Monthly Archives: July 2014

Reports from “Imagining Latina/o Studies: Past, Present, and Future”

“Imagining Latina/o Studies”: Perspectives on the First International Latina/o Studies Initiative Conference

It’s not everyday that new professional and academic organizations are formed. That’s why the decision to join together in a new association, made by over 500 scholars gathered in Chicago for the “Imagining Latina/o Studies: Past, Present, and Future” Conference on July 17, 2014, was a historic moment. As the Program Committee, composed of leading scholars in multiple fields from all regions of the country, stated in the program:

With this conference we hope to spotlight the dynamic work being carried out in a range of disciplines with a particular focus on the interdisciplinary impulse that shapes and motivates work produced under the banner of Latina/o Studies. We recognize the decades-long history and crucial work of national-origin studies, such as Chicana/o Studies and Puerto Rican Studies, from which many of us have emerged; and we further ask how might we conceptualize the field so that it reflects the complex histories, social formations, and cultural production of Latinas/os even while seeking to imagine a larger sense of belonging that might transcend nationalisms?

Fourteen sessions, with eight to ten panels in each session, took place over the three days of this gathering, providing a wealth of rigorous and creative scholarship as well as insights on pedagogy in this interdisciplinary field. The growing establishment of Latina/o Studies Departments in colleges and universities across the country was evident at the gathering, as well as valuable regional networks of Latina/o Studies scholars in many parts of the country. Another indication of the significance of this professional gathering was the participation of eleven academic presses and four academic journals in the book exhibit. Eighteen (18) of the forty-one (41) ads in the program booklet were from Latina/o Studies Departments, programs, journals and presses based in the Midwest, representing a significant new trend in the field. Conference organizers allowed all participants to join in the work of creating a new association by scheduling business meetings over the lunch period. Participants either picked up something to go or took advantage of a limited number of conference free lunches and joined in the business discussions, voting to form a new association, discussing possible names for the new group, deciding on an initial leadership and governance structure, and establishing a Coordinating Committee to guide the next steps. The new Coordinating Committee includes: Elena Machado, Carmen Lamas, Deb Vargas, Raúl Coronado, and Isabel Porras. Along with Frances Aparicio and Lourdes Torres, who will not continue on the Coordinating Committee, this group worked together to organize the events.  Included here are some of the comments and observations of those who participated in the conference. The colorful notes/doodles on conference sessions of Brian Herrera, in Theater at Princeton University – used with his permission — also provide additional commentary here.

From Adriana Estill, English, Carleton College, Minnesota

On Thursday morning, July 17, 2014, I was one of “those people” — the members of the audience in a conference session that get thanked because they came out so early. (In this case at 8:00 a.m.) But on that Thursday morning, “those people” were out in droves. The excitement was palpable at the session “Latina/o Representation in Mass Media and Popular Culture,” not only because the papers were riveting and engaging, but because we knew — I knew — that this was a historic moment. The energy at the Palmer Hotel in Chicago was unflagging, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Even our business meetings occupied a crowded Empire ballroom. Things that I deeply appreciated about the inaugural conference of a new Latina/o Studies Association:

  • feeling like I was “at home,” that people could understand the basic motivation for my work and that, maybe more importantly, they saw me;
  • hearing exciting new ideas insistently framed in relation to past Latin@, Chican@ and Puertorriqueñ@ scholarship. There was no amnesia here;
  • the sense of empowerment. Here, in this space (unlike at my home institution), it felt like our ideas, our curricula, our Latina/o Studies initiatives, and our scholarship could, should, and can matter. Part of this feeling stemmed from hearing about the amazing work that colleagues are doing, but part came from feeling heard in a number of different arenas.

Things that I hope we’ll work on in this new organization:

  • I saw the photo of our amazing conference organizers recently. Out of 10 (?) people, only one was cisgender male. I’d like to make sure that service to our association doesn’t fall primarily on cisgender female shoulders, given historical imbalances in that arena.
  • In that vein, a number of sessions that I attended that had “feminism” or “Latina” as one of the organizing rationale drew mainly cisgender women. Two thoughts: men involved in Latin@ studies should care about these issues; are we thinking deeply about masculinities?

