Unmaking/Remaking Memory Work Centering Community Narratives of Latinx Lived Experience

1. Abstract

Panel Abstract:

This panel locates itself within a growing social movement of new community-centered archiving and curatorial initiatives that has risen in recognition that traditionally ignored communities should have a role in how their histories get told. Our papers showcase a range of projects and vantage points aimed at giving visibility to Latinx lived experience, while taking steps to radically unmake/remake archival practices and memory work in a way that is accountable to and in participation with Latinx communities. Our projects are grounded in justice and community-oriented work spanning disparate academic and artistic fields, including photography, critical curatorial and archival praxis, visual studies, and digital humanities. We ask and then demonstrate: What might be alternative means for recovering hidden stories of the Latinx diaspora? How do we practice memory work in a way that is accountable to and in participation with its subjects? What might be new methods for archival and curatorial work that are in accordance with the lived realities of the communities we are working with? We invite discussion to help further develop community-centered initiatives and hope that audience members will leave with new ideas for community-engaged and justice-based work.

Paper Abstracts:

Marisa Hicks-Alcaraz, PhD Student in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University and co-founder of ImaginX en Movimiento

"ImaginX en Movimiento: Building a Rasquache Digital Archive"

ImaginX en Movimiento (IXeM) is a Los Angeles-based moving image archive and collective I co-founded (with one foot in and one foot out of academia) in May 2019 in effort to counter exclusionary practices that prevent community access and participation in cultural memory work. This paper is an ethnographic case study that provides critical reflections on the strategies employed by IXeM that respond to particular constraints and challenges pertaining to labor and cost, including operations, acquisition of equipment, funding, and collaborative initiatives for community engagement. This case study will posit labor and cost solutions against a background of scarce resources as well as forge new ideas for community-engaged and justice-based recuperation methods in academia.

In particular, this paper reflects on the way IXeM expresses a rasquache defiance that is situated within digital ethnic studies and the larger movement of community-based archiving, as well as in the interrogation of traditional (Anglo, heteropatriarchal-centric) archival authority. According to Chicanx art historian, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, being rasquache is the visceral response to lived reality and an attitude rooted in resourcefulness and adaptability (1989). The Chicanx phenomenon of rasquachismo, or the view of the downtrodden, encourages its practitioners to use the materials available at hand to create something that is accessible and belongs to the people. A deliberate choice, rasquachismo is political and subversive; a tool of activism and an anti-elite practice. In this paper, I develop the idea of digital rasquachismo as a way to dismantle traditional archival practices that reinforce oppressive systems that disproportionately subject Brown and Black bodies to generational inequities and inspire alternative methods that retool digital technologies to center the lived experiences and wellbeing of those at the margins.

Blurring the divide between choice and necessity, IXeM is driven by both a socioeconomic imperative and a deliberate choice to challenge the authority of top-down knowledge systems by retooling commercial content sharing platforms as archival databases (see: @veteranas_and_rucas, @blvckvrchives, @latinx_diaspora_archives, @quinceaneraarchives, LA Freewaves), which some scholars have viewed as revolting and others an avenue of revolt. Going beyond just “making do,” IXeM enacts a radical politics of resistance by grabbing hold of the tools of social media to transform cultural memory work and its publics; in effect, using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.

While we see such platforms as presenting opportunities to transform the practice of social memory, we also firmly acknowledge the ways in which they can be (and have been) used to cause harm and facilitate surveillance and oppression. As such, this talk will consider both the ethical risks and opportunities afforded by these new tools, especially as they pertain to documenting Latinx grief and trauma in the wake of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, its economic fallout, and the current uprisings against racist police brutality.


Bray, Anne. LA Freewaves. http://freewaves.org/

Cherlise, Renata. @blvckvrchives. https://www.instagram.com/blvckvrchives/

Camargo, William. @latinx_diaspora_archives. https://www.instagram.com/latinx_diaspora_archives/

Cabrera Friend, Samantha. @quinceaneraarchives. https://www.instagram.com/quinceaneraarchives/

Rosales, Guadalupe. @veteranas_and_rucas. http://architectureofnecessity.com/

Ybarra-Frausto, Tomás. “Rasquachismo: a Chicano sensibility.” Chicano Aesthetics: Rasquachismo, edited by Rudy Guglielmo et al., MARS, 1989.

Joseph Daniel Valencia, Independent Curator

"Curating Together: Decolonial and Polyvocal Approaches to Exhibition-Making"

This presentation seeks to radically reimagine curatorial practice to position the curator not as an authoritative expert, but instead as an organizer and collaborator with community members located inside and outside of the institution. It is structured around the following question: What happens when one curates within communities of color, particularly Latinx populations, and translates these community narratives into an institutional context?

