Blurred Borders: Transnationalism, Identity, and Cultural Formation

Friday, February 6, 2015
10:30am – 11:45am
Race Conference Room 201, Lavin-Bernick Center (LBC)
Moderated by: Dr. Yuri Herrera, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Tulane University

Sagas of Resistance Versus Acts of Rebellion: Alfredo Véa Jr.’s The Silver Cloud Café as an Attempt Toward “the Beyond”
Cynthia Martinez, Indiana University

“Juxtaposing the real with the fantastical, the narrative world created in Alfredo Véa Jr.’s 1996 novel The Silver Cloud Café explores the contemporary constructs of difference through history, memory, crime, and spirituality. Set primarily in modern-day San Francisco, the novel traverses the borders of space and time through its diverse cast of Mexican, Filipino, Hindu, European and African-American characters. Véa’s semi-autobiographical characters serve as representations of varying categorizations of racial, ethnic, sexual, and physical difference. As each character navigates the complexities of difference both within and outside of the confines of national boundaries and reality itself, the novel seemingly privileges its narrative space of San Francisco’s “Rafael’s Silver Cloud Café” as a place to comfortably perform the difference condemned outside of its confines.
Considering the novel’s thematic treatment of difference, this project seeks to dialogue with current criticism on The Silver Cloud Café that privileges its narrative world as a resistant response to U.S. multiculturalism as an essentializing cultural policy, proposing that the novel offers heterogeneity and hybridity as alternatives. Providing an analysis of the origin and development of the notions of heterogeneity and hybridity, I propose that Véa’s novel, rather than provide a resistant alternative within the confines of the U.S. system of cultural policy, creates rebellious moments existing outside the novel’s mimetic hegemonic system, thereby actualizing and illuminating the very limits present within current negotiations of difference. To this end, through an analysis of the novel’s genre and language, which cannot be contained by easily definable and comprehensible constructs, I suggest that, rather than an idealized heterogeneity, the novel can be aligned more closely to Alberto Moreiras’s notion of savage hybridity, offering an alternative reading to a binarizing resistance.”

Poéticas de emergencia: Rafa Saavedra, nueva ciudadanía e identidad fronteriza
Jorge Ramirez, University of California San Diego

Rafa Saavedra (Tijuana, 1967-2013), creador de la frase “Tijuana Makes me Happy” es autor de una obra narrativa que abarca dos décadas en las cuales los discursos mueven su base de la posmodernidad y el multiculturalismo hasta la necropolítica y el horrorismo. Durante los últimos años del siglo pasado y hasta el día de su muerte Saavedra, a través de su narrativa, generó un ejemplo de identidad fronteriza y promovió un tipo de ciudadanía ejercida desde la periferia. La obra de Rafa Saavedra no ha sido aun muy estudiada por diversas razones de las que destaco el que sus libros fueron publicados en editoriales independientes de poca distribución y el que su obra sea marginal en relación al centro cultural mexicano: la ciudad de México. De igual forma el concepto de ciudadanía fronteriza del norte de México ha representado históricamente un ejercicio complejo que pretendo abordar en mi ponencia. Buten Smiley (1997), Lejos del Noise (2003) y Dios me persigue (2013) son tres de los libros de relatos con los que intentaré trazar un desarrollo de identidad y ciudadanía fronteriza paralelo al intento del Estado mexicano de tomar el control cultural de esta ciudad fronteriza. Poéticas de emergencia son esas herramientas que le permiten a un autor determinado producir desde un espacio y tiempo de conflicto. En el caso de Rafa Saavedra estas poéticas versan desde los nuevos medios hasta la interdisciplinariedad, herramientas determinantes en su creación del imaginario fronterizo. La narrativa de Rafa Saavedra ejemplifica cómo se puede vivir el espacio público tijuanense con las ventajas y desventajas de abordar como escenario esta ciudad de flujos migratorios, y proyectada bajo un sistema neoliberal hacia una elusiva idea de modernidad.

Cinematic Construction of Touristic Voyeurism in Elia Sulieman’s “Diary of a Beginner”
Krista Weirich, Indiana University

Contemporary Havana is often conceptualized as a city in transition, caught in between socialism and the free market, ruins and renovation, splendor and decadence, stasis and change, age and vitality. The foreign eye seems to be perpetually fixed on this urban space, fascinated by the splendor of its ruined architecture, perplexed by the contrasting resilience and resourcefulness of its citizens, and speculative about its future. During the economic crisis of the 1990s, the government instated loosening measures to stimulate the stagnant economy. One of these, the creation of a ministry of tourism in 1994, significantly influenced Cuban cultural production by introducing a pronounced awareness of and interaction with foreign markets and the transnational construction of Cuban identity in this transitional period. The voyeuristic curiosities of foreigners who visited the island inspired widely circulated travelogues, photography books and documentaries that disseminated images of Cuba. Simultaneously, Cuban writers, filmmakers and artists found themselves entering a global market for literature that could reflect the daily Cuban “reality” that seemed so removed from that of the rest of the world. The presence of the tourist and the economic and aesthetic implications of the arrival of the tourist industry to special period Cuba have important implications for Cuban cultural production. In this paper, I analyze Elia Suleiman’s short film Diary of a Beginner, part of the collaborative transnational production 7 días en La Habana, as a transnational response that confronts problematic foreign-produced representations of Cuban identity. By studying the figures of the tourist and foreign photographer in in this short film, I explore how national identity is reconfigured vis-à-vis the foreign gaze and how the urban space of Havana is reimagined against the aesthetic of ruins that characterized much of the foreign cultural production in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Land and Its People: Rights, Responsibilities, and Conflicts

