By Madison Williams
During the Spring 2021 semester, I was given the opportunity to intern with Professor Maria Novotny on conducting community-based research centered on reproductive justice in Milwaukee. Ultimately, the goal of our research was to curate an art installation for UW-Milwaukee’s Hostile Terrains exhibition. The Hostile Terrains exhibition at UWM, which will take place at the Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery and opens at the end of September, will visually explore the ways in which space, policy, and power emerge in and around Milwaukee.
Through a collection of research-based art installations, Hostile Terrains hopes to draw attention to the issues of social justice embedded in the material culture and physical environment of our community. UWM faculty, students, and community partners will explore these themes from a variety of perspectives, including African American, Native American, and Latinx communities, through individual exhibits focused on Milwaukee.
Hostile Terrain 94: The Catalyst
The catalyst for this exhibition at UWM was the global participatory art exhibition Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94), which was designed by archeologist Dr. Jason De Leon to memorialize the lives of thousands of migrants who died attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border through the Sonoran Desert of Arizona over the past 30 years. Sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), HT94 is composed of over 3,200 handwritten toe tags geolocated on a wall map of the desert in the exact place where individual remains were found. In order to globally memorialize the thousands of migrants who lost their lives in the Sonoran Desert, as well as raise awareness about the death and suffering migrants have experienced as a direct result of the U.S. Border Patrol policy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence” since its implementation in 1994, the installation will be displayed simultaneously in locations around the globe in 2021.
Milwaukee's Hostile Terrains
In a conversation with David Pacifico—the Director of UWM’s Emile H Mathis Gallery and coordinator of this exhibition—he explained how Hostile Terrains at UWM aims to take the basic questions focused on in HT94 and apply them to local contexts and communities in Milwaukee. When asked about the development of the UWM exhibit’s local focus, Pacifico recalled: “The pre-pandemic team of students pointed out that the intersection of space, policy, and violence at the [U.S.-Mexico] border also plays out for African American people, Native People, Women, and myriad other groups” in various locations and contexts across Milwaukee. He continued, “For example, we're lately directed to think about anti-Asian violence in the time of Covid and to recall the long history of anti-Asian policy and action in the US.” Pacifico hopes that this exhibit will make the otherwise invisible, politicized, and even actively ignored problems experienced by specific communities in Milwaukee visible to the wider public, while also helping visitors find common ground within these polarizing topics.
To address the exhibit’s focus on the big themes and questions, Pacifico and his team reached out to UWM faculty who could adequately address them for populations near to home. The Hostile Terrains exhibition will feature art installations that explore topics including, but not limited to:
Reproductive (In)Justice in Milwaukee
As part of this larger exhibition, the project I’ve been working on with Maria, and two other graduate students, aims to shed light on Milwaukee’s multiple reproductive health crises. Issues of reproductive justice in Milwaukee disproportionately impact communities of color, and our project situates Milwaukee as a hostile terrain for those in need of reproductive healthcare services. Our research aims to examine the inequities Milwaukee citizens face in accessing affordable, safe, and knowledgeable reproductive healthcare.
Reproductive justice, which SisterSong defines “as the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” anchors the scope and goals of this project. The hostile terrains surrounding access to reproductive healthcare in Milwaukee pose a multitude of challenges, and potential consequences, for individuals in our communities. Given these challenging realities, we hope to assemble a participatory and community-driven exhibition by creating a space for the otherwise invisible, and often silenced, voices in our community to be heard.
Over the next few weeks, as the opening of the Hostile Terrains exhibition on September 30th approaches, we will be publishing several posts centered on Hostile Terrains and the research being done by the UWM students and faculty contributing to it.
Visit Hostile Terrains at UWM
The Hostile Terrains exhibition opens at UWM's Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery (located in Mitchell Hall, Rm 170) on September 30, 2021, with an opening reception taking place from 5-7PM. The exhibit will run through February 10, 2022. The exhibition can be visited during the gallery's normal operating hours, Monday-Thursday from 10AM to 4PM, free of charge. Appointments can be made to visit the exhibit outside of these hours by contacting the gallery at: email@example.com.
