APA / Heritage / Month: A Problem in Three Parts

by Sharon Luk, author of the forthcoming The Life of Paper: Letters and a Poetics of Living Beyond Captivity

for Lawson Fusao Inada

1. APA (Asian Pacific American)

“Asian Americans” and “Pacific Islanders” are two different panethnic groups, each with their own history, development, and problems… for the most part, Pacific Islanders have fought to be excluded from the Asian American category.

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, Jazz — each its own variety, grouped into what we commonly call “apples” for a certain kind of efficacy.

Navel, Valencia, Blood (can Tangerines fit here?) — each its own variety, grouped into what we commonly call “oranges” for perhaps comparable purposes of reference.

If someone invited me to celebrate Apples Oranges Month, I imagine my first response might be, “Do you mean Apples and Oranges?”

In this crude analogy to Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (do you mean Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month?) I don’t assume that the “someone” who invited me to their celebration would hear my question. In many settings, they almost never feel a responsibility to answer or seek clarity.

What exactly is it, then, that we are being asked to celebrate?

2. APA Heritage

…the old poem
birthing itself
into the new
and murderous century.

Li-Young Lee

My heart goes out to the students in my Introduction to Asian American Studies class (and in this present discussion now, I’m excluding Pacific Islanders to honor their distinction). I told them this course could not in any way approach the depth and breadth of all the people who have, at one time or another, been included in the racial category “Asian/- American.” I told them it could not represent any, let alone all, particular ethnicities ortheir experiences. I told them it certainly could not reveal to anyone “who they are.” In this context, then: What is it that we are supposed to be learning?

I ask students to study the processes involved in creating an Asian/-American racial distinction. We examine specific instances in post-1865 U.S. history to question how this distinction has mediated developments in racial capitalism. The construction of nation-states. Empires. War. Survival. More war… I don’t know how to make any of this easy to digest (and now, a corollary issue — can this really be the goal?). The deeper we get into the twentieth century, the more confused students become. Their faces look at me as if to ask, so are Asian Americans good or bad?

Despite the profound constraints on their universe of reference, I think students’ confusions about the contradictions of “Asian American” distinction may still get at the crux of the dilemma the latter heritage presents. That is, what “truths” are to be found in such cycles of suffering?

3. APA Heritage Month

every word of every image is a step towards the end this
urgency dictates that the sentence as we know it no longer
an option grammar is obsolete stories once told in detailed
chapters have been reduced to a noun a verb the father dies the
lover leaves in search of his own ending perhaps now the
writing can finally begin

Truong Tran

What is a month supposed to measure? What story does this measurement tell? In whose words does that story come? What end do those words bring (or, try in vain to defer)?

Let’s assume that Asian American heritage cannot fit into those limits — nor Pacific Islander, nor any people’s heritage, for that matter. Then, the problem of heritage remains beyond what is celebrated in a month and its killing, the problem’s most urgent expressions coming in forms that at once accept their mortality and open out to the living.


Sharon Luk is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of Oregon.

Her forthcoming book The Life of Paper explores the evolution of racism and confinement in California history. Publishing this November, the book offers a wholly original and inspiring analysis of how people facing systematic social dismantling have engaged in letter correspondence to remake themselves.


Celebrating the City: Photos from the MAS NYC Awards Ceremony

What a night! On Monday evening, the Municipal Art Society of New York honored Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas and editors Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro with the Brendan Gill Prize. Praising the contributions of all who worked on the book, the jury recognized the project’s rich and varied social histories, stating, “By inviting a diverse host of collaborators to contribute to this beautifully plural portrait of our urban archipelago, the book resonates the resiliency of the myriad of communities that contribute to our city’s dynamism.”

