Latinx Talk: Our Collective Vision, Sounding out the Future

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Washington State University

I am the skeptical one, the one that is not entirely convinced that inclusivity is always healthy—I believe certain groups and communities, because of their positioning in our society (women of color in general and Latinas—mujeres—in particular, come specifically to mind), can always use an exclusive space of their own that allows them to breathe and feel safe and supported. I am also skeptical of Latinx as a neologism—mainly because it takes a word that is pronounced entirely in Spanish (Latina/o) and gives it an English ending, thus turning it into another word conquered by the English language, Americanizing it. So, originally, I wasn’t a fan of changing the hard-earned space named Mujeres Talk into Latinx Talk. But this is one of those instances in which listening to my colleagues, listening to their hearts and their brilliance that is, was enough for me to set my misgivings aside and become a willing and eager participant of this project. I came to not only agree to the name Latinx Talk but also embrace it along with the possibilities (including the possibilities of alternative pronunciations—see explanations below by Delgadillo and Decena), the promise, and the new people this new or recreated space brought with it. And I was able to develop a vision for it. That vision is grounded on a desire to talk to and engage with “our” multiple communities, with the multitude of “our” peoples in all their manifestations (with the understanding that the umbrella that captures the possessive “our” here is doing an outstanding job—hence the scare quotes).

I am genuinely interested in opening up discussions and eager to engage with the breadth of our issues and struggles. I look forward to reading the myriad ways the neologism Latinx can serve as a bridge and unifying force, English pronunciation notwithstanding. You see? My skepticism is not mind-closing: it only serves as a nagging reminder that change can be difficult. But, change is also part of the definition of moving forward. My hope is that we get academics, activists, and thoughtful members of the general Latinx community around the country and beyond our (sometimes horrifically painful) borders to contribute their insights and engage with this space. I also hope we can create an affirming space where members of the entire Latinx community (the big umbrella) feel welcome to participate and share their research/concerns/struggles. In the end, I hope we can create here, virtually, a space we hardly have access to in the flesh and bones world—a world that sometimes seems intent on keeping us apart and away from each other. This is my hope and my vision.

Theresa Delgadillo, The Ohio State University

In the spring of 2016, I participated in the events inaugurating an exhibition of Gloria Anzaldúa’s drawings at the Casa de Cultura de la UAEM in Tlalplan, Mexico. A beautiful and innovative performance by a group of students made use of the entire courtyard space and included several of Anzaldúa’s poems. At one point in the performance, a young woman, crouched on the high wall of the courtyard above us pronounced the word “Latinx.” Her x was not “ex” but instead “ksh,” not Anglicizing but indigenizing the word while also gesturing to the term’s strategic embrace of individuals from a wide range of gender, sexual, and ethnic/national identities. The term was not deployed romantically, or with overblown hopes of unity – which seemed a fitting tribute to Anzaldúa, whose visions and aspirations for a better world were never far removed from her firm grounding in the hard realities, demands, and challenges of this world – but instead defiantly, a provocation to those assembled: in what ways might we forge greater attention to multi-racial coalitions across nationalities and genders and sexualities to address limiting ideologies, epistemologies, materialities?

As a forum where academic research and public discourse/organizing or pedagogy and action (creating new knowledge or working to change public policy) might meet, I hope Latinx Talk will further academic and public knowledge of Latinx Studies, and advance the ongoing project of coalition building, not by asking us all to be the same, but by working to understand, accept, and embrace how we are different. We plan to continue to learn from each other in this new forum, one that remains committed to a feminist ethos of eliminating inequalities between genders and building transformative futures for all. We welcome your contributions, submissions, and comments!

Carlos Ulises Decena; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

During our first meeting as the Latinx Collective, Theresa Delgadillo modeled for us one pronunciation of the word “Latinx.” Latin-edge. I heard the indigenous inflection in the ksh coming off her lips, though I also heard it in English. Until that afternoon, I had pronounced it “Latin-ex,” but my hearing of Delgadillo’s pronunciation reminded me of the instability, messiness, and intellectual promise of United States Latinx and queer worlds. Latina? Gay? Latino? Queer? Latina/o? Lesbian? Womyn? Trans? Intersex? Latin-arroba (@)? One student recipient of an email I sent in the past year bristled at my use of Latinx? “When will we stop changing word endings?” he asked, and the impatience of the question felt terribly familiar. In a world of shortening attention spans and quick answers to the trivial and the momentous, how come brown and queer thinkers still fool around with terms? “Let’s discuss this in person,” I answered, validating the concern and explaining that there are political reasons, histories, and stakes in each of the labels. There are also strong stakes in continuing to transit in them, especially as progressive visions of the future seem uncertain in this historical moment.

