This was originally published as the opening post for the LLILAS Benson Latin American Collection Alumni blog. Something about rethinking how we got to were we are now, useful as I’m finalizing syllabi for next semester.
We should begin in the Benson Latin American Collection: I am sitting at a carrel, organizing a few thoughts about nationalist discourses in Argentina. I have a paper to write. I think it is going to deal with the relationship between patriotic education programs and discourses of family in the late 19th century. But that seems so boring. I want to make it sexy. So I start thinking about how I can approach education and family from the vantage point of queer theory. Queer Kinship?
Ten years later: in its broadest sense my research explores the mechanisms that shape individual and collective identities, discourses of power, and relations of historical and systemic inequality in Latin America. I imagine this is the case for most people engaged in contemporary Latin American studies. But then again, we all do this in different ways, engaging various frameworks of analyses, taking different objects of study, tracing unique lines of inquiry.
My current book project combines literary and archival analysis to question the role of the nuclear family as a foundational metaphor for Argentine nationalism at the turn of the century (1890-1910). Its central argument is that the family functions simultaneously as a space of consolidation and rupture for the normative ideologies regarding politics, education, gender, sexuality, and race in Argentina at the height of this period of modernization. Rather than imagining the family as a conservative space of identity formation, my research asks what is already queer about the family and how can we make sense of the forms of relatedness that characterize the shifting notions of national and cultural belonging in the context of the Argentine fin de siglo.
Looking back on my first semester’s schedule at LLILAS—yes, I still have all my notes, course packets, and final papers—I was pleasantly surprised to recall that the three courses I took had to do specifically with race and nationalism, 19th century literature and culture, and gender and sexuality studies. These same issues still frame my approach to Latin American studies. While my current work is (hopefully) more nuanced, more grounded in historical materiality, more daring theoretically, one of the things that has struck me about looking back on some of that early work is that all of my broad interests have persisted.
Another important endeavor that has persisted from my time at UT Austin is my work with La Poderosa Media Project. What first began as a collaborative effort to promote youth empowerment through community-based filmmaking workshops in Latin America by a group of like-minded graduate students has grown in size, scope, and complexity. Since 2006, along with fellow UT alumni, Alejandra Zambrano and Jorge García, we have facilitated the production of more than 30 short films and documentaries in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Panama, Chile, Ecuador, and the US. What began as a project invested in developing technical and cognitive skills in Latin American youth is now also a credit-bearing study abroad program housed at my current institution, Stony Brook University.
To trace the history of these academic and activist endeavors from my time at LLILAS to their current iterations is to revisit the ways in which our interests in social justice, critical pedagogy, and academic production are influenced by the ethos of an institution meant to foster just such dialogues. I want to contextualize these foundational experiences as part of a broader community. The investments we make in others and in ourselves are flecked with inspired moments and enduring connections, relationships that form us as fellow community members. One of the things that I realized, flipping through my old notebooks, was that the work I was doing, indeed the work I continue to pursue, was always relational and collaborative. The work that I have been drawing upon theoretically was informed by the lived experience of building community in and around the Benson. Is there such a thing as a carrel community? A community of the carrels? (There is something queer kinshippy about that). At any rate, what I had imagined as a solitary endeavor (me seated at the carrel) was never actually solitary, but always already infused with the disagreements, agreements to disagree, moments of inspiration, and eye-brow-raising perplexities that made my time at LLILAS transformative. I think this means that LLILAS doesn’t simply make it possible to pursue interdisciplinary approaches to Latin American studies, but that it enables you to engage with others while doing so, and that is no small feat.
Joseph M. Pierce
Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature
Stony Brook University
MA Latin American Studies, 2007
PhD Spanish American Literature, 2013