The UWM Archives is one of the only institutions in Wisconsin with a social justice collection strength. Combined with its focus on Milwaukee and UWM history, the repository is filled with local stories of community organizers and activists. UWM’s Latino Activism collection contains photos, correspondence, press releases, newspaper clippings, and official university documents that detail the struggle for Latino rights on campus. In the early 1970s, Milwaukee’s Latino population exploded, but the number of Latino students on campus was pitifully low in comparison. University staff and community members attributed these low enrollment rates to the lack of support for Latino students on campus, so Latino activists took their case to Chancellor Klotsche. After sit-ins, protests, camp outs, and several arrests, the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, later called the Roberto Hernandez Center, began to connect with and assist UWM’s Latino population. I took a look at some of the records in the Latino Activism collection to see what they had to say about the power of Latinx rhetorics and community.
Community was the backbone of the Latino activism movement at UWM in the 1970s. This flyer, titled “Latin community takes over UWM Chancellor’s office”/ “Comunidad Latina retoma la oficina del rector de UWM,” is an explicit call to community for assistance in direct action. Calling themselves “the latin community,” there is no distinction between students and non-students, only the call to “support” in occupying the Chancellor’s office. This blending of community and use of family support has been a class trend for Milwaukee-based Latino activism. They rhetorically link their purpose in protesting to Klotsche’s absence at a community meeting, asserting their occupation as a direct response to disrespect and disinterest. This connection between administrative absence and occupation is an interesting rhetorical strategy that simultaneously legitimizes their tactics and calls attention to institutional buffoonery. The flyer is also written in English and Spanish, indicating the varied languages within Latino community in addition to their attempt to garner support from non-Spanish speaking allies.
After the Latino occupation of Chancellor Klotsche’s office, UWM acquiesced to the creation of a Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. This document is the official proposal and “commitment” of the institute, outlining ten guiding principles. This record is drastically different from the flyer in several ways. First, this record does not make a direct call to any community. It mentions the “Spanish speaking community,” but later refers to the issues of “non-English speaking” students as if they are interchangeable. Second, the rhetorical strategies suggest that the creator of the record, the Council for the Education of Latin Americans (CELA), was interested in “solv[ing] the problems of the Spanish speaking community,” rather than rectifying the institutional inequality related to these problems. The document explicitly details the disappointingly low number of Latino students that UWM was willing to support through the institute, indicating tokenization rather than inclusivity. Lastly, this document is only written in English, suggesting that its intended audience was not the Spanish speaking people it was supposedly addressing, but the English speaking CELA and UWM administration.
UWM’s Latino Activism archive details the community activism and rhetorical power used to create the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. Milwaukee’s Latino activists and the community that supported them are directly responsible for the resources and connections available to contemporary Latino students. While some of these historical documents indicate a deliberate disregard for a multilingual community, the UWM archive has done some work to alleviate this. The metadata for the records, which is necessary for searching, browsing, and researching, is available in both English and Spanish. It’s important that these records are available in multiple languages since they directly pertain to the Spanish speaking community. The Archive also follows Library of Congress subject terms which are typically limiting and outdated. The collection subject terms include "Hispanic Americans," which we've discussed several times in class as homogenizing and eurocentric. Aside from these criticisms, the UWM Archive is a great place to dive into the rich history of Latino activism on campus.
Off-campus Site: UCC Experience
As part of my learning about the Latinx community in Milwaukee, I visited the off-campus site: United Community Center (UCC henceforth). I learned about UCC first in our class, and then during my conversation with Mr. Maldonado, the interim director for Roberto Hernandez Center at UW-Milwaukee. My initial motivation regarding the visit at UCC was to know more about the center, and find out ways for service learning opportunities the center may have for UWM English graduate students.
What is most prominent regarding the history of the center, as I learned from its website, is its decades of service to “Hispanics and near south side residents of all ages in the areas of education, cultural arts, recreation, community development, and health and human services.” The center has been giving its services for 47 years.
