US Latino Literature and Culture

In a moment when the Latino population is under constant threat, threat of violence, deportation, xenophobia, racism, misrepresentation, etc., I am glad to be able to teach a course on US Latino Lit and Culture. The guiding theme is #Resistance. What I mean by that is resistance to the facile categorizations, the stereotypes, the dismissals, the violence, the fixity of identity that allows Latino to become an ‘other’ identity, an identity based on an ‘otherness’ that it never really was and which it currently resists. Below is a link to the syllabus. (Spring 2018)

Download: Syllabus

Julio Salgado_Screaming Joto

(Julio Salgado, “Screaming Joto”)

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Our Queer Breath

I see myself reflected in the window, with those fluorescent letters in red. I am kissing my boyfriend. His skin, his scent, remind me of what I came for, of what I’m here for. That desire. And that desire is a revolutionary act. That search. That breath.

Our queer breath is a revolutionary act. To breathe as a fugitive, delinquent body, as a body that exists in spite of this violence.

I had woken up a bit late and I didn’t realize it until later. Until I opened Facebook. I didn’t think I would cry. And I didn’t, until I saw a video of a mother receiving text messages from her son, her son who had been kidnapped in the bathroom at Pulse. Her son who did not make it out alive.

I saw the news that 49 people had been killed in Orlando, Florida. In a gay bar. Latino Night.

Latino Night. Bodies entangled. Sweat. Brown bodies, Black bodies. Dance. Bodies dancing lost in the night.

I went to Stonewall because places have their history, their memory. I thought that that place would give me something of that fight, that defiance. I thought that those copper bricks, that darkness, that dirty floor, would give me something. Would make me feel something that I had lost.

Stonewall. That place which, after a police raid in 1969, inspired a series of violent, explosive protests. Travestis, Negras, drag queens, Puerto Ricans, fags, butch-dykes. The beginning of the gay liberation movement in the United States. A place where our dissident bodies started to feel free.

Latino night. When you exist as a brown body, when you love, survive, as a brown body, when your body is always subject to the various modes of violence that threaten your very existence. When you are a body that should never have existed. That was never meant to survive. To thrive. What does it matter if you can dance? If you have that space to dance? What value can that dance floor have on Latino Night?

Or, what happens when dancing is the only thing that makes you human? What happens when your body only becomes a body when it dances, when it articulates, when it shimmies, when it sweats, when it sways? Is that why a gay bar matters? Latino Night? When that space allows you to be, to move, to breathe, to become.

What do those Latinx bodies dancing at Pulse on its Latino Night say? What air, what space, what environment do they change with their black-brown bodies?

What changes when you move the air with those beautiful brown legs? What arabesques, what wake do you leave?

That Sunday at the Stonewall a spontaneous vigil after the massacre at Pulse. Around two hundred people gathered on Christopher Street. It was strange. Anti-terror police next to those brown bodies trickling in after the Puerto Rican Pride Parade. A historic irony. The police ‘protect us’ against the terrorism that they themselves created. A multitude. Anti-islamaphobia signs. Signs in favor of gun control. Outside the bar activists and comrades spoke about resistance. About love. We echoed their calls to not lose ourselves. To not fall into the facile categorization of the massacre as simple ‘terrorism’. Members of Black Lives Matter. The critique cannot be tautological.

We cannot stop dancing. We cannot stop sweating, swishing, desiring. We cannot stop insisting on the complexity of this issue, insisting on a critique of misogyny, racism, homophobia, islamophobia, toxic masculinity, in constant crisis.

Journalists who asked the typical: How do you feel? Do you feel safe? Why did you come to Stonewall?

Why go to Stonewall? To be with those bodies, bodies that we love, that we desire, that move us, that we caress, that we yearn for. Bodies given in to the night. Bodies that will not return. Bodies that come undone. Bodies that break. Bodies whose sweat, whose glimmer, we will never inhale again. Bodies that matter. Bodies whose matter, whose becoming, will save us from oblivion.

To breathe that desire, that breath, that intransigence that the queer body stages with its terrible incommensurability. To see, feel, touch, kiss, dance.

