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To Hold Both Sides Together: Miami Historiography and the Question of the ‘New Immigrant City’

“Mid-flight between Miami and Havana, in either direction, I believe I can hold both sides together. Increasingly, there is the possibility for a coherent perspective, for an imagined future that transcends the rupture without denying the pain, without compromising the ethics and principles that in the long run make a difference in history.”

– María de Los Angeles Torres, In the Land of Mirrors (200)

In the summer of 2005, the historian and scholar of human migration, Melanie Shell-Weiss, published an essay in a special, transnational issue of the regional journal Florida Historical Quarterly. The article was called “Coming North to the South: Migration, Labor and City-Building in Twentieth-Century Miami,” and it described the experiences of early-twentieth-century Bahamian migrants to South Florida in order to argue that “Miami has always been a transnational city, even if it only recently has become a global city.” In the commentaries section of this same issue, Alex Lichtenstein, an historian of race and labor in the American South, set out to respond to Shell-Weiss’ thesis that Miami was “not a new immigrant city.” He cited sociological distinctions between “internal” and “foreign-born” migrants, and he questioned the historical impact of the latter group in “the first half of the twentieth century” when compared with the second half. He dug into the city’s census records, listing out percentages of foreign and native-born migrants for each decade of Miami’s history. He then weighed the early statistics for human migration against other urban areas with substantial portions of foreign-born migrants. Afterward, he concluded that “by no stretch of the imagination could Miami be described as a city significantly shaped by foreign immigration prior to 1960.” Later, he stated bluntly that “the visible imprint of the Bahamian contribution was limited,” leaving only a “faint” impression on the urban landscape. This impression was minimal when compared to that of the Latin American and Caribbean migrants who completely “remade the face of the city” in the decades following the Cuban Revolution of 1959.[1]

These FHQ exchanges between Shell-Weiss and Lichtenstein epitomized the character of Miami historiography in the early-twenty-first century. Everything from a mutual desire to “distinguish sharply between the pre- and post-1960s eras,” an interrogation of a “foreign” Bahamian influence in reference to that of later “foreign” migrants from the Spanish and French-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Latin America, and what some have called an often-excessive “quibble over numbers” was characteristic of where the urban history of Miami stood in the early 2000s, as well as where it had come from. All things considered, the debate over whether Miami was or was not a “new immigrant city” was essentially a trial about the city’s past. Indeed, if Miami was a “new immigrant city,” as Lichtenstein argued, then where did its pre-1960 history belong? On the contrary, if Miami had “always been” a transnational city as Shell-Weiss claimed, then how should the unique effects of its post-1960 transformation be fully appreciated?[2]

The following essay will provide background to this special historiographical moment. It will offer a cursory overview of Miami historiography from about the founding of the city in 1896 up to these 2005 exchanges. The defining factor of the essay is that its analysis is confined entirely to the provincial, urban historiography of one single city. In other words, this paper does not draw upon theoretical models applied in different urban environments, American or otherwise; it is not comparative in scope; and it does not cite broader historical contexts. Of course, there are moments when Miami’s historiographical turns are probably more indicative of larger trends—like the rise of cliometrics, new social sciences, or postcolonial narratives—than they are of any self-contained idea about the city or a single generation of writers. Nonetheless, the present author hopes only that this historiography of Miami, however insulated and self-serving in its content, will provide a detailed case study for those authors who are bold enough to make larger connections. Continue reading “To Hold Both Sides Together: Miami Historiography and the Question of the ‘New Immigrant City’”

A Truly Revolutionary Removal: An Introduction to the “Backlash Thesis” of Politics, Gender, and the American Revolution

Images: The engraving on the left depicts the so-called “petticoat electors,” women permitted to vote in the New Jersey electorate from 1776 to 1807. The painting on the right depicts a Missouri election in the 1850s. As the historian Rosemarie Zagarri writes, the contrast between these images captures a backlash against gender in early America. Although the political process was much more inclusive in the revolutionary era, only white men were empowered by the 1850s.

