When Rafael Railaf told me the story of his land in Southern Chile and his fight for it, I asked him, with some uncertainty, what moved him to a struggle that eventually led to two years of political prison and subsequent exile. He was silent for a few moments, and than said: ‘Porqué yo siento un dolor’ ('Cos I feel a pain).
Rafael’s narrative around the object of land has multiple layers that began to emerge when he connected it with ‘pain’. His statement pointed at the links between the materiality of places, politics and the existential dimension of lived experience. At the same time, it drew my attention to the borders that exist between persons in relation to speech and silence, for my understanding of the word ‘land’ (tierra) and what it actually meant for Rafael could only be partial: it was impossible for me to feel and think that word the way he did. This awareness was the starting point for the writing of my Identities article ‘Unexpected Places: Land, words and silence in a Mapuche family trajectory of (dis)placement’, which elaborates on the interplay between words and silence as something not only in the construction of narratives, but also in the making of (unexpected) places at the crossroad of different and interconnected landscapes.
Rafael Railaf was one of the indigenous Mapuche leaders of the Movimiento Campesino Revolucionario – MCR (Peasant Revolutionary Movement) during the 1960s and early 1970s. After the brutal coup of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte he was forced into exile with his family. They were received as political refugees in The Netherlands in 1977, where most of them still live today. While I was working on Mapuche exile in Europe during Pinochet’s military dictatorship (1973–1989) and its aftermaths, the history of the Railaf Zuñiga soon took a centre stage in my research. Between 2012 and 2013 I engaged in the co-construction of the family biography with them, with a closer focus on the ways in which people negotiate their position in the world when caught in processes of displacement and emplacement. My Identities article follows their routes between Southern Chile and The Netherlands, from the late 1960s until 2012.
Following a non-linear path that entangles multiple spatialities and temporalities, Rafael’s and his family history are about how ‘land’ is connected with ‘pain’. Interrogating how they have engaged in the process of dwelling in the elsewhere, the disruptive experience of exile is addressed as a condition of being, a tension between presence and absence that is negotiated through words and silence. While exile means a forced reconfiguration of one’s self and one’s world, emplacing oneself in displacement is a painful yet creative process in which people carry with them bits and pieces of their lost landscapes.
Trusting glanced affinities and ‘family resemblances’ in the interconnection with and through different places, this fundamental move resembles the practice of translation: Rafael’s wife Rosa begun to feel home when she became fluent in Dutch and got used to drinking coffee instead of mate. She could finally call her colleagues at the local Emmaus for their mid-morning break: kom binnen, koffie drinken (come inside, drink coffee). The process of ‘worlding’ comes together with that of wording: dwelling in the elsewhere involves stitching together the torn fabric of space-time as much as that of language. Home-making thus represents a practice of dwelling that undertakes temporal and spatial elsewheres, involving issues of imagination and space production, as the lost land – shaped by and re-invented in other spaces - becomes somehow present, leading to the meaningful emergence of what I call ‘unexpected places’.
Blog post by Olivia Casagrande, The University of Manchester, UK
Read the full article: Casagrande, Olivia. Unexpected places: land, words and silence in a Mapuche family trajectory of (dis)placement. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1725310
Eating took central stage in my research a few months in to my year of fieldwork in a Rio de Janeiro favela. Favelas are complex social areas, wherein the history of colonisation and slavery intersect with the present of extreme socio-economic inequality. There also exist the violence of the drug trade, and of highly controversial policing programmes. So you may ask: of all the things to speak of, why eating? Eating is a method, enabling pathways for the self to grow, and to become.
In my Identities article, ‘Eating bodies, growing selves in a Brazilian favela’, I argue that eating can be used as an active attempt at asserting agency over one’s body and, by extension, subjectivity in a lifeworld open to multiple dimensions of uncertainty and insecurity. Nonetheless, my interlocutors’ relationship to food and eating could also be ambivalent. Eating can pose constraints on subjectivity, and set the stage for the unfolding of problematic kin, gender and post-colonial relationships.
