Smithsonian Center for Lation Initiatives
The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures: Research and Museums Conference Documentation
 home background presenters presentations highlights resources contact sitemap

Borders and Diasporas: Transcript of Discussion Session

Challenging Traditional Curatorial Practices

Historicizing Narratives

Borders and Diasporas

Aesthetics Beauty

The Body: The Real and the Symbolic

All Abstracts



DR. FLORES:  Thank you very much. Well, we only had three presentations so there's a little bit more time.  We have, I think, about 25 minutes for discussion.  I would hope that a lot of people here have opinions and ideas about this.  These are crucial issues that concern Latino identification and representation.  How do we do this?  Diaspora and border concepts are just some of the most active and lively ideas that have come into play and are constantly referred to but we can see from the three presentations how differently they might be understood, how this idea of a kind of identity map or cultural mapping can cut it a lot of different directions, and we saw clearly that diaspora itself has both a geographic and a cultural or group idea and that refer to the boundedness and at the same time the linkages cutting across those boundaries at the same time, and I think that's some of the complexity of the term.

            I have perhaps a few little points for each one but I think that really would be interesting to see them dialog in relationship to each other because, for example, Angelica's, the last presentation, diaspora was understood in a very, very specific not only regional but one place, one city.  There is where the diaspora is manifest, and then there's the effort to try to relate that peculiarity to then some kind of broader concept accounting for all of those of that background throughout the United States.

            And the same question then might apply to Martha's because her idea of the diaspora was also very region-bound.  The question is these corridos that reflect that border life what happens to them when somebody's in Chicago?  Do they relate to those and how?  If it is so regionally defined and grounded how does it then transmit itself, go beyond that regional focus?

            So those are the kinds of questions that I think come into play.  I am particularly interested in if diaspora is a relationship among two or more perhaps spaces or places how does the flow go?  Is it only in one direction?  Is it only like from Mexico here and this is particularly in relationship to Martha?  What happens when those things go back to Mexico and how do they resonate here?  And is there any difference between the way that el corrido norte¤o or how they're practiced musically or even in terms of performance when they are performing on one side of the border or the other?  So that's the kind of question which I think would come to mind in that particular case.

            And then in relation to Karen's I think we had a real interesting challenge to the whole idea of diaspora because of the fixity that place implies and that while we're obviously talking about all kinds of internal frontiers and contradictions this tactical issue that she raised I think is very well taken and that diaspora, again, does not only refer to geography itself but refers to cultural relations in a broader, overhead, different kind of sense.

            I think that right here the question of movement is also there but the challenge to the idea that everything is just movement because there are people who are grounded in certain places, and are they less a part of the diaspora because they're not moving?  Is movement a requirement of a diasporic experience?

            I'm not going even answer but is Mestizaje a possible alternative to these problematic aspects of the diaspora concept? It was claimed that the way that concept of Mestizaje is used, for example, in Chicana feminist writing is different than the way it has been used in Latin America.  I would raise the issue, however, that ÄÄÄÄ cites very positively and affirmatively Vazconcelos, who is, of course, papa of all this idea of Mestizaje, at least the cosmic kind, in the Mexican context.  So it would be interesting and important, I think, if you're going to make a differentiation in what way is it differentiated and how do you account for the Chicana feminist who relies on those pretty conservative and pretty established ideas of what Mestizaje is about?

            And from Karen I think it would be interesting or valuable to go a little further in elaborating this idea of Western versus Nonwestern.  Is there a danger, perhaps, of essentializing Western-ness or treating it in some kind of monolithic way and in what way does it represent a really good alternative to the kind of experiences that we want to focus on and highlight on? I'm not totally convinced or clear, perhaps, about that.

            And then the last thing that I would want to raise as issues or questions is when we talk about diaspora in all three presentations, of course, the focus was on the Mexican diaspora, the Chicano experience.  Latinos only came up, if you noticed, in the last presentation.  The word "Latino" wasn't even mentioned in the first two because it was assumed that Latino equals Chicano so you don't even need the word "Latino."

            But what happens if we extend it and that diaspora becomes something more than one group, one nationality, one ethnicity, and becomes then the need to develop some kind of pan-Latino notion where you try to bring into play groups whose experience as groups might be very, very different from that of all the Mexicanos in whatever region of the United States?

            So I pose that as a challenge, perhaps, as one of the lone Puerto-Riquenos that happen to be here among the ÄÄÄÄ.

            I'm going to take the opportunity to make sure that the audience, all of us, reflect upon what is the scope of our concept of diaspora when we're talking about Latinos in the United States today.  So with that in mind I'll first ask if any of the panelists would like to respond to some of those things, and then immediately I'll open it up to everybody.

