Ephemeral Histories

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 Camilo Trumper, author of Ephemeral Histories: Public Art, Politics, and the Struggle for the Streets in Chile

Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights marked 2017’s World Book Day by circulating a photograph of uniformed cadets burning books and magazines on city streets in 1973, a jarring image mobilized in hopes that “Never Again” would Chileans censor the written word as they had after the bloody coup that toppled Salvador Allende’s democratically elected socialist government. Photographer Kena Lorenzini’s collection of images, published as Marcas Crónicas: Rayados y panfletos de los 80, reveals a different practice of writing and erasure in Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Hers are austere records of the breathtaking range of rayados scrawled in public and semi-public spaces in the almost two decades of military rule: complicated debates taking place on, and taking advantage of the fleeting privacy afforded by, the locked doors of bathroom stalls; party slogans furtively etched on the back of bus seats; and banners unfurled by students, artists and activists to protest the dictatorship’s terror. These photographs map a hidden landscape of political writing hiding in plain sight.

The political activists who created this political landscape drew on a long history of urban contest that reached its apex under Allende. My book, Ephemeral Histories: Public Art, Politics, and the Struggle for the Street in Chile, studies how women and workers, students and artists claimed public spaces as their own, turning to murals, posters, and graffiti as a means of shaping city streets, squares and walls into vibrant arenas of political exchange in democracy. Creative forms of public art and writing were quickly targeted by the nascent military regime, which looked to “cleanse” the landscape of any trace of activism, and forced residents to whitewash walls at gunpoint, to burn and bury posters alongside books and magazines. But santiaguinos responded creatively to censure. Lorenzini’s most compelling images focus on the ordinary inscriptions that citizens carved onto city walls as everyday acts of urban transgression that sustained resistance to military rule. In one particularly poignant series, her lens follows a web of text as it snakes along city walls, arching across buildings and around corners. Erasure leads only to further expression. Just as quickly as phrases condemning dictatorship are scratched out, new, vibrant responses appear, crying out over the thin cover of whitewash. Her photographs suggests that santiaguinos turned again to clandestine public writing in dictatorship, perfecting techniques originally learned in democracy to re-build spaces of vibrant political debate. These ephemeral acts of public writing help build a public sphere of political debate rooted in public space, and an ephemeral practice of political citizenship played out in the very streets and walls quieted by state violence and attempted censorship.

This year’s LASA congress theme, “Dialogues of Knowledge,” suggests that we must open ourselves to consider creative forms of knowledge generated at the boundaries between disciplines, experiences, and spaces. Lorenzini’s photographs offer an excellent example of this form of critical interdisciplinary thinking. They reveal the strategies and tactics of urban conflict, and public writing in particular, to be creative responses to dictatorial rule, an “other” form of knowledge Chilean citizens living under dictatorship developed to navigate public and private spaces, sustain political dialogue, and limit the authority and legitimacy of military authority. In so doing, they transformed the city it into a vital political arena and themselves into active political citizens in the face of state-sponsored violence and terror.


Camilo D. Trumper is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Latin American History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY.


State of Exception/Estado de Excepción Opens at Parsons School of Design NY

The multimedia exhibition State of Exception/Estado de Excepción, on display at New York’s Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the Parsons School of Design through April 17th (check out the stellar review from Holland Cotter that appeared in March 3rd’s New York Times), presents traces of the human experience—objects left behind in the desert by undocumented migrants on their journey into the U.S. and other forms of data, all collected as part of the research of University of Michigan anthropologist Jason De León’s Undocumented Migration Project, as well as the basis for his 2015 book, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail.

De León sees the materials as fragments of a history, revealing death, trauma, and suffering on both sides of the border while bringing to light complexities of the migrant experience.

Above: Richard Barnes, The Things they Carried-Migrant Death Artifacts #5 / Colibri Foundation (used with permission)

This exhibition, created by artist/photographer Richard Barnes and artist/curator Amanda Krugliak in collaboration with anthropologist De León, includes an installation of hundreds of backpacks left behind by migrants crossing the Arizona desert as well as numerous pieces of clothing and ephemera, and video images created by Richard Barnes on location along the Mexico-United States border. The installation also includes excerpts of original recordings of audio interviews with migrants, all part of De León’s work.