My visit to UCC was rather informal, a walk-in experience. I visited parts of the center and picked up some brochures and learned a lot about UCC from both these sources. The UCC moto/slogan is “One Life. One Family. One Community.” —The oneness which I read as “inclusivity” seems to be the biggest strength of this center. As listed in the brochure, the UCC runs a lot of programs: Education Programs (The very listing of it at the beginning is rhetorical, tells me as an audience they value education immensely), Pre-college Programs, Elder Programs, Human Services Programs, Fitness and Health Program, and Walker Square Neighborhood Development Initiative
From my first step into the center, it seemed the UCC is really big on Arts and Literature. Pictures are the first thing that one sees while walking in to the center. The walls are in the center are all RED (not posting any pictures here since I do not have formal permission to do so). I am not sure whether that signifies the struggle of the Latino community in Milwaukee or in the US, but it did seem suggestive to me. Even though I could not tour the entire center fully, the UCC brochure filled in lot of information. From the mission statement (cited above) in the brochure, it seems the center caters to individuals of all ethnic backgrounds.
English graduates at UW-Milwaukee can volunteer in their various education programs. For example, none of the programs in listed in the brochure seem to have a focus in writing. UWM English graduate students from all plans, especially English 101 and 102 instructors can volunteer to see what writing practices are dominant in these programs and help them with this. Especially, UWM English graduate students can contribute in their after-school programs. Such partnership between an off-campus community center and UWM English graduate students can forge a lasting bonding. Also, students’ involvement can increase their understanding of a new culture. I, for one, had no idea about the Hispanic culture. However, this class has already created the first opportunity for me… More classes like these can create more opportunities. We, 101/102 instructors can perhaps also ask our first-year writing students to involve themselves with these sites, at least with the on-campus site, Roberto Hernandez Center at UW-Milwaukee.
Being a minority myself in the US, my visits to these community sites has informed me immensely about the community practices. Back in Bangladesh, where I was a part of the majority community based on my religious affiliation, a Muslim Bangladeshi I never really took time to think about the minority—The Hindu community. Never really cared to understand why they would stick together in smaller communities. Now these visits make me realize…they perhaps cultivate a sense of security, oneness and belonging…a feeling of inclusivity—just by sticking together.
One or two visits are never enough to learn about the community practices. However, these visits sure were a start for me. We all need a start regarding whatever we do. At least, this new realization, what it feels like to have a sense of shared feeling, is a major takeaway from the sites I have visited as part of community research. The feelings, emotions, thoughts and desires to keep alive cultures that center around and in these sites—are part of learning they teach us.
On-campus Site Visit: Roberto Hernández Center
As part of learning about Latinx community and their writing practices, I visited the on-campus site, Roberto Hernández Center (RHC henceforth) as to see how much I can learn about the community. During my visit, I interviewed the interim director of the RHC, Mr. Alberto Maldonado, at UWM to know about a. the service learning opportunities that this center may offer, b. the opportunities/possibilities to connect the interested volunteers to local Latinx communities in Milwaukee area. The service learning projects that I primarily envisioned for this center to include, but not limited to after-school programs, proof-reading, adult EL programs, bilingual translation and such. In my interview, I intended to ask Mr. Maldonado about the graduate student involvement in their center, especially in terms of service learning opportunities as I believe graduate students if involved with the local Latinx community can elicit valuable insight regarding its rhetorics. As it turned out, my assumptions regarding the breadth and width of the programs the RHC has was mostly accurate. However, firstly, I want to shed some light on the history of the center since it was a major part of my learning, and next talk about my conversation with the interim director.
