Encampments, Mobility, and Racialized Space in the 20th-Century Latinx West
Endorsed by the Agricultural History Society, IEHS, and the Western History Association
Thursday, March 30, 2023, 12:45 PM - 2:15 PM
Type: Paper Session
Tags: Immigration and Internal Migration; Labor and Working-Class; Latino/a
In recent years, ‘encampments’ have signified crises in the United States – visual and spatial reminders of the failures of neoliberalism, the ongoing housing crisis, migrant detention, and economic inequality in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This panel explores the deeper histories of encampments, particularly in the American West, to underscore the roles they played in histories of protest, debates over homelessness, and the (re)shaping of local, state, and national policies. In particular, panelists will build upon the ground-breaking work of Latinx historians such as Genevieve Carpio, Kelly Lytle Hernández, A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, and Marisol LeBrón on questions of mobility, housing, and surveillance in the lived experiences of racialized and working-class migrants. We will engage different cases across the twentieth century to raise questions about the relationship between space, power, and race in the American West. Allyson Brantley’s paper, “Tent Cities Across the West: Homeless Mobilization & Coalition-Building in the 1980s,” explores the use of encampments as spaces of political protest, coalition-building, and community-making by unhoused and undocumented peoples and coalitional partners. Through an exploration of tent cities in Tucson and Los Angeles, Brantley highlights overlapping and interracial struggles over policing, sanctuary, homelessness and statelessness, and use of public space. Activists used encampments and theatrical forms of protest to challenge narrow interpretations of homelessness and bring debates over neoliberalism, Central American solidarity and sanctuary, poverty, health equity, and housing under one big tent of intersectional, interracial liberation. Building on Brantley’s exploration of political placemaking as coalition-building, Kera Lovell’s paper, “From Chicano Park to Poor People’s Park: Latinx Identity in Protest Encampments against Urban Renewal,” compares two different cases of encampments led by Chicano and Puerto Rican activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Part of a large movement of insurgent park creations as forms of protest, both encampments show how activists in this era were reclaiming urban space as metaphorical borderlands. Activists in each city situated urban renewal campaigns that displaced communities of color as extensions of colonialism, and in doing so, framed their spatial takeovers as retribution for white western imperialism. Michelle Vasquez’s paper, “Transborder Sanctuaries at the intersection of illegality and anti-Indigeneity” discusses how conceptions of illegality and Indigeneity intersect and challenge the everyday mobility of undocumented Zapotec families in Los Angeles. She studies how through tight community networks, Zapotec families learned to strategically outmaneuvered structures of surveillance and spatial injustice. In their activism, these communities have created sanctuary spaces to stand against threats of deportation and anti-Indigenous discrimination. Continuing with when and where migrants are forced and coerced to live, Jonathan Cortez’s paper, “Migrant Space: How Camps Shifted the US Racial Landscape,” will explore the role of encampment in the facilitation of production of formal and informal sites of migrant surveillance. Jonathan argues that the formulation of “migrant space” – understood as defined spatial patternings in which migrant subjects are forced and coerced to inhabit – sutures the 20th century together by underscoring how migration policy, architecture, and racial capitalism come together to shift the rural landscape.
Migrant Space: How Camps Shifted the US Racial Landscape
This presentation will explore the relationship between encampments, race, and space in the United States 20th century. By exploring the role of encampment in the facilitation of production of formal and informal sites of migrant surveillance, Dr. Cortez will attempt to show how U.S. government immigration policy created migrant space -- defined as space in which racialized migration populations are forced and coerced to live. Jonathan argues that the formulation of migrant space became solidified during the 20th century as the U.S. government sought to regulate public health, labor, and national security. By looking at specific case studies of defined spatial patternings, this paper sutures the 20th century together by underscoring how migration policy, architecture, and racial capitalism come together to shift the rural landscape.
Jonathan Cortez, Dartmouth College
Tent Cities Across the West: Encampments, Solidarity, and Unhoused Activism in the 1980s
Allyson P. Brantley’s paper, “Tent Cities Across the West: Encampments, Solidarity, and Unhoused Activism in the 1980s,” explores the use of encampments as spaces of political protest, coalition-building, and community-making by unhoused and undocumented folks and coalitional partners. Drawing from activist publications and community archives, this paper explores the radical politics of tent cities in Los Angeles and Tucson. Activists transformed encampments into “liberated zones” that contested not only the state’s reliance on punitive welfare reform, policing, incarceration, and detention, but also philanthropists’ empty fundraising gestures (such as the 1986 “Hands Across America” event). While these encampments were typically short-lived, they often yielded positive, if incremental, local policy changes. As such, the emergence and demolition of these radical encampments, this paper argues, highlights overlapping and interracial struggles over policing, sanctuary, homelessness and statelessness, and the use of public space in the 1980s.
Allyson Powers Brantley, University of La Verne
From Chicano Park to Poor People’s Park: Latinx Identity in Protest Encampments against Urban Renewal
In this presentation, Dr. Lovell compares two different cases of encampments led by Chicano and Puerto Rican activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Part of a large movement of insurgent park creations as forms of protest, both encampments show how activists in this era were reclaiming urban space as metaphorical borderlands. Activists in each city situated urban renewal campaigns that displaced communities of color as extensions of colonialism, and in doing so, framed their spatial takeovers as retribution for white western imperialism.