Last but not least, a number of scholars used twitter at this conference, mainly to help get out the word on the sessions they attended. It was exciting to watch the ideas circulate not just in the rooms they were uttered, but out in “the open,” ready to be engaged by wider publics. And Iván Chaar López has archived our #LSCHI2014 in order to preserve those conversations for the archives.

From Luz Baez, M.A., Studies of the Americas, CUNY/City College of New York

First, I congratulate the Conference organizers for coordinating, what was in my estimation, a very successful event. Each panelist was distinguished and presented research in their field of study passionately and eloquently. It was enlightening to hear about the research each is conducting in their field.  There were several that resonated loudly and peak further interest in the subject matter, specifically how the construct of race has evolved and developed in a different space as Latina/os migrate to the South specifically Alabama, Mississippi and Florida; how inequality in media representation distorts the Latino/a image, and creates identity confusion and economic disparities; and, finally, the impact that the Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman case had on the Latino/a community.  The benefits I received from attending the conference are countless and will further assist me in the development of my research.  Thanks again to the Organizers.  I look forward to the next Latino/a Studies Conference.

From Diana Rivera, Librarian and Archivist, Michigan State University

I attended the Latino Studies Conference in Chicago from July 17 to July 19, 2014.  It was the launching of the Latina/o Studies Association; an idea discussed throughout the previous year at national-origin studies conferences (whose focus are Latin American Studies, Puerto Rican Studies and Chicana and Chicano Studies) and the American Studies Association, the Modern Language Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage conferences.  The new organization will meet biennially and discuss the shifting landscape of Latina/os (including Chicana/os) in the humanities, social sciences and professional schools. My presentation, in a roundtable/workshop on Mujeres Talk, discussed Chicana and Latina blogs generally, and the work I have done as an associate editor of Mujeres Talk, which is a unique format with a two-editor review of submitted and solicited posts.  Ohio State University Libraries is the hosting institution for the blog. Sessions I attended included:

  • Latina/o Representation in Mass Media and Popular Culture
  • Roundtable on Latina/o History in the American Midwest
  • Roundtable on Libraries, Institutional Pressures and Cultural Politics
  • Latin@ in the Upper Midwest and Canada
  • Printing Latinidad: The Power of Paper in Latina/o Art
  • Roundtable – La Bloga Contributors in Person: Talk about Blogging, Writing, Publishing
  • Theorizing an Alternative Ethos of Preservation: Land, Space and Place in Latina/o Literature and Culture
  • Roundtable – Archive as Social Practice, Contestation, Queer Gesture, and Chisme

Librarians from Stanford University, UC San Diego and I moved a motion forward to have librarians as part of the executive leadership structure of the new organization to educate, improve and establish a continued library/archives use among the new faculty entering the ranks of academia. It was a conversation that was well received.

To reach the Coordinating Committee for a new Latina/o Studies Association use the Contact Form on their website, or look up “Latina/o Studies Initiative” on Facebook. 