The very history of RHC underscores the necessity of community engagement and what it (community engagement) can do. By the way, I must acknowledge the kindness that Mr. Maldonado showed in lending me the DVD that was released last year on the 47th anniversary of RHC. This DVD was the source of the history that I am going to briefly talk about here. The first initiative to start a place for the Latinx community on UW-Milwaukee campus started in 1968. The RHC came into being as a result of persistent demands by Roberto Hernández with a group of fellow enthusiasts who wanted to create a space for Spanish speaking people on UW-Milwaukee campus. Roberto Hernandez involved the Latinx community in Milwaukee since there was only a handful of Latinx students at UWM. In the video, Dr. Ricardo Fernandez, the then director of Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute (SSOI), also describes the center as a result of “community push” since there were only 10 registered Latinx students.
I came to learn about the current state of affairs about RHC during my interview which was more like a chat with the Interim Director: Mr. Alberto Maldonado. The center is primarily for the undergraduate students. The RHC serves 750 Hispanic students currently registered in UWM. It grants funding for undergraduate student research. The center provides Latino students a place of their own on campus. It also lends books and available texts students may need. The center also helps students with McNair programs in terms of writing applications and other application materials. The center also had Leadership Programs which ran for 11 years and is currently discontinued for lack of funding.
The RHC also organizes programs to bring awareness regarding cultures and such. The enter organizes signature events like Spanish Heritage Month. According to Mr. Maldonado, last year, they did Mexican Fiesta where 30 students participated. The RHC is also involved in doing programs that bring social awareness. They do a signup process for the students. The participatory students as Mr. Maldonado pointed out, involve themselves “as a way to give back, and also as a way to celebrate their culture”.
During our conversation, I also learned that the RHC partnered with the UWM library last semester. The library instructions took place inside the center to raise awareness regarding how these sessions help bilingual students. The RHC is trying to bring in other services—as a way to make it one-stop center for Hispanic students. Especially these services cater to 1st generation students who have hard times navigating the system—as Mr. Maldonado emphasized.
As for community engagement, the interim director connected some UWM student organizations with Riverside High school students regrading translation during parent-teacher conferences, and tutoring help. The center also brings in bilingual families to campus especially during the summer for visits. They hosted an event this January with 300 students where the families asked questions they had about the campus and university.
Opportunities for UWM English graduate students:
As I learned from the director, the RHC is always open to volunteers. So, UWM English graduate students can volunteer with various grants the Latinx students apply to. For example, UWM graduate students can bolster the McNair application that RHC helps Latino students with. UWM English graduate students can also help undergraduate students who conduct research for the first time with various tips and tricks. Especially English 101 & 102 instructors can help with undergraduate capstone projects. Such involvements can also be rewarded with credits (1/2credits depending on hours) UWM English department will give to the engaged graduate students.
Also, to increase students outreach, English 101 and 102 (also EAP sections) instructors can ask their students visit RHC and ask them to write reflection pieces on their visit. This visit can happen in the form of Cultural Café when RHC has their Mexican Fiesta month. This will give students, both domestic and international exposure to a new culture that they may not be familiar with. Personally, my visit to RHC has opened a new door to me. The moment I walked in, I felt welcomed. I am not sure what it was but the smiles and positive vibes in the center made me, an international graduate student like myself feel home.
On Monday, March first, I attended the May Day Dia Sin Latinx March organized by Voces de la Frontera (A Wisconsin based Immigrant and Latinx rights organization). This march was held with the objective of demanding that Waukesha County’s Sheriff Severson reject 287g, which he covertly put into effect after telling the people of Wakesha county that he wouldn’t. 287g allows local law enforcement to be used as ICE against the members of it’s own community. It would allow these officers to stop and question people based solely on their suspected immigration status.
Once arriving in Waukesha, I was excited by the huge amount of people who had shown up in resistance and solidarity. I could not gage the numbers at the time but have heard that there were from 10 to 15 thousand people. To me, one of the most beautiful aspects of this union of people was the communal aspect of it. There were tons of families and groups of people of all ages. There were parents teaching their children to stand up for themselves, that they have a beautiful community and that they are not alone. One of my favorite moments in the march was passing by a family that was marching. A little boy who could not have been more that 8 years old had a red toy megaphone and was chanting words of inspiration to his community and they would then chant back to him. This to me was more inspiring than even the amount of people who had gathered for the March.