The article presents material gathered with three interlocutors: Rodrigo, Gil and Claudia. Rodrigo, who was also my research assistant, was somewhat of a ‘self-made’ man. Rodrigo could do many things. He would often tell me that he could play music, dance and sing, but one thing he was really sorry about was that he never had a chance to learn how to cook. He often ate at a family-owned restaurant where he was reminded of his mother’s cooking, and of familiar protocols of enjoying a meal and relaxing on a sofa, like he would in his family home. Since he could not make food for himself, he found himself in a situation that troubled him: he was falling back on traditional gender roles: of having a woman bring him a meal.
Gil is a caseiro, a person who spends most of their time in the home. It was hard to get Gil to meet up in the favela. However, he would easily agree to go to restaurants downtown. A favourite location was an indoor municipal market where one could find imported food products that were uncommon in the markets in Rio, such as pumpernickel bread from Germany, olive tapenade and pesto from Italy, and a variety of spices and beverages from all around the world. Paradoxically, the home-bound man preferred ‘global’ food. The way Gil ate resonated with how he sought to ascribe his values and actions to larger scales than the locality of the favela, and to summon globalised flavours in his everyday routines.
But not all interlocutors shared the enthusiasm for imported goods. Some, like Claudia, tried to valorise ‘home-made’ food:
I am so tired of all these things with imitating European cuisine, and drinking European wine, which is not sweet. To be honest, I do not like it! And no, I cannot tell the difference between this or that kind! Is there something better than coming home to your mom’s feijoada [Brazilian black bean and sausage stew]?
Claudia, in her early thirties, is a pastry chef, and studied gastronomy at a public university. She had lived in the USA for a year with her American husband, in a beach house, with a maid. Not being able to take her husband’s jet-set lifestyle and partying, she moved back to Rio. Having experienced the jet-set lifestyle full-time, and the knowledge of a broad range of food items, she felt that she could choose to prefer the feijoada. Relishing the traditional, and perhaps habitual, did not represent a threat to Claudia’s aspirations. Claudia positioned herself as a different type of a contemporary consumer. She signalled her sophistication by valorising food items that are associated with Afro-Brazilian and working-class identities.
What unites my interlocutors is their perspective of food as empowering, albeit in differing manners. They all use their relationship to food as a way of asserting agency over their bodies and subjectivities, which would not have been as easily accessible through other channels, considering their disadvantaged position in Brazilian society. Eating well, and savouring it, was a way of making days memorable.
Blog post by Daniela Lazoroska, Lund University, Sweden
Read the full article: Lazoroska, Daniela. Eating bodies, growing selves in a Brazilian favela. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1697534
Over 20 million immigrants from Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean arrived in the United States as part of the post-1965 immigration wave. Certainly, this migration wave had important and lasting demographic impacts in the US; in particular, it contributed to the significant growth of the Latino population. At 59 million, Latinos are the largest minority group in the US and they are projected to reach a quarter of the US population over the next few decades.
While Mexican immigrants have dominated migration flows from Latin America, Central American immigrants and their children are an important component of the post-1965 immigration wave. Central Americans arrived in the US in significant numbers during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of civil wars, political repression, economic instability and destruction caused by natural disasters in Central American countries. Today, Central Americans constitute the third largest Latino group in the US; moreover, the children of Central American immigrants who arrived during 1980s and 1990s have entered adulthood.
The magnitude and diversity of the post-1965 immigration has stimulated academic interest in immigrants’ identities, the types of group affiliations they develop, and how their self-conceptions shift over time. Much of contemporary migration and identity scholarship has focused on identifying preferred identity labels and the implications of these identities for incorporation processes. In the case of Latino groups, there is no consensus on whether ethnic or racial identities are the most salient and what these suggest about Latinos’ position in the United States’ racial landscape. Moreover, despite the important presence of Central Americans in the US for four decades, scholarship on second-generation Central Americans is lacking.
I contribute to this conversation in my Identities article, 'Second-generation Central Americans and the formation of an ethnoracial identity in Los Angeles'. This study draws on in-depth interviews conducted in Central Americans’ top US destinations to examine the identity formation of US-born and US-raised Central Americans. I pay careful attention to the various ethnic and racial identities respondents express and to the situations, experiences and reference groups that make particular identities salient.
