restricted access Chapter 1. (Re)Imagining Diaspora: Two Decades of Video with a Mayan Accent
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13 Chapter1 (Re)ImaginingDiaspora TWO DECADES OF VIDEO WITH A MAYAN ACCENT ByrtWammackWeber In the introduction to his book An Accented Cinema, Hamid Naficy recalls the experience of sitting in the screening room of MK2 Productions in Paris in the mid-1990s to review a film by one of Iran’s best new directors. To avoid censorship, the film had been shot in Turkey, and the dialogue was in Turkish. Naficy hurriedly took notes as he tried to follow the French subtitles, writing in English, except for those moments when a friend’s whispered Persian translation helped to clarify the story. According to Naficy, the “multiple acts of translation across cultures and languages” that this required are increasingly characteristic of the “accented” works being made by exilic and diasporic filmmakers.1 When I began researching audiovisual production in southeastern Mexico in the mid-1990s, like Naficy I found that the few independent videos I encountered were also crisscrossed by multiple cultures and multiple systems of meaning and knowledge, marking a radical departure from the institutional videos that still dominated audiovisual production in the region. Unlike the films that Naficy analyzes, however, these independent videos were not the product of cultures or ethnic groups that had been displaced across national boundaries. But they reminded me of my own experience growing up in a multicultural, multilingual diaspora in which communication was alwaysalready “accented,” since it involved speaking in acquired languages that were never quite one’s own. This led me to begin reconsidering the concept of diaspora . Specifically, I wanted to define diaspora more generally, without the 14 BYRT WAMMACK WEBER ethnic specificity with which it is often credited. Furthermore, I wanted to focus more clearly on the relationship between the diaspora experience and the multiple ways in which diaspora communities imagine themselves, especially through audiovisual media. As I later wrote, “‘Diaspora’ refers to the process of forging common identities that are grounded in the floating referents of soft geographies, rather than on the unyielding surfaces of classical geography . ‘Imagining’ has always been an important part of this process, both in the productive and in the reflexive sense, and imagining is increasingly done audiovisually. Yet, imagining is not possible without the audiovisual practice that embodies images.”2 My focus here was on the multidirectionality of the diaspora experience, not on the competing (and perhaps even antagonistic) discourses, identities, or claims of migrants and natives that James Clifford analyzes, invoking histories of “displacement,” in the case of migrants, or “rootedness” and “belonging,” in the case of natives.3 To the extent that diasporas are defined by explicit narratives of return, and the identities and claims for recognition that accompany them, Clifford is right to argue that indigenous , or “tribal,” cultures are not diasporas, because “their sense of rootedness in the land is precisely what diasporic peoples have lost.”4 Nevertheless, I would argue that the diaspora experience is not unique to peoples displaced across borders, but is shared by many indigenous peoples as well. Indeed, it is this shared diaspora experience that has obligated scholars to reject the “centred” diasporic model, which is based on a real or imagined origin and homeland, and on narratives of return.5 The history of colonialism and neocolonialism is also a history of displacement, in which indigenous peoples and cultures have been (and are being) displaced, physically, culturally , and linguistically. Shared diaspora experience does not refer to a single diasporic identity, or to an urban lifestyle, or to a univocal discourse, or even to explicitly made “‘minority’ claims against a hegemonic/assimilationist state,” as Clifford suggests.6 Nor can it be assumed that diasporic peoples are easily singled out. Many have learned to “blend in,” acquiring new habits, changing their names or surnames, and learning the dominant “accent,” whether it be visual or aural. As one writer observes, exiles, being forced to live in a foreign country, have the advantage and disadvantage of being abroad; in contrast, those who remain have the disadvantage of being native, “foreigners without accent and invisible,” exiles in their own land.7 Indeed, it is possible to stay in one’s own country “and remain as distinctly alienated and distant from its social procedures as those who journey to the strange ‘beyond’ of the global metropolis.”8 In contrast to the personal, often solitary experience of exile, the diaspora experience is always collective, characterized by “lateral and decentered relationships,” whether real or imagined.9 It involves, first and foremost, col- 15 (RE...


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