By Madison Williams
On Wednesday, October 21st, UW–Milwaukee hosted a long awaited and much anticipated virtual talk with Dr. April Baker-Bell on her book, Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy. During her talk, Baker-Bell discussed how Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and white linguistic supremacy are normalized through teacher attitudes, curriculum and instruction, and pedagogical approaches. Her talk was followed by a critical discussion with participants, facilitated by Baker-Bell, to engage in more intimate conversations about Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and how to implement Antiracist Language Pedagogies in the classroom.
With over 100 attendees from all over the country, Baker-Bell’s virtual talk was undoubtedly a huge hit—and it couldn’t have come at a more kairotic moment. The urgency of Baker-Bell’s call for an Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy is proven critical given everything that’s happening in the world right now: the recent protests against racial inequality and police brutality; exacerbation of inequalities as a result of the pandemic; toxic partisanship in the U.S. along racial, ethnic, and religious lines; and increased attention to systemic racism nationwide. Linguistic Justice is a call to action in pursuit of Black Language liberation through the critique, resistance, and reconstruction of the linguistic status quo.
A Call to Action
In her book, Baker-Bell presents Anti-Black Linguistic Racism as “a framework that explicitly names and richly captures the type of linguistic oppression that is uniquely experienced and endured by Black Language-speakers” (Baker-Bell 8) in schools and in everyday life. Using ethnographic examples to illustrate how Black students navigate and negotiate their linguistic and racial identities across multiple contexts, Baker-Bell demonstrates the negative impact traditional pedagogical approaches have on Black students’ language education and self-perception. As a response to this injustice, Baker-Bell makes space for a new way forward through Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy, a pedagogical approach that intentionally and unapologetically places Black language at the center to critically interrogate white linguistic hegemony and Anti-Black Linguistic Racism.
Dr. April Baker-Bell began her virtual talk by discussing the importance of raising critical consciousness and recognizing Black Language as a language in its own right. Baker-Bell emphasized the way Black Language represents lived experience, beginning with her positionality having grown up in Detroit with Black Language as her mother tongue. It wasn’t until she began teaching that she was faced with the “myth of standard English” and developed a full understanding of language politics at the intersection of language, race, and power. Baker-Bell argued that little has changed over the past 80 years in pedagogical approaches to Black Language education, as English teachers are still expected to teach (and privilege) White Mainstream English (WME).
According to Baker-Bell, previous Black Language Pedagogies (such as Eradicationist and Respectability approaches) share common features in that they center whiteness and perpetuate anti-blackness. The counterstories shared by Baker-Bell’s students in her book challenge existing pedagogies and common beliefs that code-switching functions as a strategy for survival, as Baker-Bell indicates, “These instances are clear reminders that code-switching into White Mainstream English will not save Black people and cannot solve racial or linguistic injustice, and we cannot pretend that it will” (31). Therefore, antiracist pedagogies cannot be centered on whiteness, which is why Baker-Bell’s Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy takes a transformative approach by centering Black Language instead.
In navigating pushback to this pedagogy, Baker-Bell explained the need to critically engage in conversation to show understanding and do the contextual work so that students (and parents) understand the historical, political, and cultural context surrounding Black Language and White Mainstream English. She demonstrated how “what we want to believe to be true” (like doing well in school will translate to equality and equity) hasn’t worked in past approaches to Black Language Pedagogy, and if the classroom doesn’t mirror the facts of existence in the real world, we’re doing pedagogy wrong. As Baker-Bell powerfully articulated during her talk, “Black lives in your classroom won’t matter if Black Language doesn’t.”
Doing the Work
Baker-Bell prefaced the critical discussion following her talk by stating that she would not be answering questions that recentered whiteness because we need to dismantle the system, not adjust to it. While fielding questions about how to implement an Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy in the classroom on an individual level, especially within institutions that may be resistant to the idea, Baker-Bell maintained that the work of Black Linguistic Justice is both micro and macro. She supports anything that goes against typical language standards because any move in the right direction is valuable, no matter how small--we need to take the opportunity wherever and whenever it presents itself.
