Thursday, August 23, 2012

AWP 2013: A Post-Racial, Post-Queer, Post-Trans Writers' Conference?

Yesterday, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) announced the list of selected evens for its 2013 Conference, which is scheduled to be held March 6-9 in Boston, MA. Every year the competition seems to steepen, with this year's proposals of over 1,300 being reduced to 516 (tentatively) accepted events. With just under 40% of proposals being accepted, AWP is projecting to have some 1,980 panelists, 58% of whom are women, and 42% men.

I have been to three AWP Conferences (Austin '06, Denver '10, Chicago '12; weather kept me from D.C. '11), and, thanks to the genius and hard work of my brother and fellow-writer, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran, I've presented at two of these, while missing the third panel in D.C. Overall, I've found the Conference to be rather enjoyable and good for my writer spirit. Given that I often neglect the writer in me due to professional and other obligations, it is a blessing to spend several days with no other hat than that of a writer. Adding to the experience is the opportunity to connect with old friends, make new ones, and stalk a writer (or three) I admire.

Last night, I went to AWP's website and found the List of Accepted Events. I proceeded to do my research and was frankly surprised and a bit disillusioned by the small number of selected events that deal specifically or remotely on matters of queerness, gender-expansiveness, and race. Through some obsessive investigating, I found that 29 of the 516 events specifically reflect these identities and experiences. That's below 6% of all accepted proposals. 

Of the 516 accepted proposals, only five* (1%) are specific to queer and/or gender-expansive identities and writing, and 27** (5%) are specific to communities of color. An additional five accepted proposals seem to include these identities and/or issues (in various degrees) as a part of their overall purpose.

Of course, I know that there are queers, gender-expansive folks, and/or people of color on panels that might not be about, or address, these experiences specifically. However, I personally gravitate toward those panels and events that are intentional and explicitly forthcoming about queers, the gender expansive, and people of color. While I applaud the integration of our communities into other panel opportunities, I continue to believe there is also value and need in creating spaces that are specific to, and intentional toward, our experiences and our values. Hosting a conference with a majority of women panelists is something to be proud of, but it isn't enough; it certainly does not guarantee inclusivity of queer/gender-expansive/women of color.

History has long shown that in spaces where queerness, gender-expansiveness, and race are not intentionally and explicitly brought to the forefront, non-queer, cisgendered, and non-people of color experiences and voices dominate or, more commonly, occupy entirely. Of the 94% of accepted proposals for AWP's 2013 Conference, I trust that the vast majority will either speak to our experiences tangentially or not at all. The latter being the most likely case.

Here's a quick breakdown of the number of panels specifically by, for, and about queers, the gender-expansive, and people of color:

LGB(T)Q, Trans, Genderqueer: 5*
Native, Indigenous, Aboriginal: 4
Black, African American: 5
Arab-Amarican: 1
Asian American: 3**
Caribbean: 1
Latina/o: 3
Chicana: 1*
Immigrant, People of Color Diasporas, Immigration-focus: 4**
Pan-People of Color: 5

I am left to wonder if AWP is demonstrating its (in)ability --or apathy-- to ensure queer, gender-expansive, people of color voices are demonstrably visible and heard. Perhaps this is a reflection of organizational values, or the effects of living in a world that is allegedly post-racial, seemingly increasingly post-queer, and hesitantly post-trans. Perhaps this is what it means to live in the aftermath of selective Gay Marriages, one Transgender Meeting at the White House, and the election of the first Black President. Or, maybe it's just another straight, cisgender, white organization doing that thing straight, cisgender, white organizations do.

Of one thing I am perfectly sure: 6% is an unacceptably low number for a conference taking place in the second decade of the 21st Century. 

*One event is Lesbian and Chicana focused.
** One event is Asian American/Immigrant focused. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

From One Spic to Another: A Response to CNN's Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Querido (that means "Dear") Ruben,

Thank you for your opinion on the matter of Leo Manzano's choice to hold both the U.S. and Mexican flags during his silver medal victory at this year's Olympics. I thank you, not because I agree, but because I appreciate the moments when someone who looks more like me than, say, nearly every other CNN contributor, offers an opinion that might seem unbecoming of a fellow Spic. Your words are a sobering reminder that we are anything but a homogenous people, no matter what your bosses think.

