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The genesis of Latinx Geographies has diverse epistemological, disciplinary, and organizational origins. In what follows I examine the unfolding of conversations and events that have contributed to the establishment of Latinx Geographies as an emerging subfield, and as a Specialty Group in the American Association of Geographers (AAGs). I aim to examine these events through a mixed-qualitative approach, first through testimonio, by drawing on my own personal experience in order to examine the intellectual and academic stakes of building Latinx geographies as a subfield. Second, by using a participant-observation method that draws extensively on my experience as co-chair and chair of the Latinx Geographies panel discussions at the last two American Association of Geographers conferences in 2017 and 2018, and from my extensive notes on the conversations that emerged in those sessions. I believe that elaborating on the collaborative beginnings of Latinx Geographies over the last three years is an important part of the intellectual genealogy of this emerging cross-disciplinary subfield. While the perspective I offer here is entirely my own, I am drawing extensively on my experience of working in collaboration with Madelaine Cristina Cahuas, as well as others named and unnamed, who participated in the discussions at the AAGs the last three years. I aim to capture the collective spirit that has been critical to launching Latinx Geographies as a recognizable subfield and specialty group, and argue, is key to the success of it moving forward.
In the first section I offer a bit of my own testimonio, or rather, a public testimony of where I began in 2016 as a graduate student in transition. Testimonio is a practice of politicizing the personal that has roots across America Latina. It is a deep excavation of speaking one’s truth, and produces the knowledge to connect the personal to political issues of social justice (Cahuas and Levkoe 2017; The Latina Feminist Collective 2001). In the second section I examine the electricity of the first Latinx Geographies panel sessions at the AAGs in 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The outpouring of interest and support Madelaine and I, as co-organizers and chairs of this session, received from community at the AAGs, and the interest and investment garnered from so many was key to launching a Latinx geographies working group the next year and establishing the Specialty Group by 2018. In the third section I describe and examine the intellectual connections made at the panel discussion “Envisioning Latinx Geographies” at the AAGs 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Finally, I draw upon these three events, particularly the epistemological, theoretical, and disciplinary connections made at the AAGs 2018 to put forth a vision for how we move forward and continue to build our subfield, together.
What is found across the three events I narrativize here is, broadly, that the ideas and origins of Latinx geographies as an idea, as a subfield of study, and as a unique theorization of space is rooted in radical, decolonial, and anti-racist politics. Latinx geographies has roots in the fields of Indigenous studies, decolonial theory, critical race studies, Chicana/o and Latina/o studies, and Black geographies. Yet, much of the impetus for naming and institutionalizing Latinx geographies is also rooted in the vision put forth by junior scholars, like myself, who aim to create space for ourselves in the academy, within our chosen discipline, and within our chosen fields. The space that has been produced through the collective dialogue over the last three years has emerged through, what I observe, to be a decolonial politics put to practice. The community built through our practices of collective conversation and collaboration has rejected traditional professional hierarchy that perpetuates the supremacy of white patriarchy reproduced in academia. We have encouraged and practiced cross-generational collaboration that has proven to produce immense results in a short amount of time. I argue that it is our radical politics and our practices of relating to one another differently that will foster the growth and success of Latinx Geographies in the years to come.
I am a first-generation university and doctoral student, and found my intellectual home in critical ethnic studies early in my academic career. My transition into the discipline of geography was an unexpected turn of events that challenged me to be socially vulnerable as a “minority” both in terms of my racial and cultural identification as a Chicana, but also intellectually and epistemologically vulnerable as someone whose intellectual homes in critical ethnic studies and Latina/o/x studies was rare within the discipline. Yet, such a challenge early in my academic career has also prompted me to more quickly develop a sophisticated sense of myself as a critical race studies scholar than I might have otherwise. I attended my first American Association of Geographers’ national meeting in San Francisco, California in 2016. I was hesitant about entering this space as I did not know what to expect and felt that I did not belong. I had been advised that the conference as a whole might feel very foreign and alienating to me, but was assured that I would find “my people”—that is, scholars who share similar intellectual and academic interests with whom I could connect.