At the beginning and the end of the march there were speeches by immigrants and children of immigrants speaking about their experiences and of what was at stake for them. There were also speeches talking about ways to hold Waukesha county accountable for their actions and speeches to give the community strength and hope. There was a lot of love in Wakesha at this march.
On April 26th I visited Latino Arts, Inc., an arts-based organization on the south side of Milwaukee that focuses on arts programming grounded in Latinx cultures. Latino Arts is located in the same building as the United Community Center (UCC), though the programming is separate from the UCC’s. However, in the same building is the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School—a bilingual school that mainly works with the large latinx population on the south side of Milwaukee—which partakes in programming with Latino Arts, Inc. Also in the UCC building is the restaurant Café el Sol. Thus, the placement of this specific organization in this important community center speaks to the prominence that many community members hope to give arts-based programming.
Within the Latino Arts, Inc. portion of the building is a Gallery that, according to their website, “is Milwaukee’s only gallery that is dedicated to showcasing the work of Hispanic and Latin American artists, ranging from indigenous craftspeople to contemporary masters of the avant garde.” The Gallery is also open every weekday from 9:00am to 8:00pm and costs only $1, which is a suggested donation. As such, community access is clearly quite central to their operating procedures. And while the space of the gallery is not very large, the curators manage to use that space quite effectively to showcase a fair few pieces.
When I visited the gallery, the exhibit on display was titled “Expansive Threads.” This exhibit was curated by Edra Soto and focused on the integration of fiber arts into artistic practice. The exhibit also, notably, only featured the work of Latina artists. While I couldn’t take any photos of the pieces (more on that below), I was able to take a picture of the opening placard that described the exhibit itself. There the exhibit is described: “Through materials or concepts, the formal models denoted as fiber arts are being challenged by incorporating nontraditional materials, forms of display or discourses. Similar to fiber arts, this group of artists creates work that emphasizes the aesthetic and conceptual value of the work over its utility.”
As such, this display, including work from 11 Latina artists, pushes viewers to question the binary attitudes set up by Western, American culture, especially those between traditional and nontraditional (or, relatedly, contemporary) and aesthetic and utility. These artists encourage audience members to think about these issues beyond a Western frame of reference to think about the art as mixing traditional and contemporary and existing beyond the realm of the capitalist, market-driven economy.
While visiting the Gallery, I was quickly rushed in and out, which is one of the reasons for my lack of photographs. On the day I visited, some students from the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, who were working with Latino Arts, were preparing for an evening music performance in the auditorium space which is connected to the Gallery. Thus, while they were happy to have me visit the Gallery space, my timing wasn’t ideal. And, if we’re being honest, I loved just being in the hustle of the center for that moment. Being in the Gallery at that moment helped me to see the importance of that entire Community Center on the Latinx population in the area. It is in that center that families can eat (I even saw some families having breakfast in the restaurant) while also engaging with arts-based programming focusing on Latinx artistic practices. I was quite excited to see these students, most of whom seemed to be carrying violins with them, preparing for a community performance in a space that housed such varying forms of artwork. In my brief moments there, I got a small taste of the important work, accentuated by the bustling atmosphere, that all of the different organizations do at the UCC building and the ways that Latino Arts weaves their programming throughout.
