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  • From Sanctuary to a Queer Politics of Fugitivity
  • Karma R. Chávez (bio)

The first meeting for my Wednesday evening Queer Latinidades graduate seminar after the 2016 election was a week later because I traveled to the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Montréal. That extra week was good; I not only was wrapped in the loving embrace of so many of the feminists of color I lean on in such times, but it also gave me space to wrestle with my own anxieties and needs to plan how to engage the students—mostly of color, including DACAmented students, those in mixed-status families, and some U.S. citizens with immigrant parents. I invited the students to my home to eat pizza, have some wine, and rather fortuitously, discuss Gloria Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro. On the opening page of the preface, Anzaldúa introduces the Coyolxauhqui imperative: “a struggle to reconstruct oneself and heal the sustos resulting from woundings, traumas, racism, and other acts of violation que hechan pedazos nuestras almas, split us, scatter our energies, and haunt us.”1 This space of struggle, which Anzaldúa calls nepantla, “the point of contact y el lugar between worlds—between imagination and physical existence, between ordinary and nonordinary (spirit) realities. . . . Nepantlas are places of constant tension, where the missing or absent pieces can be summoned back, where transformation and healing may be possible, where wholeness is just out of reach but seems attainable.”2 The fear, strain, and worry on the faces of my students that night suggested we all existed in a collective space of nepantla, and [End Page 63] we needed to figure out how to face the Coyolxauhqui imperative. The most concrete concern for us was how to support those among us who would be rendered most vulnerable by the pending immigration and border policies of the Trump-Pence administration.

That concern remains most pressing, as two of the new president’s first-week executive orders offer terrifying directives on immigration and border security. Although many worried that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), would be cut, it was not included in the initial orders and the Department of Homeland Security has said it is currently an exception to the rescinding of other Obama era orders, and Trump officials have signaled it won’t be cut at all.3 In 2012, President Obama created DACA through executive order, and in exchange for a large fee and a lot of personal information, it provided selected undocumented young people with a work permit and a temporary reprieve from deportation. But, it is important to remember that the reprieve from deportation DACA offered was always meant to be temporary. Furthermore, what I realized just after the election with my students is that the Coyolxauhqui imperative that faces us in this moment is, at least in part, the struggle to reconnect to the shared vulnerabilities of all those lacking U.S. citizenship in this country. As Eithne Luibhéid argues, there is a shifting line between legal and illegal status for all people she categorizes as migrants: the unauthorized, the refugee and asylum seeker, the visa holder, and the legal permanent resident.4 A legal status today can become an illegal one tomorrow. This reality suggests that those of us concerned about migrant communities and immigration politics must think about coalitions among supposedly different types of migrants that attend to the divergent legal and political processes that constitute differing statuses, but that also recognize the unfixed nature of any status.

One way to think in these kind of coalitional terms is to turn attention toward something that DACAmented and undocumented students alike have been calling for at least since the 2016 presidential election: universities as sanctuary spaces. At the time of this writing, several municipalities such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Syracuse, New York, have already declared. More than 300 university presidents signed a letter noting their support for their undocumented students, but the ambiguous nature of the declaration leaves much room for interpretation as to how that protection will manifest in material terms. Those on the right have also struck...


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pp. 63-70
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