Separatismo in the Age of Global Coloniality

by Marie Cruz Soto

Last June 23rd, I participated for the first time in the U.N. Decolonization Hearings on Puerto Rico. My statement addressed the detrimental effects the U.S. Navy has had on Vieques and how these did not magically disappear with its official parting from the island eleven years ago. The horrors of the past cannot be done away with so easily, especially when the conditions that facilitate them persist. I thus emphasized how the colonial status of the Puerto Rican archipelago has facilitated the abuses committed in the island-municipality. Petitioner after petitioner, from their different perspectives, similarly stressed the detrimental effects of colonialism. And at the end of the day the Special Committee unanimously approved a call on the U.S. to, “allow the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, as well as take decisions, in a sovereign manner, to address their economic and social needs.”[1] The statement is in accord with the view shared by, arguably, the majority of Puerto Ricans who hold that the present relationship to the U.S. is unacceptable and that islanders have the right to self-determination.[2] Yet, self-determination is commonly understood as choosing between independence, statehood, and (an enhanced version of) commonwealth. Puerto Ricans are not dreaming of independence. Or at least not of the independence offered by traditional party politics. The option received 5% of the votes in the latest referendum, which coincides with the numbers of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño in general elections.[3] The question is: Why? With the centrality of nation-states to modern liberal democracies and global world order, why is the political imagination of islanders captive to a triad in which independence seems to fulfill the role of scaring people to vote for the other two options? A look at two recent initiatives may throw some light on the issue.

Anyone following the news these days will know that things in Puerto Rico are heated. And not just because of the summer temperatures. The Puerto Rican government is currently confronting a fiscal crisis, credit rating agencies, and unions. The talk about austerity measures and strikes may have opened up some space for stories to circulate about unorthodox political thinking. And, indeed, it may appear as counterintuitive for separatistas in a colonial setting to be against nation-state and for empire. But this is the case with two initiatives that have caught the attention of the media. On the one hand, a group called Movimiento de Reunificación con España (MRE) has declared null the 1898 Treaty of Paris and expressed desire to be annexed to Spain.[4] According to its founder José Nieves Seise, the Iberian metropole granted political autonomy to Puerto Ricans with the 1897 Carta Autonómica. Puerto Rico stopped then being a colony and thus could not be ceded to the U.S as booty of war the following year. Islanders had to be consulted for the Treaty of Paris to be valid. And since they were not, the transfer of sovereignty to the U.S. was illegitimate and so have been the last 116 years of U.S. rule. He further states that Puerto Ricans have supported options other than annexation “because in school we were taught a distorted version of history, one that demonized Spain and that hid the fact that we were Spanish citizens and that we are the descendants of the conquistadores.”[5] For him, Puerto Rico is (in a good and inalienable way) a product of Spanish colonialism, and annexation a matter of putting things right. Not only does annexation corrects a historical wrong, but it also opens up a brighter future with a more benevolent empire. Spain, for the MRE, stands in stark contrast to a U.S. Empire that has long neglected Puerto Ricans and denied them of political representation and economic opportunities. In this sense, U.S. rule is, more than illegitimate, highly undesirable. But so is a Puerto Rican nation-state.

On the other hand, there are the Viequense separatistas. These seek independence from Puerto Rico in order to establish a more direct relationship with the U.S. The initiative steers clear of identity politics and nostalgic looks at the long colonial past of the Puerto Rican archipelago. There is no counter-slogan to the MRE’s “Somos puertorriqueños Somos españoles No gringos.”[6] It assumes instead a rather pragmatic stance that has surprised, if not disturbed, many Puerto Rican main islanders. Indeed, the initiative cannot but make main islanders uncomfortable given that it is built on a searing critique of Puerto Rican politics. According to the spokespersons Yashei Rosario and Julián García, the Viequense island-community suffers from underdevelopment and from the neglect of San Juan-based politicians who take detrimental decisions from far away.[7] Not knowing or caring about the people on the other side of the Vieques Sound. Water is here a divide that separates Viequenses from constituents actually benefited by the actions of their elected officials. In this regard, Rosario further states that Vieques is doubly colonized: by Puerto Rico and by the U.S. The agenda of these separatistas is thus not built on a romanticized vision of the U.S. It is not even built on the typical colonial mentality of the incapacity of the colonized. Rosario, on the contrary, identifies the U.S. as an oppressive power and Viequenses as individuals who can develop themselves successfully. If only allowed to. The goal then is to sever ties to Puerto Rico and work with the remaining metropole in the securing of economic well-being.

