Category Archives: History

Reports from July 2016 Latina/o Studies Association Conference

panelists pictured

Panelists Beatriz Tapia, Alexandro Gradilla, Anita Tijerina Revilla, and Magdalena L. Barrera. Photo by M. Barrera. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Latina/o Studies Association 2016: Nourishing the Mind and the Spirit

By Magdalena L. Barrera

The 2016 LSA conference was a wonderful experience, for many reasons. To situate myself: I am a faculty member of the Mexican American Studies department at San José State University. My primary area of research is analysis of textual representations of Mexican Americans in early twentieth century American cultural production; however, in recent years I have developed a secondary research area that explores the retention and mentoring of first-generation and underrepresented students in higher education. This second area was inspired in part by the learning curve I underwent as my environment changed from the R1 settings of my undergraduate through postdoctoral training to working in the California State University system. Although I have maintained my primary research area, it requires some effort to stay in touch with emerging trends in the field, as I am the only person at SJSU who does Humanities-based work in Chicanx Studies. Moreover, I had not attended a conference in a couple of years, and so I welcomed this year’s LSA as an opportunity to fully engage as both a presenter and participant, and to expand my professional network. Continue reading

On the Colonial Legacy of U.S. Universities and the Transcendence of Your Resistance

By Prof. Oriel María Siu

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound.

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound.

(This is a copy of the Keynote speech I gave at the University of Puget Sound’s Graduates of Color Ceremony in May 2015. I dedicate it to all students of color at this and any other institution of higher learning in the U.S.)

As people of color, you were never meant to be at a university. I was never meant to teach at one. And your family and I were never meant to be here celebrating your graduation today.

The establishment of universities you see, were a direct result of the European colonization of the Americas and later white settler expansion all over the globe, a process begun in 1492. From the beginning, universities served as a crucial tool for the introduction and retention of a white Eurocentered power structure in these occupied territories. In the Americas, universities were created and run by British and Spanish settlers and later by their descendants for the purpose of founding and retaining the colonial order of things. The founding years of the first universities in this continent should therefore be no surprise; they directly paralleled the English and Spanish processes of colonization north, center, and south: the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (1538), Universidad de San Marcos of Perú (1551), Real y Pontificia Universidad de México, today the UNAM (1551), and Harvard University (1636), to name but a few.

Through savage processes of forced displacement, genocide, racialization, and the enslavement of Natives and Africans, whites self-proclaimed themselves superior to other people upon entering the Americas. From 1492 to 1592 –or the first 100 years of the occupation alone– it has been estimated that Europeans decimated more than 90 million indigenous people in the Americas, making it the bloodiest holocaust in the history of human kind (other estimates place this number above the 100 million people mark). Aside from this genocide, more than 11 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, with death rates so high during that atrocious Middle Passage that many lives were lost at sea. Engendered by a system of slavery and the decimation and removal of Native life, the colonial order of things in the Americas consisted of the formation of a particular economic system; one which controlled, confiscated and reserved productive Native lands for the use of the white settler; one which ensured the flow of exploitable, cheap and free labor for the occupiers’ benefit; and one which ensured little to no upward mobility for the colonized. Universities, as I was saying, were crucial to the retention and functioning of this colonial order.

As spaces for the creation and retention of systems of thought, universities contributed to the eradication of indigenous educational institutions and to the displacement, invalidation, destruction, and subalternization of indigenous and African ways of knowing. In the minds of missionaries and “men of letters” –as scholars were called back then–, indigenous knowledges were dictates of the devil and thus had to be disciplined, punished and eliminated. These knowledges and epistemologies neither corresponded to the history of the so-called West the colonizers imposed here in the Americas nor were they recognized as valid or beneficial to the colonial system. Native knowledges did not support racial, class nor gender hierarchies –all organizing principles of colonial America. As Duwamish Chief Seattle said to the settlers that later appropriated his name and this land in the Northwest, Native ways did not see land as belonging to people as the white man understood it, but rather that people belonged to the land. As sites for the development and preservation of ideology, universities thus became the mechanism through which these indigenous knowledges were made inferior and obsolete by the white colonial settlers, replaced instead with Eurocentric lenses of the world. These new lenses were channeled through the academic disciplines that universities engendered –Math, Sciences, Humanities and Philosophy– disciplines all designed to rationalize the Eurocentric white power structure in place still to this day.