Saturday, February 7, 2015
10:00am – 11:15am
Jones Hall 100A Greenleaf Conference Room
Moderated by: Dr. Kris Lane, Department of History, Tulane University

Ancestral Land or Corporate Land: Conflicts over Identity and Territory in La Guajira, Colombia
Emma Banks, Vanderbilt University

In La Guajira, Colombia, indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and campesino people struggle to defend their land threatened by the Cerrejón coalmine. These communities face a common problem, but must advance their claims through three different legal regimes. The 1991 constitution recognizes ethnic territories, and provides a framework for indigenous and Afro-Colombians, but not for campesinos, to protect their ancestral territories. Furthermore, the state that guarantees these rights also supports a national economic development plan based on mining, two seemingly contradictory responsibilities. Drawing on fieldwork with communities surrounding Cerrejón and analysis of key legislation, this paper explores how both the state and corporate actors manipulate multicultural legal norms to disenfranchise communities and control territory. It also illustrates how communities propose an alternative to narrow state definitions of ethnicity. Although framed as an attempt at recognizing ethnic rights, this paper views the state’s recognition of ethnic communities as a vehicle for regulating land in La Guajira in favor of Cerrejón. Wayuu indigenous communities have successfully claimed their ancestral territories, but as a result have come under greater state control. Legislation for Afro-Colombian and campesino communities falls short in La Guajira, denying their rights to territory and self-identity. In contrast to state legislation, ethnic claim-making “from below” is an attempt to assign land a cultural value and protect it from economic exploitation. The complex struggle over both territory and identity in La Guajira reveals how powerful actors and disenfranchised minorities mobilize multicultural values for disparate goals.

Fenced in Place: Discourses and Practices around Female Workers in China’s Hydropower Projects in Ecuador
Ruijie Peng, University of Texas at Austin

This study explores re/production of social and spatial relations in the biggest ongoing Chinese hydroelectric project in the Amazon watershed in Ecuador. With China’s near dominant role in development investment in Ecuador, the paper relies both on structural analysis of Chinese investment and original and ethnographic accounts and reflections from fieldwork in order to elucidate processes of integration or segmentation Chinese projects entail in the project. Due to different labor regulations, cultural norms and natural environment, Chinese-led development project experience a set of spatial segregation and labor segmentation based on national, ethnicity and gender lines. This produces a new development and management logic that both resembles traditional capitalist insertion in local economy yet distinguishes itself with different types of labor and environmental implications. However, instead of reproducing an imperial model of resource exploitation, China’s engagement with Ecuador and Latin America in general in development has created a new realm of contested social relations and interactions. For example, up to 20% of the workers and other staff have been brought from mainland China to work with Ecuadorians under a labor regime that creates more disadvantages for Chinese labor force than its Ecuadorian counterpart. Does Chinese investment and development in Ecuador represent a different paradigm than global capitalism’s engagement in production and profit? What spaces and social relations produce and are produced by South-South cooperation in development? Reflections from this work urge state and non-state actors to rethink ways in which Chinese state-led investments, Latin American states and grassroots advocacy groups can achieve more equitable and sustainable resource development.

This Isn’t Child’s Play: Delineating Mobility and Property in the Eastern Andes, 1630-1651
Nathan Weaver Olsen, University of Minnesota

In February of 1650, a property dispute between two brothers-in-law, Lorenzo de Chavez Orellana and Juan Sanchez de Aguilera, escalated into a fistfight as the local lieutenant general attempted to give Sanchez formal possession of what Chavez claimed to be his land, in full view of the Chavez family home. Of course on one level, the fistfight, which the Lieutenant General did not mention in his official report, was simply a physical manifestation of rising tensions between the two men. But on another level, this fight in a sparsely populated valley in the eastern Andes was a battle between proxies representing different notions about the origin and meaning of property rights, local citizenship (vecindad) and personal reputation. While Sanchez temporarily won possession of Chavez’s land, he would ultimately lose out in his effort to separate Chavez from his property, and did not prevent the sale of Chavez’s land to the regionally powerful don Pedro de Cuellar Mimbreño. The loss signified a change taking place in the valley in which years of military service in defense of the frontier no longer trumped literacy, documentary evidence, and the knowledge of Spanish civil legal codes. In this talk I will discuss how changing ideas about personal property in the seventeenth-century Andes help us to better understand how frontier spaces became bordered places, and the social implications of such changes for frontier communities.