On the second day of the conference I attended a two-part paper session titled “Decolonial Futures I & II” co-organized by Margaret Marietta Ramirez and Michelle D. Daigle. These back-to-back sessions explored the possibilities of what decolonial geographies look and feel like through the research and theory presented, and the dialogue they fostered amongst their participants and the audience. The session organizers and the presenters challenged those of us in the room to develop “a resurgent politics that draws from community-based Indigenous, Black, Chicana/o and other knowledge systems and cultural traditions” (Ramírez and Daigle, 2016). The papers explored decolonial research methodologies, queering our sense of spatiality, and opening up dialogue between Indigenous decolonial praxis and Chicana/o claims to indigeneity, fostering a space for critical reflection and community healing.
After the session ended I went up to thank the organizers for the labor they put into organizing such a powerful three-hour conference session. As I waited my turn in line to talk to Margaret, I found myself in conversation with Madelaine Cristina Cahuas, at the time, a doctoral candidate from the University of Toronto, and someone who, it so happened, I had a lot of academic and intellectual interests and experiences in common with. We ended up chatting with Margaret together, thanking her for a truly meaningful conference session. As Madelaine and I left for an environmental justice session chaired by Laura Pulido together, I remember that one of the things we immediately bonded over was the way in which the theory and research presented in “Decolonial Geographies I & II” was critically, emotionally, intellectually, and politically urgent and transformative.
What I am left with, nearly three years later, is that first, the tone of the organizers and presenters created a safe space for queer folx, people of color, and Native people to theorize space through a non-dominant (white) lens. There was no impetus to cite the mostly white and male canon of the discipline. Rather, it was about spatial theorizing for the purposes of liberation, with clear radical, political intent. Secondly, Margaret and Michelle were both junior scholars. Their vision and leadership had produced the most meaningful session I attended at that year’s AAGs conference, and one of the most meaningful conference sessions I have ever attended in my career thus far. Over the next few days, and in subsequent months and years, the conversations and work that Madelaine and I produced together continued to be prompted by one of the questions posed to the audience during the conference session that day: “What sorts of solidarities are born of decolonial geographies?”
In the coming days it was Madelaine who introduced “Latinx geographies” as a meaningful, complex, encompassing term to me. I did not question it. It inherently made sense to me. Very recently the term “Latinx” has emerged as an identifier for queer non-binary gendered people, an alternative to the binary male/feminine Latino/a. The roots of Latinx are rumored to have emerged across las Américas, from Argentinian East LA youth culture. It is a term that is more and more frequently used in academia. “Latinx” serves both as a way to disrupt the colonial-imposed gendered binaries of the Spanish language, and to place queer and gender non-binary bodies first, front and center (Morales 2018). “Geographies,” to me, encompasses the diversity and plurality of spatialities, place- and meaning-making across las Américas. It speaks to the fact that we are not talking about a monolithic geography, nor a monolithic epistemology of described geographies. In fact, “Latinx geographies” does the work of rebuking generalizations that would otherwise put Latinx peoples, their geographies, and their experiences in a metaphorical or academically-defined box with closed and policed boundaries. Similar to the way the American Association of Geographers may be abbreviated as “AAGs,” the emphasis is on the plurality. “AAGs” emphasizes the diversity of the geographers that do, and can, one day, comprise the membership of the institution. The emphasis is not on the monolithic identity the institution imposes on its members.
What are Latinx Geographies?
In the year between AAGs conferences 2016 and 2017, Madelaine and I developed a collaborative working relationship. We found that we had similar visions as to what we thought Latinx geographies could be, and that to begin on that journey we needed to ask the larger academic community: “What are Latinx Geographies?” In 2017 we hosted the first titled Latinx Geographies panel session, a discussion with Laura Pulido, Stevie Ruiz, and Genevieve Carpio.