From Types of Mankind (1854) by J.C. Nott, and Geo. R. Gliddon. In arguing for the superiority of whites, scientists claimed that the world’s “races” had different “origins” and were therefore different “species”. Photo by APS Museum. CC BY-NC 2.0

From Types of Mankind (1854) by J.C. Nott, and Geo. R. Gliddon. In arguing for the superiority of whites, scientists claimed that the world’s “races” had different “origins” and were therefore different “species”. Photo by APS Museum. CC BY-NC 2.0

Universities were essential to the development of scientific racism. For more than two centuries, from the 1500s to the 1800s, colleges and universities throughout the United States and the Americas supported research and implemented curricula that argued for the enslavement of black people, the superiority of the white man, and the inferiority of Natives and their ways of knowing. Scholars such as Josiah Clark Nott, Robert Knox, George Robins Gliddon, and Samuel George Morton among many others lived to prove that the racial inferiority of people of African, Pacific Islander, Asian, Caribbean, and Indigenous descent, justified conquering them, enslaving them, exterminating them, exploiting them, segregating them, and/or occupying their land. Be this within the newly created U.S. borders, or south of the U.S. borders, or in Africa, or in Asia, or the Pacific Islands, all regions colonized by Europe and/or the U.S. during the 17th, 18th, 19th 20th, and 21st centuries. In arguing white superiority, these scholars measured the skulls of diverse populations, put forth theories of polygenism supporting the classification of human populations as distinct races stemming from different origins, and spoke of the “primitive psychological organization” of slaves. Their research and the value given to it by way of the university institution made it possible to create the logic for the colonization and occupation of vast territories and peoples during the forming years of European and US imperialism world-wide.

Universities both in the North and South of the United States participated in the economy of slavery. As scholar Craig Steven Wilder’s work most recently demonstrates (Ebony and Ivey, 2013), in the South many colleges owned and used enslaved blacks to build and maintain university campuses. Fully at the disposal of the universities that owned them, campus slaves were forced to commit their labor to the campus which held them. They served the students, the faculty, and the administrators. Slaves took care of administrators’ and faculties’ children, rang campus bells, prepared meals, cleaned students’ shoes, made beds, obtained the wood for fires, and tended farmland owned by administrators and universities. In some instances, students, administrators and faculty even paid special fees to their respective university to be able to bring their personal slaves to campus. Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Brown, and Princeton among many other prestigious universities of the North, were no. These institutions suitably accepted into their student body the sons of wealthy slave-owners, including sons of wealthy slave-holder elites from the Caribbean (Wilder)[i]. Both directly and indirectly, universities all throughout the nation supported the economy of slavery, benefited from it, and played a crucial role in retaining the racist and racial order of things in the newly created white settler nation.

Engraving from 1827, University of Virginia. Female slave carrying baby. Zoomed in image of Rotunda and Lawn, B. Tanner engraving from Boye’s Map of Virginia from the University of Virginia Library Materials.

The sons of plantation owners who studied in Europe were seen as experts on Natives and enslaved Blacks because of their close contact with them (Wilder)[ii]. Insisting on the economic benefits of slavery while also furthering the case for U.S. genocidal politics at home, these slave-owners’ sons wrote entire dissertations and gave lectures on the physical and intellectual inferiority of these groups (Wilder)[iii]. Their work’s objective was to dehumanize their subjects or rather objects of study. Their lectures not only helped validate and explain the system of racist economic, social, and political rule in place in the U.S., it also argued for its perpetuation.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Blacks and other people of color in the U.S. as well as Jews and non-Protestant Christians were still not admitted into universities. Black colleges and universities were created for this very particular reason in the 1800s. Throughout the U.S. students of color were not legally allowed into higher education until the second half of the 20th century. That is approximately 50 years ago.

The very university from which you graduate today was founded in 1888, just a few years into the occupation of the Puget Sound area by its white settlers. Even though the area began to be “visited” by English “explorers” in the late 1700s, permanent European settlement was achieved in this region in 1852 when a Swedish man by the name of Nicholas De Lin discovered there was lots of money to be made by exploiting the area’s lumber. The Nisqually and Puyallup regional tribes fought back and in 1855 the settlers were forced to flee, being able to return only after Native populations of the area were put in a nearby reservation by the U.S. government, leaving the Puget Sound area free for its exploitation by the returning settlers. Founded in 1888, our university is directly and indirectly a product of this occupation.

