Latinx Geographies

Introduction by
Lorena Muñoz and Megan Ybarra

Guest editors Lorena Muñoz and Megan Ybarra present a collection of Latinx geographical work to offer research that rethinks the relationship between Latinx identities and place, and that moves beyond a singular identity politics and toward explaining solidarity across “black, brown and yellow” communities (Pulido, 2006).

H

uman geography has been late to embrace Latinx geographies, partly due to the historical masculinist Anglophone traditions that took Westphalian nation-states as a basis for inquiry even as it sought to question them, and later due to the historical and continued Whiteness of geographers themselves. In the United States, what came to be known as a Chicano/a studies discipline stemmed from collaborative activist efforts of the 1960s that established ethnic studies departments in universities. Based on the politics of experience, the merging of theory and practice (praxis), and the concept of Aztlán, Chicana/o studies became a ‘home’ to the voices and struggles of farmworkers, immigration/border rights activists, Brown power movement, and Chicana feminisms that were excluded from normative disciplines (e.g., sociology, geography, anthropology and history). Rooted in struggle, knowledge production from below and testimonios, the work of queer Chicanx feminists like Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga is at the heart of the canon of what became Latinx studies. While geographers have long studied immigration, violence and labor inequalities, Latinx studies offered intellectual nourishment to those scholars hungering for an attention to agency of Latinx communities alongside recognition of the violence they face.

Following in an activist rooted tradition, since the 2000s, the small number of Latinx human geographers have contributed to the growing research on Latinidades, or a plurality of Latinx identities, in a broad array of issues including: environmental justice struggles, race and immigration processes, and gender and labor structures. In particular, Laura Pulido has engaged in pathbreaking work, from highlighting the activism of both rural and urban Latinx communities for environmental justice (Pulido, 1996; 2000; 2015), as well as naming the structures and traditions in geography as a discipline that have limited scholarship (Pulido, 2002; 2018). Her work in the field is notable not only because it is brilliant, but also because she is one of very few Latinx human geographers to attain recognition as a full professor whose research encompasses – but is not limited to – Latinx identities. Particularly notable is that her work exemplifies that Latinx geographies have much to offer to the literature on transnational migration, but are not limited to this area of inquiry. Latinx human geographers contributions become significant as geography as a discipline have failed to engage with Latinx scholarship, and continuing to tell our stories while burying our voices.  

Human geography has a long history of scholarship on transnational migrations, and recently on border externalization and securitization. Even today, however, cutting-edge scholarship can survey the field on refused asylum seekers becoming “illegal immigrants” without acknowledging the key contributions of Latinx scholars in calling out the ways that illegality maps onto certain subjects (often from Mexico and Central America). Indeed, the Latinx migration literature offers a rich examination of work on “liminal legality” (Menjívar, 2006) and the role of racialization in political geographies to create Temporary Protected Status for people fleeing (un)natural disasters or receiving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for exceptional youth who align with respectability politics – these in the United States alone (Chávez, 2013). Central American works like those of A History of Violence (Martínez, 2017) go beyond simplistic stories of US imperialism in tracing the dynamics of racialized violence in migration and trafficking. These perspectives are crucial in offering nuanced perspectives of Latinx geographies that do more than simply offer a platform to witness the spectacle of migrants as victims. Still, most of the time, non-Latinx geographers – as the majority of those writing about Latinx communities in a predominantly White field (Domosh, 2015) – decide when and how our voices are represented in the field. As a result, Ybarra finds that she must teach works from ethnic studies, anthropology and sociology in her geography courses – not as supplements, but as central ways of filling gaps in the geography literature.

Across Latin America, it may be that similar phenomena are at work, such that a few key voices from South America (such as Enrique Dussel, Walter Mignolo, and Anibal Quijano) stand in for the voices of Mexicans and Central Americans with whom they have little in common, sometimes not even the language of Spanish. In some of the most famous cases, such as that of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, the Zapatista autonomous movement that came to the stage in 1994 against neoliberal racism in Mexico’s participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), geographers still tend to draw on the most familiar voices to explain difference. Despite a plethora of writings and speeches by Indigenous men and women who are part of the Zapatista movement, Anglophone geographers regularly draw on the writings of a single person – known as Subcomandante Marcos – to engage with Indigenous ontologies. It is widely believed that Subcomandante Marcos was the nom de guerre of Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, a non-Indigenous middle class college professor who went to the mountains with the goal of organizing Maya communities for a Marxist revolution. If we are to write at the intersection of Indigenous and Latinx geographies, geographers must broaden our horizons. Likewise, geographic engagements with Latinx identities, or Latinidades, still have much to do to engage with Latinx geographies on their own terms. In this forum, Cristina Faiver-Serna traces some of the histories of transnational Latinx geographies, while Megan Ybarra offers thoughts on how geographers might better engage transnationally.