The session was in a small room that anticipated paper presentations with the projector at the front of the room and a small audience that would fit seated in four rows. Before starting our session we agreed that the room set up would not be conducive to the kind of dialogue we hoped to foster, even if only a few people joined us. We decided to move the 20 or so chairs into a circle so that we could all see one another, and left the 20 or leftover chairs that were stacked to the side of the room alone. We opened the discussion with our small group of mostly graduate students by asking each of our panelists to respond to the question: “What are Latinx geographies?” As our panelists began to respond, a few more people trickled in and took their seats.
Dr. Carpio noted the relationalities between the politics of theorizing space through a Latinx lens, and the politics of theorizing Black space in the work of Clyde Woods, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Katherine McKittrick, as well as racialized space as theorized by George Lipsitz (See: Gilmore 2007; Lipsitz 2011; McKittrick 2006; McKittrick and Woods 2010; Woods 2017). More and more people came in and filled out our circle as Dr. Ruiz elaborated on the relationship between Latinx spatiality and the layering of colonial place-making in the Americas. He argued that the theoretical work of Gloria Anzaldúa on the México-U.S. borderlands and scales of the body, as well as early Chicana and Women of Color feminist theory is central to thinking about space, territoriality, bodies, and scale in defining Latinx geographies (See: Anzaldúa  2012; Anzaldúa and Moraga  2015). As Dr. Pulido began to speak, more and more people came in and pulled chairs out of the stacks. People already in attendance made room, and our circle grew. Dr. Pulido grounded the conversation by asking what might be lost in the moniker “Latinx geographies.” She considered there is the potential for a lost specificity of certain violences that have produced particular places over time, citing the history of segregation between Mexicans and whites in the Southwest. She asked us to consider if “Latinx geographies” can be used without losing the specificity of different groups’ unique geographies across las Américas.
The panelists’ connections between Latinx geographies and Black geographies, critical race studies, Chicana feminist theory, decolonial politics, and the rejection of a pan-Latinx lens prompted less of a question and answer session, and more of a conversation. Hands shot up around the room and the dialogue about the contours and depth of the connections prompted by our panelists developed organically as attendees and panelists alike picked up on one another’s ideas. The first question: What are Latinx geographies? was clearly something that had been on my people’s minds for a long time—whether or not it was the same language that people had been using.
Dr. Pulido observed that tracing the spatial and temporal relationships between the sites of Black and Latinx struggles is an enormous, but paramount task. She asked: “Where does one begin? Where does one end?” Similarly, Dr. Ruiz observed that we must also critically interrogate the relationship between Latinx and Indigenous geographies (See: Saldaña-Portillo 2016). Participants noted that Latinx peoples are diversely mixed: we are both colonizer and colonized, which makes the scale of our identities and geographies deeply complex. The group became interested in recognizing and naming the tension between place and identity in what we mean by “Latinx geographies.” Latinx geographies not only describes geographies of Latinx peoples, cultures, practices, and history. Latinx geographies contends with racial geographies through diverse Latinx epistemologies. The group became increasingly interested in the politics of directly confronting anti-Blackness within Latinx cultures, and Indigeneity claimed and appropriated through Chicanismo, as well as the ways in which these issues have been historically ignored in Chicana/o studies (Pulido 2017). In this way, a main theme that was articulated in the conversation was that scholars in the room that day were interested in doing Latinx geographies scholarship that adheres to a radical, decolonial, anti-racist, and coalitional politics.
People continued to arrive late and join our circle and conversation. Many of our attendees that arrived in the second half of the session came late due to the fact that a Black Geographies panel discussion was taking place at the same time as ours. The AAGs 2017 was the inaugural year of Black Geographies as a specialty group. As scholars who came from the Black Geographies session joined their chairs to our lopsided circle and sat down, they pointed this out. The violence of this scheduling conflict was not lost on our panelists and participant-attendees. This prompted discussion in the group about the ignorance of our two sessions being scheduled at the same time, and how this was an institutional obstacle to coalition building and intellectual collaboration with Black Geographies and Black geographers at the AAGs.