On May 1st of this year Voces de la Frontera arranged a statewide march for the rights of immigrants, immigrant families, and migrant workers aimed at sending a mesage to the state of Wisconsin about the economic values, through both commerce and labor, of the Latinx communities within the state. Having learned about it when a Voces leader visited our class, I planned to attend. Instead of driving to Waukesha for Un Dia sin Latinxs , as it was called, I elected to meet the bus at the nearby Public House. It’s a very short trip from my apartment, and sitting there, looking at the raised fist emerging from the woodwork, made me think about the irony of my situation. I was planning to travel to Waukesha to involve myself in a community action yet I’ve actually visited few places in my own neighborhood since moving here. I was happy to see a familiar face from class appear when M entered, and wondered how big that banner they hauled onto the bus actually was; as one woman said, it looked big enough to contain a body. We saw exactly how big it was later, as dozens of people carried it down the street.
I chose to pay for the bus ride for two reasons. First, I don’t know where Waukesha is and had no idea what the parking situation would be, but mainly because I felt that the bus ride could be a valuable observation opportunity, a chance to hear the preparatory rhetoric. I expected a journey filled with exhortations to unite, excite, and channel the energies of the riders toward one common cause and goal.
I was wrong. Aside from collecting the money – hilariously trying to collect a ticket from the driver – and boarding the bus, the Voces representative did nothing but talk to the person next to him. I saw a kairotic moment wasted. No one near us was really talking about the event, either, just making general chit-chat. Mand I took the opportunity to get to know each other a little better and discuss our connections to different Latinx communities, hers in Miami and mine in Albuquerque, and our mutual interest in film.
Once we got there, what interested me the most, naturally, was the use of language. The crowd was obviously quite ethnically diverse (a wonderful thing to see), and this was clearly acknowledged. While it seemed safe to assume that many if not most of the Spanish-speakers there also understood English (for reasons I’ll get to in a bit), it seemed equally safe to assume, this being the American Midwest, that this was not reciprocal and that not all the English speakers spoke Spanish at all or, like me, had limited understanding. Both languages were heard from the speakers, but Spanish took precedence; English, when spoken, was used to explain to those who didn’t understand what had just been said in Spanish. While the size of the crowd was impressive, and the signs and slogans powerful, I enjoyed this subtle reversal of language subordination the most. This was unapologetically a Spanish-speaking event. The initial rally weighed heavily toward Spanish, and the slogans – whose printed forms were about 50/50 between the languages – were almost always spoken in Spanish, with one not being spoken in English near me until halfway through the march, finally letting me know that the last word was “defeated.” This allowed everyone to follow the rhetoric, but also modeled the kindness and consideration for other languages that Spanish so frequently does not get in America, and that other languages may not get at all.
The message, while unspoken, was clear to anyone who listened, and served a legitimate and important purpose: to show that in this event, on this day, this Latinx community would not assume a secondary position, a back seat, and Spanish would not be a “foreign” language here. English was used to be inclusive; not, as is common, the default.
On the long march I saw and heard the energy and focus I had missed on the bus. Interchanging slogans were chanted constantly, and the entire town seemed to be watching. White, Latinx, and African-Americans marched for two miles by the thousands, some with their dogs, and unlike at other political rallies or parades, no one seemed to be there for any other purpose. Their energy was channeled directly down the street and toward the courthouse.
The speeches at the end of the march – and man, did my knees and foot hurt at the end of that march, making me feel inordinately aged – offered more English, either as a translation of entire speeches made in Spanish or, as in the case of a student with immigrant parents, made in English in the first place. His speech was not translated into Spanish, and this stands behind my assumption that most if not all of the Spanish-speaking attendees could get by in English just fine. Spanish was, it seems, not used in this event for purposes of comprehension, but rather to assert identity, to establish presence: a rhetorical choice made all the more effective by the fact that it wasn’t openly stated.
At least, not in English.
On presentation night I spoke briefly about the United Cultural Center in Walker’s Point, and my evening eating at their restaurant, Café el Sol. I skimmed over The UCC and the neighborhood quickly in order to talk more about the restaurant and my “Taco Literacy”-based pedagogy project, so for this post I’d like to give more detail about the former two.