But just as these academic institutions have historically wanted to make you and your bodies of color invisible, there is also a long history of struggle for visibility, inclusion and the right to existence that precedes you; one that also dates back to more than 500 years ago; from Native and slave rebellions, to organized walk-outs, hunger strikes, sit-ins, street protests, to people writing our own excluded histories and creating spaces within academia so that you and I could learn about our own histories and struggles as well as recuperate lost ancestral knowledges. Many students and educators before you even paid with their lives for you to be able to be here today; for you and I to be here today and to celebrate you. During the 1960s young women and men fought the police, racist administrations, went to jail and sacrificed spending time with their own families to create the possibility for you to be able to get the very degree that will soon be in your hands. Your immediate communities and families have also sacrificed a great deal and gone through many difficult moments in life in order to make this day a reality for you. I sincerely congratulate them on this day, only your parents know all the struggles they have endured to make this day possible for you.

During your time at the University of Puget Sound all of you graduates have pushed and struggled and studied late nights and long days to arrive here and you made it to graduation. But always remember that you are exceptions. Despite us now having an educational system that is color-blind in theory, Blacks, Latinos, and Natives specifically, continue to be under-represented among those making it to college and graduating with bachelor degrees. In high schools, Latino and African American students nationally are disproportionately represented at every stage of the school-to-prison pipeline and only 53% of Native students graduate from high school [iv]. In today’s corporatized university system moreover, students of color are shouldering the most student debt, disproportionately higher numbers having to drop out of college because of the economic burden that academia now represents. You graduating from here today is that much more symbolic because of all of this.

But I want you to know you have a long road ahead of you. Twenty years ago a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree held a lot of weight; it was an accomplishment. Today it is still an accomplishment but it does not carry the weight that it once did. So therefore I urge you to go further; I urge you to go get your Masters and your PhDs, to continue your education in one form or another. And I challenge you once you’re out of these spaces to create opportunities for those in your communities of origin. Too many in our communities who make it to far places too easily forget their origins; choosing to distance themselves from their communities and their own community’s history of struggle and survival. I urge you to not be one of them.

I wanted also to tell you you’re definitely not graduating from this institution with just a Bachelor’s degree. By now you all have a PhD in surviving and knowing these dominant white spaces of power that you will continue to navigate after graduation; these are places that will continuously try to shape and mold you and your spirit; dictate who you should be; what you should think; where you should go in life. The University of Puget Sound, while not always the most welcoming space for students and people of color, does in my mind do something beautiful. It challenges you and in doing so prepares you for what is to come ahead. Consciously or unconsciously you’ve met this challenge. While here, the dissident, non-conformist, rebel in you learned how to create what bell hooks would call our own communities of resistance to spaces that in subtle and not so subtle ways too often told you: “you don’t belong here”. That resistance may have looked different for every one of you. For some of you it looked like student activism on social justice related issues, building solidarities between students of color, while for others it may have been selecting particular friendships; or choosing your mentors or simply knowing when to seek spaces away from whiteness. While here, consciously or unconsciously you managed to create for yourself communities that helped you find your way through the daily micro and macro aggressions, the assumptions, the presumptions, the comments inside and outside the classroom, the burden of having to explain yourselves and your experiences –all the time–, the loneliness, the alienation, and yes, the depression. While here, the dissident, non-conformist, rebel in you pushed you to create communities that allowed you your voice whenever you needed to speak, yell and cry; to create communities that also allowed for your silence whenever you didn’t feel like speaking, yelling or crying. While at Puget Sound, the dissident, non-conformist survivor of 500 years of colonization in you also learned to question that which you have been taught in the classroom; that which you read in color-blind texts presenting themselves as universal knowledge.

So you leave here knowing when to separate useful knowledge from that which will not serve you, but further estrange you and worse, assimilate you into what the dominant culture wants of you, thinks of you, and desires of you. There is therefore very little I could advise you today in this art of survival you all know very well and have PhDs in by now. The art is actually now more than 500 years old, passed on to us by our ancestors, our parents, and the collectivity of our resisting spirits.

