Legacies and Resistances Mexican Mediaspora and Decolonisation

St. Paul, Minnesota: Participants in the “Day Without Immigrants” on Thursday, 16 February 2017.
Participants in the “Day Without Immigrants” on Thursday, 16 February 2017, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Immigrants around the US stayed home from work and school on Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America’s economy and way of life, and many businesses closed in solidarity. | Photo (detail): David Joles © picture alliance/AP Images

Today, there are approximately 36 million people of Mexican origin in the United States. The vast majority were born there and yet, they face discrimination and a sense of otherness. In the face of growing conservativism and xenophobia in the north, recovering voices from the Mexican mediaspora and communicating these is fundamental for decolonising the political discourse.
 

By Eduardo Luciano Tadeo Hernández

Wounds from multiple colonisations exist in the bodies of Latin Americans. First, we find the expansionist impetus of European empires in Latin America, mainly Spain, Portugal, France and England, which, among other things, imposed their languages and introduced racial concepts that structured the social world. Afterwards, once independence had been gained, the new regional leaderships succumbed to the modern dream of building nation-states; they created institutions and cultural symbols in the colonial language and in this process, began the internal colonisation of the indigenous populations. At a third point in time, the ideas of progress and development of Latin American States did not necessarily bring a decline in social inequality, resulting in mobilisations of Latin Americans toward the north. In particular, they sought out the American dream in the United States, while, in reality, they found a new capitalist colonialism, a manufacturer of otherness.
  • Decolonisation – 18 November 2016 File Photo: University of New Mexico Chicana and Chicano studies professor Irene Vasquez asking school president Bob Frank to declare the campus a "sanctuary university" in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Russell Contreras © picture alliance/AP Photo
    University of New Mexico Chicana and Chicano studies professor Irene Vasquez holds a letter with hundreds of signatures, asking school president Bob Frank to declare the campus a “sanctuary university” in Albuquerque. Vasquez and other Mexican American scholars from universities across the country gathered in Albuquerque for an annual four-day national conference amid uncertainty on immigration and ethnic studies battles on college campuses. File Photo: 18 November 2016
  • Decolonisation – Brooklyn (New York), 14 May 2017: Folk dancers in the Cinco de Mayo Parade in the Sunset Park neighbourhood. © picture alliance / Photoshot
    Folk dancers in the Cinco de Mayo Parade in the Sunset Park neighbourhood in Brooklyn in New York on Sunday, 14 May 2017. The holiday commemorates a victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguãn over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862.
  • Decolonisation – Brooklyn (New York), 14 May 2017: Folk dancers in the Cinco de Mayo Parade in the Sunset Park neighbourhood. © picture alliance / Photoshot
    Folk dancers in the Cinco de Mayo Parade in the Sunset Park neighbourhood in Brooklyn in New York on Sunday, 14 May 14 2017. In the United States Mexican-Americans celebrate with parades and festivals as a show of ethnic pride.
  • Decolonisation – US author Sandra Cisneros is awarded with the 2015 National Medal of Arts by US President Barack Obama. Shawn Thew © picture alliance / dpa
    US President Barack Obama awards US author Sandra Cisneros with the 2015 National Medal of Arts. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures. As an educator, she has deepened the understanding of American identity.
  • In downtown San Francisco a construction of a four-story, state-of-the-art Mexican Museum is underway. (Photo from 13 July 2016) Eric Risberg © picture alliance / AP Photo
    Construction of a four-story, state-of-the-art Mexican Museum is underway. The 60 000 square feet building in downtown San Francisco will be home to 16,000 pre-Columbian, colonial, modern and contemporary works of Mexican, Mexican-American and Latino art, the largest such collection in the country. (Photo from 13 July 2016)
Despite their shared history, each Latin American society has its own version of the previously described trajectory. For example, after gaining its independence from Spain, Mexico faced the immediate concern of how to coexist with the United States, due to its neighbouring border. The construction of Mexican nationalism had the north as an inspiration for strengthening its exceptional cultural discourse, which was made deeper after the US invasions in Mexican history in 1848. In addition to the loss of territory, this event marked the history of the Mexican diaspora, with communities that went from living at home to becoming “Others”, inhabitants of US territorial space. Since then, there have been other mobilisations of Mexicans toward the north for economic reasons, and there are even multiple generations that have been born in this country. Yet, the struggle and resistance against US cultural hegemony remains a constant, making it relevant that the agenda of diasporic subjects has been recognised based on an observance of them having their own means of representation.        