            I'd ask the panel to keep it short so we make sure we have time for the audience.


DR. CHEW-SANCHEZ:  Yes, I will.  I think I will try to go in the order that you went through this.  Well, what did I choose this area I think we ÄÄÄÄ for practical purposes ÄÄÄÄ extended family.  He's from my cousin's house.  Really I have learned a lot from ÄÄÄÄ they are ÄÄÄÄ so I have been very, very enchanted by all the ÄÄÄÄ intimate knowledge that my father has and my cousin has on that and so that was very practical, and I think that although it seems like ÄÄÄÄ I don't know if Chicanos know because when I was ÄÄÄÄ there seem to be a differentiation between first generation and second generation Mexicans.  I don't know.  I just want to say that they are people like myself ÄÄÄÄ and they don't fit within the scheme of the ÄÄÄÄ oppose Mexico-US war because they didn't have the roots that ÄÄÄÄ claim to have which very valuable but in this particular case ÄÄÄÄ in the cultural memory ÄÄÄÄ also regarding the differences between the US side and the Mexico side it's very interesting.  There is one very famous dancing ÄÄÄÄ that is called Tumbleweed and I used to go ÄÄÄÄ and it was very interesting because on Fridays for New Mexicans and Saturdays is for Mexicans.

            You see, I mean, they created very specific boundaries in the way they dance and the protocols and then people, I mean, they tell me ÄÄÄÄ how the protocol is very strict in Chihuahua and ÄÄÄÄ 45 minutes.  Is standard and you ÄÄÄÄ which is ÄÄÄÄ they are from New Mexico and all the music is being consumed in Mexico ÄÄÄÄ so it's like ÄÄÄÄ so I think regarding how this music is being ÄÄÄÄ I don't believe that there is a system that is ÄÄÄÄ much more ÄÄÄÄ the only point that is true ÄÄÄÄ and is real and is tangible that ÄÄÄÄ to go to Mexico City ÄÄÄÄ very much part of an identity so ÄÄÄÄ so regarding the question of Pan Americanismo within the United States or Latinismo ÄÄÄÄ the concept of the group that I wanted to talk about and the reason being because I didn't want to make any generalizations of Mexican immigration.  It's such a huge, huge field.

            It's very difficult ÄÄÄÄ Mexican immigration ÄÄÄÄ I want to be as specific and say I'm talking about this particular group ÄÄÄÄ same concept doesn't apply to any other Mexican group.  Many Mexican people don't even know about what's going on ÄÄÄÄ but last Saturday I watch ÄÄÄÄ news and there was ÄÄÄÄ that were Latinos ÄÄÄÄ and people ÄÄÄÄ no, it feels nice ÄÄÄÄ and I just think there is a lot of need for Mexican or whatever.  I don't know what other labels you ÄÄÄÄ Chicanos I ÄÄÄÄ that I'm Mexican and I was put in the percentage of the Chicanos and I don't if I'm Chicano ÄÄÄÄ don't consider myself Chicano because I wasn't born here so I'm wetback.  That's right.

            And so I think there is a lot of need to understand the ÄÄÄÄ stories of ourselves but I think there is some need for us to understand ÄÄÄÄ our roots ÄÄÄÄ to get to know ÄÄÄÄ.


DR. FLORES:  I'm out of control of time here so I really want to caution the panelists.  Please keep your comments short so we can move out to the general and open it up to the audience.

DR. DAVALOS:  I feel like I should start with the one to defend.  I don't think that my work circulates in a kind of Chicano standing in for Latino.  I mean, I try to do like that first panel did.  It's a very specific kind of work and the institutions that I've done work on, if you want to do blood quantum, they're Mexican-origin people.  They don't try to address a Latino representational practice.  That's not their goal.  But I think my work circulates in other circles that can contribute to a kind of Latino studies so I'm not sure what your question was there because we battled with this I think once before.


DR. FLORES:  We did?

DR. DAVALOS:  Yes, when we met here.  The thing that I want to say, it never seems to come out right when I talk about Mestizaje and Gloria ÄÄÄÄ's work and others that usually the critique is from the Latin Americans that say well, how can you use that phrase because in Latin America it really is about erasing indigenous and literally even under Vazconcelos policies that systematically deny the indigenous people health, education, et cetera, et cetera, and so I always say well, I'm looking at the reappropriation, the way in which Chicano scholars, Chicanas, have looked at in a way that certainly positions indigenousness as a central part of our Mestizaje.

