On Thursday, April 26, we attended an International Coffee Hour at UWM’s Inclusive Excellence Center. The coffee hour was focused on the country of Guatemala, and featured Guatemalan music, coffee, and a short presentation from a Guatemalan student named Nelson, who has been living in the United States for roughly five years. The Inclusive Excellence Center is located in the Student Union, and, according to the Center’s website, “is primarily dedicated to working with a promoting diversity, equity and social justice on campus.” International Coffee Hour highlights different countries throughout the year and is “designed for students to not only network and meet new people, but to ask questions and gain global knowledge through the experiences of others.” Guatemala was the final country to be highlighted this year.
Before entering the event, we were encouraged to put on nametags that included phrases like “ask me about where I’d like to travel” and “ask me about where I’m from” to encourage conversation between attendees. Once inside, we could help ourselves to a spread of snacks, coffee, and tea. The roughly twenty or so attendees, most of whom appeared to be students, chatted quietly as Marimba music played in the background. After about ten minutes of mingling, Nelson began his presentation, which covered a range of topics from food, politics, and things to do in Guatemala.
Nelson was dressed professionally, and though he knows his home country well, he referred to notecards that he held in his hands. He did seem a little nervous, but also genuine about wanting to share about his home. As he talked, we observed that there were times that he paused, trying to think of the right English phrase for what he was trying to say. He was translating on the spot for us, using hand motions and descriptions in order to tell us in English parts of his home culture that he remembered in his dialect of Spanish. As we were paying careful attention to not only what Nelson was saying, but his whole embodiment of translation in action, we could see many of the practices and actions described by Laura Gonzales in Sites of Translation. He was a good communicator, and we think most of the audience appreciated the work he did to explain Guatemalan cultures and customs.
For the most part, the presentation was lighthearted. Nelson shared pictures of his family, his favorite spots in Guatemala, and spoke of memories of going out dancing with his siblings. We all had a good laugh when someone from the audience asked him what he missed most about home and listed food before family, which Nelson defended by saying that no one makes better food than his mother. So when he said food, he was really thinking of his family. This reminded us of the texts we’ve read that show Latinx cultures are focused more on family, collective success, and community. He seemed quick to defend himself, that he would never put food above family, and he talked with much fondness when he showed pictures of his cousins.
However, the presentation had its serious moments as well, such as when one attendee mentioned the hardships during and following the Guatemalan civil war, questioning the poverty that is still present there. It is worth mentioning that this attendee was observed to be white, and they continued badgering Nelson with questions about Guatemalan government and solutions to poverty until the person hosting this event stepped in politely to suggest space for others to ask questions. While this student mentioned they were asking these questions for a paper they were writing, it was clear that they were not considering Nelson’s feelings about being put on the spot in front of people as to what’s wrong with his home. He did the best he could to answer the questions, but he seemed very uncomfortable and possibly even offended that this person would assume Nelson represents the whole country of Guatemala. We were surprised by this interruption, and also reminded of our discussions in class in which we’ve considered how one person can be viewed as the representative for their whole culture or race.
On a different note, another observation that we made is that as he discussed certain facts about food, music, or other components of his presentation, Nelson consistently differentiated Guatemala from Mexico. It seemed that he had grown accustomed to pointing out that his country and its traditions were different from others, as if people in the United States often assumed things about his home and heritage. He made the comment, “I say ‘Mexican’ because you are more familiar with it than Guatemalan”. However, he went on to give us many ways in which Guatemala is not Mexico, and many ways in which each town is its own culture. For example, one picture was of a girl wearing a uniquely patterned and brightly colored outfit. Nelson told us that each community has their own specific colors and patterns that marks them as part of their own community. Additionally, he made it very clear that there is not one language and culture in Guatemala, but many. He mentioned 21 groups and languages of Mayan that have survived in Guatemala, and even a language that mixes Mayan, African, and English, called Garifuna. Lastly, he showed how different communities celebrate holidays in various ways across the country.