What advice I can offer however is to not ever let the resister and creator in you be silenced; if you spoke too soft here, amplify that voice; if you found your voice here, solidify and strengthen it. If you feel you are still in the search of your voice, be compassionate and honest with yourself, your interests, and your passions. Dream big and in following those dreams be as persistent as you can be and do not give up or let others take you in different directions.

Be creative. The world that awaits you out there is at times too ugly, too vicious; too inhuman. It is a world replete with racism, fear of your bodies, a world continuously in crisis and at war; a world submerged in a neoliberal economy that thrives on the imprisonment of bodies of color, war, forced migrations, the continued destruction of our mother earth, and the commodification of absolutely everything including love. This is a world that too often will seem to leave little to no air to breathe. So please go out and create your own breathing spaces. Continue in the creation of resisting, loving communities because you didn’t and don’t ever get anywhere on your own. As our Native sisters and brothers will always remind us, we are all connected to communities that transcend time. We’re connected to the first ancestors who walked the earth; to their struggles and their deeds. But we’re also connected to those who are not yet here, those generations who will be born tomorrow and thereafter; those who will walk this earth in the future long after we’re gone. Our job in the middle is to bridge the gap, take on the inheritance from our ancestors and our past, add our own deeds, our struggles, and leave this a better place for those that will follow. The responsibility, to say the least, is tremendous.

So make yourself and your communities visible. Resist becoming invisible; and resist becoming that which others and dominant spaces want you to become; resist it with all of your passion, your love and your humanity. Stay connected and grateful to those who’ve helped you and loved you along the way and those who will continue to be there for you. And give back.

Above all, don’t ever forget we were never meant to be here celebrating you today. Love you all.

Notes

[i] Information based on Craig Steven Wilder’s excellent book on the subject of universities and slavery, Ebony and Ivey (2013). I highly recommend this read.

[ii] From Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivey (2013).

[iii] From Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivey (2013).

[iv] “Tolerance in Schools for Latino Students: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline”

From The Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, May 1 2015.

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles; her Masters from the University of California, Berkeley; and her BA degrees in Chicana/o Studies and Latin American Literatures from California State University, Northridge where as an undergraduate she was involved in the establishment of the first Central American Studies Program in the nation. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary Central American cultural productions from the diaspora, de-colonial border thinking, Latina/o cultural productions and diasporas, and narratives of race and racisms in the US. She has published several articles on these topics and is currently working on her book on novels from the Central American diaspora. Siu is also a mother and a dancer. She is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras and lives in Seattle, Washington.

Contending Worldviews in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead

by Theresa Delgadillo

This essay, originally prepared in 1996 for Professor Cherríe Moraga in her course on “Prophets/Scribes of Aztlán” at UCLA, has been updated and edited to meet Mujeres Talk requirements. Professor Moraga required students to do a kind of writing different from that typically required in a graduate seminar. She asked us to put ourselves into our critical work, and I took this to mean that we should write in a way that explicitly acknowledged the perspective from which we wrote, making clear and concrete, in writing, our investments and histories in the intellectual projects we undertake. For me, what it yielded was a creative non-fiction essay about a piece of literature, a form different than the academic article and made more so here through editing into a blog essay, a form that also calls upon authors to share more of oneself that one might in an academic journal. The blog essay is also a form necessarily focused on a small part of the literature under discussion, meant to provoke reflection, discussion, and further reading. I refer interested readers to the many excellent articles on Silko’s novel on the MLA International Bibliography.

In Almanac of the Dead (1991) Leslie Marmon Silko re-writes the history of the encounter between Europeans and indigenous peoples in the Americas. It is no longer the story of “civilization” meeting the barbarians, not the moment at which Indians begin to disappear, but a brutal, cunning, bloody, savage conquest that spawns equally brutal societies. It is almost as if Silko, in one massive novel, attempts to reverse generations of schooling on the history of this continent, though one has to be open and ready to hear new stories in order to understand the Almanac.