            It's an even greater challenge to the way in which Chicanismo was posed early on.  So it somehow doesn't ever come out right so I apologize for that.  But I think what's different about the new Mestizaje is that it's not an erasure of indigenousness. But we certainly have not gone far enough into trying to understand precisely the work that Estevan is doing, but I think the space of this new Mestizaje allows that kind of work to come to the table whereas before I don't think it would have been able to do that.

            And then I think on the notion of movement what I'm trying to say is that it's not about movement because as a person born here in the US my family experience that I've tried to capture in my own research in other ways looking at other collective experiences has certainly been one of displacement, so it's a diasporic experience and yet we've never moved a darn inch.  But we've been re-moved from the national image, and that's the kind of weaving that I'm calling for.

            It's that at particular moments this weaving is unwoven because it makes no sense.  But my last effort, I think, that you heard me try to construct there is a political urgency for understanding diaspora that is about movement.

DR. DOCOG:  Just one quick comment. It was interesting because when I moved to central Arizona and I started to use the term "Latino" people were really surprised because I didn't realize that many of them still considered themselves as Hispanic. I'm originally from San Diego so I came straight from San Diego, well, via England, to Mesa and so, like I say, I was very, very surprised, and I couldn't really understand why they continue to call themselves Hispanics, nor were they able to understand why are you calling me Latino?  We're Hispanics.  We're Hispanics.

            And this is something that I hope to include in the exhibit and it's interesting just to get everybody's comments.  As we just heard, it's very difficult to put terms on different people and, again, who are we to say what to call those groups of people?

            And I think that's something that we have to remember, especially those in the museum field, and this is what I'm trying to keep in mind, too, at the museum.  Sure, we want to do this fabulous exhibit but we want to make sure that we are not imposing certain ideas, certain terminology, on the visitors whether they're Latinos or not. And so, like I said, that's a challenge that the museum will continue to contend with.


DR. FLORES:  Well, thank you very much.  Now, with that in mind we can open it up.  I'd like to take your questions, people.  Okay, one, two, three.

MS. MIERI:  Please use the microphones to the sides because the people in the back cannot hear.  Thank you.

DR. FLORES:  Maybe those who line up at that one and maybe at that one.

MS. MIERI:  That'd be great.

DR. FLORES:  Are there people on that side?  Get over to that microphone if you'd like to say something or ask a question, and then maybe I'll just bounce back and forth from one to the other.

QUESTION:  Sure.  Just a quick question for Martha, actually, a question and a comment.  I'd like you to elaborate a little bit more on this mirror image, this mirror model, that you're trying to present, especially thinking about the narco- corridos, right?

            And I'd like you to talk about that.  Especially I keep thinking about narco-corridos in the realm of pleasure and fantasy, right?  As far as constructing the image is very much like gangster rap in some way but are not necessarily reflective but more a fantasy construction, a kind of aesthetic, an image that is not necessarily representative in the way that the mirror image would, okay?

DR. CHEW-SANCHEZ:  I don't think the drug smuggling ÄÄÄÄ in Mexico.  I mean, I'm from the border.  I grew up on the border and I live very much for over 12 years part of the violence that is very much ÄÄÄÄ by drug smuggling and it's a very tangible ÄÄÄÄ every day life of so many ÄÄÄÄ people over there and I think most of the critics that I have heard within Mexico I don't know so much about ÄÄÄÄ within the Spanish language media is that they glorify this violence and ÄÄÄÄ states where there is more drug smuggling ÄÄÄÄ Chihuahua mainly. The have the ÄÄÄÄ the corridos officially and ÄÄÄÄ and there are many, many examples even in New Mexico ÄÄÄÄ and I have documented where they also were not allowed to be broadcasted and they went underground.

            Most of the narco-corridos are sold underground out of people's cars and the markets are on the street so, I mean, I don't think ÄÄÄÄ but I'm saying I'm not that sophisticated ÄÄÄÄ what I saw is this, that there is ÄÄÄÄ because what happens ÄÄÄÄ they don't have the release of the songs ÄÄÄÄ stuff like that ÄÄÄÄ so for me was just amazing to find that when I ÄÄÄÄ in the community ÄÄÄÄ.

DR. FLORES:  Next.  Nobody on that side?

DR. BAHTI:  I just have a couple of comments about the theoretical aspects of these ideas of diaspora, first with polarity and ÄÄÄÄ Davidson's (?) ideas of this black and white, male and female polarity, and then later Scott's race and class and gender triad and then Peggy Pascal really used experience, identity, and agency as a triad. And then came contextual, contingent, and contested as a triad, and I'm thinking that so far the diaspora and Mestizaje are two as powerful in terms of shifts in modes of analysis.  It's still missing a third that might come out in this process, but I'd like to refer you to Virginia Yans-McLaughlin's book called Immigration Reconsidered where she uses a model similar to Barbara Fields, who's an African-American scholar, looking down in a very global way on these ideas as movements in swirling patterns of movement the way you would look at a weather map where people are not just going to but circulating around and then returning to a source so that it's comforting and also more historically accurate to think of, for example, Italian immigrants as going to Chicago and New England and then returning to Italy in alternating generations just as was mentioned by one of the speakers here.

