Tag Archives: Center for Cultural Analysis

Decolonial Research Methods in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Paulina Barrios

A couple of weeks ago, on October 25th the Rutgers Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies with the sponsorship of the Center for Cultural Analysis and the Program in Comparative Literature held a series of activities focused on decoloniality in South Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The final activity for the day was the book presentation of: Smash the Pillars: Decoloniality and the Imaginary of Color in the Dutch Kingdom and Kuxlejal Politics: Indigenous Autonomy, Race, and Decolonizing Research in Zapatista Communities. This was held at the community center headed by Lazos America Unida in downtown New Brunswick. The center was organized to accommodate everyone around tables with Mexican sarapes (colorful cloths) and the session was able to start on time at 4.30 pm with an introduction from Prof. Nelson Maldonado-Torres. After speaking to the importance of the work that Lazos does with the Mexican immigrant community in New Brunswick, Prof. Maldonado-Torres presented Prof. Mariana Mora, from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology in Mexico City, Prof. Melissa F Weiner from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, and Prof. Antonio Carmona Báez, President of the University of St. Martin, St. Marteen.

Prof. Mora began with a brief presentation of her book Kuxlejal Politics: Indigenous Autonomy, Race, and Decolonizing Research in Zapatista Communities published by University of Texas Press in 2018. Her main motivation with this book was to understand what decolonial strategies Zapatista communities mobilize to fight against the Mexican state’s neoliberal and racialized policies and assert their autonomy. She went on to describe how, despite the state’s denial to speak of race and racism, indigenous peoples are constantly living under violent and racist conditions. For example, indigenous peoples often either work a land they have no ownership over or face state and private actors that value their land over their lives and livelihoods. Prof.  Mora contends that this structural violence and continuous plundering led to the political moment where indigenous peoples from Chiapas decided to rebel against the state.  Embeded in the conversation was also a recognition that this structural violence is a remnant of colonial power and economic structures, such as the plantation system.

She then went on to explain how the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Liberation Army, EZLN) transitioned from an armed struggle and its declaration of war against the Mexican state in 1994 towards a focus on defining and defending their autonomy. This led to building autonomous institutions and a full break from all public systems, including health and education. Prof. Mora was involved in the effort to define autonomous pedagogical methods and educational programs with other academics and members of Zapatista communities. Therefore, for her book she returned to Zapatista communities to co-design her methods with community members and generate a research project that would answer her questions and the communities’ needs. The result of this collective work was a focus on autonomy and the politics of a collective life, tied to a territory and nature, in her own words: “when you are fighting against genocide, the political is the fact that we are alive”.

Prof. Weiner followed this presentation, thanking the invitation and emphasizing how happy both she and Prof. Carmona Báez were to present this book in a non-academic space. She explained that since Smash the Pillars: Decoloniality and the Imaginary of Color in the Dutch Kingdom is about decolonial struggle and resistance she found it extremely important that people beyond the academy become involved in the conversation. She started her presentation by linking New Brunswick itself, and even Rutgers University, to the Dutch colonial past and slavery. Since the book focuses on Dutch colonialism and the struggle to decolonize its narrative and memory, she emphasized the direct connection it has to this Dutch colonial history and its ties to slavery, which are often silenced or ignored. Prof. Carmona Báez then added a personal perspective to this history by drawing on his own experience as a Protestant Puerto Rican from New York and being “spiritually conditioned by the Dutch and Calvinism”. With this context both editors then turned to the book itself, starting with an explanation of the title. They explained how Dutch society was built on specific pillars framed under religion. Thus, Protestants and Catholics each had their own banks, schools, and churches. Other pillars were added in the 19th and 20th centuries based on workers and women’s movements, broadening the definition of identities in the Netherlands. However, all of these pillars were designed to exclude. Similar to Prof. Mora’s description of Mexican racialized institutions and policies, these pillars did not include enslaved peoples or the indigenous peoples whose lands they took. As the title suggests, these pillars should be broken down to liberate the different narratives, histories, and bodies that have been silenced.

They went on to describe a growing movement from the past eight years that focuses on raising consciousness of racism in the Netherlands, despite the constant negation of this reality, and the need to learn these other histories. Both local and international struggles have come together at this particular juncture in cases such as the fight against black face tied to the Dutch Christmas figure Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) and Black Lives Matter in the United States. The editors presented this juncture as an example of how colonial pillars are being smashed across the world. They then turned to the structure of the book and how they consciously went against the traditional structure of having theorists first and then activist authors. As part of their decolonial method in the first section they center activists’ fight against racism with specific suggestions from activist students on how to decolonize the university. The second section is more theoretical and focuses on decolonial thought in the context of Dutch colonial history. They closed by turning their focus to ‘the imaginary of color’, defined as the collection of narratives, (hi)stories, and art expressions, that counter the official story, that counter the pillars. The decolonial imaginary of color is also transatlantic and emphasizes a historical trajectory that reaches up to today. Hence, both these books spoke to the need to smash the concept of a unique History, colonial power structures that remain, and racist pillars that are designed to exclude.