Growing up Chicana anywhere in the United States presents many challenges to one’s “story,” because our experience is undervalued or denied. We live in a nation where ours is not the official story, and yet it is ours. Like the speaker in Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poem who says, “I’m marked by the color of my skin” (35-7), so, too, have I been marked in every school I’ve been in since childhood. Though I knew it from my first day in school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I only began to understand it in seventh grade. One of my older brothers gave me a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), which I read while my Social Studies class studied the period of westward expansion into the Dakotas and the Black Hills Gold Rush. I was stunned by the glaring difference in these narratives. The two books had completely different things to say about the same events. While Indians were nowhere to be found in the school textbook, they were everywhere in Dee Brown’s account, prompting me to ask our teacher about this discrepancy.

My question to the teacher was not simply about facts or words, it was, as Linda Hogan says, about “ways of thinking and being in the world” (12). Around that time, there were a series of marches and protests by Wisconsin Native Americans in the news. Having already been mistaken for Native American, I knew that discriminatory treatment toward Native Americans was not unlike that directed against Mexican Americans. I was disturbed by how our textbook completely erased Native American peoples from history. Our teacher, however, insisted that our textbook was accurate. He dismissed my question. When I tried to explain what Dee Brown reveals in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, he told me to be quiet. I continued, but the teacher yelled at me. I then did something completely surprising to all, myself included: I yelled back. Another supervising teacher was called in. Lots of tense whispering, then the bell rang, and so did discussion.

When I read Almanac of the Dead, I thought back to this youthful confrontation with history. Today, I also have to wonder about where Latina/os were in that curriculum, but back then I was just beginning to understand then what the novel illustrates so well — the difference between dominant history and story/ies/histories. A conception of history in the singular as the static and unchangeable past shields it from inquiry and allows it to be compartmentalized and separated from both the present and the future. New knowledge cannot alter it. History in that sense is perhaps why the teacher could not accept another version of the same events in the Dakota Hills and why he did not even consider it important enough to discuss–the events were safely in the past and therefore not of major concern, not to mention that Dee Brown’s version of events was in conflict with the textbook narrative.

In Almanac of the Dead, there are two conceptions of the past diametrically opposed to one another: dominant history versus story/ies/histories. These distinct conceptions are really competing worldviews and they create conflicts for individual characters, who must decide which view will guide their lives. One character who experiences this conflict is Sterling:

[He] had been carefully following advice printed recently in a number of magazines concerning depression and the best ways of combating it. He had purposely been living in the present moment as much as he could. One article had pointed out that whatever has happened to you had already happened and can’t be changed. Spilled milk. But Sterling knows he’s one of those old-fashioned people who has trouble forgetting the past no matter how bad remembering might be for chronic depression. (24)

The past Sterling wants to forget is his banishment from Laguna Pueblo, yet he was raised on the stories of his Pueblo, including the dispossessions and indignities imposed upon them by  government and dominant knowledge systems (31). He cannot forget one portion of the past without forgetting it all. He enjoys reading the Police Gazette, with its stories of criminals past, in part, because this is one place where Indians to appear in the history of the West with some attempt at understanding their perspective (39-40).

An awareness of the contrast between dominant history and story/histories also operates for the character of Clinton, who, as an African-American Vietnam veteran now homeless, tracks on the discrepancies between the two. Clinton remains highly critical of what he learns in university classes  yet he also finds there, in Black Studies, research that confirms his sense of his people as more than mere pawns of history, and gains a wealth of knowledge on the experiences and cultures of Blacks (414-431). When he critically recalls how wealthy Cherokee Indians had been rounded up by orders of Andrew Jackson, Clinton insists that a “a people’s history” must include all the stories: “That was why a people had to know their history, even the embarrassments when bad judgment had got them slaughtered by the millions” (415).

In the novel, characters who refuse the stories of others are racked with fear, and in the novel, doomed to failure. As Linda Hogan observes, “the Western tradition of beliefs within a straight line of history leads to an apocalyptic end” (93). This is what the characters Beaufrey and Serlo see in the future–cities burning and anarchy reigning–which is why they want to develop modules to survive in space (542). An apocalyptic ending is also what the character Menardo sees and why he is obsessed with insurance and security (266). In the novel, his first wife, Iliana, too, proud of the historical pedigree of having been descended from the conquistador De Oñate “still was gnawed by the fear that disaster was stalking all of them” (270). That fear is also one shared and preyed upon in the novel by characters representing the military regimes of Latin America and their U.S. collaborators.