            I also want to point out that there was a Spanish-language newspaper in the early 19th century in Philadelphia so it's not a recent one.  And one final comment. The colonial ÄÄÄÄ Guadalupe was described by a seminarian at the collective ÄÄÄÄ was pictured as a peon but might well have been an son of an Aztec noble.  It was the symbol of ÄÄÄÄ resistance in Mexico to Bourbon Spain, it was the symbol in the Chicano movement, and it is a subject of Chicano painting, so there is a lot of the colonial in Aztlan.

DR. FLORES:  Yes, I'd like to continue on from the audience rather than have the panel.  We've had plenty of time here.

QUESTION:  Just as a follow-up on the colonial comment, I liked all the presentations and I thought, Karen, your working of the taxonomies of the collections was particularly interesting.  What's fascinating about Chicano art is how colonial vice regal art is the formal language of many popular traditions and resistance with ÄÄÄÄ domestic narratives, particularly for the feminine universe and how the pre-Cuahtemoc, pre-Hispanic, and pre-Columbian actually provides the iconography or the symbol.

            But on the terms that we're using one thing that we don't highlight enough is how Mestizaje in Latin America is linked to the state and to hegemonic discourses.  And I think what's interesting about your proposal of Mestizaje, particularly in its engendered and sexually specific and radical stances, is that it's almost by definition counter-hegemonic.  And in that respect I think it makes it a very dynamic term but I still think we need to nuance our categories and our terms.

            The paper on photography and memory on New Mexico made a really interesting point about the other models and approaches to slavery given the kind of theoretical monopoly of the African-American experience that does not allow us to account for indigenous slavery, for example, in New Mexico.  So in that respect it's I think very important to nuance these categories.

            And now I have a question that's open to the panelists and to the audience and that has to do with curatorial issues and when I do a curatorial endeavor I try to enact a visual thinking discourse, okay?  So how would we translate, let's say, notions of the ÄÄÄÄ or of Mestizaje in a curatorial visual dialog?  Take into account that the ÄÄÄÄ is a purist model, that is to say, account of the Mestizaje model.  How would that work?

DR. FLORES:  Okay, next question or comments.  I think these are more comments than they are questions in many ways.  This will have to be the last one.  It's 3:45.

QUESTION:  My question has to do with the exhibit, to Angelica.  You mentioned at the end of your talk that bilingualism, biculturalism was going to be a part of it and how, I would say, the Anglo population doesn't understand biculturalism. Would this exhibit also address the fact, and I guess this has to do with Pan Latinism, that a lot of the new generations of Latinos, especially not southwestern states but more like maybe in the Washington area and the north that many of them have more than two cultures.  They are either Mexican, Puerto Rican, and American or in my case I have nieces and nephews that are Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Bolivian.  So how would you think this exhibit could address this fact of this growing population of Latinos that have actually more than one heritage?

DR. FLORES:  Do we have time for the answer to that?  Well, I mean, it's the same kind of challenge, I think, that if we're going to use the term "Latino" then we're talking about more than one nationality.  I mean, we have to be. Otherwise let's just stick to the one- nationality reference.  So I think it is a general question and in a sense a challenge to the way that we're thinking in the case specifically of museums but more generally our conceptualization of society groups and what it is to be living in this country.  So I think it is a big issue and I think one that perhaps will carry over into the other panels as we go through the day and tomorrow.  So I don't know if there's any time for answers to that because it is past the time now and it's time for a break but one more last comment since that was addressed to one person and then we're done?

MS. MIERI:  Well, I was wondering. The question was addressed to Angelica if she wants to comment on that.

DR. FLORES:  And that would be it then.

DR. DOCOG:  No, I agree.  I think that would be a very challenging issue for us to face because I, too, am from three cultures.  As I said, my mother's Mexican, my father is Filipino, and I was born here in America.  But I think it goes further than that because I think a lot of people that we see now their grandparents were perhaps undocumented citizens.  And then their parents are naturalized citizens and then they in turn are American-born so I think all this will need to be addressed.

            How to reach a balance I'm not sure, to be honest.  Some of it will include actually a very large group of people from the area who will help address those issues. When I find out I can let you know.

DR. FLORES:  Thank you very much, everybody.

Copyright © 2003 Smithsonian Institution