While I happen to have an opinion about your taste in Mexican pop stars, I don't care to offer one about whether or not you approve of the waving of the Mexican flag at immigrant rights marches or Luis Miguel concerts. Thankfully, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (I make the distinction here since you choose to do so throughout your article) are utterly stubborn and won't give a damn about your endorsement of their actions. I do, however, care to offer a few opinions about the implicit and explicit white supremacy you deploy and uphold throughout the piece.

Since I was born in the U.S. and educated in a few of its universities, I will make you proud by employing a skill (or three) I learned in this benevolent country of yours. Namely, my English 101 teacher's obsession with bullet points to organize a counter argument. Please note that I do not see a useful distinction between Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, so I'll abstain from following your footsteps (or your heart, for that matter). Lastly, please also note that my use of the term "Spic" is offered in my grandmother's humorous tradition as a reminder that you and I are the physical manifestation of that which has long been hated of, and about, Mexicans. 

Aquí te va (that means, "Here you go")...

  • Crazy Mexicans
You say that most of us "would need a whole team of therapists to sort out [our] views on culture, national identity, ethnic pride and [our] relationship with Mother Mexico." I assume you're not counting yourself among those of us in dire need of a team of shrinks, which is a shame, really, since you might be able to actually afford that team of therapists, while most of us would be left negotiating sliding scales. But I digress. Won't you process with us?

Let's say you are correct and that "most" of us need some serious mental health support to grapple with a cacophonous disarray of identity traumas. But, if we were in such need, it wouldn't be because someone at some point "chose" the U.S. "over" México (that means "Mexico"), and "voted with their feet." But because someone, at some point, had to choose to try to make a life in the U.S. To be slightly clearer, the very existence of the U.S. is among the greatest sources of our traumas. Including for those who saw the border cross them.

  • Contextualized Mexicans
You state that your opinion about the waving of the Mexican flag is all about context. I think the same is true about your comparison between Manzano's actions and the hypothetical Italian- and/or Irish-American waving two flags. While I wouldn't be offended if they did so, your comparison falls flat. After all, to paraphrase you, there's the matter of context.

First, while Italian- and Irish-Americans suffered persecution in the earlier part of their presence in the U.S., they have since enjoyed the process of acculturation and acceptance into the greater U.S. construction of whiteness. They, unlike you, my brother, now embody the rights and privileges that their white kindred have long enjoyed in this country. Despite your article and your allegiances, you, Ruben, are still a spic.

Second, while Italy and Ireland both face struggles of their own, Manzano's and (since we're talking about Mexicans) Mexicans' realities and contexts are quite different. Manzano lives in Texas. And, regardless of how he got to Texas (you seem to imply his family walked the whole way), Texas is occupied land. Occupied by this country that tis of thee. Furthermore, said occupation is part of a greater centuries-old project of global control and decimation of people and resources. You forget the role the U.S. plays in, and the dependency it has on, forcing people to cross manufactured borders.

The fact that Manzano's experiences and identities are such that he felt compelled or inspired to hold both the U.S. and Mexican flags during his moment of glory, is less the result of his parent's "choosing" the U.S. over México (again, that means "Mexico"), but that of the process of colonization (a 500+ year process you so eloquently prove is far from over). Remember, my brother, that the reason "Mexican-American" lives in your lexicon (and that your lexicon is English) is, among many other complex reasons, because of the invasion of these lands under the auspices of the same white supremacist ideals you are paid to uphold.

Third, you determine that Oscar De La Hoya's waving of the U.S. and Mexican flags "was largely symbolic" simply because he wasn't born in México and "wasn't an immigrant caught between two countries." As the decider of things patriotic, please, explain HB1070, Prop 187, Prop 227, and Prop 209, and tell me how you and I are not caught between two countries, despite being born in the U.S. For all your "ethnic pride," you seem to have missed the fact that all people of color in this country are caught between countries (geographic, political, metaphoric), regardless of where we were born, and how we ended up in your country.  

  • Displaced Mexicans
Could it be that in your effort to think of us as "them," you have left yourself without context? That we live in occupied land does not make us "orphans of the Southwest." And while some might see their struggle fitting within the framework of "too Mexican for the Americans, too American for the Mexicans," there are also those of us who recognize the complexities of our histories and contemporary realities as part of our experience in this country. Perhaps this is what Manzano was attempting to share with the world. 