Lack of clarity seems to cloud our collective judgment about what counts as progressive thought as well, and legacies of queer people of color thinking and writing from and about contradiction are instrumental and urgent. A recent left-leaning podcast featured activists discussing the 2017 Trump ban on transgender in the US military. One speaker, a filmmaker who has worked with service members, underlined the importance of the military as a space for trans access to steady employment. Part of what was discussed made reference to the willingness to serve among trans folks in the United States, which according to some estimates doubles the willingness of their cis-gendered counterparts. The second speaker, a well-known white trans theorist and activist, pointed out that while trans willingness to serve is important, it behooves progressives to remember that the military is no panacea, and that trans investment in serving in the US military ultimately mobilizes the trans body politically to uphold and even celebrate one of the strongest arms of US imperial designs and plunder. Talk of trans empowerment through military service is, at best, short-sighted. The conversation moved back and forth between these perspectives, but to me it signaled a problematic myopia in some left-leaning circles, where self-appointed (and usually though not exclusively white) “radicals” set a moral economy and horizon of possibility for everyone else. If one decides to discuss why regular working class people have an investment in the military, one is “naïve” or even politically suspect. In a country where military service is one of the very few paths existing for regular, steady employment and a measure of upward mobility for working class people of all colors, why not cast the net wide enough to allow multiple progressive perspectives on the matter?

Our organizing, thinking, and talking must not settle for quick answers, dogmatic views that could stand deeper thought, or intellectual posing, especially in a moment that demands more complexity and nuance so we may hold space for students like the one I invited to chat.  Latinx Talk can be a space to envision radical futures that are porous, open-ended, and radicalmente abiertos.

Latin-edge: Hablemos.

Adriana Estill, Carleton College

In April 2017 I attended the 3rd Biennial Latina/o Literary Theory and Criticism Conference hosted by John Jay College in New York. Claudia Milian, professor of Romance Studies at Duke University, gave the keynote, inviting us into an exploration of the X in Latinx: what exactly is this X marking? Milian played with language and this elusive “x,” offering a string of meanings and possibilities. Latinx Talk should be a space that remains somewhat elusive, refusing to pin down absolutes about Latinidad. Even as white America sees Latinx as a homogenous group, a set of tropes easily simplified–whether about how we talk or dance or vote or be, or where or how we live–we know that our truths are more complicated.

It is more important than ever that we make space for complexity, messiness, and mestizaje. In this moment when white nationalism bubbles at the surface of this country’s politics, we need places where we refuse expectations and tell our stories.

While Latinx Studies is, at its most instrumental level, a discipline that houses the study of Latinx peoples, I believe it is not our focus that holds us together, it’s the theories made necessary by our stories. I didn’t have words for who I was until I took a class on Chicana literature from María Herrera Sobek as a senior in college. I read Pat Mora’s “Legal Alien” –the speaker’s “sliding back and forth / between the fringes of both worlds,” and felt at home in this feeling of never feeling one hundred percent at home. I read Lorna Dee Cervantes “Refugee Ship” and the line “el barco que nunca atraca” jumped out at me. I learned through these poets and others that we strain against and into language because we need to stretch and strain against the expectations that surround us. I learned to make language fit my needs rather than the reverse, my “wild tongue” necessary to my survival. (Anzaldúa) Words name and make space for us and they also misname us and pin us down. We build community and disciplines under titles that language us into being and that then fall behind our becoming.

Latinx Studies endorses ways of seeing the world that were marginalized or hard to perceive from the peripheries of American Studies or Latin American Studies. And we are becoming. Right now, we might all need the X that marks the spot to be something different; we might all imagine its inclusivity and its power somewhat differently. I am fine with that, as long as we keep talking, reminding each other that it’s the ongoing conversations and the stretching and straining against language that matter. I am excited that Latinx Talk is taking this opportunity to re-envision what community and conversations can happen under and through this new title.