Above: Richard Barnes, Backpacks collected by Jason De Léon’s Undocumented Migration Project at the University of Michigan

In the many years now since Jason De León and his team commenced this research, State of Exception/Estado de Excepción has continued to evolve, constantly updated to reflect De León’s findings, the ongoing public debate around immigration, as well as the continuous efforts towards immigration reform, and inevitable backlash.  Now, more than ever, in the aftermath of a presidential campaign that fed off anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, it is absolutely critical to look deeper into the migrant experience and raise questions as to what the future may hold for the thousands of people fleeing dire poverty, drug cartel violence, and political instability to the south.

Above: Richard Barnes, The Things they Carried-Migrant Death Artifacts #6 / Colibri Foundation (used with permission)

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 Jason De León is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and Director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term anthropological study of clandestine border crossings between Mexico and the United States. His academic work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including National Public Radio, the New York Times Magazine, Al Jazeera magazine, The Huffington Post, and Vice magazine. In 2013, De León was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. His book The Land of Open Graves is the recipient of the 2016 Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology.

 


Integrating Current Events in Your Courses: Immigration and Latino Studies

Latinos have been integral in the shaping of the U.S. yet their identity is constantly brought into question.

In the wake of the November presidential election and the impending inauguration of Donald Trump, how can you integrate discussions on immigration—particularly from Latin American countries—into your classes?

Help your students understand the effects of today’s political climate. Find new titles for your courses on Immigration or Latino Studies below and click on each title to quickly and easily request an exam copy. Review our exam copy policy. And feel free to email us with questions–we’re here to help!

Select Titles for Your Courses on Immigration and Latino Studies

Almaguer.NewLatinoStudiesReader

The New Latino Studies Reader: A Twenty-First Century Perspective edited by Ramon A. Gutierrez & Tomas Almaguer

“[This reader] brings together the most innovative scholarship being generated within history and the social sciences and is surely to become a standard within Latina/o studies courses.” —Raúl Coronado, inaugural President of the Latina/o Studies Association

“They integrate historical, social scientific and cultural studies approaches, which is rarely done in readers.”—Patricia Zavella, UC Santa Cruz

 

Gonzales.LivesInLimbo

Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America by Roberto G. Gonzales

“Superb. . . . An important examination of the devastating consequences of ‘illegality’ on our young people.”—Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her

“It will stand as the definitive study of the undocumented coming of age in our midst. It is a book every teacher, every policymaker, indeed every concerned citizen should read and ponder.”—Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, coeditor of Latinos: Remaking America

 

GutmannLesser.GlobalLatinAmericaGlobal Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century edited by Matthew C. Gutmann and Jeffrey Lesser

“A superb sampling of the cutting edge in connecting approaches across subfields, such as gender studies, Latin American Studies, ethnic studies, and area studies.”—Jerry Dávila, University of Illinois

“The volume is the perfect book for class use in a variety of settings.”—Miguel Angel Centeno, author of State Making in the Developing World

 

 

Boehm.Returned

Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation by Deborah Boehm

“[Deborah Boehm] challenges sterile depictions of deportations in the media and political debates. This urgent book is a must read.”—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Immigrant Families

“A stellar and nuanced ethnographic exploration of the impact of deportation on Mexican families on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. It is a critical addition to existing work on transnationalism and migration, and required reading for academics and policy makers.”—Susan J. Terrio, author of Judging Mohammed

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On Shopping Malls and the Politics of Access

by Arlene Davila, author of El Mall: The Spatial and Class Politics of Shopping Malls in Latin America

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Minneapolis. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on November 20th.

UC Press is proud to be part of the AAUP’s fifth annual University Press Week. Check out our blog and social media channels through Nov. 19th (plus follow hashtags #ReadUp #UPWeek), and learn how we, along with 40 of our scholarly press colleagues, work diligently to publish vital works benefitting educational, specialized research, and general interest communities.

9780520286856Since the publication of El Mall, I have been asked what turned me to examining shopping malls and shopping cultures in Latin America, a question that is always loaded with significance.  It often assumes that shopping and shopping malls are irrelevant subjects of study for anthropologists and scholars, or that consumer culture is a vain or superfluous topic, or even that Latin Americans are exempt from the dreams and pulls of global consumer culture. I end these conversations thinking that all the talk around globalization, neoliberalism, mediated lives and materiality notwithstanding anthropologists and interdisciplinary scholars have not fully come to terms with the powerful pull of consumption and consumer cultures throughout the world and with the need to fully engage these topics in our research.

