Tracing Democratizing Practices: Latinx Activism and Experiences in New Mexico, Wisconsin, and California

Endorsed by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS)

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Education; Gender; Local and Community History


The pathways to democracy for racialized and gendered bodies are complicated by issues of representation, autonomy, and protest. Historically, the United States has relegated racialized and gendered subjects to the periphery of a society built on principles of white supremacy. This panel concentrates on Latinx and Chicanx communities by interrogating their histories of subjugation and activism in New Mexico, Madison, and Los Angeles. The core of our research is driven by questions of self-representation, community activism, archival production and the enduring effects of long-standing injustice. Divana Olivas illuminates the local food justice efforts within New Mexico’s SouthWest Organizing Project and positions this work as critically embedded within larger histories of Chicanx activism. Olivas considers food-centered life histories as a type of oral history which offers food as an avenue to address and understand the gendered and racial deterrents to democracy. Verenize Arceo examines the diversity of Latinx student experiences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Arceo analyzes educational institutions as social border landscapes. Through a historical lens, Arceo argues that educational institutions have offered Latinx students mobility within a pathway divided by inclusion and exclusion. Cassandra Flores-Montaño addresses the tension and dynamics based on gender and ethnicity which shape the making of the East Los Angeles Archive. Flores-Montaño focuses on the personal collections of Gloria Arellanes and Carlos Montes, key figures in the Brown Berets. She considers the democratizing principles that undergird the possibilities of creating and curating a community-based archive. As historians, we have the responsibility of narrating and sharing critical community histories and highlighting how these histories continue to structure the lived experiences of Latinxs across the U.S. By centering Chicanx/Latinx activism and experiences through oral history, interviews, and community-based archives, our panel sheds light on the dynamic implementations of critical methodologies. Together, our papers offer visions for democratizing our food systems, institutions of higher education, and archival practice.

Papers Presented

Community, Identity, (Self)Representation: Brown Beret Leadership and the Making of the East Los Angeles Archive

In 2010, Gloria Arellanes, the former Minister of Finance and Correspondence for the Brown Berets, donated her personal collection to CSULA. Four years later, Carlos Montes, the former Minister of Information for the Berets, followed suit. The Gloria Arellanes Papers and Carlos Montes Papers make up two of the 7 major collections of the East LA Archive. While both Arellanes and Montes were central to the leadership and political trajectory of the Brown Berets, they each cultivated a unique relationship to the organization. As the only woman to serve in a position of formal leadership, Arellanes navigated sexist attitudes, which eventually led Arellanes to successfully call for a mass resignation of all women from the East LA chapter. Conversely, Montes was recognized internally and externally as a leading force for the Brown Berets and other Chicano Movement activities and experienced constant police surveillance. The finding aid for the Arellanes Papers notes that the materials are mostly political flyers, newspapers, buttons and photographs, while the Montes Papers are mostly legal documents reflective of a state archive. I consider the ways in which materials are already curated before arriving to the archive for formal processing asking: How does self-representation figure into the making of an archive? What are the set of appraisal practices employed by community members when deciding upon with materials to donate? In this paper, I illuminate a history of activism within a local context and dynamics based on gender that informed the political realities for Arellanes and Montes.

Presented By
Cassandra Flores-Montano, University of Southern California

Representation from the Underrepresented: Latinx Student Experiences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Obtaining a higher education from a public research university is often considered the epitome of the “American Dream.” However, these educational institutions have historically underrepresented students of color. As of Fall 2019 and off the heels of their homecoming video backlash, the University of Wisconsin-Madison boasts a student population totalling 45,317 at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Of those 45,317 students, 2,316, or 5.1%, are of Hispanic and/or Latinx descent, a stark comparison to the institution’s white student population of 29,767, or 65.7%. This paper draws out the hypervisible Latinx student experience from the University Archives and situates the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a social border landscape—a space harboring both elements of inclusion and exclusion, with Latinx students caught betwixt and in between. In contrast to existing scholarly literature centered on portraying the Latinx student experience as a collective narrative, my preliminary research centers on the intersections of race, space, and education of Latinx students from the students themselves. In analyzing what it means to be a Latinx student in a white educational space, my analysis pushes for a dialogue around mobility between two worlds: being Latinx and being a student.