The MRE and the Viequense separatistas while embracing different empires concur on their rejection of a Puerto Rican nation-state. In order to do so, the MRE opens up the past to the demands of the present. It depends on historical reinterpretations that elide the fact that the Carta Autonómica was only granted after four centuries of imperialism and anti-colonial resistance. Rather than a gift, the Charter was a modest opening that came late and at a high price. For it was not in the nature of the Spanish Empire to be any kinder than the U.S. Both endeavored to discipline the local population and ensure that independence was neither viable nor desired by islanders. Eradicating dissent, by any means necessary, has been fundamental to the fashioning of a profitable colony. And Puerto Rico has been a profitable colony. One historically dependent on the work of enslaved and immigrant peoples. Their central role in the making of modern day Puerto Ricans renders any unqualified claim to Spanish ancestry problematic. The Viequense separatistas accordingly overlook that, while the Puerto Rican government has many times enacted unfavorable policies for Vieques (and the rest of the archipelago), it has also with limited power of negotiation deterred the actions of the U.S. For if San Juan-based politicians backed the onset of the 1940s expropriations, they later avoided the complete takeover of the island by the U.S. Navy. Puerto Rican main islanders and the diaspora, in addition, were instrumental in driving out the Navy. Without their support, it is quite likely that Viequenses would still be living between an ammunition depot and a live fire target range. In these post-Navy days the U.S. federal government has repeatedly invoked sovereign immunity in order to evade responsibility over the welfare of Viequenses. It is thus unclear what sort of support the Viequense separatistas could expect. Yet, they wish to cast their lot with the U.S., and the MRE with Spain.

It would be easy to reduce the actions of these two groups to opportunism, to historical amnesia, or to the otherwise ills of a colonial mentality. It would be more productive, however, to contextualize their actions diachronically and synchronically. All Puerto Ricans are the product of a long colonial history throughout which dissent has been persecuted and the capacity of islanders has been questioned. Over the years the violence of colonialism has been normalized and made part of the invisible workings of the everyday. It is then not surprising that Puerto Ricans have trouble imagining a future without a metropole. And this daring feat only becomes more difficult when the metropole shuns the term empire and claims to be the defender of liberal principles, human rights, and economic development. Anti-imperial critiques are thus rendered nonsensical. Yet, Puerto Ricans are also of this world characterized by Arturo Escobar as ruled by imperial globality and global coloniality. The terms highlight the U.S.-led, “economic-military-ideological order that subordinates regions, peoples and economies world-wide.”[8] Nation-states, in this context, take back seat to global dynamics that “heightened marginalisation and suppression of the knowledge and culture of subaltern groups.”[9] This is not to say that nation-states are irrelevant in the potential offsetting of such global dynamics, or that the search for independence is not a worthy endeavor, but rather that the optimism which once permeated mid-20th century decolonization movements is lost. Nation-states can no longer be considered the panacea to the problems faced by historically marginalized groups. Neither can nationalism be understood as inherently anti-colonial or empowering discourse. New political imaginings are needed to envision a more just world.








[8] Escobar, Arturo.  “Beyond the Third World: Imperial Globality, Global Coloniality and Anti-globalisation Social Movements.” Third World Quarterly 25:1 (2004): 207.

[9] Escobar, “Beyond the Third World.”

Marie Cruz Soto teaches at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University. She has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research interests and publications focus on the island community of Vieques, militarized colonialism, reproductive rights, knowledge production, and coloniality. She is currently working on a book manuscript that delves into the five-century struggle of peoples to inhabit the island of Vieques and of empires to control it.

Violence Against Latina/o Migrants

by Felicity Amaya Schaeffer

Driving down Main Street in Half Moon Bay several weeks ago, a short detour from the wealthy tourist zone into a residential apartment complex two blocks away brought me into the borderland between the middle to upper class white community and a mixed class of Latinos in this small Northern California town. We slowed the car to get a closer look at the hundreds of Latinos/as dressed in black outside a church. It was as if they were floating to the rhythmic flow of Aztec dancers, their bodies gracefully leaning back to release hundreds of white balloons into the sky, pleas for peace in a community united by rage over the recent death of an 18-year-old Latina by a white police officer. A Latino tasked with facilitating the flow of traffic walked up to us and I quickly rolled down the car window. He responded to my concerned look by explaining the events that led up to this funeral.

