Autumn Reads: Migrant Imaginaries

Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by Alicia Schmidt Camacho re-examines the social activism of working class Mexican migrants and Mexican-Americans over the course of the twentieth century through the cultural artifacts of literature, film, music, and photojournalism. Beginning in 1910, Camacho reads the social histories of migrants’ struggles to forge a space of belonging between nations through cultural documents that simultaneously express, define, and document the journey towards civil and social rights. The practice of imagining is a foundational aspect of migrant’s personal and collective struggle, according to Camacho. Displacement or placesness, a defining characteristic of groups residing in the borderlands, is experienced on multiple social and political fronts of nation, gender, class, and family. Camacho’s book works from the top and the bottom, reading greater narratives of nation-building and place-making through local practices of social activism and inclusion documented in images, oral narratives, folk song, and films through (and sometimes against) histories of migrant activism in the southwest borderlands.

The borderlands, for Camacho, is a geographic as well as social “other” space through which migrants develop agency through their displacement. Cultural narratives, such as folk songs, poems, and literary works, are spaces of belonging that enable migrants to create meaning for their displaced bodies. One can read how political and territorial displacement infiltrated the bodies of migrants through their narratives. As such, cultural narratives were a staging ground for the performance of new kinds of belonging, fought within the internal dichotomies of being “between.”

Camacho’s work is in conversation with greater discourses of nationalism and the formation of political subjects. She envisions cultural practices as battle grounds between hegemonic narratives of national, cultural, and gendered belonging, and migrants whose lives subverted these cultural institutions. Employing her own imagination, Camacho identifies writers and artists as political activists who mapped the terrain of subjectivity through their cultural works. Among some of the central “characters” of this narrative are Americo Paredes, the Hermanos Mayo, and Luisa Moreno, to name a few. All of these characters, in their production of ‘vernacular cultures,’ rebelled against self and societal objectification (their disembodiment as labor workers, not humans) as migrants by questioning and creating a space of belonging and agency within the social imaginary.

The book elegantly navigates close readings of primary texts, social histories, and political theory. Resistance to hegemonic and excluding politics of state and home is found, through Camacho’s readings, through migrants re-imagining of themselves in and through borderland space. Her work reveals alternative modes of belonging for denationalized bodies. The body, physical and imagined, becomes a space of rebellion and a location to recuperate and produce subjectivity. Camacho claims imagination as a domain of power for the disenfranchised, non-national subject. Within this model, the melancholia of leaving home is transformed through cultural practices and performances from alterity to autonomy. This reading salvages marginal practices of belonging for stateless persons.

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~ by Em on October 28, 2010.

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