“Afterwards, once independence had been gained, the new regional leaderships succumbed to the modern dream of building nation-states; they created institutions and cultural symbols in the colonial language and in this process, began the internal colonisation of the indigenous populations.”

Decolonising the Political and Cultural Discourse

The United States is a great factory of contemporary cultural representation. Historically, from the viewpoint of cultural hegemony, references of subjects of Mexican origin have been, to say the least, stereotypical. Much more forcefully since the 20th century, the Hollywood film industry, the US media with its global reach, and the political discourses in Washington DC have marginalised Mexican subjects and constructed them as exotic Others -untrustworthy, invaders, dangerous and today, rapists and drug traffickers have been added to the list -with clear consequences for the US collective imagination and for the way people of Mexican origin are treated. The 2019 murder of people of Mexican origin in El Paso (Texas) is an example of this. Facing the urgency of counteracting the hegemonic discourse, it is necessary to recognise the legacies that Mexicans have given US society but also the different creative and cultural forms of resistance that they have practiced throughout their history in the United States.  

“... they sought out the American dream in the United States, while, in reality, they found a new capitalist colonialism, a manufacturer of otherness.”

As a decolonial shift against the great cultural-hegemonic narrative, I pose the term mediaspora to consider these legacies and resistances of the people of Mexican origin in this country which, it is worth mentioning, are not a homogeneous group but rather a great world of diversity. Thus, with the concept of mediaspora, which I have developed in my academic work, I refer to the different media spaces in which the diasporas construct, negotiate and communicate about matters that are relevant to them, their States of origin and destination, and other non-State actors. Mediasporic outlets can have multiple intentions; sometimes they try to preserve the group’s identity and thus, they are closed groups, and there are other times when they want to have an influence on the destination society in broader sense in order to, for example, change the stereotypes that are associated with the diasporic communities.   

Feminine Voices

The Mexican mediaspora has historicity; that is, it has been constructed based on the different generations that have experienced immigration in the United States. To recognise the legacy of feminine voices and resistances, we can observe that, since the 19th century there have been women in different social positions in this country who have been concerned about the representation and treatment of Mexicans and they have used writing for discursive means. The scholar John-Michael Rivera reminds us that María Amparo Ruíz de Burtón would be the first Mexican woman in the 19th century to publish a novel in English -Who Would Have Thought It?, which explores being Mexican from a feminine perspective. The social circle that she belonged to as well as her talent and intelligence facilitated the publication of her work.
 
Later, in the second half of the 20th century and from the viewpoint of other social positions and concerns, we find feminist Chicana women, who - since then - have used literature as a vehicle to represent their ethnic identity in US society. This is the case of the Chicana writer Sandra Cisneros and her book The House on Mango Street that tells the story of a Chicana girl who goes through a process of reinventing herself in the United States. Claire Joysmith, who has done research on Chicana women, notes that this text is used at different levels within the US education system and has gained national recognition.  

“Thus, with the concept of mediaspora, which I have developed in my academic work, I refer to the different media spaces in which the diasporas construct, negotiate and communicate about matters that are relevant to them, their States of origin and destination, and other non-State actors.”

More recently, there are efforts from women of Mexican origin in the United States that set forth new discourses about Mexican identity from more visual and textual settings. One of these projects is called Mex and the City and it came about in New York City at the change of the 21st century to tell other stories about Mexicans and influence existing stereotypes. They use the mediums of photography, written stories and images that they share on social media and in other physical spaces. Marina Garcia-Vasquez, the initiative’s intellectual author, is the daughter of some of the leaders of the Chicano Movement that began in the 1970s in the United States, specifically the group linked to El Teatro Campesino, which is why, in this case, resistance through art is expressed as an intergenerational lesson.
 
Today, there are approximately 36 million people of Mexican origin in the United States; the vast majority were born there, and yet, they face discrimination and a sense of otherness. In the face of growing conservativism and xenophobia in the north, recovering voices from the Mexican mediaspora and communicating these is fundamental for decolonising the political discourse. Paraphrasing Cherríe Moraga, interdependence with other subjects that are found along the margins can be recognised from the mediaspora in order to collectively resist from the entrails of the monster.