Caribbean and Pacific Studies: Archipelagic Thinking Beyond Area Studies

By: Gabriel Bamgbose

The Teleconference Lecture Hall of Alexander Library was the space for the intellectual discussions on “Caribbean and Pacific Studies: Archipelagic Thinking Beyond Area Studies” on November 10 hosted by the Center for Cultural Analysis as part of the Archipelagoes Seminar Series. The seminar was moderated by Prof. Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel who introduced the two presentations by Profs. Elizabeth DeLoughrey (Department of English, University of California, Los Angeles) and Koichi Hagimoto (Department of Spanish, Wellesley College), an opening that set the stage for the discussions on the tension between area studies and archipelagic thinking.

The first presentation titled “‘Moments in Passing:’ Maritime Future of the Anthropocene” by Elizabeth DeLoughrey situates the archipelago as an epistemic force. The crux of the presentation is the problematic relationship between human and nature (non-human). DeLoughrey marks the shift in the oceanic imaginary in the 21st century which pushes from the surface to the submarine, a space of transformation where the idea of a unitary species is erased. Moreover, the shift to “what happens beneath the surface” aims for an understanding of the human that challenges the anthropocene discourses that imagine the human as a singular species. The presentation rethinks the boundary between the anthropocene and the oceanic within the crucible of “sea ontologies” and “the oceanic uncannies.” Just as the ocean is an archive of memory and history “outside and below the official archive,” the human is “a bit planet of ocean.” DeLoughrey argues that the future of the anthropocene lies in what she calls “multi-species relations or alliances” through an engaged discussion of submerged arts/water sculptures (see Jason deCaires Taylor’s works: http://www.underwatersculpture.com/) that rematerialize the oceanic space to showcase multi-species collaboration.

The other presentation for the day by Koichi Hagimoto is titled “Dimension of Archipelagic Culture in the Writing of Jose Rizal and Jose Marti.” The presentation centers on the argument that it would be reductive to see the writing of Rizal and Marti as necessarily nationalistic because the articulation of archipelagic culture in their work offers a model that transcends the nation-state imagination and deconstructs imperial history. Through the lens of archipelagic studies, geopolitical perspective, and island studies, Hagimoto examines the unique relationship of the islands to the world through the “oceanic spatial turn in area studies.” This framework allows for the conversation between the Philippines and Latin American studies with critical focus not only on national and colonial narratives but also historical and cultural narratives that interrogate Western epistemologies of “islands without culture.”  Island studies provides a model beyond area studies and allows for intercultural relations. The comparative reading of Rizal, the Filipino writer, and Marti, the Cuban solider-poet, shows that both writers celebrate tropical culture with references to the cuisine, nature, and language as they symbolize anticolonial gestures. Rizal emphasizes that the Philippines as “ocean of islands” (7000 islands) are not isolated, but their fluidity and cultural relationality undermine the notion of fixed identity. Marti’s representation of the Antillean confederation engages the Caribbean landscape and inhabitants, as well as relations between land and sea, human and nature, war and death. Hagimoto concludes that Rizal and Marti present transoceanic ideas in the late 19th century. Archipelagic culture is more open and diverse than the static, fixed models of the nation-state.

The seminar received generous support from the School of Arts and Sciences, as well as multiple departments, programs, and research centers and institutes.

Archipelagoes Seminar Gallery Show: “From Island to Ocean: Caribbean and Pacific Dialogues”

By: Maria Elizabeth Rodríguez Beltrán

The Archipelagoes Seminar of the Center for Cultural Analysis hosted a gallery show and panel discussion on October 20. The first part of the seminar opened by analyzing sculptures and ceramics by artist Juana Valdes and paintings/collages by Fidalis Buehler. This seminar provided the space for Professor Valdes’s work, which is represented on the right of this picture, to intertwine with professor Fidalis Buehler’s work, featured on the left side. In this way, the seminar developed a conversation about archipelagoes in the Caribbean and the Pacific and their commonalities and differences, not only between the islands but also between the oceans.

In the second part of the seminar, Brian Russell Roberts from Brigham Young University analyzed some of the artifacts presented by both artists through the lens of Barbara Christian’s essay “The Race for Theory.” Dr. Roberts explained that these pieces allow us to have “an archipelagic approach to geography, to human culture. An approach that recognizes the different prominences to the islands”.

This was followed by English professor Mary Eyring, also from Brigham Young University, who called the audience to look at transnational cultural exchanges through the lens of Ocean Studies. We were challenged to start thinking about the “ocean as positive space,” which means that instead of only focusing on the islands when thinking about archipelagoes, we must also think about the waters that surround these islands, how the sea changes the way we think about people within the islands, and how the ocean shapes people’s identities. She spoke about how the ocean transforms the lives of those who go into it and those who come back, those that never make it back, and those that live surrounded by it.

Professor Eyring encouraged us to see the archipelagoes from the “fish-eye view”—the view from the water— instead of the “bird’s eye” view: a horizontal view, closer to the people of the island, instead of the vertical and dominant view of the distant observer, the colonial one. This made me think about Teresa Goddu’s Essay “The Panoramic Perspective of Anti-Slavery” and her concept of the scopic power.

Professor Eyring closed her talk by challenging us to think beyond the ship as an extension of land-based power, and rather about the “power of the sea” outside and inside of the naval, the sea as a space of re-identification.

In conclusion, this seminar allowed the audience to speak about archipelagoes in new forms by looking at them from the perspective of cultural, literary, and ocean studies.