Guatemala is home to many language, religious, and cultural variances. Nelson taught us not only to see Guatemala as multi-cultural, but as separate from other Latinx-identifying countries. As we chatted afterwards about our experience at the International Coffee Hour, we wondered if students were encouraged to come because of classes they were involved in, and how to get more of an audience for these speakers like Nelson who are willing to share about places outside of America. Considering the fact that UWM has international students, and that the world is bigger than the United States, we wondered if it might benefit graduate students to go to these as well. It can teach you about other places and people, but it can also be a means of networking with other students and of showing support for people of various communities.
DK & CS
It was such a privilege to learn with Stephanie Kerschbaum this week. Not only was she UWM’s Vilas Trust guest lecturer, she also joined our classroom community and discussed her book, Toward a New Rhetoric of Difference, and article “Anecdotal Relations” with us.
When we think about differences between people, what is it we’re thinking of? Chances are we think about demographic differences, and that we also conceive of these differences as static or permanent. Instead, Kerschbaum argues that “differences emerge during interactions” (9). The stakes for such an approach are high. As her first chapter, “The Market for Diversity in Higher Education” shows, when we leverage demographics for marked difference, we commodify people. And I hope it goes without saying (though I’m obviously still going to say it) commodifying someone’s identity is grossly unethical.
UWM currently has plans to become a Hispanic Serving Institution. With Stephanie Kerschbaum in our class, one of my colleagues asked how we saw her “Market for Diversity” chapter informing UWM’s new initiative. This is an important question for us to dwell on—we are commodifying “Wisconsin’s fastest growing group of college bound students.” And as Kerschbaum warns us, “In this language, difference is neither dynamic nor flexible: it is individual property that institutions cover” (32).
We already know what it’s like when institutions, largely white (male) ran institutions, consider people as property because of difference.
Additionally, we are never just one facet of our identity. Drawing from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work, Kerschbaum urges “teachers [to] consider their students not in terms of single identifiers but as the embodiment of a complex set of identifications that must be considered together, rather than independently from one another” (10). In this way, we can begin to conceive of how difference functions relationally. To use an example Kerschbaum brought up in class, and that she’s written in her book, “To evoke my deafness as difference, it must be considered relationally: How does my not-hearing (of a particular form) make me different from a specific interlocutor?” (72). Her deafness is not a static marker of difference. Difference(s) must be contextually based, and can only emerge in social interaction.
With that said, Kerschbaum asks us to think about the difference between “Learning about and Learning with Others” (74).
She asked us, in class, “Can you imagine what ‘learning with’ would look like in your class”? One of my classmates answered this question by explaining the games he employs in the beginning of his class period. He argues that by allowing play to set the tone of the room, he learns with his students as they all participate in building confianza.
Bringing up the concept of confianza led to an important part of conversations we should all be having on the teaching of language. Because our language practices are so tied to who we are, to ask students to share their language, with each other and with us, we need to create a classroom community that fosters relationship building. To do this, we must give time for it. Like Kerschbaum argues, we must be able to see our students one on one. And Like Rachel, our professor illustrates in her book Translanguaging Outside the Academy, “Relationships formed, and translanguaging was possible because of these relationships” (115). In between those two examples, we can demonstrate confianza in our classrooms, what Steven Alvarez defines as, “a reciprocal relationship in which individuals feel cared for… built through an ongoing, intentional process that is centered in local communities and involves mutual respect” (4, Community Literacies en Confianza).
Mutual respect cannot be established if our students feel commodified or if we regard their identities as static.
As we near the close of our semester, I think we can all see connections and themes between all of our readings and class discussions. If languages and dialects have to be seen as fluid and flexible (and they do have to), then that must mean we also have to see the identities involved with languages as dynamic and contextually based. Even if they’re not using language in that moment, to quote from Kerschbaum’s lecture, difference(s) “are contextually embodied and deeply rhetorical.”
I want to close by repeating Stephanie Kerschbaum’s question: “Can you imagine what ‘learning with’ would look like in your class?” Does it look like Alvarez’s confianza? Or maybe it looks like “Writing Risky Relationships” wherein we learn how to “mak[e] mistakes and lear[n] from them. It also means listening to conflict, difficulty, and resistance for the sense-making behind others’ acts” (Kerschbaum, 149). And maybe learning with can happen “over humor, songs, and play” because, in the writing classroom we don’t learn “Without taking risks and making mistakes” (Bloom-Pojar, 115).
