Category Archives: Latina and Latino Studies

The Marlin Mine and Women’s Resistance

by Nancy Sabas

With the permission of the author, we are republishing a blog essay by Nancy Sabas on Indigenous Mam Mayan women resisting mining operations in their community of San Miguel Ixtahuacán in the highlands of Guatemala. The essay originally appeared on the Latin American Advocacy Blog in June 2015 and is republished here with additional reference notes for readers.

Was it you who sent the miners?
They violate the womb of Mother Earth
They take the gold, destroying the hills.
One gram of blood is worth more than a thousand kilos of gold.
What about my people?
And you, my God, where are you hiding?
Fear paralyzes us
My people are sold and they do not realize it.

-Portion of a song written by the Parish of San Miguel Ixtahuacán.

A few weeks ago, I organized a learning tour for North American participants to discuss the mining industry in Guatemala, On the tour, we visited the department of San Marcos and surrounding communities that deal with this problem.

Mining operations in Guatemala are not a recent issue. In 1998, two years after the signing of the peace agreement following a harsh civil war, the Foreign Investment Law removed the restrictions on trade with Guatemala, which attracted transnational companies to enter the country. Among the various companies, Goldcorp, a Canadian extractive company with high interest in exploiting gold, stands out.

After a license granted by the Guatemalan government, the Marlin mine, operated by Montana Exploradora, a subsidiary of Goldcorp, began its operations in the community of San Miguel in western Guatemala. This was done without prior community consultation, even though it is an obligatory requirement of various international and national laws.¹  In 2009, Goldcorp stopped appearing in the Canadian Jantzi Social Index for ethical investment due to the controversial use of cyanide in their operations.²  Currently the Marlin mine is considered the most lucrative mine that Goldcorp owns worldwide.

During our trip, we visited the community and interviewed community members to hear their side of the story. I met Crisanta Pérez, a Mayan Mam woman with 6 children who lives with determination, loyal to her philosophy of caring for Mother Earth and defending her territory. Crisanta resists and denounces Goldcorp’s environmental and community violations.  Despite facing intimidation, 14 arrest warrants and criminalization for her work in defense of her territory and human rights, Crisanta stands firm. When we asked her how the resistance movement in San Miguel was born, she explained, ”There are many men who work as miners in the company. Our community is divided in opinions, and although some of the men disagree with the mining operations in the community, they do not take a position because they are working there. It is for this reason that the resistance movement in San Miguel against mining started from the women.¨

As an indigenous woman, Crisanta faces various levels of oppression. However, she resists the roles imposed by a patriarchal hegemonic system, and has become a public figure, with a voice, empowered with knowledge about her rights and equipped to assertively demand the vindication of environmentally sustainable traditional practices, in line with the Mayan worldview. In addition, Crisanta tirelessly denounces the massive exploitation of resources.
¨Transnational companies are destroying the most valuable thing we have, Mother Earth,¨ Crisanta explained during our visit.

With her focus from the periphery, Crisanta defies the ruling capitalist logic that sacrifices the sacred elements (Mother Earth) and whose goal is the strict accumulation of wealth. The position of inequality that Crisanta has, along with other Mam women, enables her to integrate a more holistic perspective in line with her worldview and allows her to critique the mining operations from a Maya Mam light. These women, based on their condition of oppression, have the ability to see with clarity from the base. This viewpoint enables them to understand the world from their ancestral worldview, as well as the reality of the mestizo (the Guatemalan State), and the dominant white (Goldcorp). This understanding contrasts the power groups’ viewpoint who understand and legitimize their knowledge as the only valid form of knowing. The women have become privileged epistemic subjects, for not being ¨contaminated¨ with only one way of knowledge that comes from an advantageous social position.

A member of the catholic parish, an indigenous Mam woman facing towards the marlin mine. Photo credit: Matthew Kok.

A member of the Catholic parish, an indigenous Mam woman facing towards the Marlin mine. Photo credit: Matthew Kok. Used with permission of author.