Politics of nationalism aside, I understand that my Mexican body exists in relationship to both the U.S. and México, however complicated and contested these relationships are. It's telling, however, that you interpret the image of Manzano holding the Mexican flag as a "signal to the people of Mexico," and to Mexicans in the U.S., a reminder of our own "sense of displacement." Our "displacement" is one that has involved us returning to a land we never left. But how to explain your displacement? 

  • Individualistic Mexicans
You lecture that the Olympics are not about the individual but about being part of a team. A lecture that seems interrupted by the interviews, coverage, and announcers' narrative about Michael Phelps. Perhaps I am missing the part about how endorsements are a team sport.

Phelps and endorsements aside, the one thing I noticed most about this year's Olympics was the emphasis on "American" pride and belonging when it came to the people of color representing the U.S. This emphasis was more striking when Black and Brown bodies appeared on stage. What is your country so afraid of that it must be reassured that a Black runner and a Cuban-born gymnast are "proud" "Americans"? In their case, you are right, while the target is the individual, they stand there as part of a team, known also as their communities. 

  • Ill-mannered Mexicans
My mother (also a Mexican, by the way) raised me to mind my manners. She often said that in the event that I had nothing nice to say, I simply say nothing at all. And, while I obviously did not learn that lesson well, I bring up my mother's emphasis on manners to say that I hear the pain in your voice as you decry the "ill-mannered" actions of our brother, Leo.

What I do not hear, my brother, is the pain in your voice that tells me you know of your country's lack of manners, of ethics, of humanity.

Tell me, my brother, what manners were reflected in the genocide of our ancestors? Tell me, my brother, what manners did your slave-owning founding fathers show as they "established" this country of yours? Tell me, my brother, what manners did Texans have when they sought independence from México so they may hold on to their precious institution of slavery, which México had since abolished? Tell me, my brother, what manners were reflected in the Eugenics movement that sought to declare you of an inferior race, and your mother fit for sterilization? Tell me, my brother, what manners do you see in your country when our brothers fill its prisons? Tell me, my brother, what manners has your country when families are viciously torn apart through an archaic inhumane anti-immigrant infrastructure? Tell me, brother. Please.

  • Ungrateful Mexicans
Clearly, Manzano is an ungrateful Mexican. Before doing what seems short of burning the U.S. flag, he flaunted his ungratefulness by tweeting, not only in English, but in Spanish too. I'm dumbfounded by the implied accusation of wrongdoing simply by communicating in Spanish. Would you feel the same if it were a white athlete whose family ensured he learned Spanish, even as his Mexican counterparts had the language stripped or beaten out of them? Let me guess: It would be "largely symbolic."

The greatest sin of all, according to you, is that Manzano turned his back on the country that "gave [him] the opportunity to live out [his] dreams." Your severe amnesia aside, knowing what is known about how your country came into being and continues to sustain itself, Manzano received nothing that he and our peoples did not (mostly involuntarily) give your country first. 

Lastly, you, ungrateful Mexican, have the audacity to speak to the experience of Manzano's parents and dismiss their life story by arrogantly asserting that México "offered nothing to [ ] them and forced them to leave." That you can believe yourself separate superior to them, to us, has little to do with the plight of our peoples, yet much about what you have offered in sacrifice to a country that looks to all of us (yes, you too) with all the hatred, disdain, and perceived inferiority that is felt every time one of us is called a spic.

For all your CNN. The ease with which you refer to one of yours as "illegal." Your love for whiteness. And your pride in "the country that allowed [Leo Manzano] the opportunity to fulfill his potential." You, my brother, will always be just another Mexican in the eyes of your master. No amount of public chastising of your kindred will change the fact that in this country you'll always be one of us; a people displaced in a land we never really left.

So let Manzano have his cake and eat it too. Hell, our people helped bake the damn cake anyway.

Ethnically yours,

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano

P.S. In the future, when you can't remember the last time someone accused you of not being proud of being Mexican or Mexican-American, think of me.

P.P.S. Your article, which speaks of the indigestion you experienced due to Manzano's actions, seems to have upset my stomach as well. Please, pass the Pepto-Bismol, hermano (that means "brother").