Yalidy Matos; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Our present moment calls for inter- and multidisciplinary, cross-racial, cross-cultural engagement; Latinx Talk provides the space for just this platform. Latinx Talk is an inclusive, expansive and multi-dimensional online space that values cross-racial and cross-ethnic political, economic, and social scholarship. Latinx Talk to me signifies a space where we can engage directly with contemporary topics and debates around issues that not only plague the Latinx community, but all marginalized and racialized peoples. The Latinx Talk community should build a more expansive community for the purposes of shared struggle that pushes a vision of coalition building. My vision for this site includes one of mutual respect and celebration of anti-hierarchical difference as well as our similarities. I see Latinx Talk as a space where we can both come together and use as a launching pad for difficult conversations, a space where we can build and rebuild community, a space where we can lift each other up, and a space where we can share a common, albeit rocky, uneven, ground.

I envision Latinx Talk as a space where we can have expansive and inclusive conversations about Latinidad, what it means to be Latinx, and what it means to be Afro-Latinx. I envision Latinx Talk as a space where we can contribute to larger and pressing questions about identity in a way that moves beyond identity politics as an exclusionary project. I envision Latinx Talk as a space where no one feels they’re not “Latinx enough.” I envision Latinx Talk as a space where we can take seriously our role as producers and reproducers of knowledge. I envision Latinx Talk as a space where we can celebrate culture and its role in our lives. I envision Latinx Talk as a space where we can celebrate resilience. I envision Latinx Talk as a space where we can celebrate humanity and push for the humanity of all people.

 Lauren Araiza, Denison University

In the summer of 2016 I was invited to join the editorial board of Mujeres Talk. I was flattered at the invitation; despite my years in the academy, I am always surprised – and thrilled – that enough people know me and my work to occasionally invite me to participate in intellectual endeavors. Furthermore, the invitation came at a moment where I was longing for community. I had recently returned to my campus from a luxuriously long sabbatical across the country. While I had enjoyed my time away (particularly the bonding with my newborn daughter), I missed being in the company of other scholars, particularly women of color. Returning to my campus only partially alleviated that, as I was still the only woman of color in my department and one of three Chicanas in the university. I hoped that joining Mujeres Talk would provide some of the community that I had been longing for.

However, my first editorial board meeting filled me with doubts. My fellow board members were interesting, accomplished women who were on the cutting edge of scholarship and pedagogy and I was excited to be working with them. But a sense of imposter syndrome crept over me. During a conversation about the upcoming Latino Studies Association conference, I was forced to make a confession: I do not actually teach Latinx Studies. Although much of my scholarship has been on Chicano and African American coalition-building, it does not focus on the experiences of women. Moreover, my teaching has been in the field of Black Studies. I was thus unsure of how I or my work fit in the space of Mujeres Talk, despite the reassurances of my fellow board members that I was welcome.

The transition of Mujeres Talk to Latinx Talk, while semantic to some, signaled a wealth of possibilities to me. This move expands the types of scholarship that will be included here and thus will create a space for Latinx academics whose work does not strictly fit within the field of Latinx Studies. It is my hope that this wider focus will lead to the creation of a more expansive community, with room for multiple intersectionalities and ways of Latinidad. I also see this space as a bridge through which we can connect with other interdisciplinary fields and other marginalized peoples. I am proud to be a part of this project and it is my hope that those who read and write for Latinx Talk will find, like I do, that this is a community to which they truly belong.

Miguel Juarez, University of Texas at El Paso

At the July 23-29, 2017 gathering of the Society of American Archivists in Portland, Oregon, the organization sponsored a Liberated Archive: A Forum for Envisioning and Implementing A Community-Based Approach to Archives that discussed issues of inclusivity, who is not at the table in regards to collecting the cultural record of persons of color, inclusivity in the profession and collections and other issues that affect the visibility/invisibility of groups such as Latinx.  My vision for Latinx Talk is similar to The Liberated Archive, how do we envision and implement a community-based approach to Latinx issues important to the Latinx community but also create inroads to changing how non-Latinx institutions and spheres view Latinx issues.  The Liberated Archive at SAA in Portland sought to (1) provide community members with tools, techniques, and human connections that they can use to transform themselves as they need and desire, and (2) to provide archivists with tools, techniques, and human connections that they can use in their communities to transform the way in which the human record is documented.  We can do the same in Latinx Talk, provide community Latinx members with tools, techniques, and human connections that we can use to transform ourselves and others as they need and desire, and (2) to provide Latinx readers with tools, techniques, and human connections that they can use in their communities to transform the way in which Latinx issues are discussed, performed or organized.