The case of mining in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, its environmental impact and the criminalization of women activists, can be understood from an ecofeminist perspective. As Vandana Shiva, in her book Stolen Harvest states: ¨For more than two centuries, patriarchal, eurocentric, and anthropocentric scientific discourse has treated women, other cultures, and other species as objects. Experts have been treated as the only legitimate knowers. For more than two decades, feminist movements, Third World and indigenous people’s movements, and ecological and animal-rights movements have questioned this objectification and denial of subjecthood.¨ The Guatemalan state and the mining company, driven by their focus on production, consumption and accumulation of wealth fail to respect the sovereignty and spirituality of indigenous peoples. The Mayan worldview is trampled by a mercantilist system that does not recognize the land as sacred, positioning man/production over woman /nature.

Crisanta and the anti-mining resistance group of San Miguel are reluctant to embrace the imposition of a clearly western and patriarchal “development” that despises life in the periphery and legitimizes abuse from its position of power. On the contrary, the women demand ¨the good life which according to their worldview and ancestral knowledge, consists in the search for harmony and balance with Mother Earth and all forms of existence. This philosophy of living naturally disapproves all forms of accumulation and exploitation that would alter the harmonious coexistence and quality of life of other beings.

In 2008, the Pastoral Commission of Peace and Ecology (COPAE) of San Marcos along with other organizations doing independent studies presented their detections of arsenic, aluminum, copper, manganese, and other metals in some water sources near the Marlin mine. The poor management of the mine waste and their presence in natural sources of water is a good explanation for the increase in gastrointestinal and skin diseases among the neighbors of the nearby communities.

During my visit, as we were interviewing members of the Parish of the San Miguel community, we talked about how racism was politically used to justify these atrocities. A parishioner tearfully explained, abuse is legitimized under the premise that ¨the Indians are dirty and unhygienic.¨ The hierarchy of race or gender is illogical and cannot be interpreted if it does not fall within a base structure with political interest. This is a clear example, where the discrediting and discrimination of a population is aligned with neoliberalist interest.

¨On the threshold of the third millennium, liberation strategies must ensure that human freedom is not achieved at the expense of other species, that freedom of one race or gender is not based on the increasing subjugation of other races and genders. In each of these struggles for freedom, the challenge is to include the other.¨ –Vandana Shiva

For me, Crisanta´s resistance is a miracle born from an oppressed community. The same system that abused and excluded Mam women, now is the same that caused the conditions for them to become creators of new knowledge outside of a dominant perspective. The heart and unbreakable spirit of these women defending their territory and returning to their ancestral knowledge, translates their struggles against the violation of the land to their female bodies and vice versa. They are women who cling to their indigenous philosophy of the ¨Good Life,¨ seeking harmony and sustainable living between people and nature peacefully. Under that view, Crisanta and the women of San Miguel Ixtahuacán rethink, deconstruct and reconstruct themselves.

Take action:
Send a letter to your congressmen to ensure that ensure that Canadian oil, mining and gas companies live up to international human rights, labour and environmental standards:
http://www.kairoscanada.org/take-action/open-for-justice/

References:

1.  S. James Anaya, “Preliminary Note on the Application of the Principle of Consultation with Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala and the Case of the Marlin Mine, ” UN Human Rights Council Report A/HRC/15/37/App. 8 (July 8, 2010), http://unsr.jamesanaya.org/special-reports/preliminary-note-on-the-application-of-the-principle-of-consultation-with-indigenous-peoples-in-guatemala-and-the-case-of-the-marlin-mine-2010

2. Jantzi Research Client Alert (2008), https://goldcorpoutofguatemala.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/jantziresearch-alert-080430-goldcorp-final.pdf

3. Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, (Boston: South End Press, 2000).

Nancy Sabas, originally from Honduras, currently lives in Guatemala as a exchange coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee. She has a degree in Business Management and is a current student in a feminist studies certification course provided by Ixchel women´s collective in Guatemala City.

Writing about Julia

author photo

Vanessa Pérez. Photo courtesy of author. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Vanessa Pérez

In the early morning hours of July 5, 1953, two New York City police officers spotted a figure on the ground near the corner of Fifth Avenue and 106th Street in East Harlem. As they approached, they saw the body of a woman with bronze-colored skin. Once a towering woman at five feet, ten inches, she now lay in the street, unconscious. They rushed her to Harlem Hospital, where she died shortly thereafter. The woman carried no handbag and had no identification on her. No one came to the morgue to claim her body. No missing person’s case fit her description. She was buried in the city’s Potter’s Field. One month later, the woman was identified as award-winning Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. Her family and friends exhumed and repatriated her body.