(This essay was originally published in Revista Anfibia as “Travestis, Negras, Boricuas, Maricas” and will be reprinted in English in QED).

Orlando, NYC

In the wake of the devastating attack in Orlando, the persistence of homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia, structural racism. It seems incomprehensible. It seems devastatingly impossible to think. To think through and propose alternatives to this hate.

I don’t know. But I tried to think through in this piece, in Spanish, published in Revista Anfibia today. But I also want to note a couple articles in which I was quoted:

  1. The New York Times detailed some of the feelings at stake.
  2. The AP on the complexity of the current debate.
  3. The Tampa Bay Times on not losing sight of context.

IN ENGLISH

Vincent Cervantes for Religion Dispatches, on the theological dimensions.

And Richard Kim for The Nation, on why we can’t stop the music.

John P. Sundholm on why praying is not and has never been enough.

Alexander Chee for The Nation, an excellent reflection on the Courage of Being Queer.

Yezmin Villarreal on why Existing is Resisting.

Alan Paez Lopez on why we are not all Orlando. (which I wholeheartedly agree with).

Charlie Vázquez on Puerto Rican resilience and memory.

Tony Varona for HuffPo, on not erasing the Latino histories and bodies.

Another collection of 10 articles on #Orlando #PulseOrlando from the American Friends Service Committee.

NPR on the Latino voices.

Salvador Vidal-Ortiz for Feminist Reflections, on rethinking Orlando as América.

Ramón Rivera-Servera for The Atlantic, on the space of the queer Latino dance club.

Juana María Rodríguez for NBC, on embracing queer latinidad.

J. Jack Halberstam for Bully Bloggers, on who are ‘we’ after Orlando.

Eng-Beng Lim for Bully Bloggers, on the #OrlandoSyllabus.

José Quiroga for Bully Bloggers, on the nostalgia, complexity, and colonialism of Orlando.

Christopher Soto on Literary Hub, a poem on self and the unanswerable.

IN SPANISH/EN CASTELLANO

A fierce ally and colleague, Juliana Martínez on why the shooter is not a monster.

Hugo Córdova Quero for Pulse, on intersections and violence.

Liliana Viola for Página/12, on hate and reactions.

Santiago Castellanos for El Comercio, an interview on difference.

Larry La Fountain-Stokes for 80 grados, on the weight of violence.

Conversaciones del Cono Sur (Dossier)

Just a quick note to announce that the Dossier, Amor, sexualidad y género: Políticas del Cono Sur, which I edited with Fernando A. Blanco, has been published in the online journal of the Southern Cone Studies Section of LASA, Conversaciones del Cono Sur. 

It includes 4 essays that are condensed versions of papers presented at the 2014 LASA Congress in Chicago, and an introduction by the editors.

https://conosurconversaciones.wordpress.com/

Here is My Face: Native Erasure in Argentina

In 1903 Argentine intellectual Carlos Octavio Bunge published an audacious book, Nuestra América: Ensayo de Psicología social, in which he attempted to account for the dysfunction of Argentine politics at the turn of the century by tracing the continent’s history of racial mixing. His proto-eugenic text migrates from the Iberian Peninsula to the Americas, from 700AD to 1900, attributing determinist views of race and culture to Native peoples, Africans, and Europeans, and all the mixes in between.

About the indigenous population, Bunge writes, “El indio puro que vive oculto en sus bosques, tiende hoy a desaparecer, avergonzado, corrido, ofuscado, aniquilado por la civilización,” as he describes the two fundamental characteristics of the psychology of the indio as fatalism and vengeance.

Bunge, as with most of his positivist colleagues at the turn of the century, was overtly and wholeheartedly racist. The project of racial whitening, of ‘progress’, was never as strong or so pervasive as it was in Bunge’s day. From explicit policies of Indian extermination, known as La conquista del desierto, to the attempts to ‘repopulate’ the land stolen during that ‘conquest’ with ‘desirable’ immigrants (read Northern Europeans), the history of Argentina is based fundamentally, centrally, on land dispossession and native erasure.

