Americas Studies

The Following is an edited version of a presentation I gave at the School of English PhD Slam on the 15th September 2011. To see news coverage of the event, please click here.

My research interests range across contemporary women’s poetry, Chicana/o Studies, Americas Studies, feminist geography, border theory, transnationalism, migration and ethnicity, representation of race in contemporary pop culture. As part of doing a PhD I participate in a number of other activities:

  • I blog about various aspects of American Studies including literature, art, film, politics and culture. My blog is called americasstudies.wordpress.com
  • I am on the Editorial Board for Aigne, a bi-lingual peer-reviewed journal for the Arts and Humanities based in UCC.
  • I was involved in the organisation of the first major International conference in Chicana/o Studies called “Transitions and Continuities in Contemporary Chicano Culture” which was hosted in UCC in June 2011.
  • I co-ordinated the European book launch of Our Lady of Controversy: Alma López’s Irreverent Apparition.

Gloria Anzaldúa

For my PhD, the focus is primarily on Chicana poetry. The term Chicano refers to someone living in the US who is of Mexican descent. Chicana is the female pronoun. I focus on 2 writers, Gloria Anzaldúa and Lorna Dee Cervantes. Anzaldúa is a Chicana, Lesbian, Feminist, activist, writer. Her main publications include:

Cervantes is Chicana, Native American, Feminist, activist, poet. Her collections include the following:

  • Emplumada, U of Pittsburgh P, 1981
  • From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger, Arte Público Press, 1991
  • Drive: The First Quartet, Wings Press, 2006
  • Ciento: 100 100-Word Love Poems, Wings Press, 2011

The major interest that has carried through from my first explorations of poetry into my research is the ways in which poetry can be experimental in form

Lorna Dee Cervantes

and theme, how the form and style of a poem can inform the issue it addresses and vice-versa. A brief example of this is Lorna Dee Cervantes’s “On Why I Boyotted Cinco de Mayo.” The body of the poem consists of one word only: “Coors” (45). To many, this may seem vague. However the poem itself is a boycott or a protest, just one word of blame to a beer company that has for years exploited a traditional Mexican holiday, turning it into an ostentatious public holiday that revolves around alcoholic bingeing and not a sacred day of remembrance. The poet uses an experimental form and style to express a political view.

This research interest in American studies developed during the course of my degree. In my view, America is made up of interchanging and intertwining networks of literature, film and other cultural forms. What I love about this is that you can never just stick to following one thread because just one will lead you to cross paths with many others. This diversity and the intertwineable nature of American studies is one of the major things that captured my attention.

So how did I develop a specific interest in Chicana literature?

In the third year of my degree I took a seminar on race and representation in 20th and 21st century American culture. As part of our assessment we had to give a presentation. I decided to give mine on race and music. Having long been a fan of RATM I began looking at their work for inspiration. During this research I came across the word “Chicano” in a biography of Zack de la Rocha. What did this mean? Why had I not come across this word before? What kind of literature is being produced in this area and why haven’t I studied it?

Rage Against the Machine. Source: Wikimedia Commons, 2011

These questions lead me to read a several annual presidential addresses to the American Studies Association. In these papers, year after year speakers addressed number of key issues: Should the ASA be renamed? Is the term “American Studies” enough to represent the multiple strands of scholarship that exist in this area of study? Speakers also repeatedly called for a stronger focus on Chicana/o, Asian American, Cuban, Latin American and indigenous literatures, cultures, and other issues. I agree with these concerns. Perhaps the ASA will remain the ASA for the foreseeable future. But in my research, I choose to refer to this area as “Americas Studies”, a term I first encountered in Mary Kelley’s presidential address to the ASA (5). This is a better fit for the amalgamation of communities, cultures, religions, politics, languages and topographies that the Americas encompass. When we think about America, I fear that many only consider the following part of the map and what comes out of here:

USA. Source: Wikimedia Commons, 2011.

But part of the Americas is what is above below and around this site. When we think about America, do we remember that the Islands of Hawaii is one of the so-called United States of America, that despite its geographical detachment from America, it is in fact part of the Americas? This online game, asks players to put the states of North America in their correct place. Alaska and Hawaii are not included.

Third Grade Geography Test (Screen Shot. Source: digyourowngrave.com

It seems they are out of bounds. The man-made U.S. Mexico border interrupts the geography of North America and Mexico physically separating them with barbed wire,

State seal of Hawaii. Source: Wikimedia Commons, 2011.

concrete and border patrol units. My research focuses on the border culture that radiates outwards from this scarring reminder of 500 years of colonialism in the Americas. The border does not eliminate one side or the other just as the Pacific Ocean does not remove Hawaii from being a part of the rest of the continent.

Paul Jay argues, “U.S literature doesn’t simply fan out from New England; it has multiple points of emergence that converge, clash, and reform themselves along the borders of various cultural zones” (182). In my research I aim to draw attention to one of these cultural zones, the US Mexico border. To finish, in the words of Patricia Nelson Limerick: “Thank heavens then for American Studies: the place of refuge for those who cannot find a home in the more conventional neighbourhoods, the sanctuary for displaced hearts and minds, the place where no one is fully at ease” (452).

Works Cited

Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Drive: the First Quartet. San Antonio: Wings, 2006. Print.

Jay, Paul. “The Myth of ‘America’ and the Politics of Location: Modernity, Border Studies, and the Literature of the Americas.”  Arizona Quarterly 54.2 (1998): 165-192. Print.

Kelley, Mary. “Taking Stands: American Studies at a Century’s End Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, October, 29 199.” American Quarterly 52.1 (Mar. 2000): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 10 Oct 2010.

Nelson Limerick, Patricia. “Insiders and Outsiders: The Borders of the USA and the Limits of the ASA: Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, 31 October 1996.” American Quarterly 49.3 (1997): 449-469. Project Muse. Web. 8 Nov 2011.

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