When I began writing about Julia de Burgos, I hesitated to mention her notorious death, seeking to move away from the narratives of victimhood that have shrouded her life for more than half a century. I wanted to focus on her poetry, her activism for women’s rights, social justice and the independence of Puerto Rico, and her legacy. Most Puerto Ricans already know her story, and many both on the island and in New York have been captivated by her life. However, I soon realized the importance of recounting even the most difficult details as I introduced her to new audiences. Her migration experience and her death on the streets of New York capture the imaginations of readers everywhere. Becoming Julia de Burgos builds on recent approaches to her work that focus on movement, flow, and migration. This book proposes a new way of reading Burgos’s work, life, and legacy, focusing on the escape routes she created in her poetry to write herself out of the rigid confines of gender and cultural nationalism.

For those of you who are not familiar with Burgos, let me offer a brief biographical sketch. Julia Constanza Burgos García was born on 17 February 1914 in the town of Carolina, Puerto Rico, the eldest of Paula García de Burgos and Francisco Burgos Hans’s thirteen children. Julia was intimately familiar with struggle, hardship, and death. She watched six of her younger siblings die of malnutrition and other illnesses associated with poverty. She obtained a teaching certification, a two-year degree, from the University of Puerto Rico, but would only work as a teacher for a year. In 1934, she married Rubén Rodríguez Beauchamp who she divorced only three years later. As a divorced woman in a conservative Catholic society, Burgos found that gossip, speculation, and vicious rumors undermined her respectabil­ity. During this time, she wrote her first collection of poetry, Poemas exactos a mí misma (Poems to Myself), which she later considered juvenilia and never published. In those early years, she also wrote “Río Grande de Loíza,” which became one of her most well-known works and was later included in her first published collection, Poema en veinte surcos (Poem in Twenty Furrows, 1938). This early work explored social justice and feminist themes, which she would continue to write about throughout her life. In poems such as “Pentacromia” and “A Julia de Burgos” she would write about her frustration with the institution of marriage and the limited roles available to women. In “Pentacromia” she repeats in each of the six stanzas the line “Hoy, quiero ser hombre (Today, I want to be a man),” expressing her desire for greater freedom to travel, and be an active participant in the world. In the poem, “A Julia de Burgos” she voices her frustration with social expectations of femininity through a split or double consciousness, suggesting postmodernist ideas of identity as performance. The speaker dramatizes the conflict between her socially acceptable constructed identity and her inner voices as a woman artist, as can be noted in the lines below.

Tú en ti misma no mandas; a ti todos te mandan;

en ti mandan tu esposo, tus padres, tus parientes,

el cura, la modista, el teatro, el casino,

el auto, las alhajas, el banquete, el champán,

el cielo y el infierno, y el qué dirán social.

 

En mí no, que en mí manda mí solo corazón,

mi solo pensamiento; quien manda en mí soy yo.

Tú, flor de aristocracia; y yo flor del pueblo.

Tú en ti lo tienes todo y a todos se lo debes,

mientras que yo, mi nada a nadie se la debo.

 

(You in yourself rule not; you’re ruled by everyone;

in you your husband rules, your parents, relatives,

the priest, the dressmaker, the theater, the casino

the car, the jewels, the banquet, the champagne,

the heaven and the hell, and the what-will-they-say.

 

Not so in me, who am ruled only by my heart,

only by what I think; who me commands is me.

You, aristocratic blossom; and I plebian floret.

You have it all with you and you owe it all to all,

While I, my nothing to no one do I owe.)

