- Editors’ Introduction
The articles in this issue of Buildings & Landscapes speak to topics, themes, and subjects that students of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes hold dear. Our authors examine connections between vernacular architectures of place and migration and the ties of vernacular architecture to the role we play in both interpreting and preserving local monuments. They add to our knowledge of topics little studied in vernacular architecture, including contemporary housing vernaculars and historical industrial landscapes, and address subjects that we thought we knew inside out, such as urban slavery in the antebellum south. We are also very pleased to be able to publish in this issue articles and reviews written by both longstanding friends of the Vernacular Architecture Forum and scholars new to our organization and its publications.
Recent legislation passed by the State of Arizona has once again propelled immigration to the foreground of the American consciousness. Immigration and its ties to (and effects on) place are familiar themes to the readers of this journal and its predecessor, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture. Jim Buckley and Bill Littmann in the Viewpoint essay on Latino landscapes in the Central Valley of California, and Sarah Lopez in her article on the remittance house in rural Mexico, ask us to think about contemporary Mexican immigrants and migrants, which is not a community that we have featured much in our pages to this point. Buckley and Littmann highlight Parlier, the town inhabited by about 11,000 migrant farmworkers (an accurate count is difficult to achieve) that VAFers visited during the 2008 conference in Fresno. This essay, which asserts the importance of places like Parlier to the study of vernacular architecture, vividly contrasts the fecundity of the Central Valley and the wealth of agribusiness with the poverty of Latino immigrants in this community—one of the poorest in the Golden State. The authors place the varieties of housing in context as they help us understand the intersecting cultural landscapes of modern immigration (and migration), government-sponsored housing, and food production in the Central Valley of California.
Sarah Lopez takes us to San Miguel Hidalgo, a village in Jalisco, Mexico, full of grand homes built by men (and some women) using wages earned in the United States. Lopez names these buildings “remittance houses” in reference to a widespread economic process, the remitting of wages across national borders, that enables some migrant workers to build dream houses in their hometowns. Despite the importance of transmitting funds to the transnational building economy, this topic has received almost no attention from scholars. By grounding her sophisticated theoretical analysis in fieldwork, Lopez shows us the importance of culture as well as economy in transnational building practice. The houses are built over time, using local and imported methods of construction and displaying a variety of styles and physical characteristics. The intent is not to realize economic gain on investment (although the monies transmitted are crucial to village economies) but rather to display architectural aspirations. The resulting house is in effect a form of cultural capital, acquired by living abroad. Not all dreams come true, or at least in the manner envisioned, as Lopez explains using a case study of the Robles family. Twelve children grow up in a two-room adobe home; two brothers renovate and enlarge this home, but their mother prefers to use her old kitchen and sleep in her old bedroom. A younger brother builds a new house for an imagined family that doesn’t show up; [End Page iv] improper construction leaves the new home on the verge of collapse. His financially successful older brothers, who become U.S. citizens, build lavish remittance houses in Mexico that they are able to live in for just one month each year.
These two essays highlight the importance of seeing beyond our own—meaning U.S. political—boundaries. Lopez’s work especially is an example of the international material that strengthens our understanding of our field beyond simply topical expansion; Buckley and Littmann (and Lopez) also ask us to look at contemporary housing vernaculars with open minds and eyes. Both of these papers point to the connection between vernacular architectures of place and migration...