Another view of the future emerges in the novel from the character of the Barefoot Hopi, who presents a perspective challenging for humans when he says:

            You destroyers….don’t know how much the spirits of these continents despise you, how the earth hates you….All the riches ripped from the heart of the earth will be reclaimed by the oceans and mountains. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of enormous magnitude will devastate the accumulated wealth of the Pacific Rim. (734)

Unlike Serlo’s view or Menardo’s view, this prediction of cataclysmic events is not a prediction of end, but of beginning. In the Hopi’s view, the world does not revolve around humans and therefore the end of things human is not a catastrophe. He predicts that the Earth will cleanse itself and continue; this he does not fear. His view parallels Yoeme’s, who says that the sacred Earth “would go on, [it] would outlast anything man did to it” (718). This is what Sterling comes to understand, too: “Burned and radioactive, with all humans dead, the earth would still be sacred. Man was too insignificant to desecrate her” (762). In the course of the novel, several characters arrive at this understanding of the earth’s story, and must re-consider human interaction with it. Yet, do the Barefoot Hopi’s words leave us off the hook for what happens to the Earth or inspire responsibility?

The old woman Yoeme’s notebook, carried by the children in the novel, says, “sacred time is always in the Present” (136). Though it may sound like the same message of the magazines Sterling reads to cope with depression, it is not. Instead, it is akin to what Linda Hogan’s grandmother articulates: “Our work is our altar” (148); or what Hogan herself describes as “what happens to people and what happens to the land is the same thing” (89). The idea of the sacred in the present recognizes the web of existence that links humans with the natural world. It is also an idea that imposes demands on characters in this novel. As Silko says in an article in Artforum, “for the old people, no one person or thing is better than another; hierarchies presuming superiority and inferiority are considered absurd.”

The conception of story in the novel knits together past, present, and future. Story is alive and everything has a story, but not the same one. Story in this novel is not only the narratives characters create to make meaning of life, but movements and experiences of peoples, the variety of plants and animals in the natural world, the Earth itself. To embrace story appears as a way to embrace a worldview that accepts the interconnectedness of organisms through time.

Many characters in Almanac struggle to make sense of their story, trying to fit their past with their present and future. Some try to forget their own story and instead embrace history, like Menardo; some are rejected because they are evidence of a past that their families want to forget, like Root; some think that their own history is everybody’s history, like Bartolomeo; some see only part of the past and therefore mistakenly think they know what the future will be, like Beaufrey and Serlo; some make connections between other stories and their own and organize people to act with others, such as Angelita and El Feo; some people tell their own stories/histories, such as Clinton, Tacho, the Barefoot Hopi, Wilson Weasel Tail Clinton, Angelita and Lecha; while others, most, struggle to understand the relationship between their stories and other stories. Like the children carrying the pages of the almanac north (246-253), each person in Silko’s novel carries a story that is incomplete without the other stories/histories.

The almanac-carrying children are fleeing “the Butcher” who is enslaving and murdering their tribe, an allusion to both a historical genocide and contemporary circumstances forcing children to flee north. In this storyline, the novel represents the very real experience of the Yaqui tribe, who created a testamento of their creation and their land that is passed down today in handwritten notebooks, and even, as Evers and Molina point out, has been carried by messengers who had the document sewn into their clothes (32). Like Silko’s fictional almanac, both a document and an oral story altered with the additions of each narrator, it is expected and necessary that the Yaqui testamento be “unfixed” by those re-telling it (Evers and Molina 23). These are only two examples of the many stories and histories that are embedded in Almanac of the Dead.

As the character Clinton points out in the Almanac, denying people their histories helps to ensure submission and subordination (431), cutting people off from the stories of their ancestors means stranding them in madness and meanness (424). The novel seems to ask us: Do we recognize story/ies/histories, recognize “differences” as Calabazas says (203), and learn from them? Or do we continue to privilege destruction?

Works Cited

Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Emplumada. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981.

Evers, Larry and Felipe S. Molina. “The Holy Dividing Line: Inscription and Resistance in Yaqui Culture.” Journal of the Southwest. 34:1. (1992): 3-46.