“The Atlantis Effect: Aquatic Invocations, Spirituality, and the Re(Claiming) Of Women’s Spaces through the Works and Archives of Lydia Cabrera, Gloria Anzaldúa and tatiana de la tierra”
Earlier today I had the pleasure of attending a talk at UWM by a visiting professor of Latina/o Literature from the University of Wisconsin- Parkside named Sarah E. Piña. She gave a talk about the research she is doing for the book she is currently working on. Her talk was titled “The Atlantis Effect: Aquatic Invocations, Spirituality, and the Re(Claiming) Of Women’s Spaces through the Works and Archives of Lydia Cabrera, Gloria Anzaldúa and tatiana de la tierra”.
Her work is based on archival findings of core similarities in the works of three different Latinx queer authors: Cuban ethnographer Lydia Cabrera, Chicana scholar and author Gloria Anzaldúa and Colombian author tatiana de la tierra. All three authors have their works archived in libraries around the Americas, have writings that consistently refer to Afrocuban religious traditions, and have extensive water imagery in their writings. All three writers consistently discuss water, water imagery, and some queer dieties and goddesses associated with water.
Piña described “The Atlantis Effect” as the connection that these three authors have with water as a feminine-queer, autonomous and decolonial space in which they cannot be conquered or broken. She described water as having the metaphorical quality of allowing it to represent the fluidity of gender, sexuality, and spirituality— in essence a liminal space where marginalized queer women of color are able to heal and develop their identities without the restrictions that they face on dry, rigid land. The water represents a space without the restrictions of the Borderlands which Gloria Anzaldúa describes in her work. Ultimately, she describes this connection to the water as something that allows these authors the autonomy to reclaim their own spaces through the texts that they created.
All of the authors also hold in common literary ties and references to watery goddesses and dieties commonly linked with the AfroCuban religion of Santeria. What she described as most common in her talk were references to the Mother of the Orishas and coincidentally the goddess of the ocean, Yemayá. She briefly described how the presence of powerful female dieties in Santeria gives the religion a space more open to the queer and the feminine. She gave reference to three chapters that she has written as: 1-The Atlantis Effect:Liberation, Healing and Preservation; 2-Water Spaces and Gender-queer Aquatic Beings; 3-Mujeres al Agua: Where Yemayá meets Ochún.
Piña stated that her book will probably be out in the next couple of years; I for one cannot wait to buy a copy and read it as her work has very direct ties to the themes which I tend to deal with in my filmmaking. It also sounds like an extremely empowering text, especially for the Latinx queer community.
Lisa Flores, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has a forthcoming book that takes a close look at the United States’ rhetoric around the Bracero program. In February, she came to UWM and delivered a talk titled “The Promise of Race and the Whiteness of Nation: Rhetorical Dynamics of Immigration” in which she framed her rhetorical analysis of this time period.
In 1942 the United States signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico, an agreement that basically categorized Mexican farm laborers as imports. This series of laws is known and remembered as the Bracero program. It was originally intended to fill the gap that opened in the labor force during WWII but the US continued to “import” Mexican laborers until 1964, long after WWII ended.
Before I summarize her argument, I want to point out the importance of Flores’ research and how it intersects with the work we’re doing in our course. All semester long, implicit and explicitly, we have read, noticed, and discussed the violence English has participated in with colonization. This violence can be seen in the history of “manifest destiny” wherein the US literally stole land from indigenous people with barbaric force, but it can also be seen in the way we deploy English-only laws, standardized curriculums, and the stigmatizing and criminalization of Splanglishes. This violence can also be seen, quite literally, in the way the US’s current administration talks about Mexican people. The current US president was born 20 years before the Bracero program was terminated. The effect of the rhetoric Flores studies is alive and well in the US, pumping more violence and imperialism into contemporary American discourse and politics, further colonizing and dehumanizing our Latinx populations.