Presented By
Verenize Arceo, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Food Justice in New Mexico: Embodied Activisms from NAFTA to the Trump Era

This paper theorizes food as a pathway to democracy, through the collection of food-centered life histories of Chicanx political activists involved in the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP). SWOP was founded in 1980 by Chicanx activists who sought to address the racial injustice poor communities of color face in the U.S. Southwest. They are recognized for their efforts in producing the “500 Years of Chicana/o History” volume that outlines a genealogy of Chicanx activism from Spanish colonialism, to the present day hegemony of U.S. empire. This paper seeks to build upon scholarship about the Chicanx movement in New Mexico, through a focus on food justice in SWOP’s work. To do so, I rely on food-centered life histories to investigate the embodied and place-based knowledge that inform the anti-colonial critiques at the foundation of SWOP’s work. Cultural anthropologist Carole Counihan termed the phrase “food-centered life histories” to describe a qualitative methodology that investigates the what, how, when, where, and why of people’s food choices. My work applies this methodology as an oral history method, which centers people’s life stories, experiences, and knowledge, through their food practices. I build upon the work of critical food studies scholars, such as Meredith Abarca and Norma Cardenas, who argue that food is a powerful lens from where to investigate questions about race, gender, and power. My research suggests how pathways to democracy require embodied activisms, such as food justice, to more holistically address systems of oppression.

Presented By
Divana Olivas, University of Southern California

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Marla Andrea Ramirez, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Professor Ramirez is a historian of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands with specialization in oral history, Mexican repatriation, social and legal histories of Mexican migrations, and gendered immigration experiences. She completed her doctoral degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Chicana and Chicano Studies and an emphasis in Feminist Studies. For the 2018-19 academic year, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard. She previously held an Assistant Professor Position at San Francisco State University and a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her current book project, “Contested Illegality: Mexican Repatriation, Banishment, and Prolonged Consequences Across Three Generations,” examines the history of citizenship and naturalization laws and immigration policies of the Great Depression era, focusing on the unconstitutional banishment of US-citizens of Mexican descent that tore apart thousands of families across the US-Mexico border. Her research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard, the San Francisco State University’s Development for Research and Creativity Grant, the Ford Foundation, and the University of California’s Fletcher Jones Fellowship.

Presenter: Verenize Arceo, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Verenize's research interests center on the intersections of race and space in the North American West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her undergraduate research experience focused on Merced, California’s Chinese community between 1850 and 1920 and analyzed how spatial dynamics complicates our understanding of power relations and restores voices to historically silenced communities. Ultimately, it is her desire to focus on how minority groups take the “foreign” out of their segregated enclaves within small towns and make these marginalized spaces into homes and communities.

Presenter: Cassandra Flores-Montano, University of Southern California
Cassandra Flores-Montaño is a doctoral student in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Cassandra received a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies with a concentration in Latinx Studies from Wellesley College. Cassandra’s research focuses on social movements, youth activism, and LGBT and women’s history. She is the co-chair of the research cluster on Race, Gender, and Sexuality at USC. She also serves at the 2019-2020 Vice President of Advocacy for the USC Graduate Student Government.

Presenter: Divana Olivas, University of Southern California
Divana Olivas was born and raised by Mexican immigrant parents in a rural town in central New Mexico. As an Annenberg Fellow, her research investigates the intersections between race, gender, food, and colonialism in New Mexico during the 20th and 21st centuries. Divana first began thinking about these topics as a Ronald E. McNair scholar at the University of New Mexico, and as a food justice intern with SWOP, a grassroots organization based in Albuquerque. In Los Angeles, she has continued her passion for advocacy work as a food policy intern with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, and as the 2018-19 Director of Globalization and Advocacy with USC's Graduate Student Government.