As our time together came to a close the conversation turned to: Where do we go from here? What are we challenged with as we aim to build Latinx geographies? Conference attendees piled in the doorway to hear the last part of our conversation. This time, people did not wait for the three panelists to even finish answering the question before chiming in. For many in the room that day, the establishment of Latinx Geographies as a recognizable subfield within the discipline seemed urgent. People observed that Laura Pulido, who has for the duration of her career blazed a trail for the theorization and study of space through anti-racist epistemologies with decidedly radical and coalitional politics, had inspired many of the scholars in the room to study geography (See: Pulido 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007; Pulido and De Lara 2018). Yet, there continues to be a lack of institutional recognition for the kind of scholarship Laura does and inspires on its own terms.
Our participant-attendees observed that Latinx scholars and epistemologies continued to be marginalized. The session that day had been fairly well-attended by more senior scholars, but the majority in attendance were junior scholars. We had co-produced a fairly safe space: that is, junior and senior scholars alike shared their experiences with microaggressions, overt racism, and cultural isolation as a way to think through the question of Latinx geographies as a field of study, and seemed to do so without fear of consequence.
In favor of establishing a specialty group and formalizing the subfield, some observed that the establishment of the Black Geographies specialty group began to give credit to the kind of intellectual genealogies that had long been marginalized within the discipline. Further, it had prompted a number of job openings calling for Black Geographies scholars. Parallel to this, some noted that this kind of institutional recognition could lead to more Latinx geographies scholars and employment, and growth of the kind of scholarship we had envisioned in the room that day. On the other hand, some scholars in the room warned that the institutionalization of Latinx geographies as a specialty group and the subsequent launch of it as a formally recognized subdiscipline could have negative side effects as well. The excited energy exhibited in the room held much promise, but building a Latinx Geographies into an “institution” would require a lot of labor, growing pains, and would require playing the politics of a system that had historically marginalized us. Further, certain concessions may be asked of us that would contradict the radical, decolonial, anti-racist, and coalitional politics we had collectively articulated.
Nevertheless, the majority of people in the room seemed excited for the possibilities of intellectual, political, academic, and professional growth that the promise of Latinx Geographies as AAGs specialty group and formalization of the subfield seemed to offer. Madelaine and I passed around an email sign-up sheet near the end of the session and added everyone to a listserv as way to continue the conversation beyond the session. Our small circle had expanded to the circumference of the room, with people standing in the doorway by the end of the session. Nearly everyone had an idea to share about what they thought Latinx geographies are, and could be.
The excited energy in the room was palpable at the end of the session. People were not ready to stop talking, and many people lingered well past the end of our ‘official’ conversation. Impromptu lunch plans were made and about 12 of us found our way to a restaurant where connections were made and more community was built. The vibrant energy of the session and community made further developed Madelaine’s and my vision that Latinx geographies could be something powerful. As junior scholars we sought an intellectual, political, and scholarly collective and community, and we found that we were not alone.
Latinx Critical Spatial Thought
In the year after AAGs 2017 Madelaine and I developed a collaborative working relationship with a cross-generational group of scholars: Daniel Gonzalez, Aida Guhlincozzi, Dr. Juan Herrera, Dr. Margaret Marietta Ramírez, and Dr. Megan Ybarra. Together we worked to establish the Latinx Geographies specialty group by the AAGs 2018. Madelaine and I also planned to do a follow-up to our 2017 panel discussion session, and joined forces with Dr. Juan De Lara to include two paper sessions for a three-part paper and panel session titled “Envisioning Latinx Geographies.”
In 2018 I chaired the Latinx geographies panel discussion between six panelists: Madelaine Cristina Cahuas, Juan De Lara, Juan Herrera, Lorena Muñoz, Laura Pulido, and Megan Ybarra. The discussion between our six panelists and our audience covered a wide range of diverse elements that the scholars in the room envisioned as part of what could comprise Latinx geographies as a subfield and intellectual endeavor. Below I aim to summarize and highlight key elements of the “visioning” of Latinx geographies that transpired in that session. It is not my intention to speak for others or co-opt original intellectual thought. Rather, my goal is to recognize and describe the way that ideas built on one another and resonated in the moment by drawing from the context of the questions I posed to the panelists, the extensive notes I took as a participant-observer in the room, and my experience as facilitator of the discussion.