In the twenty or so years that I’ve been researching and writing about consumer culture and the political economy of culture I’ve found that cultural studies on these subjects still focuses overwhelmingly on the United States and Europe, while anthropologist are still shy to take on subjects that would compromise the “authenticity” of their anthropological field sites or topics of research.  Why study shopping malls, or fashion, or commercial media when these cultural phenomena seem indistinguishable from our cozy experiences in our very own consumer landscapes?-goes the thinking.  The fact is that I myself was not immune to these concerns when I embarked on this study.  I wrote about shopping malls not because I had purposefully set out to do so, but because I found myself in the “belly of the beast” – sharing my previous work on Puerto Rican consumer culture in a trade organization meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers in Medellin – invited by a former interviewee.  It was he who felt I needed to write about shopping mall cultures and who despite my warnings that whatever I wrote would be from a critical perspective –opened my eyes to the booming world of shopping malls developers, contractors, pundits and more.  Soon I learned that this impenetrable business that seemed to materialize all the workings of neoliberal capitalism and remained so intimidating in its scope and reach was ripe for analysis.

Those of use who strive to study up and expose the political economy of institutions, industries and how capitalism works know full well that access is not always easy to get.  Corporate culture is all about confidentiality agreements, closed door meetings, proprietary research, and inaccessibly priced meetings and conferences that keep many of us at bay from knocking at the doors of powerful stakeholders of capitalism.  But with access comes responsibility to follow up and crack up the worlds of industry and neoliberal capitalism with fine tuned ethnographic research.  The result is a book that shows the why and how shopping malls are one of the most powerful engines of social transformations in Latin America, shaping how cities are organized and even how local fashionistas define class and identities on their daily lives.  Most humbly, the result is a reminder of the same lesson I learned when writing Latinos Inc. years earlier:  That capitalism is made up of relationships and that studying up is more necessary than ever in these age of rapid neoliberalization.  Once again, the “mundane” yet shining space of consumer culture surpassed my own expectations of what questions could be asked, and what issues were most relevant within this industry, from urban design to the topic of informal economies and even fast fashion.  In all, I’m very glad I heard the call the mall, and just delved in!

When sharing on social media, please be sure to use the #AAA2016 hashtag!


Arlene Dávila is Professor of Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. She is the author of numerous books, including Barrio Dreams and Latinos Inc..


The Political Spirituality of Cesar Chavez: Crossing Religious Borders

by Luis D. León, author of The Political Spirituality of Cesar Chavez: Crossing Religious Borders

As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize Hispanic and Latino Americans’ current contributions–and current struggles–in the United States. Learn more at #HispanicHeritage Month.

This post was originally published on November 12th, 2014.

I grew up in California’s East Bay Area, in San Lorenzo. Even while my family was suburban, and not involved in farm work (my paternal grandmother and grandfather were farm laborers), Cesar Chavez loomed large in my cultural and political ecology. He once spoke at my high school. He seemed to be speaking for us, the Latina/os, at a time when I was aware of only negative and stereotypical media images of brown bodies. When I took a Chicano history course as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley I learned that Chavez was primarily a labor leader. As a doctoral student conducting primary source research in the Chicano archives at UCSB I discovered another Chavez—a distinctly spiritual and religious leader. I knew then that I wanted to uncover and tell that part of his story.

My hope is that scholars will discover a different Chavez, one who defies conventional classification, and encounter also a fresh way of narrating his work—one not insistent upon modernist notions of truth and subjectivity. The book is neither a history or biography, the focus is on the mythology—that is the myths he created about himself and those that were manufactured around him. I recognize that it is important to be factual about the research, but really I am writing about the record itself, rather than his actual life. In the words of Ruth Behar: “There is no true story of a life, after all. There are only stories told about and around a life.” Story telling is a political act, and Chavez was adept at telling very effective stories.

One of the turning points in the research was learning that Chavez was active in the struggle for LGBT civil rights. In 1987 he was one of the Grand Marshalls for the second annual march on Washington D.C. for Lesbian and Gay Rights. At the ceremony culminating the protest, he addressed a crowd of 200,000 people, claiming that his movement had been supporting gay rights for over 20 years. His activism on behalf of the LGBT community has been elided from the historiography; I came upon it through research in newspapers.

I consider my book as a contribution to an ongoing conversation. There is much remaining to be told about the late labor leader.

Luis D. León is Associate Professor in the department of Religious Studies at the University of Denver and author of La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands.


Únase a la reunión de la asociación de estudios latinoamericanos 2015!

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