The editors were presented with the award at the Celebrating the City ceremony, with Rebecca appearing by video from her San Francisco home, and Joshua on site to accept the award in his home city. Check out the photos from the event below! (Photos by: Vlad Weinstein)

Continue reading “Celebrating the City: Photos from the MAS NYC Awards Ceremony”


5 Questions About the Resurgence of Shari’ah Law in Nigeria

In Shari’ah on Trial: Northern Nigeria’s Islamic Revolution author and scholar of Islam Sarah Eltantawi gives a powerful account of how in 1999 Northern Nigerians reached a point of desperation that they took to the streets to demand the return of the strictest possible shari’ah law. Analyzing changing conceptions of Islamic theology and practice as well as Muslim and British interactions dating back to the colonial period, Eltantawi explains the resurgence of shari’ah in Nigeria and the implications for Muslim-majority countries around the world.

In this Q & A, Eltantawi discusses the case of Amina Lawal — the Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery — that inspired her to write the book, along with the fieldwork and research she conducted to understand the case, and her thoughts on the many perspectives of shari’ah law.


Muslim societies in African countries are generally understudied, which makes your scholarship all that much more important today. Can you tell us what led you to this project? How did Nigeria become the focus of your research?

Sarah Eltantawi: On one level, I took on this project because I could not get the trial of Amina Lawal out of my head. In 2002 when Lawal was first sentenced to death by stoning for extra-marital sex, I was working in Washington DC doing what I think of as “post-9-11 triage” for the American Muslim community. On one particular day I was in a meeting of major civil rights leaders when my phone would not stop ringing with media calls. The Lawal case had exploded in the US. Two things immediately struck me as noteworthy about all the attention this case was getting. The first is that this was the same moment the Iraq war was being prepared, and rather than having a sustained national conversation about the deaths that would surely ensure from that war, there seemed to be a collective refocusing on this one case of “African” “Muslim” barbarity against one woman. At the same time, those I consulted about this case and the stoning punishment in the American Muslim leadership seemed to totally dismiss the case as something that “just happened in Africa.”

I knew this could not be true (or was it?), because I knew stoning for adultery was legal under some circumstances in Islamic law (I would later find out that stoning for adultery was virtually unheard of in Islamic history until the 20th century — which is why I call stoning a post-modern/post-colonial phenomena). In short, I sensed that many different actors were projecting a number of interesting things onto this case and my fascination with it took hold and grew. Continue reading “5 Questions About the Resurgence of Shari’ah Law in Nigeria”


The Furor Over Conservative Speakers: A Long Choreographed Enterprise

By Roderick A. Ferguson, author of We Demand: The University and Student Protests

This guest post is part of a blog series of contributions by authors in American Studies Now, an e-book first series of short, timely books on significant political and cultural events.


On April 24, 2017 the Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit against UC Berkeley for cancelling visits by conservative authors Ann Coulter and David Horowitz over security concerns, stating: “Though UC Berkeley promises its students an environment that promotes free debate and the free exchange of ideas, it had breached this promise through the repressive actions of University administrators and campus police.” The suit goes on to state that the administration restricts conservative speakers differently than liberal ones.

It’s important to note that the furor over conservative speakers is a well-and-long choreographed enterprise. Indeed, the movements of that choreography were planned well over forty years ago in former Chief Justice Lewis Powell’s secret but generative document popularly known as “The Powell Memorandum.” In 1971 Powell sent the memorandum to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a private organization of business leaders, warning them about the mobilization against capitalism taking place in U.S. society, generally, and on college campuses specifically.

Through the memorandum, Powell attempted to give business leaders a primer on “best practices” for garnering ideological support for corporations and the executives that run them. The category “balance” was central to that effort. Balance would become a powerful ideological tool in that offensive. In the memo, Powell used the category to construct American colleges and universities as inhospitable to and therefore in need of conservative viewpoints. As he stated, “The difficulty is that balance is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservative or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” As an ideological weapon, “balance” was a neutral sounding category that helped to construct business elites as vulnerable minorities against powerful liberal and leftist bullies. In a moment of minority insurgency, “balance” would encourage people to see the business community as a minority among minorities but one that needed to be liberated from its peers.