Kera Lovell, University of Utah, Asia Campus
Transborder Sanctuaries at the intersection of illegality and anti-Indigeneity
When Zapotec populations immigrate into the United States, their mobile autonomy is challenged by anti-indigenous ideologies and xenophobia that intersect in their daily lives. This intersection attempts to erode their standing relationships to their communities of origin and their practices of communal exchange. Upon immigrating, they become reidentified as an undocumented or “illegal” and the threat of deportation consistently dictates how they move about the country. Further, the production of anti-Indigenous rhetoric produced by their Latinx counterparts in conjunction with the country’s history of racism and xenophobia make learning to navigate local space a necessary skill. In this presentation, I consider how Zapotec communities in Los Angeles have strategically outmaneuvered these limitations to their mobility. Through oral histories with local organizers, I specifically consider how they have created transborder sanctuaries and networks that serve to address these challenges. I study how they have adopted local churches to not only help address their immigration status but also to embrace their patron saint holidays and customs from their communities of origin. These activities serve to produce a transborder space that allows them to practice traditions outside of these produced limitations. Ultimately, my work finds that it is their commitment to their pueblos and families that enable them to address, confront and outmaneuver challenges to their identities and autonomy as Indigenous peoples.
Michelle Vasquez Ruiz, USC
Chair: Alexandro Jose Gradilla, CSU Fullerton, Chicana/o Studies
Dr. Gradilla received his doctorate in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. His dissertation focused on the social, political and epistemological impact of dehumanization on the Mexican origin population in the United States. His areas of expertise include medical anthropology, bioethics, political theory (Marxist, Foucaultian), decolonial theory, institutional racism, racialization, cultural competency, gender, men’s studies, migration processes and families. Born and raised in San Diego (City Heights), California, Dr. Gradilla is a first-generation college graduate. His parents are from Jalisco, Mexico. He received two B.A. degrees from the University of California, Berkeley one in Chicana/o Studies and the other in Anthropology. He then went on to receive a M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Before joining the faculty at CSU Fullerton, Dr. Gradilla was a teaching a fellow at the University of California, Irvine.
In addition to his research agenda, Dr. Gradilla is interested in issues connected to higher education policy especially focused on Latina/o student success, retention, graduation, mentorship, transfer student success, and other collaborations between student affairs and academic affairs. For over ten years he has served on the Academic Senate representing the At-large constituencies. He is currently in his third year serving on the Senate Executive Committee. In addition to his work with the Academic Senate and his commitment to shared governance, Dr. Gradilla was selected as an inaugural Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion Fellow for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. For the last two years, Dr. Gradilla, as appointed by CSU Statewide Academic Senate, to work on approving course for the Social Justice Transfer Degree which helps community college students transfer to a CSU with ease. Dr. Gradilla served as Co-Principal Investigator on two grants that focus on improving Latina/o graduation rates and the other promoting graduate school. For the Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans (PPOHA grant at CSU Fullerton is now known as Enhancing Postbaccalaureate Opportunities at Cal State Fullerton for Hispanic Students or EPOCHS) grant that encourages Latino students to pursue graduate education. The other grant he worked on, is the HACU/Walmart grant, for this grant Dr. Mink Salas and Dr. Gradilla evaluated CSU Fullerton’s practices surrounding Latino student success in order to mentor New Mexico Highlands University. As consultants and institutional mentors, we have evaluated programs and policies and made recommendations for NMHU in order to improve Latino retention and graduation.
Presenter: Allyson Powers Brantley, University of La Verne
Allyson P. Brantley (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of La Verne in Los Angeles County. She studies, teaches, and writes about social movements, labor, and Latinx history in the late 20th century United States. She received her PhD in History from Yale University in 2016 and she is a 2020-2021 Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader. In 2021, she published her first book, Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors & Remade American Consumer Activism (UNC Press), an exploration of the boycott of Coors beer, one of the longest-running consumer boycotts in American history.
Presenter: Jonathan Cortez, Dartmouth College
Jonathan Cortez is currently the 2021-2023 César Chávez Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. They received their Ph.D. from the Department of American Studies at Brown University in 2021. Cortez is a historian of 20th-century issues of race, labor, (im)migration, surveillance, space, relational Ethnic Studies, and Latinx Studies.
Presenter: Kera Lovell, University of Utah, Asia Campus
Dr. Kera Lovell is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Utah, Asia Campus where she teaches courses on US history, women’s history, and global citizenship. Lovell earned her PhD in American Studies at Purdue University in 2017. She has taught courses at Purdue University, Ball State University, and the University of Hawai‘i. She is currently working on her book project that traces an undocumented method of postwar urban protest in which activists challenged police brutality and urban renewal by insurgently converting vacant lots into parks. This project has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Graham Foundation's research fellowship, the Hoover Institution’s Silas Palmer Fellowship, Purdue University’s Global Synergy Grant, and Purdue University’s Research Grant Foundation.
As part of her broader interdisciplinary research on the relationship between identity, space, and power within the twentieth century, Lovell has published in a variety of outlets, including Women’s Studies Quarterly, American Studies Journal, Black Perspectives, and Gender Issues.
Commentator: Kristina Shull, UNC Charlotte
Kristina Shull (she/hers) is Assistant Professor of Post-1960 US History at UNC Charlotte and director of the Climate Refugee Stories digital history project. Her first book, Detention Empire: Reagan’s Total War on Immigrants and the Seeds of Resistance, is forthcoming in the Fall of 2022 with UNC Press’s Justice, Power, and Politics series.
Presenter: Michelle Vasquez Ruiz, USC
Michelle Vasquez Ruiz is PhD Candidate in the department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is a USC Mellon Humanities in a Digital World PhD Fellow. Her research considers the ways Indigenous populations in Los Angeles have historically navigated spatial and racial inequalities in the city. Currently she serves as a curator for the Boyle Heights Museum in Los Angeles. She holds a BA in Political Science and Chicano Studies from the University of California, Irvine and an MA in History from California State University, Los Angeles.