It is important for Latinx scholars and activists work with archivists to collect the human record of Latinx studies because if not these collections will not exist in the future. Too much has already been lost because it was not collected. My hope is that Latinx Talk also goes beyond dialoguing on issues of inclusivity and that we explore actions to increase the numbers of Latinx professionals in archives as well as the collection of Latinx archives. Latinx faculty at their institutions also have a role in addressing the lack of these collections and working with their libraries/archives to request that these materials be collected and that Latinx librarians, archivists, etc. be hired in their institutions. Latinx scholars can also take an active role in partnering and collaborating with Latinx archives and library professionals in identifying and developing collections, etc.

We also need to address the needs of Latinx scholars at whatever level they exist, from activist-scholars, community scholars, community college scholars, to college and university scholars. We need to try and remove some of the class and institution-based positioning that keeps Latinx scholars from collaborating and finding areas of commonality. Just like MujeresTalk.org, Latinx Talk must be the lighting rod to jump start dialogue on important issues and topics replete with actions, whether in the form of new efforts, events, or virtual projects. We must also aspire to be a group to mentor younger scholars and encourage the wide spectrum of Latinx studies in its many shapes and forms.

Felipe Hinojosa, Texas A&M University

I was first introduced to the writings of Gloria Anzaldúa in an ethnic studies class at Fresno Pacific University in the late 1990s. Here I was, a kid from South Texas, meeting a literary giant who also happened to be from South Texas, in a college classroom in central California. Reading Borderlands/La Frontera not only broadened my world, it reintroduced me to my world. I quickly learned that being from a place, or inhabiting a particular social location, provided me with a knowledge base that shaped who I was—or at least becoming—and who I was not. I grew up in Brownsville, Texas, in a home that was about a fifteen-minute walk to the border crossing to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. For all of my life, my parents have ministered en iglesias evangélicas, so my upbringing was governed by a strict religious code that at times limited my cultural education. For example, dancing, of any sort, was not allowed which pretty much meant that school dances were off limits and weddings and quinceañeras typically did not have dances (not counting the after parties where friends and primas/os did dance and drink and engage in behaviors unbecoming of evangélicas/os).

I don’t say this to highlight the religious rules that governed my life or to promote a familiar (and false) claim that evangélicas/os are somehow less connected to Mexican culture than Católicas/os or people that practice other religious traditions indigenous to the Southwest. I only include this to acknowledge that the world I grew up in was a small part of the larger borderlands landscape that surrounded me. My religious world limited me even as it provided for me a space where my name, my identity, my skin color, the fact that my family had no money, and the size of my family were seen as typical in Mexican-American South Texas. But reading Anzaldúa’s work changed everything. Her writing exploded whatever sacred understanding I had about the place that raised me and about my own religious identity. I’ll never forget that experience. I learned that revolutionary scholarship not only pushes us outward—providing us with clearer visions of the world around us—but also forces us inward to reevaluate what we thought we knew. This is what Latinx Talk is to me: a venue—a space—where scholars, artists, activists, and community leaders collectively share with one another our voices, visions, and vices. A space to tell our stories, where we are honest about who we are, and where we write with a precision that is unapologetic and forceful. And where we push each other to see the entirety of who we are as Latinx people and our relationship to the world. Doing this work takes time and love and patience. And it comes with multiple expressions and multiple stories—each with their own storytellers—that demand we listen and demand we write. Latinx Talk is all of that for me.