Introduction: Please excuse me. This historiographical essay begins in an unorthodox way: with a personal story. This past fall, I was serving as a teacher’s assistant for the very first time at UC Davis. I was assigned to Professor John Smolenski’s course, “HIST 17A: History of the United States to 1877.” On Wednesday morning, November 2, Smolenski gave the class a particularly memorable lecture. It was about the age of former president Andrew Jackson, and the theme was “An Age of Removals.” Of course, Smolenski talked about the Trail of Tears, and the removal of the five major Southeast Indian tribes west across the Mississippi River in the 1830s. Then he talked about the ongoing work of the American Colonization Society—their continuing effort to remove free black people from the country in the same era. Last, but not least, he talked about the so-called “petticoat electors.” Now this was a subject that I had come across before, but only in passing, as I skimmed textbooks in preparation for teaching at Solano Community College. Nonetheless, I am ashamed to admit that, as a twenty-eight-year-old PhD student in History, I had never appreciated the subject until Smolenki’s lecture. As most historians of early America know, the “petticoat electors” refers to a group of property-holding women in New Jersey. These women took advantage of a new state constitution from 1776 that did not specifically prohibit women from voting. They voted in local elections from the 1790s to 1807, when new state laws removed them from the electorate.[1]

What is the purpose of discussing the “petticoat electors?” The forced removal of property-holding women from the New Jersey electorate is only one example of what historians often refer to as the “limits” or the “paradox” of the American Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the United States of America as a new nation-state. In the above example of Smolenski’s lecture, the case of these female electors serves to round out a three-dimensional introduction to such limits. The example of the Trail of Tears introduces the limits in relation to Native American peoples; the example of the American Colonization Society introduces them in relation to African-Americans; and, last, the case of the “petticoat electors” introduces them in relation to propertied women. On the one hand, the story of these women has become a standard line in history textbooks, because perhaps no other incident in early American history can so clearly demonstrate the blatant failure of revolutionary ideals—like calls for “liberty” and freedom from British “tyranny, oppression, and slavery”—to translate into increased freedoms for women. On the other hand, the example of the “petticoat electors” is also an introduction to a much larger argument about the history of gender and the founding of the United States. This argument is called the “backlash thesis.”[2]

What is the “backlash thesis?” Well, if you searched the phrase in an online journal database like JSTOR, America: History and Life, or Academic Search Complete, you would probably come away thinking that it was about Southern, white racial conservatism in reaction to the desegregation decision in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Indeed, the phrase “backlash thesis” is most commonly used in academia to refer to the postwar period of the twentieth century, especially to how the modern conservative movement arose as a direct response to gains that were made in areas such as racial equality, women’s reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. Much of this work derives from a foundational article by the Civil Rights and legal historian Michael J. Klarman. However, the phrase “backlash thesis” is also employed in the field of early American history. Here it refers to a national conservatism in reaction to gains in women’s and gender rights that accompanied the American revolution and the founding of the country. Perhaps its most vocal advocate—its Michael J. Klarman—is the historian Rosemarie Zagarri, in her 2007 monograph Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic.[3] Continue reading “A Truly Revolutionary Removal: An Introduction to the “Backlash Thesis” of Politics, Gender, and the American Revolution”

Review of Kariann Akemi Yokota’s Unbecoming British

KARIANN AKEMI YOKOTA. Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 368. $36.95. Hardcover. ISBN: 0190217871.

In Unbecoming British, historian Kariann Akemi Yokota takes as her subject the historical process of American identity formation across the revolutionary and new national periods, or what she calls “America’s postcolonial period.” Specifically, she traces the process through which English colonists created an “American national character” out of their colonial inheritances. She does this through material, visual, and cultural history rather than political history. As Yokota observes, the transition of English subjects to American citizens was rife with “tensions and contradictions” that historians can study through both “lives of people engaged in missionary, scientific, and commercial pursuits” and “objects as varied as maps, imported and domestic artworks, and botanical prints.” Foremost among these tensions is the idea that, while elite American nationalists embraced aspects of their new identity such as their country’s raw materials, the superiority of whiteness, an increasingly democratic political structure, and a reflex for self-defensive intellectual arguments, “they could not relinquish their cultural attachments to the refined objects and courtly trappings of the British monarchy.” In short, while the political process of “unbecoming British” might have culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the cultural process was just beginning.[1] Continue reading “Review of Kariann Akemi Yokota’s Unbecoming British”

Historical Fictions: Readings on the Origins and Relevance of the First Great Awakening

SUSAN JUSTER. Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics and Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Pp. xi, 224. $24.95. Paperback. ISBN: 0801483883.