These lines offer an example of her commitment to freedom from prescribed roles for women. Burgos wrote and published her second collection of poetry, Canción de la verdad sencilla (Song of the Simple Truth), in 1939. Her third and final collection of poetry, El mar y tú (The Sea and You), was published posthumously in 1954. In January 1940, Burgos left Puerto Rico for New York where she stayed for six month. She then moved to Havana where she lived for two years before returning to New York in 1942. Several factors influenced her decision to leave Puerto Rico in 1940. The turn in Puerto Rican politics away from the nationalist and independence movement was one of the reasons. Also, many Puerto Rican writers, artists and musicians left for New York in those years in search of a wider audience, publishing houses, recording studios and greater opportunities to continue to develop their craft. Julia de Burgos wanted to be a part of this.

From late 1942 until her death, Burgos lived in New York where she struggled to make a living as a writer. She wrote for the Spanish-language weekly Pueblos Hispanos from 1943 to 1944, further developing her political voice. However, her journalism shows her political commitment to radical democracy and the struggle for immigrant and Puerto Rican rights and her advocacy of solidarity with Harlem’s African American community. In addition, these writings as well as her poetry reveal her understanding of cultural identity as fluid and unbound by national territory. While in the hospital months before her death, she wrote her two final poems in English, “Farewell in Welfare Island,” and “The Sun in Welfare Island,” describing the condition of exile and her sense of seclusion and desolation. These poems can be read as precursors to the literature of Nuyorican and U.S. Latina/o writers of the 1970s in both theme and emotional intonation.

Becoming Julia de Burgos recuperates a savvy, ambitious and influential intellectual who was a creative force both on the island and in New York. She is claimed by later generations as a beloved and inspiring icon and a fierce ancestor. There are at least two historical moments where we see a renewed interest in Julia de Burgos’s life and work. The civil rights movement of the 1960s is one of those moments. The women’s movement of that era led to a renewed interest in the poet on the island by feminist writers, artists and literary critics. The Nuyorican Movement of the 1970s led to ethnic revitalization and search for a deeper understanding of Puerto Rican history and culture that so many New York Puerto Ricans were distanced from. This coincided with first translations of some of her poems into English. As Latina feminists sought for intellectual genealogies during the women of color movement, they reclaimed Julia de Burgos as an ancestor. Julia de Burgos is remembered, reinvented and invoked in the poetry, prose, and artwork of various New York Latino writers and visual artist such as Sandra María Esteves, Mariposa and Andrea Arroyo, just to name a few. She is inscribed in the neighborhood of El Barrio in the form of murals, a cultural center named in her honor, and a street named after her. Sixty years after Julia de Burgos was found unconscious on an El Barrio street corner, she now forms part of the neighborhood’s urban landscape and cultural mythology.

Vanessa Pérez is an Associate Professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and the editor of Hispanic Caribbean Literature of Migration: Narratives of Displacement. She serves as an associate investigator on the City University of New York-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals (CUNY-NYSIEB), a collaborative project of the Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban Society (RISLUS) and the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Mujerista in Spirit: On Being a Latina Lapsed Catholic Researching Faith during Lent

author celebrating first communion

Sujey Vega’s First Communion Celebration. Personal files of author. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Sujey Vega

It is Lent and so it is that time of year when my mother pleads, “Hija, go to church this Sunday.”  For years I have tried to make my mother understand that I no longer “go to church” by choice. My repeated efforts to attend Catholic mass as an adult have yielded only unease, a sense of acting out of unfathomable obligation. What I dare not tell her, however, is how much I actually miss it. How much I wish I could believe and truly engage the Holy Spirit that she, following in the steps of my querida abuelita, so wholeheartedly embraced. Like many families from Latin America, it was the women who carried on the lived religion in my family. I remember my abuelita’s wrinkled hands moving her rose petal rosary, her thumbnail rhythmically gliding the beads that after years of use still emitted the smell of roses. Indeed, the aroma of fresh flowers continues to remind me of my own days of “ofreciendo flores” or offering flowers to the Virgin. Growing up, we attended mass every Sunday. My amá had me in catechism, I was an altar girl and took confirmation classes, even though I was confirmed in Mexico at the tender age of two (because as a Mexican Catholic I had no choice).