Part of the ideological offensive represented by “balance” involved using the category to reorganize knowledge within the university so that it would favor conservative social projects. For instance, in a discussion of why a “continuous program” for evaluating social scientific textbooks is necessary, Powell stated, “The objectives of such evaluations should be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to academic freedom. This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism, and communism. Most of the existing textbooks have some sort of comparisons, but many are biased, superficial, and unfair.” The memo is important because it reveals how the issue of balance was never simply about the rights of a singular group of speakers or the free circulation of a particular set of viewpoints. “Balance” was designed from the very beginning to leverage institutional and social conditions so that conservative formations might enjoy dominance while maligning and subjugating their critics.


Roderick A. Ferguson is Professor of American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also the co-director of the Racialized Body research cluster at UIC. From 2007 to 2010, he was Associate Editor of the American Studies Association’s flagship journal American Quarterly. Beginning this July, he will serve as president-elect of the American Studies Association for a year before becoming president of the organization in July 2018.

His book We Demand: The University and Student Protests is available as an e-book now, before the print format publishes this August.

 


30 Fantastic Books for the Mother in Your Life — from the Art Lover to the News Junkie

We’ve compiled a list of recommended reads for the mother figure in your life — whether her interests lie in cultural artifacts or the 24-hour news cycle, Hollywood backlot backstories or intriguing historical tales. This list could be for any reader in your life — and that’s fine, too! — but when we typically think of a mother, these words come to mind: creator (and creative), teacher, protector. We think this reading list embodies those traits. Enjoy!

For the Art Lover

Summer of Love: Art, Fashion, and Rock and Roll edited by Jill D’Alessandro and Colleen Terry, with essays by Victoria Binder, Dennis McNally, and Joel Selvin

Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell by Arden Reed

Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest by Susan Landauer

Ed Ruscha and the Great American West edited by Karin Breuer, with contributions from D.J. Waldie and Ed Ruscha

For the Cinephile

Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles by Jon Lewis

Lois Weber in Early Hollywood by Shelley Stamp

Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Sidney Gottlieb

Hellboy’s World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins by Scott Bukatman

For the Music Aficionado

Listening for the Secret: The Grateful Dead and the Politics of Improvisation
by Ulf Olsson, edited by Nicholas Meriwether

Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s by Michael C. Heller

Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus by Krin Gabbard

Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song by Ronnie Gilbert

For the Literary Bookworm

Thoreau and the Language of Trees by Richard Higgins, with a foreword by Robert D. Richardson 

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro 

Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 by Mark Twain

A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov by Donna Hollenberg

For the Wine Connoisseur

French Wine: A History by Rod Phillips

I Taste Red: The Science of Tasting Wine by Jamie Goode

Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine by Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino

Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright, and Dry by John Winthrop Haeger

For the History Buff

A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict by Gershon Shafir

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Pursuit of War Criminals from Nuremberg to the War on Terror by Eric Stover, Victor Peskin, and Alexa Koenig

The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology by Aldon Morris

Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African American Republicans  by Corey D. Fields

How Would You Rule: Legal Puzzles, Brainteasers, and Dilemmas from the Law’s Strangest Cases by Daniel W. Park

For the News Junkie

Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary by Ronald Rael

The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11 by Sylvester A. Johnson and Steven Weitzman

Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other by Mugambi Jouet

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger

In the Fields of the North / En los campos del norte by David Bacon


America’s Past Through the Lens of Asian and Pacific Islander History

This month is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A broad term, Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. As author of American History Unbound Gary Y. Okihiro points out in the following excerpt from his introduction to the book, the term itself is elastic, and when first used, referred principally to Chinese and Japanese.

He also writes that the standard narrative of Asian American history begins with Asians immigrating to California in search of new opportunities. Indeed, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is observed in May to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants who arrived in the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad—the majority of workers being Chinese immigrants—on May 10, 1869.

In American History Unbound, Okihiro offers a rewrite of that standard narrative:

The term Asian American was invented in the late 1960s, for the purposes of political solidarity and mobilization. Asians living in America determined that a shared history of Orientalism and oppression united them and that by organizing as a group named by Europeans, they could counter white supremacy more effectively. Following the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, the literary critic Gayatri Spivak has named that argument strategic essentialism, or a temporary strategy pursued in a war of positions. Readers should think of categories such as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as temporary contrivances in the struggle against oppression—as contextual, relational, and impermanent.