Many of the participants were concerned with how to deal with pushback to this pedagogy, especially from parents. Baker-Bell pointed out that code-switching hasn’t helped or changed anything so far; we can’t make it work just because we want it to, so we need to do something different. Moreover, when dealing with people who are explicitly racist, Baker-Bell explained: “If you come up against racist nonsense, you have to put it in a box and avoid it.” Although participants taking part in this critical discussion were located all over the country, we all shared a common interest in learning how, as teachers, we might utilize our individual privileges to further social justice pursuits and push for Black Linguistic Justice within our various contexts with the resources we have available.
In both her book and virtual talk, Baker-Bell consistently emphasized the gravity of this call to action for linguistic justice within the current racial and political climate, advocating for “linguistic, racial, and educational justice for Black students” through her framework for an Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy (34). Baker-Bell contends, “the Anti-Black Linguistic Racism that is used to diminish Black Language and Black students in schools is not separate from the rampant and deliberate anti-Black racism and violence inflicted upon Black people in society” (3). Baker-Bell challenges us all to go beyond limited ideas about what writing is, where it happens, and what counts as “good” writing by responding to her call to action for Black Linguistic Justice. To learn more about Baker-Bell and her work, watch the book trailer for Linguistic Justice here.
The Legacy of Virginia Burke
Virginia Burke taught writing and rhetoric courses at UWM for 31 years. She cared deeply about undergraduate students and worked tirelessly to improve access to and through college for all people. In her work, she validated the voices of Black Americans and argued against the enforcement of racist writing traditions. Virginia Burke’s career was also shaped largely by her commitment to support students and writers who speak and write in different dialects of English. She vigorously upheld the position statement from the professional Conference on College Composition and Communication on “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and she wrote extensively on linguistic variation and its cultural values.
A New Kind of Ceremony
The Virginia Burke Awards honor the memory of this remarkable teacher by recognizing excellence in First Year Writing by students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In past years, the awards ceremony included a formal reading by students of their papers.
This year, winners were chosen by the UWM English 102 Digital Commons Editorial Board, which includes Ann Hanlon, Head of UWM’s Digital Humanities Lab, and UWM English graduate students and teachers Storm Pilloff, Katherine Dixon, Ryan House, Julie Kaiser, and Jenni Moody.
Winners worked closely with English 102 Coordinator Storm Pilloff to transform their papers into formal presentation posters. These posters will form a gallery space for attendees to peruse and to interact with writers.
In organizing the Virginia Burke Awards this year, we also wanted to highlight the writing opportunities for undergraduates in our Creative Writing department and important campus resources like the Writing Center. In addition to the gallery space, publications like cream city review and Furrow will have tables where undergraduates can learn about internship opportunities, publishing courses, and professional careers in writing.
Rethinking Award Categories
Led by UWM’s Director of Composition, Shevaun Watson’s new approach to the English 102: College Writing and Research curriculum that focuses on information literacy, the Virginia Burke committee this year worked to incorporate these values into the awards through creating new categories. Instead of awarding a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for each of the three First Year Writing classes, we collaborated on forming categories that would showcase the variety of skills students need to succeed in their writing and research in the twenty-first century.