So it was no surprise when this week, on the television program Intratables, the host, Santiago del Moro, was himself surprised to learn that a woman he had invited to comment on the situation of drug trafficking in her neighborhood, was not, as he assumed an immigrant from a “país limítrofe”.

It is no surprise that White immigration to Argentina has lost the ability to see the Native faces that, it remains assumed, were “annihilated by civilization”.

It is no surprise because civilization and indigeneity are antithetical in Argentina, as elsewhere.

It is no surprise because the legacies of genocide and cultural assimilation, in Argentina as elsewhere, are consistently reenacted with such phrases as “you, what country are you from?”

And yet, there is her face. For all to see. Filling a room shocked to silence by the realization of the weight of that question.

Del Moro did not forget that Argentina was once indigenous. His very being, his existence, requires that history be erased, subsumed under the national narrative of racial whitening. “Forgetting” the Indian is the condition of possibility for the Argentine nation.

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The interaction from to left to right:

Del Moro (l): Are you an immigrant? Where are you from?

Woman: Me? I am from Salta

Del Moro: ah, no…pffff…I thought you were from another country.

Woman: Thank God I am Argentine. –Why?

Woman: Because you forget that Argentines are also Coyas. Did you forget what Argentines looked like?  We are Coyas and this is the face we have.

On the Impossible Response

It was dark in the club. A cold night in Washington D.C. I had just given a presentation at an academic conference and was out with friends. And Beyoncé’s Formation had just roused the crowd into a collective gasping and celebration. I was walking down a winding staircase, glistening indigo fluorescence. And then, from above, that sound.

The sound of playing Indian as a child. The sound of bare-chested, war-painted braves riding into battle. That unmistakable mark of Hollywood sonority, of Tonto, of ecstatic, wagon-circling savages: the war whoop.

By the time I looked up into that darkness whoever it was had passed from view. But I did not need to see him. It was the pulsing rejection of my body, my hair, my presence. That sound.

And its not like it’s an ambiguous sound. It requires some effort. The hand to the mouth, the open mouth, the mouth that breathes that pitch just slightly above normal, a moment of tonality marked by the pulsating rhythm of colonial dread. That is the sound of death. Or, rather, of fear. It is the sound of imminent war. It may be the last sound you hear. At least in the movies.

What I have been trying to grasp, in the aftermath, as happens frequently in the wake of a micro (or actual) racist aggression, is what should I have done? What should I have said back to that man?

And the more I think of it, I wonder if there is anything, actually, that I could have said—uttered, intoned—that would have made me any more than what I was to that man in that moment: a body to parody, to mock, to shame, to strip of its ability to respond. It is an impossible response. When the interpolation as other is not the Althusserian, “Hey, you!” but instead a surreptitious, echoing epithet. It requires no turn, no response to the hail, and when you do turn, the source is gone, his power to elicit your response already evanescing as an insidious echo. Come back, master, I might have thought, I might have wanted, so that I can explain myself to you. But that was not the scene. Not demanding explanation but calcifying, freezing me in that nothingness.

Not Faggot, but Redskin. And the irony of this occurring in D.C. is not lost on me.

What I did do was haphazardly attempt to describe this event to a few other people, friends that I had gone out with. One of them said that people don’t do that anymore (make that sound), but apparently they do, they did. I left.

The next day I was supposed to go back to the conference, but instead I went to the Museum of the American Indian. I had been there before, two years ago, and remember not particularly liking it. I thought it lacked a political edge, that it was not as confrontational as I would have wanted about the American genocide and continued marginalization of Native people, about settler-colonialism.

And as I trudging up the spiral staircase to the third floor, I wandered into an exhibition by Kay Walkingstick, a Cherokee artist who only later in life (like me) came to grips with her Indigeneity. And I found myself sobbing in front of this image.

 
Her work was so timely, so intense, but also so much what I was wanting to feel. I think I wanted to cry, actually, I needed to. And the layering, the textures, the repetitive diptychs that her work presented kept me thinking about what type of response, between the abstract—feeling of my impossible reaction—and the representational—sign of my desire for reaction.