Asian American is an elastic term. When first used, it referred principally, if not exclusively, to Chinese and Japanese. Some of the founding figures in the emerging field of Asian American studies insisted that it applied only to those born in the United States and not to the migrant generation born in Asia. Gradually, through the initiatives of the neglected ethnicities, it grew to embrace Koreans, Filipinos, and other Southeast Asians, along with South Asians and, most recently, West Asians, such as those from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey…

…The standard narrative of Asian American history begins with Asians, mainly Chinese, immigrating to California to escape poverty and political repression and in search of new opportunities, not unlike Europeans in the transatlantic circuit of uprooting and transplantation. Writing against this version of Asian American history, I maintain that Asians did not go to America; Americans went to Asia. I thus situate this telling within the expansion of European imperialism. The presence of Asians in America and Pacific Islanders within the U.S. orbit is a consequence of that expansion. Further, Pacific Islanders and Asians did not migrate for the same reasons as many Europeans, who were pushed by necessity and pulled by opportunities. Rather, Europe and the United States recruited Pacific Islanders and Asians as migrant laborers in the global traffic of goods and labor. Pacific Islanders, additionally, lost their lands, waters, and sovereignty to the imperial order….

…American History Unbound emerges from but also rewrites the standard narratives of nation. Through their struggles for sovereignty and the full rights of citizenship and membership, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and indeed all peoples of color in the United States, despite their discursive and material “minority” status, have transformed, and revolutionized, the nation. In that sense, American history from the fringes of the national consciousness reveals and clarifies the nation’s past and promise of equality in their fullness and entirety.

A survey of U.S. history from its beginnings to the present, American History Unbound reveals our past through the lens of Asian American and Pacific Islander history. In so doing, it is a work of both history and anti-history, a narrative that fundamentally transforms and deepens our understanding of the United States.


Introducing American Studies Now, an E-book First Series

Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture — focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices, on the other. We are excited to announce American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present, a series publishing titles that cover these political and cultural intersections, exploring the ways the events of our past continue to shape our present.

An e-book first series, American Studies Now publishes short, timely books on significant political and cultural events while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.

We spoke with editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez to discuss the goals of American Studies Now and how these books can be used in the classroom and beyond.


What inspired you to develop the American Studies Now series?

Lisa Duggan: We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible e-books (also available in print) on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.

The series is described as “critical histories of the present” — could you elaborate on what this means?

Curtis Marez: Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.

Why the need to publish e-books before the print editions?

LD: E-books can come out quickly and circulate widely. We want to counter the long, slow publication process and relatively narrow circulation of most academic publishing with an option designed for speed and impact, on the timeclock of the political present. Offering broad context provided by deeply knowledgeable American Studies scholars, these e-books can contribute to classroom and public discussions on issues that matter now.

How will these books contribute to the field of American Studies?

CM: Each book brings American Studies concepts and methods to the analysis of vital contemporary social movements. Authors build on and rethink the field’s historical social movement focus by foregrounding a host of contemporary grassroots movements such as Black Lives Matter, student movements, and movements for sexual justice. At the same time, American Studies Now presents critical accounts of dominant social movements such as the movement to privatize higher education and to silence dissent; the law and order movement supporting the expansion of police power; climate justice; and the movement for free market fundamentalism that informs contemporary state policies.

Continue reading “Introducing American Studies Now, an E-book First Series”


On Suicide, Death, and Unsettling Notions of Mexico

This guest post is published in conjunction with the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association taking place April 29-May 1 in Lima, Peru. #LASA17

by Kathryn A. Sloan, author of Death in the City: Suicide and the Social Imaginary in Modern Mexico

My son asked me why I study morbid topics like suicide and death. He went on to inquire if I was depressed. I paused a moment before responding, recalling that many of my history colleagues have teased me for being attracted to salacious and macabre themes in Mexican history. I always laugh and remark on the richness of criminal documents for intellectual inquiry, especially for those of us who searching for plebeian voices. The fact is that studying a society in time and place through the lens of perceived social problems like suicide or crime or disease bears considerable scholarly fruit. In my work I have found that when I dig down into the weeds of judicial documents replete with testimony and letters and the newspaper reporting on said crimes, notions of Mexico or Mexicanidad are unsettled.