We’re excited to present these categories and winners:
2019 Virginia Burke Award Winners
Persistence: This award recognizes work that shows the writer’s persistence despite not finding answers, thereby achieving an expert researcher’s disposition. The willingness to resist easy answers and persevere through the frustrations and challenges of research helps writers develop new perspectives and insight. Winner: Gregory Kontny
Rhetorical dexterity: This award celebrates a student's remarkable ability to recognize a variety of means of persuasion. The ability to recognize different contexts for communication leads writers to use a variety of strategies to communicate effectively within these contexts. Winner: Emma Maude Knox
Creative thinking: This award recognizes work that stretches the writer’s creative capacity to meet specific writing needs and situations. This ability to push conventional boundaries and glean insight from divergent perspectives leads writers to effective problem solving. Winners: Brandan Naef, Terese Radke, Amanda Straszewski, Mai Chue Yang
Risk-taking: This award celebrates a student’s bravery and innovation in their composition and/or research practices. This willingness to take risks in practice and learn from potential failures helps writers and researchers imagine new ideas. Winner: Noah Steinhilber
Social Justice: This award recognizes work that focuses ethically on building a more just world for marginalized people. Using rhetoric for good is at the heart of education. Winner: Olivia Swanson
Community Engagement: This award celebrates a student’s investment and contribution to the community represented in their work. Recognizing the importance of the communities we are situated in diversifies academic spaces in realistic ways. Winner: Amanda John, Annika Noorlander
Multimodality: This award celebrates a student’s ability to compose effectively across a variety of modes. Delivering research in a variety of modes assures reaching a variety of audiences. Winners: Haley Steel, Luis Sanchez-Guevara
Research Practices: This award recognizes exemplary work that shows the researcher’s breadth and depth of source types used. Hearing from a variety of source types more ethically represents the range of voices “at the table.” Winners: Morgan Ellis, Erica Phillips
Please join us to celebrate work by these writers at the Virginia Burke Awards Ceremony this Friday, April 19th, from 2:30 – 4:00pm in the 4th Floor Conference Center of the Golda Meir Library on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.
-- Storm Pilloff, English 102 Coordinator
-- Jenni Moody, English 102 Mentor
I attended a presentation entitled The vMLK Project: Crafting a Necessary (Digital) Space to Explore Rhetorical Leadership and Civic Transformation. The vMLK project is an immersive, ambient recreation, including sound and visual renderings, of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1960 speech, “Fill Up the Jails” of which there are no known recordings (UWM, 2018) using virtual reality (VR) technology. Drawing from Minor Re/Visions: Asian American Literacy as a Rhetoric of Citizenship by Morris Young, I use this post to make connections between Re/Visions and the vMLK project. “Re/vision (a term familiar to writing teachers) is a key process in the connections between literacy, race, and citizenship, where we work with existing material, negotiating ideas and arguments, but also work to re/vision what these ideas and arguments can be, what they can teach us and others” (p.8). With the opportunity to talk to Morris Young in class via Skype, the author discussed his work & his book published in 2004. From the class discussion, the question was raised, how we might apply the narratives to today’s climate and how is it evolving?
The existing materials in this case are the resources of photos, videos, documentaries and people who lived through the civil rights era to re/create the historical event. To move the project beyond the existing materials to virtual reality, different disciplines were drawn on to produce the reenactment of the MLK, Jr. speech by an actor (from theater world) to try and capture the “voice” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The physical environment of the church where the speech took place was demolished. Architects & designers relied on photos of the church to recreated in a virtual reality environment; and the sound engineers who worked to re/create the sound effects of the public address system based on both the speech reenactment and the physical aspects of the church. The project tries to provide an experience the audience member can feel as an embodiment of the event as if one was there.
Young states regarding narratives, “When we read stories, we attempt, whether consciously or unconsciously, to make a connection between stories and our lives"(p. 26). Although the MLK, Jr. speech, “Fill Up the Jails” happened over 50 years ago, we still are captivated by the stories of the people who were engaged in the civil rights struggle. To read their stories not only to see ourselves, but to understand history and what they had to go through to fight for citizenship, their identity, and their rights. It is the narratives about the struggle, knowledge, ideas, arguments and the language/writings during the civil rights area which help to shape the public discourse and the laws we have today.
The principal researcher of the project, Dr. Victoria J Gallagher of North Carolina University, specializes in rhetorical criticism of visual and material culture. Her explanation in the difference in approaches between King and the Reverend Douglas Moore (i.e., their ideas) to engaging social justice was interesting. Within the context of the civil rights movement, Dr. King believed in the traditional rhetorical approach – the art of persuasion, of to not only to inspire people to engage but to inform the masses of their rights during the political climate at this time. Dr. Moore believed in a direct-action oriented approach, a type of tactic in organizing a group (i.e., a strike or protest). Thus, the June 23, 1957, non-violent protest at the Royal Ice Cream Company.