In the last decade, we have witnessed a rise in the visibility of Latinidades within geography, as scholars are rethinking the relationship between place-making and Latinx identities. For this reason, this introduction highlights the work of Latinx scholars publishing in geography journals. Many key works are published in interdisciplinary journals (Herrera, 2016; Muñoz, 2016), and even more have published books (Carpio, 2019; De Lara, 2018; Guerrero, 2017; LeBrón, 2019; Pulido, 1996; 2006; Ybarra, 2017). We celebrate full-length books that engage with Latinx geographies. At the same time, we posit that the peer-review process of geography journals may be limiting the scope of what is visible as Latinx geographies. The latter is particularly key, as many geography departments in research universities advise pre-tenure professors to focus on publishing in top geography journals, even as those journals may be less likely to accept our work for publication.

Beyond a nurturing intellectual community, Latinx geographers have claimed space to author research about their own communities. In addition to increased inclusivity, Latinx geographers offer nuanced understandings of the multitude of experiences, identities, mobilities that encompass the everyday experience of Latinx immigrants in the United States and beyond.[1]

This is reflected in onto-epistemological work that brings to geography well-established ‘ways of knowing’ of Latina/o-Chicana/o Studies such as testimonio, auto-ethnography, queer of color critique and relational methodologies (Muñoz, 2010; 2015; Urrutia, this issue; Valencia, 2017a; 2017b; Ybarra, this issue). This is particularly important as this nuanced research highlights the silenced, marginalized and under-valued production of knowledges of Latinx communities that centers and prioritizes our own ways of knowing and being. In other words, Latinx geographies are about more than Latinx place-making – they are about how Latinx world-making reveals other ways of world-making, world-seeing, and world-knowing. In reference to Indigenous geographies, Sarah Hunt refers to this as “the politics of embodying a concept” (Hunt, 2014). While Latinx positionality is different from that which Hunt outlines, her work offers a key lesson – in asking how can we be Latinx and geographers, we are fundamentally rethinking what human geography can be.

It is the new wave of Latinx geographers that are demanding and claiming rights to intellectual space in the discipline of geography. As Executive Board members of the new Latinx Geographies Specialty Group, we were fortunate to walk in the path blazed by Black Geographies. While McKittrick and Wood’s (2007) path-breaking volume was published over a decade ago, it was the dedication of new scholars, particularly LaToya Eaves, that pushed the AAG to acknowledge their importance in the past, present and future of the discipline. The establishment of a Latinx geographies sub-field was a long time coming and extremely necessary, especially if we are serious about intellectually supporting a diverse discipline as well as telling our own stories. Cristina Faiver-Serna (this issue) traces the recent history of the institutionalization of Latinx geographies, and we are humbled in recognition of the work that she and Madelaine Cahuas took on – as graduate students – in making Latinx geographies visible to the AAG as an institution. Indeed, their work can be read as part of a longer history of feminist woman-of-color community solidarity work, one from which we all benefit.

The recent explosion of new Latinx geographers (students, faculty and activists) are producing research that rethinks the relationship between Latinx identities and place, and that moves beyond a singular identity politics and toward explaining solidarity across “black, brown and yellow” communities (Pulido, 2006). In so doing, we decouple immigration from the Latinx community and poverty from Blackness (see also Herrera, 2012), affording opportunities for solidarities across difference. To do so, we must account for differences between Latinx communities, particularly the ways that Chicano/a studies has claimed Indigenous affinities while occasionally undercutting Indigenous rights in practice (Pulido, 2018; Ybarra, this issue). Intersectional solidarities are not new to social movements within and beyond academia (Ferguson, 2017). Rather, human geographers are now rethinking our traditions in ways that build on intellectual projects that include Kitchen Table Press, a collective project that brought together feminist Marxists from Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith to Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrié Moraga – when nobody else wanted to publish them, these women created a venue to publish themselves. It was these collaborations that brought about key works in borderlands theory, including This Bridge Called My Back (1983), featuring key moves in code-switching across culture and language. In the face of the codification and institutionalization of Ethnic Studies, as well as a relentless intellectual distancing from borderlands as lived reality, Latinx geographies today is a keyword for bringing together embodied experience with thinking Latinidades across race, ethnicity and language.