As a young adult, I could not personally reconcile the directives of a parish priest who barred teen girls from wearing make-up to mass or the passive reception expected of religious women toward their ministerial leader, a male priest. My mother, my abuelita, the women of the faith were the ones solely responsible for maintaining the faith at home, and yet they were hardly ever recognized by the institutional church for their commitment. Moreover, the presence of the Holy Spirit was never felt in the pews listening to yet another lecture from the pulpit. I felt spiritual presence in warm embraces, Sunday carne asadas, and the sounds of familiar alabanzas (hymns) and none of these things were ever talked about during mass. I realized now that what I was feeling was what Mujerista Theology noted as lo cotidiano, or the every day lived religion. Even though I left the organized Church, I still find light and warmth in the way people gain spiritual comfort, healing, and belonging from their faith.

Much to my mother’s surprise, I study religion and its social impact on Latino immigrant communities. Much to my own surprise, I voluntarily chose this path. I can recall the first time I felt called to voluntarily step into a church for research purposes. In 2003, Chicago was the site of national tour of the Tilma de Tepeyac religious relic, a 17th century statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe carrying a glass-encased piece of the tilma. At Our Lady of Tepeyac Parish in the Little Village neighborhood Mexican Catholics knelt down at the pews to pray for hours. As I observed their prayer I could not help but feel moved. Moved not by the presence of the relic, but the power of faith. Watching old and young, male and female pray brought me to tears. I sat there wishing I could be the Catholic my own mother wished I was.

Not long after this moment in Chicago I realized that my being agnostic does not deter from my interests in faith and Latin@ communities. I may not necessarily agree with the tenets of most organized religion, but I can appreciate the value that lived religion has on strengthening people’s lives. For the populations I study, faith provides material and emotional stability in an otherwise unstable world. This might seem crass or reductionists, but for me (a non believer) it helps to situate how religious faith serves a purpose in people’s lives. In this way, I could study faith and its role in religious communities without necessarily getting into the politics of accuracy or ranking religious beliefs.

This finessing of skepticism with appreciation has been more than valuable in my current research project on Latino Mormons. This research began in 2006 when I met Veronica, the wife of a Mormon President in a store-front rama, or Mormon branch. Here close to a dozen families gathered every Sunday to testify to their faith as Latter Day Saints. I had never met a Latino LDS member, and to be frank, did not even know such a community existed. Latino Protestants of all sorts (Baptists, Jehovah’s, and Seventh-day Adventists) were in my periphery, but Latino Mormons were completely out of my realm of possibility. Veronica invited me to her home where we bonded over her delicious pozole.  Veronica recalled the story of her crossing into the United States with her children, “fue una aventura terrible pero para ellos yo se les hice ver divertido – como que todo estaba bien… Gracias a Dios estamos aqui, que si pasamos por todo fue porque El lo quiso asi que valoremos mas las cosas, lo que tenemos, nuestro hogar, la familia” [It was a terrible adventure, but for them [her children] I made it seem entertaining, like everything would be ok. Thank God we are here, what we went through was all because He wanted us to value things, value what we have, our home, and our family].  It was women like Veronica who solidified my own interests in faith and religion as a coping mechanism for Latino immigrants. Veronica courageously faced the crossing with her children. Terrified herself, she referenced the crossing as “una aventura” an adventure to compartmentalize the fear and transform it into excitement for her children. Since then, I have continued to address the role of faith and family in Latino Mormons. Currently I am sifting through archives, conducting oral histories, and attending church events/services to understand more fully how specifically the Church of Latter Day Saints is inclusive of its Latino converts, and how Latinos have, for almost a century now, found their own spiritual belonging as Mormons.