FRANK LAMBERT. “The First Great Awakening: Whose Interpretive Fiction?” The New England Quarterly 68 (1995): 650-659.

JON BUTLER. “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction.” The Journal of American History 69 (1982): 305-325.

The readings for this week discuss the origins and relevance of the “First Great Awakening.” This is a term used to describe a series of religious revivals that occurred to a varying degree across the British colonies of mainland North America in the mid-eighteenth century, mostly between the 1730s and 1750s. In “Enthusiasm Described and Decried,” Jon Butler argues scholars should “abandon the term” because it is both an “interpretative fiction” and anachronism that “distorts the character of eighteenth-century American religious life and misinterprets its relationship to prerevolutionary American society and politics.” Contemporaries, as he states, were not the ones who used this label. Rather, the now-popular term of “Great Awakening” was invented by a nineteenth-century historian named Joseph Tracy. He projected the religious context of his own age—what is now referred to as the “Second Great Awakening” of the early national period—back onto the colonial era. In doing so, he “homogenized” a series of local, scattered, erratic, heterogenous, “politically benign,” and largely unrelated revivals; he re-cast them as a great, general, and uniform phenomenon. As Butler laments, a diverse lineage of scholars has followed Tracy’s lead since “the last half of the nineteenth century,” thereby furthering all sorts of gross mischaracterizations. Foremost among the distortions is a “fiction” that “the Great Awakening” undermined traditional structures of authority and paved the way for the democratic ideals of the American Revolution. [1] Continue reading “Historical Fictions: Readings on the Origins and Relevance of the First Great Awakening”

Sources of Power: Reflections from Readings on Race, Sex, and Power in Early America

CLARE A. LYONS. Sex Among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. x, 432. $32.50. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8078-5675-8.

How does the historian of early America study something that was rarely meant to be recorded? The readings for this week address that question in the context of the entangled relationship between social power and sexual practice. Put another way, this week’s scholars have either taken specific early American societies—like Massachusetts, Philadelphia, North Carolina, or New Orleans—as their case studies, or they have surveyed sexual coercion across all the original thirteen colonies. Regardless, each of them have looked at the intersection of sex and power. Yet, as Jennifer M. Spear acknowledges in her contribution Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans, that task has not been easy one. Indeed, Spear seems to speak for each of this week’s authors when she laments, “Writing about sex in early America is difficult.” Historians of sexuality have, to phrase it mildly, needed to get creative with their sources and methods. Notwithstanding these difficulties, studying sexuality has been a fruitful endeavor. Since, as Sharon Block writes, “sexual power was inextricable from social power,” studies of sexuality have revealed the extent to which unequal power dynamics are coded by practices characterized as either deviant or normative.[1] Continue reading “Sources of Power: Reflections from Readings on Race, Sex, and Power in Early America”

What’s the Point of a Middle Ground? Reflections from Two Works by James Merrell and Sophie White

SOPHIE WHITE. Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana. Early American Studies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. Pp. x, 355. $24.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4437-3.

JAMES H. MERRELL. “The Indians’ New World: The Catawba Experience.” The William and Mary Quarterly 41, 4 (October, 1984): 537-565.

A quarter century has passed since the historian of Early America, Richard White, articulated the concept of the “middle ground” as a geographic, cultural, and temporal space of mutual accommodation between Native American and European peoples on the North American continent. In first introducing this idea through a case study of the pays d’en haut or Great Lakes region, White described it thus: “The Middle Ground is the place in between: in between cultures, peoples, and in between empires and the nonstate world of villages. It is a place where many of the North American subjects and allies of empire lived. It is the area between the historical foreground of European invasion and occupation and the background of Indian defeat and retreat.” While neither of the two works under review here use the phrase “middle ground,” both of them are attempts at tackling the same underlying question of mutual accommodation and the spaces in-between. Both of them use specific case studies—the Catawba of the Carolina piedmont and the Illinois of French colonial Louisiana—for exploring the ways in which native peoples adapted to European colonization and, conversely, the ways in which those adaptations were received by colonizers.[1] Continue reading “What’s the Point of a Middle Ground? Reflections from Two Works by James Merrell and Sophie White”

Review of Death of a Notary by Donna Merwick

DONNA MERWICK. Death of a Notary: Conquest and Change in Colonial New York. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pp. xvi, 304. $24.95. Paperback. ISBN: 0801487889.