Walker’s Point is Milwaukee’s oldest neighborhood, founded in 1834 by George Walker. Walker, of course, was not the first person to live here, just the first non-native to “own” land here; this is what we call “founding” today. It quickly became a business hub, mainly for the fur trade, and by 1860 it was the most ethnically diverse section of Milwaukee. This meant little by today’s standard, as it meant that Walker’s Point had Yankee, German, Irish, and Czech inhabitants; as I said in class, a cornucopia of whiteness. At the time, such ethnic differences mattered quite a bit, as the European ethnicities had not yet melded together into “whiteness.” The Irish, in particular, were not at the time even considered white unless compared to natives, slaves, or sometimes Italians. Norwegians arrived soon after, followed by immigrants from Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Serbia.
Manufacturing began and grew in the area until Walker’s Point became the most densely developed industrial area in the city by 1900. Twenty years later, the Latinx migration began as the tannery began to hire Mexican workers who settled there, many fleeing the economic and political turmoil initiated by the Mexican Revolution. The earliest Latinx immigrants are known as “los Primeros.” Puerto Rican migration to the neighborhood started in the 1940s, making Walker’s Point the largest Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Wisconsin to this day. In the 1950s, natives returned as the US government attempted to assimilate them into European American society; that is, to “de-Indianize” them.
Today, as I walk around the neighborhood over a range of just a few blocks in every direction, I can see the influence of many cultures. Greek and Asian restaurants stand among the 20 Latinx restaurants in Walker’s Point; this place smells good. The architecture is culturally varied beyond my knowledge of the subject. The neighborhood is currently known as a favored LGBT meeting place, though possibly not at the “gentlemen’s club” that I passed during my short walk. There’s also a jazz club I plan to visit soon
Signs of industrial activity are still everywhere, punctuated by various murals pained on buildings, including the largest mural in Milwaukee. Here is also the largest four-sided non-chiming clock in the Western Hemisphere (or just the world’s largest four-sided clock, depending on what source you consult), the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower, once known as the Polish Moon (and still memorialized by that name by MKE Brewery a few blocks from it) but now widely known as the Mexican Moon.
The United Community Center, or UCC, serves the Latinx community in Walker’s Point with support services, education, culture, arts, recreation, community development, and health and human services. It began in the 1960s as an outreach program run by a local Christian center known as “The Spot,” but became an independent program in 1970 and moved to their current 9th St. location, formerly the Parish Hall of the Slovenian John the Baptist Catholic Church, in 1972. The UCC has seen steady growth since then.
Their programs include the Acosta Middle School, a blended-learning charter school that focuses largely on Technical and Engineering education. They also run the Bruce-Guadalupe School which provides elementary and middle-school education. The 97% of the student body is Hispanic, and 80% are low-income. Of their parents, 58% have completed high school, and 42% have a middle education or less. Yet the Bruce-Guadalupe school has Attendance, retention, and graduation rates all over 95%, providing a clear record of breaking this cycle.
Elder programs include geriatric health services, nutritious meals served daily, recreational facilities and affordable housing.
Aside from the geriatric services, health and athletic services include health care for students and clients, sports leagues, two gymnasiums, a boxing ring, a practice field, and a fitness center.
Other human services include a day care and the Walker Square Initiative, which provides education and assistance to 1st-time home buyers. All of these services are aimed at breaking poverty cycles, providing quality education to the next generation, and stabilizing neighborhood.
Culturally, they offer galleries of Latinx arts and history – one can learn about Los Primeros there – as well as Café el Sol, which fuses Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Wisconsin cultures into a delicious array of foods accompanied by Latinx music every Friday night. I highly recommend it.
Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods by John Gurda
Listen to three white, female, graduate students chat about our experiences marching with Voces de la Frontera on May 1, covering topics like our reactions to the march, the unfortunate backlash we saw the march receive on social media, and the often dehumanizing aspects of citizenship.
-SP, 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.