For those researching and living in the United States, Latinx geographies is particularly well suited for taking up regional geographies in the wake of a national turn to the political right.  Instead of simplistic understandings of White suburban soccer moms, we see a rise of people of color (including Latinx) in suburbia (Cheng, 2013) and beyond urban centers (De Lara, 2018). In particular, the growing role of Latinx communities in the “Nuevo South” disrupts Black-White binaries (Guerrero, 2017). Moreover, these works predict and explain the importance of key political campaigns, such as the “Gente4Abrams” movement where the Latinx Mijente organization went door-knocking to tell Spanish-speaking voters that a vote for Stacey Abrams for Georgia governor was a vote for Latinx communities. It is in changing regional geographies that we can see how the theoretical relationships between Black geographies (Cahuas, this issue), queer of color critique (Sandoval, this issue) play out in everyday practice.

Latinx geographies are also contributing to nuanced theorizations of migration and race. Rather than a singular Latinx identity, new scholarship explores the possibilities – and limits of solidarity across intersections of gender, Indigeneity, and/or Afro-Latinidades (Cahuas, 2019; Negrín da Silva, 2018; Reyes, 2015; Ybarra, 2017). Likewise, Latinx geographies afford opportunities to rethink mobility, both in terms of permissions and prohibitions, as a relationship to place-making in migrant communities (Carpio, 2019; Sandoval, this issue; Torres and Wicks-Asbun, 2013; Ybarra, in press; Ybarra and Peña, 2017).

Latinx geographies provide an intellectual ‘home’ within the discipline for Latinx scholars to write from their experiences. This affords a key opportunity in human geography, where Latinidades have been sometimes reduced to little more than marginalized bodies to be recognized – or not – by predominantly White Anglophone geographers. In standing against generations of devaluation of the ontological and epistemological work in and about Latinx communities, we present essays that offer interventions to race, migration and place-making in the twenty-first century.

essays in this forum

Logistical Borderlands: Latinx Migrant Labor In The Information Age

The overwhelming attention paid to the wall conceals the fluidity of the actual hi-tech US-Mexico border and obscures the full extent of its political violence. Reconceptualizing the border a logistical infrastructure not only denaturalizes the border as a “fixed space” (De Lara 2018) that can be crossed, but also denaturalizes assumptions that the border is merely a technology of social exclusion.

By

Daniel Gonzalez

What's At Stake In Contemporary Anti-Gentrification Movements?

In this brief essay the authors argue that examining these tensions in anti-gentrification activism can help scholars think through the future of Latinx geographies in ways that transgress conceptualizations of this group as a homogenous group and, instead, explore research in ways that embrace inter and intra-Latinx diversity. 

By

Alfredo Huante and Kimberly Miranda

Juntxs/Together: Building Latinx Geographies

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).

By

Cristina Faiver-Serna

Interrogating Absences In Latinx Theory And Placing Blackness In Latinx Geographical Thought: A Critical Reflection

There would be no Latinx geographies without Black geographies. What I mean by this is that Latinx and Black geographies are inextricably linked, because Blackness and Latinidad are not mutually exclusive and because Black thought, experiences, history and politics, along with the legacy of transatlantic slavery, profoundly shape contemporary social and spatial arrangements in las Americas.

By

Madelaine Cahuas

Examining The Everyday For Immigration Politics

The focus on the “DREAMer” trope has become a mainstay for immigration justice agendas that often effaces the many violences—settler colonialism, anti-Blackness, and femicide in the Americás—that shape migrants’ lives. While clashes about the cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program remain persistent in US contemporary politics, the “DREAMer” narrative continues to inform activism and scholarship on migration.

By

Edgar Sandoval

Reflexivity In The Borderlands: Nahualismo Y Reflexividad

This essay is an exploration of the concept of reflexivity. Specifically, it examines what reflexivity might look like for research grounded in a borderlands epistemology. I argue that reflexivity in the borderlands can be understood through Anzaldúa’s metaphor of the nahual, the shapeshifter. I suggest nahualismo as a way to think about identity and situated knowledge.

By

Isabel Urrutia

On Becoming A Latinx Geographies Killjoy

With emerging disciplinary recognition of the importance of Black Geographies and Latinx Geographies, we have an opportunity to reframe what counts as knowledge, and what counts as scholarship. Below, I offer a few thoughts on what transformation could look like for human geographers engaging with transnational Latinidades, or a plurality of Latinx identities that are in conversation – and conflict – across nation-state borders.

By

Megan Ybarra