately us talking about our work and having a conversation about where we see LatinxDH in the larger digital humanities community. I am so pleased and honored to have gotten to take part.
I know it’s almost an hour-and-half long, but it’s completely worth watching, I promise. In case you want to skip around, here’s the structure:
- Start -6:20 – I make some opening remarks about the panel topic and reflect a little on LatinxDH and post-colonialism.
- 6:30-17:05 – Video on “Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project” presented by Gabriela Baeza Ventura and Carolina Villarroel, both from the University of Houston.
- 17:11-24:48 Video on “Chicana Por Mi Raza” presented by Maria Cotera (University of Texas) and Marco Seiferle-Valencia (University of Idaho).
- 25:24-28:40 – “Chicana Diasporic” presented by Linda Garcia Merchant (University of Houston).
- 28:58-35:21 -“Rhizomes of Mexican American Art: Decolonizing Libraries, Archives, and Museums” presented by Karen Mary Davalos (University of Minnesota)
- 36:00-1:20:14 – Discussion of the following questions. I’m not timestamping each one because each of these questions gets answered at different points by different scholars.
- How is your project and your DH praxis engaged with and part of the Latinx community outside the university and why is that so important?
- What are some ways you and/or your project has found itself in conflict with “traditional” university library and archival practices and how has that affected your work?
- What could change? That is, how could a greater knowledge and understanding of Latinx DH projects and practices expand and inform digital humanities scholarship?
Transcript of opening remarks:
All of these projects demonstrate resistance to the university, and specifically the archive, as colonizing spaces that keep Latinx communities outside its gates. These projects were conceived and continue to be developed to open digital archives and digital spaces, even as they’re being created, to the larger Latinx community, building and recovering histories, art, and culture. In all there is a resistance to seeing scholarship as a practice that privileges those with access to R1 institutions over those without. Further, in all these projects there is a resistance to the colonial practice of institutional collecting and archiving as a gatekeeping practice limiting access. For example, Chicana Por Mi Raza largely does not take the physical documents it digitally collects – it leaves the question of ownership of the physical artifacts to their creators and owners to make any archiving decisions. Rhizomes is not a project that collects art, but rather one that makes that art accessible. The Recovery Project is based on maintaining and organizing the almost fifty year work of Arte Publio, a key press of the Chicano Movement whose records are vital to the history and understanding of this intellectual period, and to finding, connecting, and amplifying US Latinx digital archives and projects.
The work of these projects in opening access is vital. Nearly half of the Latinx students enrolled in colleges and universities attend two-year institutions – not generally ones with large research archives. It is vital to our communities that our archives be accessible to these students – that they have the opportunity to work with archival materials and do archival research. These projects are also vital to scholars like myself – without this work I would be unable to do my own. It’s vital to ethnic studies classes that these archives and projects continue, that these histories are able to be written.
Why then are these projects, and other Latinx DH work, not getting attention or adequate funding and institutional support? Why are they struggling to find server space, to get funding, to be recognized as vital digital humanities work? Why is their labor used without proper acknowledgment? I believe it’s partly because the Latinx decolonial praxis baked into these projects from their conception is so resistant to the traditional archive, which has a history of colonization in its collecting practices. This not being recognized and understood is itself a reflection of the lack of understanding and value placed on US Latinx history and culture. Thus DH work, which is vital to my scholarship and that of other Latinx scholars, so much so that our publications, classes, and careers are built or being built on it, is not seen as vital, brilliant, original work is a source of deep frustration.
In 2011 when I first became, in a small way, visible in the online DH community there was a great deal of discussion about the marginal position of DH scholars and their research within their departments and universities – that DH research was seen as something other than scholarship, something outside the traditional humanities. Over the past decade, I’ve seen this landscape shift somewhat as DH scholars and scholarship has become more a part of libraries and departments across the traditional humanities.
But as Latinx, specifically, Chicanx scholars, our work as ethnic studies teachers and researchers remains marginal within our universities and departments. This is demonstrated by the way digital work in Latinx studies, projects created with using explicitly decolonial Chicanx, and Latinx praxis are not widely recognized as significant contributions to the DH field. Further, I’ve seen ideas, even specific language taken out of Latinx DH projects and scholarship, and use without reference to these projects or scholars. Those of us who know the history of second wave feminism and women of color have seen this happen before. So where is Latinx DH? It’s here, embodied by these Chicanx scholars and their work. What these projects and scholars have in common in addition to their decolonial praxis is the experience of having their work rejected and criticized for reasons specific to this decolonialism. I believe a closer examination and discussion of their decolonial praxis and community engagement can add significantly to the larger digital humanities field.
The issues I’d like to see us discuss are:
• How is your project and your DH praxis engaged with and part of the Latinx community outside the university and why is that so important?
• What are some ways your you and/or your project has found itself in conflict with “traditional” university library and archival practices and how has that affected your work?
• What could change? That is, how could a greater knowledge and understanding of Latinx DH projects and practices expand and inform digital humanities scholarship?