Sujey Vega, Arizona State University

This year I’m scheduled to teach my dream course on Latinx Intersections. I’m excited, I’m nervous, and I’m conscious that I may be too ambitious about the reading load. Still, I look forward to the weeks and months to come. I teach in Women and Gender Studies and though we have a course on Chicana/Latina Issues focused on female Latina lives, there is something incredibly liberating about expanding what it means to speak about gender, sexuality, and feminism through a lens that includes men and our LGBTQ family. Obviously, the complexities within these communities can and should have courses dedicated to them solely. Still, when teaching about Latina/Chicanas in the past I always hungered to delve deeper into notions of masculinity and how Latino men and the LGBTQ community also exist within an intersectional positioning of race, gender, class, and power in society. Anzaldúa haunted me in those classes, “Que no se nos olviden los hombres” y “people, listen to what your jotería is saying.” A course on Latina/Chicana lives is needed, is critically important, and was created to address a lack of exploration of women, especially Latinas, in Women & Gender Studies in general. For that, I am always indebted to the importance of female-centered, female empowered spaces to discuss Latina/Chicana lives. Still, our own conversations regarding el genero and intersectionality cannot be divorced from the way our men and our queer folx also become positioned in our societies, our lived realities, and our politics.

I should note that this Latinx Intersections class I’ve developed includes a service-learning component and will require students to work with a local Phoenix-based Latinx organization on a topic that the organization determines needs research. I developed the class this way because I am inspired, I am in awe, I am indebted to the work that LGBTQ Latinx community members have done to raise attention and place themselves on the front lines of homophobia, sexism, racism, and xenophobia. But their lived reality is not divorced from Latina female gendered lives or male Latino notions of masculinity. Because of these interwoven tejidos of gender, I welcome the opportunity to teach, to write, to read about work across all Latina/o/x experiences. In part, the work done for this class runs parallel to my involvement on the editorial board of Mujeres Talk. I honor the struggle and importance of having a mujer-centered space, but I equally face this new chapter in our collective with open arms, ready to reflect and learn from the various voices and various approaches that make up the complexities of we.

Personally, for me the X is not a replacement or displacement of other critical conversations. It serves as a reminder to be inclusive and engage both power and privilege even within our own communities. Not everyone will adopt “La X” and even I have a hard time self-identifying with the neutrality of a letter that may not allow for my full feminine/feminista  experience. Still, this tension is a healthy space to inhabit. La X is not supplanting my female-gendered experiences, it does not ask that I tame it down or stay silent on very real, very heavy, female-centered violences that I must give voice to. Instead, la X provides an opportunity to enter into raw discussions about privilege, power, and differences across our lives. I am a privileged mujer at multiple levels. That includes the privilege of having a tenure-track job and the voice from which to teach my dream class. My privilege, however, also comes in the form of having my gender and heterosexuality enacted as norm. I own that privilege daily and my mestiza consciousness requires that I address it. La X provides an opportunity to check that, to confront it, and to never loose sight of the fact that not all our family is present when we force an “o” or an “a” at the end of our labels. I move forward then en la luz of my ever evolving conocimiento and vow to always remember los hombres y to listen to our joteria for only then can we truly engaged los intersticios of the multiple worlds our people inhabit.

Magdalena L. Barrera, San José State University

I would like to see Latinx Talk serve as a space where we not only share our emerging research and analysis of the role of Latinx communities in contemporary US society, but where we also reflect critically on how we do what we do in higher education. Specifically, it is important for us to discuss our approaches to writing and teaching in order to demystify higher education for younger scholars. I constantly find myself asking, “In an increasingly corporate environment, how can Latinx Studies do meaningful work that does not replicate the inequities and pedagogies that we survived in order to reach this point?” In other words, is it possible to undertake innovative work and achieve academic “success” in ways that do not replicate existing inequities and biases, but instead that widen the path for those who follow?

Each fall I teach a graduate course that is centered on exploring these questions. My approach to the course and willingness to openly share with students the challenges I encountered as a graduate student are rooted in my experience as a first-generation scholar. Though I had the fortune to be educated in R1 institutions, I found my education to be an alienating experience—a feeling that many of us shared. I studied under professors who were brilliant thinkers and big names in their fields, yet who were far less adept at creating welcoming classroom environments where students could be vulnerable. My general sense was that faculty assumed that since I had made it thus far, I would somehow figure out how to jump through the hoops set before me.