Through the case study of the exhibition "Liberate the Bar! Queer Nightlife, Activism, and Spacemaking" at the ONE Gallery in West Hollywood, CA (2019), I reflect on the function of community-centered curating in altering the narrative, structure, ownership, and impact of the exhibition. I examine how the practice of “curating together” is inherently decolonial, counter-hegemonic, and polyvocal. I also consider how this practice can expand the parameters of an exhibition, thinking through the ways community knowledge-sharing, public programs, and digital initiatives can be understood as an extension of a curatorial project. The ultimate goal of this presentation is to explore how curating can be practiced and understood as it relates to diverse populations and their lived experiences.

William Camargo: Visual Artist/Art Educator, founder of Latinx Diaspora Archives

"@Latinx_Diaspora_Archives: Digital Archives a Wave of Digital Activism On the Rise"

The Instagram account I created, @latinx_diaspora_archives, is an attempt to elevate communities of color, those specifically of the Latinx diaspora. While this is a huge task for anyone to undertake, many have succeeded. This paper looks at various accounts that have been started by other non-traditional archivists, such as @atx_barrio_archives, @veteranasyrucas, @fadedresistance @archivotrans and many more as a new movement of the archive as activism. It is also an attempt to question the institution of the archive: Who holds the majority of archives of black folks? Of queer folks? Of Latinx communities and other marginalized groups? Who has access to them? How are they displayed? Coming from a low-income background, an attempt to look at the archives posed difficulties, the resources and access were not there. @Latinx_Diaspora_Archives attempts to center communities of color as part of the "American" experience. It aims to center family photos of the Latinx Diaspora through the Instagram account in order to combat erasure throughout the U.S. and the Americas. All of the Instagram accounts mentioned here challenge hegemonic and hierarchical systems that have been set up by institutions.

I have openly discussed that I myself am a non-traditional archivist. The ownership of each family photograph that I receive remains with the family and is returned to the owner(s), unless gifted to me. It is an attempt to give a voice to the narratives of the community. In Jose Esteban Munoz's "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts," he points to who is left out of the archive in the traditional sense: queer, communities of color, and other marginal communities. The increase of Instagram accounts lets us into these ephemeral moments in these communities, through the eyes of those that experienced them. We have seen when holders of archives and photographers, who either photograph or distribute photographic archives, further push negative stereotypes about our communities. This project is an attempt to elevate our communities and show our realities, through our own experiences and through the radical archives we are a part of.

Samantha Cabrera Friend, Visual Artist and founder of Quinceañera Archives

"Consumerism in Digital Archives: Placing Latinx Traditions on the Right Cultural Shelf"
“To assign attribution and credit fairly” is one of the hallmarks of many digital humanities, professional archiving and open data practices. But when we view the practices in place to acknowledge any initial cultural significance of modern findings passed over by the contributors themselves, we run into a murkier, much more complex procedure.

Take any household product which reads “MADE IN CHINA” on the body of the item itself and again on the packaging. Do we feel the factual essence of its Chinese origins in our possession, or out of necessity, convenience, and immersion are we utilizing that tool in a completely new, aptly disregarding space?

This simplified example can be most intricately applied to the case of the modern quinceañera, an indigenous rite of passage from 1400s México that has (in the most accessible instances) been viewed through a North American lens. One may inherently acknowledge the tradition’s roots by use of the Spanish word quinceañera, but the idea as commonly keyworded, categorized and understood in the United States (as comparable to the Sweet 16 among other celebratory practices) remains misguided.

Latinx customs, rituals and traditions have withstood countless transformations through their assimilation to the US and back, and the undocumented history of the quinceañera–a journey I hold quite close to me–is still just one of the many deprived of proper accreditation. So was born, Quinceañera Archives, an online community by way of Instagram. Consequently, this proposal explores the concept that in light of the Internet, Latinx traditions, communities and cultures, have reached increasing new levels of public visibility yes, but at the frequent expense of accessibility, by nature of false ownership, misinterpretation, and selective distribution. Do we work towards collaboration with larger institutions in hopes of maximum visibility or place our effort in grassroots movements which need no reclassification or permittance, in order to ensure accessibility?
The benefits of both sides are those I seek to highlight through a multiplicity of methods which I study in quinceañera practice—working to place Latinx narrative histories on the “right” cultural shelf. Though success in relaying this message is never guaranteed, there is great comfort in knowing that the work is now in our hands.

Marisa Hicks-Alcaraz (mhicksalcaraz@gmail.com), Claremont Graduate University, William Camargo (william.camargo@cgu.edu), Claremont Graduate University, Joseph Valencia (joedvalencia@gmail.com), University of Southern California and Samantha Cabrera Friend (samanthamariafriend@gmail.com), The Visual Desk, School of Visual Arts in Manhattan

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