Building on the year’s previous panel and community discussion, a lot of work had been done by the working group to establish the specialty group as a response to the outpouring of attention and vocal support scholars in the AAGs had for formalizing our emerging subfield. But after the 2017 session there was, and today still is, much to figure out, build together, and think through organizationally and epistemologically. The 2018 panel discussion tackled some of the epistemological, theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary contours of the emerging subfield.
The session began with a bit of testimonio from each of our panelists about their journey in academia, and their reflections about feeling culturally, racially, and epistemologically isolated at different points in their career. In response to the question: “Why is this cultural and political moment—broadly and within the discipline of geography—ripe for developing a Latinx Geographies subfield and specialty group? Why Latinx geographies and why now?” each of the panelists rooted their response in the deeply personal. Our panelists discussed what it was like for them to be one of the only or very few Latina/os or Chicana/os in their graduate school department, or in the discipline of geography, earlier in their career. They talked about feeling intellectually marginalized, or having the experience of leaning on one another, as they strived to work at the juncture of geography and Latina/o studies. The panelists represented a range of scholars at different points in their careers: from the very well-established, to the very early on, and many phases in between. Their responses revealed that personal and professional challenges of surviving in a discipline that has little of yourself, and the full spectrum and intersection of your interests reflected back to you.
The power of hearing elements of my own experience reflected back to me in the opening moments of the session was emotional and grounding. Hearing first-hand the challenges those who had come before me have faced and overcome was a testament to why Madelaine and I had embarked on this journey in 2016, and the stakes of building Latinx Geographies into a thriving and vibrant subfield in the years to come.
Latinx geographies has the potential to critically intervene in many areas of study of geography. I asked to respond to this potential: How do you/we envision Latinx Geographies as a subfield and specialty group? What kinds of politics, theories, approaches, pedagogies, methods, and topics are fundamental to this subfield? The panelists and participant-attendees noted that Latinx geographies could and should intersect with transnational studies, critical physical geography, and critical GIS, among other fields and subfields. They cited examples of using remote sensing as a social justice tool, the development of counterhegemonic data streams, and community-based science. Dr. De Lara noted that Latinx geographies also has a unique relationship to other disciplines and subfields, particularly interdisciplinary programs foregrounded in Ethnic Studies, like Chicana/o and Latina/o studies. Dr. Muñoz and Dr. Ybarra noted that Latinx geographies has the potential to disrupt hegemonic citation practices that foreground white, western, male scholars and thinkers, and consider scholars of color, those from the “global South,” and those whose language is something other than English, such as Sylvia Wynter, Edouard Glissant, and Franz Fanon (See: Fanon 1967; Glissant 1990; McKittrick 2014; Wynter 2003).
Dr. Pulido observed that Latinx geographies and the epistemologies we use and develop in this subfield must transform the ways we engage with geographic questions. She argued that we must take our cue from critical ethnic studies and the ways that scholars are increasingly taking up questions of race and spatiality. Dr. Pulido observed that perhaps it is not so much Latinx geographies, as the discipline has long ignored such questions. Rather, it is about Latinx critical spatial thinking. Madelaine picked up on this thought and observed that Latinx geographies could be a method by which to confront anti-blackness in the production of space. Further, she argued that mentorship needs to be a pillar of our work with one another and a pillar of our subfield.
Participant-attendees built on these ideas. They said that our mentorship strategy needs to be horizontal across elite universities and local colleges, because that is where the Latinx students are. Scholars in the room agreed that Latinx geographies as a subfield needs to confront and disrupt the reproduction of traditional hierarchies of knowledge. Our intellectual and organizational endeavor requires a politics that recognizes the plurality of knowledge production across spaces of higher education that makes room at the table for all—including non-tenured faculty and tenured faculty alike. Dr. Herrera built on this and noted that we needed to center Latina and Chicana feminist theory, queer of color critique, and scholar activism like that which was highlighted in the earlier paper sessions. Scholars in the room agreed that part of the vision for Latinx geographies is to bridge the academic and intellectual with the political and activist communities and knowledges.