I am thankful for those who disrupted that mode of operation. One example was Sharon Holland, who taught a course on twentieth century US feminisms. On the day we read Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak,” I was nervous about what I could possibly contribute to class since I barely could get through the essay. When Sharon entered the classroom, she threw her copy of the reader onto the table and announced, “If anyone can help me understand this, I’d be thrilled!” The students’ relieved laughter lightened the room. That is one of the few times I can recall a professor admitting that our work was just plain hard sometimes. How different would my graduate experience have been if more faculty had allowed a peek behind the curtain! How did they take reading notes? What was their writing process? Which aspects of research most challenged them and why? How I longed to know the answers to such questions, but instead I struggled in a silence maintained by both students and faculty.

So I return to this question: Are we doing what we can in Latinx Studies to challenge the opaque nature of higher education? Many of our students are Latinxs, some of whom are first-generation or from working-class and/or immigrant backgrounds. Given demographic projections, their numbers are only going to grow. Latinx Talk can provide a forum for sharing best practices for writing and teaching that reflect the community-centered values and strengths that lie at the heart of Latinx Studies itself.

Kevin Escudero, Brown University

Drawing from my both personal lived experience and academic training, I understand Ethnic Studies to be an interdisciplinary field of scholarship. In particular, contextualizing Latinx Talk within the Ethnic Studies tradition brings attention to two key interventions this platform is able to make. The first aspect of an Ethnic Studies approach that Latinx Talk embodies is the field’s roots in community-based activism and efforts to create scholarship that is accessible and applicable to the communities whose experiences it examines. The second is the platform’s emphasis on the centrality of a comparative racial and ethnic approach with a focus on how systems of power not only affect multiple communities, but how coalitional resistance is critical to overcoming the limitations of these systems.

In the introduction to their edited volume on Asian American and Pacific Islander student experiences across the educational pipeline, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Peter Nien-chu Kiang, and Samuel D. Museus cite studies scholar Glenn Omatsu’s five pillar pedagogical approach.[1] Omatsu’s first pillar is the principle that “learning in the classroom must be linked to community movements…”[2] The relevance of academic learning and its ties to community based social movements is an area that I see Latinx Talk as working to help cultivate. Scholarship driven by community organizing and research that assists activists in building a social movement is part and parcel of the type of work I look forward to reviewing as part of the newly-launched Latinx Talk platform. Additionally, given that as critical race theory scholars Dolores Delgado Bernal and Octavio Villalpando note, there exists an apartheid of knowledge in the academy wherein scholarship produced by underrepresented individuals is often undervalued and overlooked, it is even more urgent that scholarship produced by such individuals and non-traditional academics – activists, K-12 educators and individuals not based in colleges and universities – be included in Latinx Talk.

As a mixed race Asian/Latinx person, the son of a Vietnamese refugee mother and Bolivian immigrant father, I also recognize the importance and urgency of cross racial and ethnic coalitions as the forms of oppression enacted against communities are oftentimes linked, developed for similar purposes. With the disregard for Black lives, the incarceration and detention of undocumented Latinx and Asian immigrants and the continued violation of Native communities’ sovereignty and self-determination, platforms such as Latinx Talk must take a comparative and intersectional approach. As represented in the iconic Third World Liberation Front’s legacy, the struggles facing marginalized communities was conceptualized as a collective struggle that could be overcome if communities, while respecting their individual needs, were able to come together and build a coordinated agenda for dismantling of such systems.[3]

Therefore, my intent as an editorial board member for Latinx Talk is to support the development and dissemination of all scholarship produced by individuals who seek to speak to the ongoing needs and interests of the Latinx community and to encourage, as part of this scholarship, an emphasis on racial and ethnic coalition and solidarity building efforts. In doing so, it is my intent that the resulting ongoing dialogue is one that will assist local, national and transnational social movement efforts and propel these vital community-based conversations forward in a dynamic and accessible forum.

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Featured photo by Photo by Flickr user Douglas Vásquez Vides. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

[1] Tintiangco-Cubales, A., Nien-chu Kiang, P & Museus, S.D. (2010). “Praxis and Power in the Intersections of Education.” Asian American Pacific Islander Nexus Journal, 8(1): v-xvii.

[2] Ibid., p. vii.

[3] For instance see http://guides.lib.berkeley.edu/twlf

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