What happens to a people when they are conquered by a foreign imperial power? How are their everyday lives and the ways in which they are remembered changed by the circumstances of their conquest? These questions lay at the heart of Donna Merwick’s engaging microhistory, Death of a Notary. Merwick’s text is a narrative that uses the life of a seventeenth-century Dutch notary—named Adriaen Janse van Ilpenda, or simply “Janse”—as a metaphor for exploring the effects of imperial conquest generally, and the transition of power from the Dutch to the English in colonial New York specifically. Overall, Merwick’s work is a testament to the saying that a writer’s choice of subject goes a long way toward dictating the success of their project. As a low-level civil servant who spent his career documenting the ambitions and grievances of a largely forgotten community during some of its most turbulent years, Janse is a historian’s treasure. His biography has the potential to teach us volumes about the long- and short-term effects of imperial conquest. Continue reading “Review of Death of a Notary by Donna Merwick”

Presentations from “HIST 017: History of the United States to 1877” — The American Revolution Within (1775-1783)

Dear readers, today I am following up on my lecture series from HIST 017, “History of the United States to 1877,” with a new PowerPoint presentation. This presentation is called “The American Revolution Within (1775-1785).” It discusses the internal struggles and transformations of the United States at the very moment of its creation. It was originally presented to my class on Thursday, June 23, 2016. As always, I recognize that my lectures are far from perfect and they have several problems. Nonetheless, I hope you will enjoy them and feel welcome to send me any recommendations you may have.

All of the PowerPoint presentations for HIST 017, including this one, were developed from content in the following textbook: Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History, Vol. 1, Seagull 4th edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014). I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Foner for his wonderful work as an historian. Give Me Liberty! is truly an exceptional educational resource and I recommend its use in any History setting, be it a college classroom or otherwise. I would also like to extend my gratitude to everyone at Solano Community College and UC Davis, two institutions that continue to support both my teaching endeavors and my professional education.

Thanks, and enjoy!

The American Revolution Within (1775-1785) — HIST 017 (6-23-16)

Presentations from “HIST 017: History of the United States to 1877” — The American Revolution (1765-1783)

Dear readers, as many of you know, after six years of studying History in college, I officially began my teaching career last fall, 2015, by teaching “HIST 037: Women in American History” at Solano Community College. I am following up on that course this summer by teaching “HIST 017: History of the United States to 1877” at the Vacaville satellite campus of SCC. Today I would like to post the first lecture that I created for that course to The Zamani Reader. As always, I recognize that my lectures are far from perfect and that they have several problems. Nonetheless, I hope that you will enjoy them and feel welcome to send me any recommendations that you may have. This particular lecture is on the lead up to, and the history of, the American Revolution (1765-1783). It was originally delivered to my class on Tuesday, June 21, 2016.

All of the PowerPoint presentations for HIST 017, including this one, were developed from content in the following textbook: Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History, Vol. 1, Seagull 4th edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014). I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Foner for his wonderful work as a historian. Give Me Liberty! is truly an exceptional educational resource and I recommend its use in any History classroom, be it a college course or otherwise. I would also like to extend my gratitude to everyone at SCC, who has supported me in my teaching experience thus far. Thanks, and enjoy!

The American Revolution (1765-1783) — HIST 017 (June 21, 2016)

Presentations from “HIST 037: Women in American History” — African Women and Slavery in the Colonial Era

Dear readers, I am continuing my lecture series with a new presentation called “African Women and Slavery in the Colonial Era.” I have spent the last three weeks working on this presentation, and I am very satisfied with the result. The PowerPoint is broken into three separate parts called 1) Representations, 2) Historical Concepts, and 3) Primary Sources. The first section focuses on displaying imagery of African women in the colonial era, with the goal of juxtaposing racist images with honest portrayals; the second section sets forth some very basic concepts in order to help us understand the historical context of slavery, black women, and the colonial era; and the third section introduces the audience to a few of the types of primary sources that historians use to further explore these experiences.