The scholars in conversation that evening agreed that a coalitional politics was a value everyone agreed upon. In response to this, I asked: How do we engage with the intellectual complexities of Latinx geographies, as well as the ways they are connected with Black, Indigenous, Feminist, and dominant (white) geographies? How do we envision alternatives to the kind of structures commonplace in academia and geography? Madelaine stated that Latinx geographies is “a space where we can be bold and not sweep anti-Blackness under the rug.” Dr. Ybarra observed that Latinx geographies offers a path toward confronting the spatiality of white supremacy and disrupting hegemonic knowledge production. Dr. Muñoz argued that through Latinx critical spatial thinking we can deal with settler colonialism and racism in a way that scales it from the streets, from the ground, and from the community in order to bridge the activist work we do with the academic work we do. Dr. De Lara picked up on this and offered that by scaling coloniality from the streets and communities we can reimagine our strategies for dealing with the legacies of colonialism in academic spaces. Dr. Herrera cited Katherine McKittrick (2011) in asking: How do we create a space to reimagine possibilities and radical futures not bound to what we are fighting against?
As the session came to an end Dr. Muñoz observed “how desperately we need spaces of healing.” I thought this was particularly poignant for the end of the lively session. For me, as facilitator and note-taker for this public dialogue and “visioning” of our emerging subfield, it was healing to hear some of my own experience of racial and cultural microaggressions, and intellectual isolation reflected back to me at the beginning of the session when the panelists shared a bit of their own testimonio. It was also empowering to practice the kind of intellectual collaboration it takes to challenge white patriarchal hegemonic epistemologies, and disrupt the legacies of colonialism sedimented within the academy. Our coming together and engaging with one another’s ideas that evening did not undo the violences we may have collectively and individually experienced, but a path toward healing was forged.
The project we have embarked upon, that is, to build an institutionally recognizable subfield, is not “new.” Instead, we strive to develop, create, and innovate, in order to build on the intellectual, cultural, theoretical, methodological, and political work of scholars who have come before us. “Latinx geographies” began as a project spearheaded by junior scholars, and developed as a cross-generational intellectual and organizational collaboration. As evidenced by the dialogue that developed over the last three years, we have been openly critical and reflective about academic politics, citation practices, and epistemologies that value a racial, gendered, and classed hierarchy that continues to perpetuate a white and male dominated discipline. The idea for Latinx geographies was particularly inspired through Madelaine’s and my own engagement with the “decolonial” as theory and praxis. By decolonial, I, again, refer to the discipline’s own roots in coloniality, the fact that the institutions we seek professional recognition from sit on stolen land and are rooted in colonial, patriarchal, and racialized traditions. Further, the vision that Latinx spatial thought must contend with the complex and complicated relationships Latinx people and their geographies have with the history of colonialism across las Américas (Pulido 2017; Portillo-Saldaña 2016).
The tasks we have set out for ourselves will not necessarily be easy, nor the path forward always clear. The hierarchies within the discipline and the university system that operate in accordance with the supremacy of the white patriarchy, are well-established. These are the systems in which we find ourselves seeking our degrees and our professional pursuits. The reality of contending with hierarchical professional structures and the systems that maintain them means that at every turn we must strive to challenge and undo its influence in the ways by which we relate to one another. We will not always succeed, but when we fail, we must reflect and readjust. For Latinx Geographies, this means that we must strive to maintain transparency in our organizational processes. We must reject toxic professional hierarchization and politics. Instead, we must continue to work cross-generationally, supporting junior scholar leadership, and developing the kind of horizontal mentorship strategies we have envisioned together. It also means that a coalitional, decolonial, and anti-racist critical politics must be centered in the research ethics and projects we pursue, and the spatial theorization we develop.
The events, conversations, and connections shared in this piece deserve reflection because they document the radical critical thought that helped launch this project, subfield, community, and on-going dialogue. The events above are a part of our history and archive. As we move forward and the idea of Latinx geographies, or Latinx critical spatial thought, grows and develops in unpredictable and exciting directions, we must make space for diverse perspectives, epistemologies, and contributions, but also remember and remain focused on the politics of what brought us together in the first place.