Dr. Gallagher explained MLK, Jr. was of course a very influential leader but also, ordinary people showed courage and engaged in social justice. By examining rhetoric and civic transformation of past events through digital humanities, their contribution (narratives) helps to educate and empower all with knowledge or literacy significant to American citizenship.
You can read more about vMLK Project at https://vmlk.chass.ncsu.edu/.
**Content Warning: some discussion of violence, sexual violence, and murder**
UWM’s Women’s and Gender Studies department invited Melissa W. Wright to speak at the annual Vilas Trust Lecture series this past February. Wright is a feminist geographer and the current chair of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Pennsylvania State University. She presented her work titled “Against the Evils of Democracy: Fighting Drug Wars and Femicide in Mexico and the Americas,” about the formation and strategies of social movements spurred by the increased disappearance of Mexican citizens. Graduate students were invited to a bagel hour discussion with Wright before the lecture series where she was able to discuss the intimacies of her research. With Latinx rhetorics on my mind, there were a few interesting highlights about the relationship between rhetorical power and activist discourse.
Wright’s scholarship explores the strategies of social movements in Mexico that address the alarming number of disappeared Mexican students and women. Many of these movements are led by Mexicanas who actively oppose the misogynistic language that discourages their involvement in the public sphere. Wright focuses on how rhetoric shapes public participation and democracy when women are excluded by social norms that dictate their submissive docility. Wright’s primary example was the difference between la mujer publica (whore) and el hombre publico (citizen), which attaches a stigma to women who participate in the public spheres of politics and activism. This misogynistic discourse punishes women who seek change within their communities by aligning them with sex work, and obfuscating their message. Movements like Ni Una Mas are primarily organized and supported by women, meaning that their activism is necessary particularly for addressing the problem of the disappeared.
One rhetorical strategy of these social movements is the use of the term ‘disappeared’ as opposed to dead or missing. This distinction is supposed to draw attention to the political power of the disappeared in addition to the responsibility of the government for their status. Normalistas have been at the forefront of Mexican activism throughout history and are named for the Normal schools started during the Revolutionary Era. These Normal schools continue in indigenous and rural areas of Mexico today, training high school graduates to become teachers for their communities. Wright discussed Normalistas as transforming from students to activists, creating a body of protestors for the disenfranchised students who are so often the victims of these disappearances. Normalistas use several rhetorical strategies to draw attention to the disappeared, who they believe have political presence even when lacking a physical one. Disappeared represents an action that is done to the students rather than something they do, and it is in opposition to the government-sanctioned term ‘missing,’ since the Normalistas believe the Mexican government is directly involved in these disappearances. They use other rhetorical strategies like staging classes of instructors teaching to empty chairs with the picture of a disappeared person taped to its back. These activists really focus on the rhetorical power of absence for these issues.
Similar to the rhetorical power of the disappeared, Wright discusses the cultural and linguistic nuances of the term feminicidio. The disappearance and murder of Mexican women has been an issue since the mid-twentieth century. Ni Una Mas, the organization mentioned above, began in Mexico in the 1990s as an anti-femicide organization in response to the thousands of tortured and abused women’s bodies found in the border region between Texas and Mexico. The women were discussed in public discourse by the government and the media as las muertas, or the dead, erasing their personhood and the context of their murder. Wright credits Mexican feminist activists for coining the term feminicidio in response to las muertas. Feminicido marks the murders as a national trend and human rights violation, and directly connects the Mexican government to state sponsored violence and murder. This activist language changes the meaning of the Anglo word femicide to encompass the consequences of political impunity. This rhetorical strategy emphasizes the necropolitics of the disappeared, and their political power in instigating change.
Wright's presentation provided several interesting examples of the connection between rhetorical power and activist language. By changing popular discourse, Mexican activists have drawn attention to the institutional connections and lacking government action concerning the disappeared. These rhetorical strategies have brought feminicidio and student disappearance into the global spotlight.
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
“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.