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Mexican Migration and the Social Space of Postmodernism Roger Rouse University of Michigan, Ann Arbor In a hidden sweatshop in downtown Los Angeles, Asian and Latino migrants produce automobile parts for a factory in Detroit. As the parts leave the production line, they are stamped "Made in Brazil."1 In a small village in the heart of Mexico, a young woman at her father's wake wears a black Tshirt sent to her by a brother in the United States. The shirt bears a legend that some of the mourners understand but she does not. It reads, "Let's Have Fun Tonight!" And on the Tijuana-San Diego border, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a writer originally from Mexico City, reflects on the time he has spent in what he calls "the gap between two worlds": "Today, eight years after my departure, when they ask me for my nationality or ethnic identity, I cannot answer with a single word, for my 'identity' now possesses multiple repertoires: I am Mexican but I am also Chicano and Latin American . On the border they call me 'chilango' or 'mexiquillo'; in the capital, 'pocho' or 'norteño,' and in Spain 'sudaca.' . . . My companion Emily is Anglo -Italian but she speaks Spanish with an Argentinian accent. Together we wander through the ruined Babel that is our American postmodernity."2 We live in a confusing world, a world ofcrisscrossed economies, intersecting systems of meaning, and fragmented identities. Suddenly, the comforting modern imagery of nation-states and national languages, of coherent communities and consistent subjectivities, of dominant centers and distant margins no longer seems adequate. Certainly, in my own discipline of anthropology , there is a growing sense that our conventional means of representing both the worlds of those we study and the worlds that we ourselves inhabit have been strained beyond their limits by the changes that are taking place around us. Indeed, the very notion that ethnographers and their subjects exist in readily separable domains is increasingly being called into question.3 But the problem is not confined to a single discipline, nor even to the academy at large. As Fredric Jameson has observed, the gradual unfolding of the global shift from colonialism and classic forms of dependency to a new transnational capitalism has meant that, during the last 20 years, we have all moved irrevocably into a new kind of social space, one which our modern sensibilities leave us unable to comprehend. With appropriate dramatic flair, he calls this new terrain "postmodern hyperspace."4 Jameson suggests that, in order to locate ourselves in this new space, we must make two moves. First, to understand why the crisis in spatial repre- The Social Space of Postmodernism m iliiïP " ~ LI M 1 1 V.·J 1 1 1 ' ¦ ' 1 1111· ¦ it··· JlIIliiiit mm •¦w Fig. 1. Emily Hicks and Guillermo Gómez-Peña exchange wedding vows at the point where the United States-Mexican border meets the Pacific Ocean. Photo by The San Diego Union/Cindy Lubke Romero. sentation exists, we must identify as clearly as possible the broad politicoeconomic changes that have undermined the verisimilitude of existing images , and second, to understand where we are and where we can go from here, we must develop new images, new coordinates, a series of new and more effective maps. Jameson seeks to construct these alternative images through a critical reading of aesthetic forms such as novels, buildings, paintings, and films. But his focus seems unduly narrow. Given the ubiquity of the changes he describes and the profundity of their influence, the raw materials for a new cartography ought to be equally discoverable in the details of people's daily lives. And, from a radical perspective, the most significant materials surely lie in the circumstances and experiences of those working-class groups whose members have been most severely affected by the changing character of capitalist exploitation.5 In this article, I will develop these ideas by drawing on my work with rural Mexicans involved in migration to and from the United States. After outlining the images conventionally used to map the social terrain they inhabit, I will first build on their experiences to suggest new images better...


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