I find Central Americans have an identity repertoire that includes national-origin, panethnic, racial and minority identities. I argue Central Americans’ identity repertoire reflects a multidimensional sense of self in which ethnic and racial forms of belonging are both salient. More specifically, Central Americans’ identity repertoire captures their ethnic distinctiveness and struggle for visibility in Mexican Los Angeles, their sense of belonging to a broader Latino panethnic group, their racialised identities and experiences, and similarities and sense of solidarity with other US racial minorities.
Additionally, this research demonstrates the complexity of identity formation for members of the second-generation. Specifically, it captures how identity is shaped through a dialectical process in which respondents negotiate how they see themselves with how others see them. It also demonstrates the ways in which growing up in a racialised society, institutionally created categories (i.e. Hispanic/Latino), and experiences in social institutions (i.e. schools and places of work) influence how members of the second-generation understand their place in the US ethnic and racial landscape. Overall, I contend Central Americans’ identities and identity formation experiences demonstrate a process of Latino ethnoracial group formation.
My Identities article makes important contributions to conversations on migration, identity and Latinos in the US. The study’s qualitative approach allows for capturing respondents’ multiple identities, the meanings attributed to identity labels, and key identity formation experiences. In doing so, it shows ethnic and racialised belonging are not mutually exclusive; rather, ethnic, panethnic, racial and minority identities can exist simultaneously. Moreover, this study centres the experiences and voices of second-generation Central Americans – an important yet underexplored segment of the post-1965 immigration wave.
Blog post by Ariana J Valle, New York University, USA
Read the full article: Valle, Ariana J. Second-generation Central Americans and the formation of an ethnoracial identity in Los Angeles. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1587904
In Latin America, the indigenous question has acquired an undeniable importance in contemporary debates regarding national identity. After centuries of invisibility and denial, indigenous peoples have stood up once more against forced assimilation and segregation. The current political and social visibility of indigenous peoples and the exaltation of the values they embody are unparalleled in the modern history of the Andean countries. Although they are still victims of different forms of violence and segregation, the multicultural turn has created a structure of legal opportunities for the mobilisation of identity. It seems that Latin American subjects are no longer ashamed, nor afraid, of calling themselves indigenous.
In a historical and social context in which the term 'indigenous' still has a negative connotation that may entail discrimination and segregation, it is somewhat disconcerting that certain populations claim that they are indigenous. My Identities article, 'Legal indigeneity: knowledge, legal discourse and the construction of indigenous identity in Colombia', focuses on how legal discourse manages the challenge that indigenous revival poses to legal categories grounded on colonial definitions of national identity. In order to do so, a historical depiction of legal cases is made, showing how legal discourse absorbs postcolonial narratives on indigenous peoples, as well as more contemporary expertise knowledge accounts of cultural difference.
Paradoxically or not, we are witnessing a redefinition movement that challenges the ethnic boundaries, and the academic and official categories, established to define national identity. From the revival of the Kankuamo in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, to the constitution of a Cabildo in Bogotá, who claim to be descendants of the original Muisca inhabitants of the urban neighbourhoods in which they live today, ethnic re-emergence shows that indigenous identity is not frozen in time, nor located on natural spaces, but instead is constructed, reshaped and defended with and against the State and its Rule of Law.
Contemporary indigenous revival has facilitated a deep and problematic process of distinctions between communities that previously identified themselves as members of the same economic and social class. Peasant labour force suppliers and rural inhabitants now differentiate among themselves based on who may mobilise the past and tradition to gain legal recognition. Legally-endorsed identities come hand-in-hand with land titles and self-government. Nation state authorities, especially those of the judiciary branch, respond to the ethnicisation of rural populations by controlling claims of cultural belonging. In order to do so, in the last twenty years a legal regime has been built, case by case, for the classification of subjects based on how much indigenous identity they have and exhibit.
The creation of an anthropological-legal knowledge that allows legal operators, mainly judges, to create and distinguish typologies of identities, is crucial for controlling the extent of indigenous revival, and distinguishes between those people who, despite what they say about themselves, their appearances, their dress and physical features, cannot be considered legitimate bearers of legal indigeneity. Legal discourse either affirms the existence or non-existence of indigenous people, or fails to acknowledge them. It depicts who these people are and where they live, what their traits are, and how we may distinguish them among mestizos.