This presentation was originally created for my HIST 037 class, “Women in American History.” I taught this class last Fall at Solano Community College. More specifically, this presentation was given to my class on Monday, August 31, 2015. Please note that all of the PowerPoint presentations for HIST 037, including this one, were developed from content in the following textbook: Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil,Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Boston and New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2012. I would like to extend my gratitude to these two authors for their extraordinary work.Through Women’s Eyes is a wonderful educational resource. Second, I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone at SCC who encouraged the development of this course.

Thanks, and enjoy!

African Women and Slavery in the Colonial Era Presentation (8-31-15)

Presentations from “HIST 037: Women in American History” — European American Women in the Colonial Era

Dear readers, as many of you know from my post last week, this summer I have decided to share some of the PowerPoint lectures that I created for the first class I ever taught at Solano Community College (SCC). This class was called “HIST 037: Women in American History,” and I taught it during the Fall of 2015. The following presentation is part of the colonial lecture series. It is about the experiences of European or European-American  women in the colonial era. The presentation focuses mostly on European women in the area that will become the thirteen American colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. It was presented to my HIST 037 class on Wednesday, September 4, 2015.

All of the PowerPoint presentations for HIST 037, including this one, were developed from content in the following textbook: Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil,Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Boston and New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2012. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to these two authors for their extraordinary work. Through Women’s Eyes is, indeed, a wonderful educational resource. Second, I would like to extend my gratitude to Rachel Purdie, another adjunct History instructor at SCC who introduced me to this textbook. Thanks, and enjoy!

European Colonial Women Presentation — HIST 37 (9-4-15)

Presentations from “HIST 037: Women in American History” — Native American Women in the Colonial Era

Dear readers, this summer I have decided to share some of the PowerPoint lectures that I created for the first class I ever taught at Solano Community College (SCC). This class was called “HIST 037: Women in American History,” and I taught it during the Fall of 2015. Of course, these lectures are far from perfect, and they have several problems. In this sense, they should be seen as both a source for History education and a source for seeing how I approached the task of making class presentations during my first year as an adjunct History teacher. This summer, I am teaching my second class at SCC, called “HIST 017: History of the United States to 1877,” and I can already see that my style of creating lecture presentations has changed dramatically. In these early PowerPoint presentations, you can see my attempt to make detailed footnotes for both myself and my students at the bottom of each PowerPoint slide. Each of the slides usually consists of a title, a few pictures, and a block of text summarizing the major concepts and providing citations for the images. I do not, however, list out the most important concepts on each of the slides. As you can probably imagine, this was a major point of complaint for some of my students.

All of the PowerPoint presentations for HIST 037, including this one, were developed from content in the following textbook: Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil,Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Boston and New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2012. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to these two authors for their extraordinary work. Through Women’s Eyes is, indeed, a wonderful educational resource. Second, I would like to extend my gratitude to Rachel Purdie, another adjunct History instructor at SCC who introduced me to this work. Thanks, and enjoy!

The following PowerPoint presentation is about Native American women in the colonial era, and it was presented to my HIST 037 class on Wednesday, September 2, 2015.

Presentation on Native American Women in the Colonial Era — HIST 037 (9-2-15)

From Chicanismo to Chuy: The Long History of the Chicano Movement in Chicago’s Lower West Side, 1965-2015

Note:  For a PDF version of this graduate research prospectus, which includes all of its appendices, please see the following link: From Chicanismo to Chuy — Recovering the Long History of the Chicano Movement in Chicago’s Lower West Side, 1965-2015

INTRODUCTION:

