- The Future in the Present, or When Cages Crumble
By centering Grace Lee Boggs, Scott Kurashige reminds me of the genre of American studies writing that imagines different kinds of ancestors for the field. In American Studies in a Moment of Danger (2001), George Lipsitz drew on what he called “the other American Studies,” naming C. L. R. James, Duke Ellington, Américo Paredes, and, yes, Grace Lee Boggs.1 Several years before Lipsitz, in her 1997 presidential address “‘Disturbing the Peace’: What Happens to American Studies If You Put African American Studies at the Center?,” Mary Helen Washington spotlighted a number of different thinkers, including José Marti, Gwendolyn Brooks, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Harriet Jacobs.2 Examples of Washington’s “what happens to American studies if . . .” question can be multiplied to name-check William Apess, James Baldwin, Carlos Bulosan, Octavia E. Butler, Henry Roe and Elizabeth Bender Cloud, Ella Deloria, Josefina Fierro, Ernesto Galarza, Yuri Kochiyama, Audre Lorde, Tomás Rivera, Linda Ronstadt, Edward Said, Chela Silva, Bessie Smith, Emma Tenayuca, Zitkala-Sa, and many, many more.
Naming is part of the work of producing history by telling the story of outsiders turning the field inside out. Naming also projects a future in which names and what they represent will be remembered, posing pressing questions about futurity, or how the world would have to be transformed for memories to have a life in the future. The thought experiments I recall here prompt us to remember more names and the other American studies that they might presage. Naming represents transformations in the field, not only in terms of its demographics, but also, as Kurashige argues, in terms of antidisciplinary research methods and social movement engagements. His address both contributes to and historicizes naming as alternative genealogy in American studies. Naming Boggs, Kurashige positions her and the other American studies she represents as a response to a global crisis in liberalism and what Immanuel Wallerstein called the world-system.
My contribution is to reflect on the recent history of Chicana/o studies and American studies, and its significance for contemporary border fascism and opposition to it, in light of Kurashige’s presidential address.3 The first ASA convention [End Page 337] I attended was in 1997 in Pittsburgh, where Washington’s presidential address highlighted the association’s historical marginalization of Chicana/o studies. Reflecting on her first ASA convention in 1985, at a San Diego resort just miles from the US–Mexico border, she explained that “many of the people who prepared our food and cleaned our rooms came across the border each morning; others lived in lean-tos and in caves in canyons in order to stay on the U.S. side of the border to work. In none of my pastoral recollections is there a single memory of anything being said about the political context in which we met.”4 In the same address, Washington describes the refuge that the Bahia Resort Hotel provided for scholarly reflection and discussion. Her own session took place on the upper deck of the resort’s replica of a nineteenth-century riverboat as it cruised around an artificial cove. “With the soft, warm waves of Mission Bay lapping up against the Bahia Belle, there was an Eden-like quality to the whole event which should have cautioned me to resume my normal level of healthy double consciousness.” Even though there were clear intimations of racialized labor exploitation (a Mississippi River boat on a bay named for the California Mission system), the conditions of scholarly reflection at the conference presupposed a disconnection from the politics of place. Knowledge production was premised on not seeing and naming surrounding systems of exploitation. Citing “double consciousness” as a critical rejoinder to such denials, Washington suggests that the ASA presumed a sort of singular consciousness that could not imagine the convention from the perspective of hotel and food service workers.
This kind of singular consciousness also partly extended to the perception of the historical marginalization of Chicana/o scholars even when such perceptions were challenged by Chicanas/os’ increasing presence in the ASA. Washington notes that in 1985 she was unaware of...