“The police are out of control in this country,” he said with anger rising in his voice. “They shot and killed a young Latina with mental health problems, shot her in her own home.” I found out later that the family called 911 when their daughter, Yanira Serano, would not take her medication, hoping the paramedics would arrive as they usually did. The police arrived instead. When faced with this woman running towards them with what her family say was a butter knife, a police officer shot her dead “in self defense.” The family and others wanted to know: Why didn’t the police use a Taser gun, or try to disarm this young woman? And I think to myself, this would not have happened in a white, middle class home. Is the racialized criminality of migrants so high that police are increasingly turning to guns to solve “problems” in Latino communities? The hostility of police toward migrants, like African-Americans, speaks to the disposability of certain lives, those who are criminalized, dehumanized, and stripped of the most basic protections and rights in U.S. society. At least these incidents are spawning widespread demands for rights and humanity by Latino communities. Young women and residents protested Yanira’s death, as they occupied the tourist zone where the sheriff’s office is located shouting for “Justicia!” through the bustling streets of the downtown area of Half Moon Bay.

This police shooting of a Latina is hardly an isolated event. The recent killing of a Latino migrant by police officers in Salinas and others in Anaheim similarly spawned protests, especially in cities in California where racialized tensions between Latinos and whites have a long history.[i] The Salinas murder, which happened only months before and was the third police homicide that year, ignited street protests where over a thousand people met in the streets of Salinas to demand justice, and an investigation of racially motivated police violence in the area. Unfortunately, media attention to this murder was drowned out by the shooting spree of a  Santa Barbara City college student, a wealthy young man, whose psychological profile captured attention after he tragically killed six innocent people, supposedly in response to a lack of attention from young women. It is the (racialized) innocence of the Santa Barbara victims that the media contrasts to the reporting of migrants deaths, who are criminalized as always potentially out to commit a crime. No one talks about the laws themselves that criminalize every aspect of migrant life.

Many of us are well aware of the rising deaths of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Not only are migrants dying as they cross the most militarized borders, as well as deathly desert zones in Arizona, Texas, and California, but the pumping of funds into border patrol personnel and surveillance technologies are spreading this terror to cities across the United States. Secure Communities, a government sponsored program to educate and empower local police to take on the role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stretches how we conceptualize borders, transferring border zones from the imagined space between nations to a much more deterritorialized terrain that stretches beyond the nation and into the most intimate sphere of immigrants’ everyday life. For example, the United States contributes funding, border control strategies, and technologies to Mexico and Central American countries to slow the numbers of migrant crossings into Mexico and ultimately the United States. In exchange for negotiating a better deal for its own migrants in the United States, Mexico detains and deports Central American and other migrants crossing its Southern Border, the majority from Ecuador.[ii] In addition, drones manufactured by U.S. and Israeli companies patrol both sides of the border in the name of narcoterrorism, shifting war technologies to the U.S.-Mexico border as well as other borders around the world.[iii] We might want to think of this as another stage of global imperialism where technologies spread the power of the United State’s control over land and bodies, a form of governance I call “techno-empire.” The United States can control countries like Mexico from afar without having to literally take over another country. For example, by launching drones over Mexican territory, or selling surveillance technologies whose optics can be viewed from any Internet location, the United States keeps watch of not only migrants and drug cargo, but also the police and border patrol on the other side of the border. Given the use of militarized technologies to fight the “war on terror,” U.S. technological dominance compromises Mexico’s sovereignty to determine it’s own border policies and practices.