Legal discourse has played a fundamental role both in the control of identity claims and in the very definition of what is understood as 'indigenous' for legal and political purposes in a multicultural state. The creation of a culturalist taxonomy that classifies indigenous populations based on their degree of cultural conservation and location in natural space, as the good native safeguarding mother nature, bans other possible ways of being indigenous. Those living in cities, going to the cinema and driving a car, or those painting beautiful murals in Bogotá's downtown, probably may not be regarded as indigenous legal subjects. For them, the multicultural promise of recognition and entitlement is still to be fulfilled.
Blog post by Libardo José Ariza, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia
Read the full article: Ariza, Libardo José. Legal indigeneity: knowledge, legal discourse and the construction of indigenous identity in Colombia. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1543484
In our Identities article, 'Digital institutions: the case of ethnic websites in the Netherlands', we conceptualised websites as digital institutions. Since the concept of institutions appears to be fuzzy, comprising formal and informal as well as micro and macro organisations, we argued that they, although socially embedded and culturally loaded, conceptually are insufficient to highlight their specificity. In order to specify the institution, we employ the concept of script, defined as recurrent activities and patterns of interaction. Empirically, we apply this concept to detail ethnic websites in the Dutch Hindustani community and to highlight what needs they fulfil for its visitors and in the Hindustani community. We argued that these ethnic websites fulfil a wide range of needs — notably, as a means of communication, a platform on which community members can address ethnic issues, a device through which to build networks, and a place from which to download material — thus fostering the identity of the ethnic group. Since evidence based on one community may be a matter of happenstance, we substantiate our argument with a comparison of ethnic websites from the younger generation of white Dutch, Hindustanis and Moroccans in the Netherlands.
In general, the concept of institutions refers to an interaction of people, be it face-to-face, by means of written communication as many government agencies do, or digital as has become typical for websites. Furthermore, the definition of institution suggests a bundle of roles or an interaction of individuals with a collective. Examples include schools, annual festivals, tax administration, but also informal organisations as households, networks of friends, and websites. This wide range and diversity of institutions indicate that the role performance of individuals may sometimes be very physical and at time less visible as in the case of digital institutions. This digitalisation of institutions has nowadays advanced to the point that the features of conventional institutions have become blurred. Specifically, personal interaction has declined, making the institution increasingly a latent structure.
Take the example of the Hindu festival Diwali, the annual fiesta celebrated with lights, in India as well as in the Indian diaspora that includes the Dutch Hindustani community. It is a typical family occurrence, although the celebration may be different across diasporic Hindu communities. After the family ceremonies, people may stay at home, sing religious songs and enjoy the company of family members. Sometimes, Hindu people visit a temple to attend a service. Alternatively, they may visit relatives and friends. Depending on the circumstances, family and friends may receive a Diwali card, similar to a Christmas card. This custom has become digitalised to a large extent. Wishing people Happy Diwali increasingly occurs by email and SMS messages, decorated with pictures. And nowadays these are extended by WhatsApp, sometimes to people they hardly know. The institutional nature of Diwali, a prominent institution of the Hindustani community, has become less tangible.
These changes comprise almost all institutions, both formal and informal, in communication with school, community institutions, birthday celebrations, Christmas, New Year and the like. In the Netherlands, WhatsApp messages are leading in this communication and have increasingly replaced face-to-face interaction and contact. Diminishing personal contact and interaction erodes the traditional concept of institutions that was characterised by fixed roles and face-to-face communication, even in its informal settings. It has become less a community happening and acquired personal traits since you can avoid being part of the crowd. The digitalisation of institutions fosters selectivity and individualisation, and changes the appearances of the Diwali feast. This development tends to blur traditional concepts that were extracted from an old world and aim to reflect that world. The digital world therefore requires established concepts, such as ‘institutions’, to be adapted and extended.
Blog post by Ruben Gowricharn, VU University, the Netherlands and Jaswina Elahi, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands
Read the full article:
Gowricharn, Ruben & Elahi, Jaswina. Digital institutions: the case of ethnic websites in the Netherlands. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1519239