The researcher in me wants to probe the Mormon Church’s problematic vision of a “light-skinned” God speaking to and saving indigenous communities in the Americas. I want to remain aware that the Church can be welcoming to some while extremely inhospitable to queer and gender non-conforming members. I want to point to the juxtaposition of families encouraged to grow and produce the next generation of Mormons while Latina females continuously get labeled as over-reproductive burdens on society.  I want to, and I will, but I also have to be true to the members who do feel satisfaction, who are tremendously strengthened by their faith, who remake an otherwise predominately Anglo Church in their own image. Members like Josefina who noted, “In December I turn 89 years old…and the Relief Society still fortifies me, it gives me strength so that if I have live more months, well it helps me. The Relief Society is always helping you and renews you.” These women are claiming their own way to belong, and draw strength from their Church and the Relief Society. They are moved by el espiritu, and I cannot deny them that. I cannot forget how much I was moved during the a holiday performance when I did feel something, when I almost heard my own abuelita sing “os pido posada…”. I can’t help remember the other women of the Spanish Tabernacle choir whose arms wrapped me in an embrace when they found out I wanted to do a book about their lives. The women who all surrounded me trying to take pictures and encourage my work. The 92 year old elderly woman whose wrinkled hands held onto my own and asked me “estas en el facebook” so she could keep up with my work. Every woman wanted to take a picture, tell me their conversion story, and encourage their daughters to talk to me. I can’t but account for their narratives as well. As a feminist, non-Mormon, Women and Gender Studies professor, I’ve faced questions and skepticism about my research from the Mormon women I am researching. I want to remain open to their voices rather than rush to condemnation. Perhaps what I am actually doing, what drives this work, is the search to connect to my amá and abuelita, to their faith and their willingness to assert their own roles as Mujeristas, or women who lived their faith fully in their every day. So this Easter Lenten season I will go to church, but much to my mother’s chagrin it will be for research and not spiritual reasons.

References

Isasi-Díaz, Ada María. Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.

Sujey Vega is on the faculty at Arizona State University and a member of the Mujeres Talk Editorial Group.

Latinas/os and Corporate Mestizaje

 

by Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo and José Alamillo

En lo puro no hay futuro
la pureza está en la mezcla
en la mezcla de lo puro
que antes que puro fue mezcla.

“En lo puro no hay futuro,” Jarabe de Palo

[There is no future in that which is pure. / Purity comes from the mixing. / The mixing of that which is pure, / Because before it was pure, it was a mixture. “There is no Future in that which is Pure” Jarabe de Palo]

During the last two decades, Latinos and Latinas have achieved a modicum of recognition in U.S. mainstream culture, in part because of the marketing machine of corporate America. However, as Arlene Dávila (2001) proposed, the recognition that Latinos/as have achieved has been simultaneously and paradoxically accompanied by “a continued invisibility in US society” (3). Corporate spending and advertising directed at Latinos/as have grown at an annual average rate of more than 10 percent since 1998 and will continue to grow as census numbers reveal that Latinos now constitute the largest minority ethnic group (US Census, 2012). Given this new demographic reality suspiciously dubbed the “browning of America,” marketing officials are developing more sophisticated approaches to reach the Latino/a consumer replacing the crude and offensive images of the past that outraged Latino civil rights groups. The new images have been refined and repackaged to present Latinos/as less as a caricature and more as a seamless harmonious unified group. This contemporary construction of Latinidad by corporate America needs more critical interrogation amidst neoliberal policies and global economic forces that insist on merging the Latin American South with the Latino North to create the new (future) hybrid marketing, especially one geared toward mainstream non-Latino communities.

The process of intercultural borrowing/appropriation and racial mixture has a long, tormented history in the Americas, dating back to the European colonizations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This process has been known as syncretism, miscegenation, creolization, metis, transculturation, hybridity, and mestizaje. Because of their own colonial histories, many Latin American countries have adopted the ideology of cultural and racial mixing as a central tenet for their nation-building projects. Although some of those projects have transcended their countries of origin through the movement of immigrants, in the end, the US has never adopted or even seriously contemplated hybridity as part of its nation-formation processes.

At the same time, Chicano/a Studies scholars have critically interrogated the concept of “mestizaje” making a crucial distinction between its Mexican and Chicano nationalist configuration. In Mestizaje, Rafael Pérez-Torres argues that because of Chicana/os racialized experiences in the US context, “mestizaje” rises to the level of a counter discourse and practice that challenges dominant Chicano and American conceptions of white masculinity and heteronormative sexuality. While Pérez-Torres’ re-configures the term “mestizaje” with a critical edge, it does not prevent US advertisers and marketers from appropriating hybrid culture for economic gain.

