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31 1 • United States Imperialism and Structural Violence in the Borderlands Erasing history is perhaps the most common explanatory sleight-­of-­hand relied upon by the architects of structural violence. Erasure or distortion of history is part of the process of desocialization necessary for the emergence of hegemonic accounts of what happened and why. —Paul Farmer, “An Anthropology of Structural Violence” To surviveinthisnewland,wehavetoforget.Thestreamchangescourse, and slowlyourghostcatchesup.Nowwemustrememberinordertosurvive. —Marlon Fuentes, Bontoc Eulogy The 2010 decision by the Texas Board of Education to eliminate the word “imperialism ” from its U.S. history curriculum echoes historian William Appleman Williams’s famous statement over fifty years ago that “one of the central themes of American historiography is that there is no American Empire.”1 Despite the work of generations of scholars, dominant discourse in the United States continues to minimize or deny the impact of imperialism in Asia and Latin America on United States history.2 In the case of the Texas school board, the excision of “imperialism” and its replacement with the word “expansionism ” suggests the neutrality and even inevitability of U.S. military aggression .3 Gases and liquids “expand” according to the laws of nature. “Empire,” on the other hand, contradicts the preferred nationalist discourse, which in the school board’s terms is one that explicitly celebrates “the rich diversity of our people as a nation of immigrants.”4 32 LatinAsian Cartographies The idea that the United States is a nation comprised of voluntary immigrants —that there is no American Empire, or slavery, or indigenous presence— has consequences for national policy toward immigrants, as well as toward those frequently considered immigrants regardless of citizenship status.5 Specifically, the denial of U.S. imperialism in Asia and Latin America erases human rights violations in a way that not only impairs our understanding of history, but also actively enables the suffering that occurs in the aftermath of imperial conquest. Anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer calls this suffering “structural violence ,” an excess of disease, poverty, and disenfranchisement that occurs when “inequality is structured and legitimated over time.”6 As a medical doctor working in Haiti, Farmer is particularly concerned with tuberculosis and AIDS as ways in which structural violence, as the legacy of imperialism, “harvests its victims ”; disease, often seen as simply biological, is also both political and historical. In this chapter, I explore how literary texts can participate in what Farmer calls the “enterprise of . . . fighting amnesia.”7 Two literary texts of the mid-­ twentieth century, Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart and Américo Paredes’s George Washington Gómez, document the structural violence of U.S. imperialism, as well as the ways that it has been rationalized and strategically forgotten. They illustrate how Asian American and Latina/o literary texts have critical roles to play in countering the erasure of this history from textbooks, political discourse, and public policies that deeply affect the human rights of today’s world. Bulosan’s semifictional autobiography and Paredes’s semi-­ autobiographical novel are each foundational texts in their respective literary canons. E. San Juan, Jr., calls America Is in the Heart a “classic testimony,” and Sau-­ ling Cynthia Wong notes its widespread use as a textbook in Asian American and ethnic studies courses.8 As one of the only—and certainly one of the most comprehensive— first-­ hand depictions of Filipino American migrant labor in the early part of the twentieth century, America Is in the Heart is important as a historical document as well as an early example of Filipino American literature. Meanwhile, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of Américo Paredes’s scholarly work to Mexican American border studies. In his monograph The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary, Ramón Saldívar describes a trip he took with the elderly Paredes in the late 1990s: Everywhere he went . . . when people heard he was coming, they crowded around him to shake his hand, speak with him, and touch the legendary man. This was true at the planned receptions on the campuses of the University of Texas at Brownsville and at Texas Southmost College. But it also happened spontaneously at the airport in Harlingen, at the Luby’s Cafeteria in Weslaco, and at the high school in Edcouch-­ Elsa. I came to think of the five days in the Rio Grande Valley as the Américo Paredes Adoration Tour. For me it offered a glimpse of what it must be like to serve as...


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