Lisa Flores analyzed American ad campaigns soliciting Mexican laborers. Advertisements appealed to laborers, yes, but they also appealed to businesses and “citizens” to comfort them. Ads targeted to Mexican men offered promises of prosperity and good living conditions. Ads appealing to business owners showcased Mexican laborers as happy and hard-working contributions to their enterprise. And ads appealing to “citizens” promised the sustenance of nation and, also, showcased Mexican laborers as happy neighbors, here to help in the enterprise of building a nation.
This is where Flores’ analysis takes shape. She borrows from Sara Ahmed and argues that the US characterized Mexican laborers as “happy objects.” Ahmed explains her concept of “happy objects” in her book The Promise of Happiness—the similarity with Flores’ talk’s title is noteworthy. For Ahmed, a happy object contains the promise of a happy future. If it makes your skin crawl for people to refer to other people as an object, you’re not alone. But, ultimately Flores argues that the US’s rhetoric treated Mexican laborers as “happy objects” to uphold notions of white supremacy and nationalism. To dehumanize is to gain rhetorical power.
Where do we see that happening today?
The US is currently in a crisis wherein we can’t decide how to protect and support people who want to live here, who regard this soil as home. Our Latinx people, our Dreamers, our DACA recipients are not given the full category of citizenship. This violent term continues to be used to dehumanize and colonize populations on US soil. American discourse about our Latinx population has gone from “happy objects” to dangerous criminals and Lisa Flores’ research shows how the one ultimately led to the other.
This Monday we met Laura Gonzales, esteemed author of Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us about Digital Writing & Rhetoric, who shared her thoughts about the book, her dissertation experience, research interest among many other things. Following our Google hangout with her, we continued our discussion on the book ideas, rhetoric of translation, shared relevant experiences, and also our projects towards the end of the class.
During our chat with Dr. Gonzales, she shared that her most favorite part about the book is it being a space where she could extend her reflections on the bonds that she created with the community she worked with—something she humbly mentions in her book too. She valued the human connection that was established with the community as much as she loved creating the academic lore on the rhetoric of translation. She also added this bond gave rise to different dimensions of looking at translation process—অনুবাদের মুহূর্তগুলো (onubader muhurtogula—translation moments)—a recurring theme in this week’s class discussion both preceding, during and following our hangout with Dr. Gonzales. We appreciated how Dr. Gonzales talked about multimodality, and how it is not only a digital realm but a bodily realm, too. We discussed how the book “fits in” nicely with the other readings we have already done so far for the class—a kairotic moment for our reading, perhaps. Classmates also appreciated the straightforward and easy writing style of the book.
Dr. Gonzales offered her thoughts about theory dynamics in language: theories constantly change based on our readings, constant research, also on our own experiences. She also talked about the intersectionalities between translation studies, translingualism and many such theories. She also shared her views about different conversations and contentions about language theories, and how to talk about people and language practices who have broad range of linguistic experiences.
She also responded to different queries we had about the book. Classmates expressed their thrill and joy to read Dr. Gonzales’s book and also mentioned how the translation moments (অনুবাদের মুহূর্তগুলো)—one of the talking points of the book resonated with their personal experiences.
When we came back to class after the break, we continued talking about the translation moments. The hermeneutics of “translation’’ kept coming back in class conversation this week. Our class discussion centered on the fact that translation itself a rhetorical act. We also discussed how the author use translation as a metaphor. We pointed out how multi-modality and multilingual connections is something that Laura brings to the table and that there isn’t much talk on this topic. We also thought that we should do more studies on other languages than English to find out more how the language process work in those languages if we want to decenter English.
Classmates also talked about “memory trigger”, another translation moment Dr. Gonzales elucidated in her book. Some also shared how reading parts of the book triggered their memories of high school English experiences where teachers sometimes were not quite supportive of students’ academic interest and growth, and overcoming such challenges as the book also talks about similar high school experience for some multilingual translators.
Towards the end of the class, we took some time to discuss our final projects in pairs. Later we shared our peer’s projects. We also talked a bit about next week’s reading before the class came to an end. Overall, the class ended on a positive note and like always had all the perks of an invested graduate level class—an open-ended discussion of book ideas about translation process, sharing of classmates’ candid thoughts and relevant personal experiences, and last but not the least occasional laughs. ধন্যবাদ সবাইকে (dhonnobad sobaike—Thanks, everyone!).