The Chicago Tribune printed historic news on Tuesday night, February 24, 2015. The Mexican-American politician, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, succeeded in forcing a runoff against his opponent in the previous day’s mayoral election. The runoff, scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, became the first runoff in the history of Chicago mayoral elections. Though García lost that race by 11.4%, he had come closer to obtaining the highest office in the third largest city of the United States than any Latino/a politician before him. The closest comparison had been Gery Chico, who became the first Mexican-American to run for the office of mayor in 2011. Nonetheless, García topped Chico’s vote by 9.6% in the 2015 General Election. He captured majorities in every one of the fourteen wards dominated by “Hispanic” residents except for one: the 13th. More specifically, the 22nd, 12th, and 25th wards roughly corresponded to the Latino/a barrios of Chicago’s Lower West Side. García won these wards by ratios of 80%, 75% and 61% respectively. In part, his strong showing drew upon the fact that Chicago Latinos/as were more influential than they had ever been, at 33% of the city’s population, 19% of its voting-age citizens, and a handful of its elected officials. Yet, in order to fully understand these successes, we must go all the way back to the 1960s and 70s.[1]

García had a long and storied career that culminated in the 2015 runoff. More importantly, that career mirrored larger trends in postwar, Mexican-American activism for Civil Rights. He was born in Mexico in 1956, but he moved to Chicago at the age of nine because his father was a farm laborer in the WWII-era bracero program. When the family settled in the growing Latino/a barrios of the Lower West Side, these areas of the city were quickly filling up with both new migrants and displaced, Spanish-speaking wartime immigrants. García found himself in a rare climate of vigorous Latino/a activism known as the Chicano Movement. Many Latino/a residents in the Lower West Side were uniting under the banner of a new, cultural-nationalist ideology called chicanismo. They were agitating against issues like racism, gang violence, community neglect, immigrant and union rights, poverty, under-education, police brutality, joblessness, and urban renewal. [2]

García witnessed chicanismo activism firsthand. When he was thirteen, for example, over one-hundred Latino/a residents gathered in the street to attend a public meeting of ALAS. During this meeting, those present endorsed a local Mexican-American activist named Arthur Vásquez as the next executive director of Howell House, Pilsen’s settlement house, which had historically been home to the white, Presbyterian Czech immigrants. Vásquez became the house’s first Mexican-American director, and the center was re-christened Casa Aztlán. This name was a symbol of chicanismo that memorialized the ward’s demographic tipping point. One year later, in 1970, the city’s decennial census recorded the Lower West Side’s first ever Latino/a majority. The barrios Little Village/South Lawndale and Pilsen/Heart of Chicago have retained that majority to this day.[3]

Continue reading “From Chicanismo to Chuy: The Long History of the Chicano Movement in Chicago’s Lower West Side, 1965-2015”

Like Two Waves of the Same Flood: Comparing John Trudell’s Lines from a Mined Mind and Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song

SHERWIN BITSUI. Flood Song. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2009. Pp. 73 $15.00. ISBN: 978-1-55659-308-6.

JOHN TRUDELL. Lines from a Mined Mind. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008. Pp. vii, 270. $18.00. ISBN: 9781555916787.

Introduction:

“Bitter fruit emerges where bitter seed is sown,” sings the native artist John Trudell in one of his 1999 song-poems called “Blue Indians.” “Economic chains all dressed out as reward/Gender race age edged in love and rage/Oppressorman builder keeper of the cage.” In acerbic pieces like this one, listeners can feel the full force of Trudell’s searing and unabashed voice. A radical child of the 1960s and 1970s, and a leading activist of the nation’s Alcatraz-Red Power Movement, he flings his words like sharpened daggers at what he views to be an oppressive and shallow American society—a society that pollutes the minds of its people with the “toxic waste” of consumerism and the “poison” of “fears doubts and insecurity.” In this poem and others, we experience Trudell’s characteristic critique of First World deceit and decadence. His language is biting and direct. There is not much room for ambiguity in lines like “Industrial reservation tyranny stakes its claim” and “Blue Indians emotional siege in a civilized stain.” In fact, many song-poems in his oeuvre, as they appear in his 2008 compilation Lines from a Mined Mind, are unambiguous and impassioned. They feature “political pimps,” “citizen whores,” and “material junkies.” Readers are informed that they are living in a “broken” and “industrially insane” world of “tech no logic slavery.” We are weathering the “oppressor’s brutality” and “surviving genocide because we have to.”[1]

