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.


Upcoming: All the Conferencing!

A quick plug for upcoming events:

  1. The Queer/Cuir Americas Working Group, of which I’m a member, will hold a symposium at Fordham University (Lincoln Center) on Wednesday, May 25th.
  2. The LASA Sexualities Studies Section will host a Pre-Conference at Stony Brook University-Manhattan, on Thursday, May 26th.
  3. The Latin American Studies Asociation (LASA) Annual Conference will be held in Midtown Manhattan from Friday-Monday. I’ll be presenting new work on Sunday along with some really awesome people.

Ecuador Earthquake

I have been involved in community-based arts programs in Bahía de Caráquez for six years now. Bahía de Caráquez, its community, its family, was devastated by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit last Saturday. More than 400 people in Ecuador have died, tens of thousands have lost their homes. The community still has no electricity and no water. Please consider supporting our efforts to collect financial and material donations for those families, our family.

Read more here.

Or at the video below:


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.


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 sounds and the furies (of gayness)

An article posted on the gaily grind the other day asked a rather standard question: “Should the LGBT community stop using phrases like ‘Gurl’, ‘She’ and ‘Sister’ in an attempt to combat stereotypes and homophobia?”

The assumption is that sounds matter. That vernacular, tone, lisp, pitch, etc., all function to mark a gay as subject—and as subject to (subjected by) stereotypes and the discriminatory attitudes that manifest as homophobia. That to rid the gays of these stereotypes and combat homophobia, we should be careful of what and how we speak. This is nothing new, of course, and has been the subject of much scholarship, from William Leap’s path breaking Word’s out: Gay men’s English, for example, to more popular interrogations, such as David Thorpe’s 2014 documentary Do I Sound Gay? (self-loathing and disastrously problematic).

The gaily grind article depends on, traffics in, the abs of blogger, Instagram celebrity, fitness guru, and ‘motivational’ quote quipper, Barret Pall. The post links through to Pall’s website, to a short piece that he wrote, a manifesto, in which he answers this question with a resounding yes (just one ‘s’. Definitely not yassssssss). The gaily grind site is an echo of Pall’s original, in which he opens with the following statement:

“Gurl, She, Sister, etc are all things that I totally get as playful and fun, but I feel as if they’re detracting away from our community being taken seriously, and furthermore makes outsiders think these are appropriate things to say to us.”

Just what community is Pall referring to? And secondly, who is outside of it?

What I think he means, actually, is that the gays have a code, a form of speaking (lexicon, inflection, references, etc.) that when spoken to outsiders (i.e. nongays) it can be misinterpreted, misheard, mistaken, and that that incongruence then authorizes those outsiders (the nongays) to appropriate the code and speak it back to the gays—an effort that they will inevitably fail at, and which will end up hurting the actual gays. The gays will be hurt, the logic goes, because the nongays will be taking our playful and fun words and misusing them. Employing them contretemps.

Where have we heard this before?

Pall’s post takes sounds as if they were entirely disembodied, as if the lisp, tone, pitch, were all markers of gayness that can be divorced from the actual person who is making those sounds. Sounds have bodies. Bodies make those sounds. And that means that when you are listening to someone’s gayness, you are also looking at their gayness, or their straightness, but, and this is really the point here, their physical body is also a raced, gendered, classed, regionalized, body. Those voices and those bodies are marked by race and regional history, by class inflection (middle class New Yorkers are losing their accent!), and by nationality (Where is your accent from?).

Pall may not have noticed, but he is white. And he’s repeating ad nauseam the very same critique that queer people of color have been making against people just like him for ages. All together now: cultural appropriation.

So, even for him, if words like kiki and ratchet are “fun” as he calls them, he is actually admitting to his entertainment by way of channeling his inner black woman (you’ve heard this before, right?) and the thing is…nobody wants their words taken and used against them…but you can’t be so hypocritical, or unaware, as to realize that you are doing just that.

Pall must have received some push back. I’m sure. And he notes in an addendum to his original post:

“If you read any of my other written pieces, watch my youtube videos, or know me in real life, you know that I am a fan of diversity, being yourself and living your truth.”

[That was my eyes rolling]

Two final notes:

  1. I am amazed at the way this language has infiltrated what seems like an attempt at contrition: to be a ‘fan’ of diversity? A FAN! Yes, you may think diversity is fun, entertaining, you may support it, you may actually think that what you are doing with your writing, youtubing, and real life, is working toward diversity, but you are woefully tone deaf to the reality of your own language. To be a fan of diversity is to capitulate to its cooptation.
  1. “Living your truth” seems more like burying your head in the sand, pretending not to notice your privilege, your racism, your homophobia, homonormativity, transphobia, etc. Living your truth. A tautology of epic neoliberal proportions. Carte blanche to willful ignorance and the denial of one’s own position in the world.

Coda: Language is pliable. It has histories. It is neither static nor fixed to any particular group. We can learn other people’s languages—we should learn other people’s languages! Learn more languages! But this does not mean that we should be so naïve, or so blatantly ignorant, as to imagine that languages exist without bodies or histories or politics.


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.


Selfie Notes / Notas sobre una selfie


Is it me? Or is it the deafening voice of another self? Or is it the war cry of some other tribe? I see my reflection in the center of a conch and a spiral. The conch is a spiral. Its nature, its form, emanates from a center that expands, that grows, that spins on its axis. My forehead. A little dramatic, no?

It is a print in black and white. There is a man to the right who is me, or at least that is what the friend who gave me this work told me. I felt other in that moment, when I was twenty. Who was that other self, that one who separates from the frame? It is a selfie of a present self who recalls a past one…but then I think, aren’t I still the same. Am I the same self? I hide my body because the body of that other self is already there, my body, my other body. It is a selfie that has a center, but that center is a self that imagines his other self, he who waits in profile to the right of the frame. I hide that other self. Or is it that that other self, that one left out, is the same one who is looking at me, who sees himself in the reflection of a selfie?


¿Soy yo? ¿O es la voz de otro yo que ensordece? ¿O será que no quiero escuchar mi propia voz? ¿O será el llamado a guerra de alguna tribu? Veo mi reflejo en el centro de una concha y una espiral. La concha es una espiral. Su naturaleza, su forma emana de un centro que expande, que crece, que da vueltas sobre su eje. Mi frente. Un poco dramatico, ¿no?
Es un grabado en blanco y negro. Hay un hombre a la derecha que soy yo, o por lo menos eso me dijo el amigo que me regaló esta obra. Me sentí otro en ese momento, cuando tenía unos veinte años. ¿Quién era ese otro yo, el que se separa del cuadro? Es una selfie de un yo presente que recuerda un yo pretérito…pero luego pienso, sigo siendo el mismo. ¿Soy el mismo yo? Escondo mi cuerpo porque está el cuerpo del otro yo, mi cuerpo, mi otro cuerpo. Es una selfie que tiene un centro, pero ese centro es un yo que piensa en su otro yo, el que espera, en perfil, a la derecha del cuadro. Escondo ese otro yo. ¿O será que ese otro yo, el que quedó fuera, es el mismo que me mira, quien se mira en el reflejo de una selfie?