Indeed Mexico has long been associated with the macabre in popular culture. Heart sacrifice, conquest, civil war, and social revolution have marked Mexican society. Today drug traffickers act with impunity and hang headless corpses from overpasses and kidnap people in broad daylight. On a lighter note, Mexicans celebrate Day of the Dead by festooning tombstones with marigolds, feasting on delicacies, and toasting their dearly departed at gravesites. Likewise tourists consume sugary skulls as they gaze upon the exotic spectacle. Mexico’s making, cured in this crucible of conquest, war, and death, has led some prominent intellectuals to suggest that death defines Mexico. In fact, the stereotype is that Mexicans (especially the Mexican man) mock and face down death with a devil-may-care nonchalance. Death is his ever-present and intimate friend. He is immune to suffering around him.

Intellectuals shaped mexicanidad in a post-revolutionary milieu and strived to define a singular essence that set Mexico apart from its European and Anglo peers. To them Mexicans were trapped in ‘labyrinths of solitude’ and ‘cages of melancholy.’ Examining how Mexicans confronted suicide in Mexico on the cusp of the twentieth century reveals that they did not accept death with a cavalier snicker, nor did they develop a unique death cult for that matter. Mexicans behaved just as their contemporaries did around the modern world. They devoted scientific inquiry to the malady and mourned the loss of each life to suicide. Front-page articles eulogized the women who jumped from the cathedral to their deaths on the paving stones below. Mexico’s Central Park—Chapultepec Park—became a common destination for lovelorn suicides. Medical students and their teachers peered into the craniums of suicide victims in hopes of finding physical markers that foretold a death wish. Crowds of city residents congregated around literal stains of blood to mourn the young man or woman who took their lives in public spaces. Uncovering the myriad ways that Mexicans defined and approached the phenomenon of suicide reveals that they approached death like any world citizens, with an immense sense of concern, humanity, and sensitivity.


Kathryn A. Sloan is Associate Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. She is the author of Runaway Daughters: Seduction, Elopement, and Honor in Nineteenth-Century Mexico and Women’s Roles in Latin America and the Caribbean.


Forgotten Peace

This guest post is published in conjunction with the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association taking place April 29-May 1 in Lima, Peru. #LASA17

by Robert A. Karl, author of Forgotten Peace: Reform, Violence, and the Making of Modern Colombia

How do Colombians speak about “violence”? For much of the past half century, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have occupied a central place in popular and academic conversations. Yet representations of the FARC have begun to shift in recent months, as the Colombian government and the FARC move to implement their historic 2016 peace deal. The personal stories conveyed to international reporters by the FARC’s demobilizing fighters have helped to humanize the guerrillas’ five-decade-long struggle. In early April, the Colombian government also took the first steps toward establishing a truth commission to investigate Colombia’s contemporary experience with violence. Many Colombians hope that the commission, a key component of the peace accord, will give voice to the millions of victims of the wider Colombian internal conflict, as well as prevent the repetition of violence.

My book Forgotten Peace: Reform, Violence, and the Making of Contemporary Colombia considers the question of how Colombians spoke of violence in the 1950s and ‘60s, between the internal conflict known simply as La Violencia – The Violence – and the creation of the FARC in the mid-1960s. When Colombia entered into a period of democratic reformism in the late 1950s, thousands of rural Colombians – including the eventual founders of the FARC – stepped forward to share their experiences with violence and to propose solutions for their country’s problems. To borrow from the 2017 LASA Congress’ theme, this “dialogue of knowledge” altered government policy toward the countryside and forged new versions of local, regional, and national identity, to an even greater extent than what Colombia has thus far witnessed in the peace process with the FARC.