Then there is the poetic work of the native artist Sherwin Bitsui. His groundbreaking book-poem Flood Song was published in 2009, exactly one year after Trudell’s retrospective anthology. Yet the work is strikingly different. The language is much more subtle, nuanced, quiet, intimate, and deeply visual. Scattered across wide savannas of blank, white space are small pools and rivulets of deep imagery. They spread like oases or trickles in a vast desert. Each one draws the reader’s imagination forward, carrying it upon the back of a meandering and powerful current of contemplative visions. There is a “waning lick of moonlight on the dashboard.” Then, we see “A shower of sparks skate across the morning sky;” and, in continuing, we “inhale earth, wind, water/ through the gasoline nozzle/at trail’s end/a flint spear driven into the key switch.” These images are punctuated and fleeting; yet, somehow they form part of a bigger picture. They are like specific, tactile pieces from the fragmented mosaic that is our memory. They are pieces of evidence for an endangered, lived experience. There is a reality embedded in a thought of “a flashing yellow sign,/blinks between charcoal sheets of monsoon rain.” With each deliberate verb, Bitsui somehow manages to conjure an entire world of feeling within his readers. “It is here,” he writes, “that they scoop the granite stones from your chest/snap each rib shut over the highway leading south.”[2]

Continue reading “Like Two Waves of the Same Flood: Comparing John Trudell’s Lines from a Mined Mind and Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song”

Overview of Brown in the Windy City by Lilia Fernández

Lilia Fernández. Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 392. $30.00. Paperback. ISBN: 9780226244280.*

About the Author:

Lilia Fernández is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Ohio State University. She obtained her PhD in Ethnic Studies from the University of California at San Diego in 2005. Brown in the Windy City (henceforth, BWC) is her revised dissertation and first book; the project was originally called “Latina/o Migration and Community Formation in Postwar Chicago: Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Gender, and Politics, 1945-1975;” and her committee chairs were Ramón A. Gutiérrez and Vicki L. Ruiz. Lastly, Fernández is a native Chicagoan who grew up at least partly in one of the areas that is the subject of her study, the Lower West Side neighborhood of Pilsen.

Overview:

BWC is the first intertwined history of Puerto Rican and Mexican-American immigrant communities in postwar Chicago, from roughly 1942 to 1975. The work contextualizes the migration, community formation, racialization, and social activism of these groups during a tumultuous period of Chicago’s history. Overall, Fernández offers an intimate look into how two Spanish-speaking ethnic groups built their identities in a shared climate of racism, housing discrimination, deindustrialization, urban blight, gentrification, dislocation, urban renewal, and activism in a major, postwar American city.

Continue reading “Overview of Brown in the Windy City by Lilia Fernández”

Becoming Traditional in the Contemporary New: A Relational Analysis of Two Native Authors

JOY HARJO. How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, 1975 – 2002. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002. Pp. xxviii, 242. $17.95. Hardback. ISBN: 978-0-393-32534-8.

LEANNE HOWE. Evidence of Red: Poems and Prose. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2005. Pp. 101. £9.99. Hardback. ISBN: 9781844710621.

In her poem “Song For The Deer and Myself to Return On,” of the compilation How We Became Human, Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek) narrates the story of a Native American person who is living “in a house near downtown Denver.” This character invokes a traditional, Native American hunting song in order to call deer into the house. When these animals arrive, as surely they do, they “wondered at finding themselves” crammed together in this strange and very modern setting. After their initial bewilderment subsided, the deer and the narrator came together and tried to “figure out a song…to get all of us back.” Because, although both parties had gathered together in this urban environment, neither of them actually wanted to remain there. Both the deer and the narrator desired to return to a more “traditional” space, perhaps the space of their ancestral hunting grounds, where they had once lived alongside one another, long before the city of Denver had ever existed. Similarly, in the piece “The Unknown Woman,” from LeAnne Howe’s (Choctaw) book of poems, Evidence of Red, a narrator who is identified only as “The Spirit” regrets that “Copper masks made by my children appear in the Field Museum’s case. They rest in the future—from the past.”[1]

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