Thus, the American marketplace has recently developed its own ideas about mestizaje and hybridity with the purpose of selling products, images, and ideologies to mainstream American audiences. These ideas are usually used in tandem with mainstream commodified constructions of Latinas/os, which are often presented as “mestiza/o” or “hybrid” constructions. This is happening at the same time that we are witnessing a major backlash against Latinos in virtue of a government-created hysteria about (Mexican/Latino) immigrants and immigration. We call this particular selling of ideas corporate mestizaje, not because we think this is a bonafide case of social or cultural syncretism, but because we want to call attention to a specific pattern where those doing advertising for US companies combine seemingly benign aspects of American and Latin American cultures in their selling of specific products (cars, food items, etc.). As an illustration, we offer the advertisement for a beer introduced by Miller Company in 2007, which used a particular kind of English-Spanish hybridity to market its new product. Though we only discuss this one example, we would like to call attention to the fact that this has been done pretty consistently during the last decade or so, as we have repeatedly witnessed the peddling of consumable “hybrid” images for the mainstream audiences.

Miller’s New Hybrid Beer

Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing. Co. has long been associated with white blue-collar America and sales have been declining for the past few decades. To reverse sagging beer sales, Miller decided to go “south of the border” to find inspiration for their new light beer called “Miller Chill” (Kesmodel, 2007). This lime and salt flavored beer was introduced in a television advertisement campaign called “Se Habla Chill” (translated as “We Speak Chill”). The “Miller Chill” beer was advertised as “an American take on the Mexican ‘chelada’” (translated as the cold one). The “chelada” emerged as a popular drink in Mexican beach resorts in the 1960s and it consists of beer, lime, salt, and ice in a salt-rimmed glass. According to one Miller spokesperson, “We call it a modern American take on a Mexican classic” (Lentini, 2007). Miller Chill was packaged in a lime green bottle with words “Inspired by a Mexican recipe with lime & salt” on the top, followed by green and silver modular Aztec-like design in the middle” with word “Chill” in bold letters, and “Chelada style” words at the bottom. One television commercial featured a close-up of the green bottle with bright colors and Latin music in the background. The Spanglish narration included such mock Spanish phrases as “Beerveza,” “It’s Muy Refreshing,” or “Viva Refreshment.” The Miller web site (www.millerchill.com) described the “hybrid” dimension of this new beer: “Refreshment takes on a whole new meaning south-of-the-border where the sun burns HOTTER and LONGER; where heat creeps into EVERYTHING from food to music to nightlife….Inspired by a Mexican recipe. Miller Chill is a unique, refreshing fusion of two cultures per 12oz serving.”

The Miller Chill advertising campaign uses the trope of “tropicalization” that refers to stereotypical Latino images, music, and characteristics that are defined as “tropical” and associated with representations of hotness, exotic, wild, and passionate peoples/things (Aparicio and Chavez-Silverman, 1997). Building upon Edward Said’s concept of “Orientalism,” Frances Aparicio and Susan Chavez-Silverman (1997) argue that “tropicalization” is formulated from an Anglo dominant perspective, it homogenizes culture to construct a “mythic idea of Latinidad based on….projections of fear.” (8). The bright colors, salsa music, and tropical fruit are “tropicalizing” references associated with Miller Chill’s “Beerveza” made with an “unexpected twist” and “brewed for a new level of refreshment.” In addition, when the website pitches their new beer as “unique, refreshing fusion of two cultures” it is combining a “traditional Mexican style” recipe with low-calorie beer to construct a “happy hybridity” discourse that appeals to mainstream consumers.

The problem with this particular celebration of “hybridity” has to do with its disengagement from reality. For instance, although we could interpret the use of English and Spanish along with the specific allusions to Mexico as a step toward acknowledging the long (if torturous) relationship between that country and the US, or the crossing over boundaries of specific cultural artifacts, we must keep in mind that this type of hybridity is not meant to extend beyond the advertising campaign. That is, we could argue that immigrant behavior does the same thing creating a hybridity in defying two nation states by simply crossing the border between them. But, we would be ignoring how the nation state has continued to intervene in the lives of migrants through surveillance, legislation, militarization, arrests, detention, and deportation. Moreover, the “fusion” of American and Mexican cultures as reflected in the new Miller Chill beer campaign is less an example of hybridity (cultural, social, or political) and more an example of market forces dictating trends in beer consumption based on perceived notions about consumer preference via the appropriation of certain cultural elements. As Miller’s chief marketing officer observed, “There’s clearly a move toward Latinization if you’ve been watching the American consumer” (Kesmodel, 2007).