Forgotten Peace thus examines what I call the practice and idea of violence: not simply the where and why of acts of violence in the countryside, but also the conversations and writings that would shape enduring understandings of violence in Colombia. Specifically, Colombians’ gradual disillusionment with the reformism of the late 1950s and early 1960s produced two dominant narratives about the country’s history. The first originated with sociologist Orlando Fals Borda and his colleagues, who turned to the study of violence at the same time as they were also designing various government reform programs. My book demonstrates how the very term “La Violencia” – a mainstay of our conversations about violence in Colombia – resulted from these intellectuals’ conflicting scholarly and political commitments.

The second version of Colombian history to emerge in the 1960s came with the FARC. From the time that its fighters adopted that name in 1966, the group has been associated with revolutionary violence. However, this messaging has overshadowed the FARC’s origins in the local practices and ideas that comprised Colombia’s experiments with peace beginning in the late 1950s. Similar local meanings are now reemerging with the implementation of the peace accord, signaling the possibility of new dialogues of knowledge about the Colombian countryside. Such exchanges will be a small but fundamental part of Colombians’ push to build an inclusive, peaceful democracy in a nation best known for violence.


Robert A. Karl is Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University.


Uruguay, 1968

This guest post is published in conjunction with the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association taking place April 29-May 1 in Lima, Peru. #LASA17

by Vania Markarian, author of Uruguay, 1968: Student Activism from Global Counterculture to Molotov Cocktails

A couple of years ago, Time magazine published a very powerful front cover: a young black man, his face masked by a scarf, running away from a group of heavily armed policemen. The reference to where the photo was taken stated simply “America”; the reference to when, “1968,” was crossed out in red and replaced with 2015. Below, in a smaller font, read: “What has changed, what hasn’t.”

It’s impossible to answer that question in 500, 1,000, or even one million words. But let me try to explain why the this photograph made sense to a reader in the Southern Cone of Latin America who wasn’t even alive in 1968.

It’s going to be half a century next year, and yet 1968 seems so close in so many ways. That’s the quality of “the event.” As it swallowed the past as it was being conceptualized as such, it’s been swallowing the future since.

In fact, looking from within the cycle of protest of 1968, many of the familiar ways of protesting and organizing in the past seemed unfamiliar, dated, and ineffective for the scores of young people who took the streets of cities across the globe that year.

Likewise, we can now look in awe at an era when “new” did not mean the latest smartphone but the certainty of a different social order within reach. Different how, one may ask. There were very different answers. For many, the very possibility of the “new” was worth risking their lives. Moving beyond complex ideological stances and political nuances, that’s what “revolution” meant back then.

In Latin America, what came next totally changed the meaning of this time of political and cultural experimentation. In Uruguay, twelve years of brutal authoritarianism and the systematic violation of basic human rights, starting in 1973, made these young people the main characters of a tale of martyrdom and heroism, told and retold in their very personal and moving testimonies of prison, torture, exile, and death.

When I came of age in the 1980s, in times of democratic recovery, I was sure my generation was the first properly young one in Uruguayan history. Everything seemed totally unexplored: sex, drugs, rock and roll. Reaching my forties, though, I realized that my now ageing parents weren’t telling it all. What about the albums of The Beatles still in the shelves above their record player? What about their fading black and white pictures of smiling young people in mini skirts and flowered shirts?

In the United States, the sixties has been mostly reduced to a market phenomenon or a fashion statement. In Latin America, instead, it has been subsumed to very real stories of political confrontation and extreme repression. And just as US historians have been trying to recapture the political meaning of the era, I set off to recapture a time when the young people of my country could still dream of revolution in both the cultural and political arenas.

This is, in 500 words, the story of my book Uruguay, 1968: Student Activism from Global Counterculture to Molotov Cocktails. This is also why the crossed out date in Time magazine was so appealing to me: 1968 keeps coming from history to speak to the memories of many generations.


Vania Markarian is Associate Professor at Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay, and is the author of Left in Transformation: Uruguayan Exiles and the Latin American Human Rights Networks, 1967–1984.