This militarization of the border financially supports high-tech companies as well as the prison industrial complex (as detention centers continue to expand), leading to gross profits made on policing bodies whose value relies on their de-humanization. Migrant deaths and deportations are calculated as simply the collateral damage of the war at the border. Hundreds of migrants have been killed by heat exhaustion, drones, and helicopters (especially in Texas), while surveillance cameras positioned in border patrol cars, fences, and across the border region track people like hunted animals to be detained, imprisoned, or exported from the United States. It seems as though the power to identify and police each other has spread through a state of exception that normalizes war onto racialized bodies charged with the potential to threaten, rather than enhance, American life. All are empowered – the police, hospital personnel, schools, vigilantes or “citizen border patrols,”[iv] and everyday individuals (“If you see something, say something”) – to call in (and sometimes kill) potentially undocumented individuals. In fact, Texas border patrol can legally shoot moving vehicles suspected of carrying undocumented migrants. Officers and helicopters are indeed mobilizing this right, leading to a spate of deaths, including the killing of a migrant mother who was shot through her car windshield, leaving behind her crying 18 month-year old in the front seat.

Ironically, securing the border is often justified through the protection of innocent women and children trafficked across the border, even as migrant women are demonized as irresponsible mothers due to a lack of English language skills and for breaking the law by crossing the border, among other reasons. Further aggravating the situation is the conflation of migrants with gang members, smugglers, and terrorists in the media, which has police responding to a racialized rage (and fear) that results in the death of migrants. It’s not only rage that drives these deaths, but the widespread disrespect for the rights and humanity of migrants whose very bodies have recently been found dumped in mass graves in Texas. While the law stipulates that all dead bodies must be identified in Texas, as in most states, it appears as though migrant bodies found in the border regions of Texas and other states are being dumped into mass graves without identification.[v] Similar to the lack of justice for the disappeared women in Juarez, many in Mexico and Central America search for loved ones with few resources to pay the thousands of dollars required to exhume and identify bodies discarded most efficiently in a burial site in Texas. And the rapid rise in numbers of children migrating without an adult across multiple countries en route to the United States, or left behind by a parent in detention who has been deported back to Latin America, or killed, should be evidence enough that the “war at the border” is creating many more problems than it solves. The walls erected at the border mirror the halted flow of knowledge about how migrants are being brutally stripped of humanity in the media. I am hopeful that migrants from around the world will continue to see themselves in alliance against the techno-virtual imperial state, and its militarized apparatus. And continue to rise up in defiance.


[i] A video of the Salinas killing went viral when caught on someone’s cell phone. A Latino man had entered a woman’s house in what they think was an attempted theft and rape (although nothing was taken and no one was hurt) and was caught stumbling down the street of Salinas. After the police followed him for two blocks, they shot, and killed him on the corner of a busy street in the middle of the day.

[ii] Many of these migrants come from Ecuador. See David Kyle and Christina A. Siracusa, “Seeing the State Like a Migrant” in Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the Other Side of Globalization (eds., Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 153-176.

[iii] See Tom Barry, International Policy Report, “Drones Over the Homeland: How Politics, Money and Lack of Oversight have Sparked Drone Proliferation, and What we can do.” April 23, 2013.

[iv] These are citizens who take over the name Minutemen in order to patrol the border and prevent migrants from crossing, oftentimes by seriously injuring and killing those who cross their path. See the Southern Poverty Law Center article, “InvestigatingDeaths of Undocumented Immigrants on the Border,”Intelligence Report, Fall 2012, Issue Number:  147. Accessed June 21, 2014.

[v], “Mass graves with bodies of unidentified immigrants discovered in south Texas cemetery,” Perry Chiaramonte and The Associated Press, June 24, 2014. Accessed on June 24, 2014:

Felicity Amaya Schaeffer is an Associate Professor in Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has a Ph.D from the American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota and an MA in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona. Her book, Love and Empire: Cybermarriage and Citizenship Across the Americas, was recently been published by New York University Press (2013). Her new research interests examine visual and surveillance technologies, and the sexual criminalizing of immigrant bodies across the U.S. – Mexico border.