“Where are the generations? Where are the Children?” She asks.

And I could not take it. I could not take the feeling of history. That question that asks what Native life is actually possible? Where are those ancestors whose voice I will never hear?

Or what voice would they have used when I could not? What voice would they have had that might speak through me? And then I thought that it was not that theirs was absent, but simply that I have to be willing to hear it. That the voice of that past is only accessible if we are willing to listen for it. To hear instead of that war whoop the sounds of the forced removal, the sounds of memory, of the tears that they also shed, the sound of turning and looking but not being able to respond. The sound of Tsalagi. The sound of the sacred fire.

But I don’t hear this type of racist epithet very often. My lighter skin, my clothing, my education, my manner, tend to shield me from such slurs, and that is the privilege of passing. Until it isn’t.

The thing that I realized about the Museum, what I rethought this time, was its refusal of victimization. It is one thing to present two sides of history, as they did throughout, but it is another thing entirely not to name the things, the history, the bodies, the sounds, of the affect and the broken bodies, genealogies, of forced removal. One of last things I saw was a video installation entitled, “The ‘Indian Problem’,” which concludes with the following reflection by Suzan Shown Harjo: “we don’t make the case that there was genocide. We know there was, yet here we are.” Indeed. Yet here we are.

 

Notes on: Jugo del cuerpo

Jugo del cuerpo (October 25, 2015)

At Harbor gallery until December 5th.

It was the soft fluorescence that first caught my attention as I approached the back room. Was it going to be more sensual? More seedy than I had imagined?

But the collective exhibition Jugo del cuerpo had more to do with home than brothel. More to do with the situatedness of the body than with bodily excess.

It felt like being in someone else’s house. Being in someone’s kitchen, smelling their cooking, and not knowing why you’re there, or if you were invited, or what they are about to serve. What does it mean to taste someone else’s food?

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(photo cred: Leah Dixon via Facebook)

Before I read the program notes, and more on those in a sec, I thought, what does this hearth, this techno-illuminated hot plate, serve? A symbol not only of domesticity, quotidian in its formal register, but also performative in its gesture toward meals yet to serve, mouths yet to feed.

Quotidian but not only in the sense of the home. The lighting, in red and white, reaching back into Nicaragua’s Sandinista past, to the search for a socialist future in which no mouths would go unfed, in which no homes would lack, in which no hearths would remain unlit.

There was as much in this show about absence as there was about the possibility of a future. A stack of plastic chairs in the corner, arms severed: truncated, uncomfortable. Missing parts of a domestic scene in which the remaining element, what, to me at least, seemed like a bowl of refried black beans, turned out to be a mixture of volcanic ash and oil. From the very bowels of the earth extracted a viscous reminder of what land really means, of what the minerality of the earth really says about the grimy texture of our own quotidian relationships.

It’s strange to admit, but I thought this exhibition had a lot to do with the precariousness of family life. And this may be because I think about family a lot. But the mis-en-scène of the iterative hot plates, the dismembered plastic chairs, the inedible, indigestible substance that seemed to be all that was left to eat. Impossible relations. Impossible futures. Impossible because they are missing, or they never were, or they never were meant to be. Or because colonialism. Or because US intervention. Or because racism and the war on drugs or the Good Neighbor policy, or banana republics, or proletarian dreams of a future cut short by the inexorable weight of geopolitics.

A video installation accompanied, flashing images of the collective at work, flashes of landscapes, of homes, of the interactions that led to this vibrating if impossible moment.

In the end, I thought this was a show that resonated more with the sense of nostalgia that comes with years of unfulfilled promises, of chairs left vacant. Or maybe it had more to do with the premise of the collective: jugo del cuerpo. A play on words, a mistranslation, a circumlocution meant to signify sweat, sudor. The materiality of the body taken as a measure of what language cannot express, or fails to express adequately. What stories were to accompany this dinner? What connections were made possible through the cross cultural interaction? And what does the impossibility of expressing adequately the functions of the body do for imagining a way towards feeling rather than saying, essentializing, rather than comprehending?