Hogan, Linda. Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. New York: Norton, 1995.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Almanac of the Dead. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. “The Fourth World.” Artforum. 28:10. (1989): 124-125.

Theresa Delgadillo is an Associate Professor of Comparative Studies and Coordinator of the Latina/o Studies Program at The Ohio State University. She has served as Editor of Mujeres Talk since January 2011. 

 

Collecting Memory: Chicana/o and Latina/o Lives Outside the Southwest

Documents from El Calendario Hispano de Michigan, from the Papers of Juana & Jesse Gonzales Held by Michigan State University Library

Documents from El Calendario Hispano de Michigan, from The Papers of Juana & Jesse Gonzales Held by Michigan State University Library

By Diana Rivera

Dr. Christine Marin’s (ASU) January essay here on Mujeres Talk brought attention to the work she and other Chicana/o and Latina/o archivists and librarians performed in building collections that document the history of our communities in the Southwestern US (21 January 2014). It brought to mind the fact that Mexican and Puerto Rican communities have also, for the past 100 years, been in areas beyond the Southwest and East Coast, including the Great Plains, the Pacific Northwest and in particular, the Great Lakes region. Their stories, their lives and sometimes their contributions have been documented through independent, government and academic narratives, reports, demographics, statistics and historical studies. Scholars such as Paul Schuster Taylor, Norman D. Humphrey and George T. Edson have written on Mexican migration and immigration to region while Lawrence R. Chenault, Clarence Senior and Abram J. Jaffe surveyed and recorded Puerto Rican migration early on. This work charted our migration routes, our living conditions and early settled-out communities. They also studied our labor and dependability patterns and sometimes touched on culture, tradition and history. None of these types of studies relied on the kept materials, keepsakes or oral histories of the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities. Instead, these reports and statistics provided a sanitized narrative of our growing presence in the early years.

Even though it should not fall only to Chicana/o or Latina/o librarians or archivists to build a Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies (CLS) collection, more often than not, it does. Regrettably, the number of Chicana/o and Latina/o graduates from Library & Information Science Degree Programs are not keeping up with a growing Latina/o  population in the US. Dr. Marin’s essay prompts the question: What is being done to preserve and conserve the history of Chicana/o and Latina/o communities not only in, but also OUTSIDE of the Southwest?

Internationally known Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies (CLS) librarians Dr. Christine Marin, Margo Gutierrez (UT-Austin), Lilly Castillo-Speed (UC Berkeley), Dr. Richard Chabran, Dr. Maria Teresa Marquez (UNM) and Nelida Perez (CUNY) laid the groundwork for me and my peers at libraries across the country to emulate. My predecessors, and some contemporaries, in libraries and archives who have built excellent collections have established a model that I have followed to develop and to build collections that document Chicana/o, Puerto Rican and Latina/o stories in the Great Lakes Region. These materials are now available for scholarly research, including government reports and academic work.

In a January comment on Dr. Marin’s essay here on Mujeres Talk, I noted that one of my first areas of responsibility as a new librarian was working with a small collection of maps stuck in the back of the Art Library at the Michigan State University Libraries (MSUL). As one of maybe two librarians of color there, I felt an affinity for this format, which seemed so out of place in a collection composed primarily of monographs. I was asked to take on Mexican Studies (mostly because I was of Mexican heritage) but went “rogue” by buying more titles on Chicana/o Studies than what was established in our collection development policy. In 1995, Chicana/o and Latina/o student protests on campus led to the university creation of a space honoring Cesar E. Chavez. The Cesar E. Chavez Collection is a multi-format and multidisciplinary collection on the life of Chavez, as well as the Mexican American and Puerto Rican presence and experience in the US.  With the assistance of Chicana/o and Puerto Rican students, we developed a healthy CLS collection unselfishly guided by Margo Gutierrez, the Mexican American and Latino Studies librarian and bibliographer at the UT Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

Our “multi-format” collection was initially a small collection of ephemeral vertical file material like flyers, brochures and newsclippings. It served a minimal role in the writing and teaching that students and faculty were doing on local and regional subjects in Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies. Instead, researchers were finding the histories, accounts and statistics in texts or in manuscript archives back in Texas, the rest of the Southwest and Mexico. There was little collected at MSUL that provided researchers with regionally unique or unpublished materials by organizations or individuals about local activities, including correspondences, speeches, pamphlets, agendas or meeting minutes. It was an apparent need and challenge to start archiving our history in  Michigan and the Great Lakes region. Although our language, culture and traditions pulled our hearts back to the Southwest, Mexico and Puerto Rico, our families, our memories and our stories began within the Great Lakes, Northeast or Great Plains regions. Now that we have more than a 100 year presence in these regions, it becomes more than important, actually critical to start gathering the histories and experiences of early Latina/o  communities in “el norte,” histories beyond the popularly understood geographic boundaries of “Aztlan” and Borinquen.