We must also point out, that although we see this type of marketing campaign as directed to mainstream audiences, Latinos also watch and witness how these advertisements are seeking to peddle certain cultural elements associated with them. In fact, Latinos and Latinas are not passive consumers of marketing campaigns, and have had a long tradition of organized boycotts against products and social actors that promote anti-Latino agendas. In 2006, when immigrant rights activists in Chicago discovered that Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, author of the anti-immigrant bill, HR 4437 received political contributions from Miller Beer they threatened a national boycott of Miller beer products. Almost immediately, Miller conceded to organizers’ demands and put out a one page ad in a Spanish language newspaper proclaiming their opposition to HR 4437 and pledged their “support for the Hispanic community and the rights of immigrants” (Navarette, 2006). Although Miller was more concerned about declining profits than becoming a pro-immigrant company, organizers took advantage of this political moment to fight anti-immigration legislation but also proclaim that market inclusion should translate into political inclusion.

Conclusion: The Corporate Hybrid in Perspective

Corporate America has used a Latino hybrid trope to reach mainstream audiences and consumers, but this “cultural inclusion” has meant material exclusion for the large number of Latinos and Latinas. More to the point, mainstream America seems more at ease with “south of the border” things than people, as long as these things appear in and stay confined to their television, their films, and their advertisements. Corporate Mestizaje is an insidious practice that creates and deploys commercials like those of the Miller Chill, turning them into tools to ease the insecurities and fears of mainstream culture about an impending Latinization of the United States. However, the marketing of Latinidad has not effectively addressed the underprivileged circumstances of Latinos/as. In the end, these types of commercials say nothing about Latinos and everything about mainstream U.S. culture. After all, an accessible and re-imagined mestiza Latino/a “culture” (one without the reality of Latino/a people) is definitely more titillating and certainly less frightening. Jarabe de Palo’s lyrics in the opening epigraph become an ominous means of marketing, “there’s no future in purity,” and corporate America is cashing in on that.

Works Cited

Aparicio, Frances and Susana Chavez-Silverman. Tropicalizations: Transcultural Representations of Latinidad. Hanover, CT: University Press of New England, 1997.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture.  New York: Routledge, 1994.

Colker, Ruth. Hybrid: Bisexuals, Multiracials, and other Misfits under American Law. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Dávila, Arlene. 2001. Latinos Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People. Berkeley: University of California Press.

García Canclini, Nestor. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Jarabe de Palo. 2001. “En lo puro no hay future.” De Vuelta y Vuelta. Emi Latin.

Kesmodel, David. “Miller asks, ‘Se Habla Chill?’ to keep U.S. Market Hopping; Brewer Hopes Lager With a Mexican Twist Can End Sales Slump.” Wall Street Journal. 12 Jan. 2007: B31.

Lentini, Nina. “Miller Draws Outside the Lines with New ‘Chill.” Media Post Publications. 9 Feb. 2007. 2 July, 2007. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=55265

McClain DaCosta, Kimberly.“Selling Mixedness: Marketing with Multiracial Identities.” Mixed Messages: Multiracial Identities in the Color Blind Era. Ed. David Brunsma. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006.

Navarette, Ruben. “Immigration Issue Brews Beer.” Hispanic Trends. June 2006: 35.

Pérez-Torres, Rafael. Mestizaje: Critical Uses of Race in Chicano Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006

US Census. 2012. “Hispanic Origin.” http://www.census.gov/population/hispanic/data/2012.html.

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University. Her research focuses on Latinos in the US, “the War on Terror,” and the representation of Latinas/os and other minorities in popular culture.  José Alamillo is a Professor of Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Channel Islands. Dr. Alamillo’s research focuses on the ways Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans have used culture, leisure, and sports to build community and social networks to advance politically and economically in the United States. His current research project includes a transnational history of Mexican Americans in sports and the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo during the 20th century.