Collections of note that have included Chicana/o and Latina/o voices and materials are relatively new. These include the holdings of the University of Iowa Libraries Iowa’s Women’s Archives with the Mujeres Latinas project that includes the papers of 15 families dating from 1923, over 80 oral histories of Latinas/os, organizational records dating back to the 1960’s and other related collections; the University of Michigan Bentley Collection with a growing number of personal manuscript collections (6) and organizations (3); Hope College  (in Holland MI) with an early collection (1970s) of oral histories (many transcribed) and the MSUL  Jose F. Treviño Chicano/Latino Activism Collection with 18 manuscript collections (processed) with content dating to the 1940s. Our small vertical file at MSUL developed into the manuscript collections of donated papers of Mexican American community members in Michigan.  These collections now include photography, political buttons and other ephemera.

Although the manuscript collections donated by Michigan families are nowhere near the volume of those collections found in the Southwest (or now the Northeast at the CUNY-Hunter College Collection), they have provided a starting point for researchers focusing on Latina/os in the Great Lakes region to learn about the presence of Chicana/o and Latina/o  communities dating back to the early part of the 20th century.

Collections that encompass the range of eras, locations and subject matters that will provide a one-stop source for researchers inquiring about Latina/os in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana or Wisconsin are hard to come by. However, we as librarians and archivists are at a pivotal point in time when the student activists, community leaders and closet archivists of the 1960’s no longer need or want their collections of papers, documents, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, scrapbooks, garage-printed-mimeograph machine of the ’60s chapbooks and publications, flyers, bumper stickers, buttons, posters and bandanas or t-shirts.  Some potential donors are not ready to entrust materials to an institution to which they have no history, affinity or connection.  Some are fearful that their long and carefully collected materials will be seen as unimportant or tossed. Others do not see their materials as important enough to donate or do not remember what is in their own collection that may unify or supplement the papers found in the collections of others.   And then some do not know how to approach an institution about archiving their materials or are confused about their ownership and access rights.

For academic or family archivists seeking a location to deposit or donate their teaching and research materials, or family papers consider these simple rules:

  1. Donate: Libraries and archives accept materials given to an institution. Once donated, materials become the property (except for the intellectual property rights / copyrights, which may be negotiated) of the institution.  A signed Gift Deed is important with the  conditions of ownership transfer and possible tax deduction opportunities clearly listed.
  2. Access and Restricted Access: Who can view materials, what they can view and when they can view them depends on the condition of the material, the institutions’ policies regarding use and duplication, the library speed in processing materials for public use, as well as any restrictions donors create on sealing sensitive materials for their and others’ protections for a specified number of years.
  3. Copyright: May be legally transferred to heirs or others.
  4. Inventory: The organization and inventory of donated materials is critically useful. It provides staff a useful guide to work from, limiting the number of hours required to process and make the manuscript collection available.
  5. Storage Expectations: The institution should re-house materials into acid-free, preservation quality boxes, folders, preservation sleeves (for fragile or aged material) and apply  appropriate curation methods.
  6. Monetary Donations: These are not a condition of having ones’ papers accepted by an archive. However, because many libraries and institutions are non-profit organizations, they might welcome any donation —  if one has the means — to be applied to the processing of donated materials.
  7. Find an Information Specialist: If you do not know of or can’t find an institution in your community to best help preserve and document our history, please do not throw it away. Please. Reach out to an information specialist (librarian, archivist or even a professor) for guidance, or even a  Mujeres Talk editor, for help on where to place potential material donations.

Diana Rivera is the Chicana/o Latina/o Studies Subject Specialist and Head of the Cesar E. Chavez Collection at the Michigan State University Libraries.