The forum calls our attention to both the utility and the limits of the settler colonial framework in the Latin American context as well as to the issues of land/labor, settler/native, Latinx/Latin American binaries in theorizing coloniality. Three essays in this issue deal with a range of topics on narratives and representations, while three reviews cover diverse scholarship on various historical periods and themes. The two Event Reviews both discuss recent exhibitions dealing with social change held on opposite sides of the continent. We are excited by the provocative questions raised by the forum and the theoretical and empirical materials that each contributor brings to American studies at large.
Stateness as Landgrab: A Political History of Maya Dispossession in Guatemala
Juan Castro and Manuela Picq
Documentary Film "Aqui Nacimos"- or "We were born here,” about Copones
"'We Will Not Buy What is Ours': Challenging Terra Nullius in the Courts of Guatemala" by Manuela Picq
"'Lawfare' against Maya Authorities in Guatemala" by Manuela Picq
"Nim Ajpu: Indigenous Lawyers who are Changing the Face of Guatemala" by Manuela Picq
Pictures from the day of the court hearing for Copones in 2016:
A picture of Maya Awakateko lawyer Juan Castro during a radio interview on indigenous justice:
Transnational Settler Colonial Formations and Global Capital: A Consideration of Indigenous Mexican Migrants
Lourdes Gutiérrez Nájera and Kora Maldonado
"Are Mexicans Indigenous?" by Roberto Rodriguez
"Reservations" - NPR
Rhinestone Cowboy: Alzheimer’s, Celebrity, and the Collusions of Self
The article describes the importance of celebrity to understanding Alzheimer’s in the United States. I offer a case study of country music star Glen Campbell to illustrate common attitudes toward selfhood and a related capacity for mediation.
By way of introduction to the topic, watch the trailer for I’ll Be Me, a documentary film about Glen Campbell’s final tour. It is a good example of the ways selfhood is often conditioned and celebrated through various forms of media. Because of the way it threatens memories and interpersonal relationships, Alzheimer’s is generally understood in the U.S. as a disease that threatens a person’s true self. That selfhood is often recognized through various forms of media: in Campbell’s case, a broad range of music, film, and television. Especially in the context of contemporary popular culture in the U.S., identity is increasingly recognized and followed in media environments. The battle to retain one’s threatened identity is subsequently articulated through media performances: a documentary film, awards shows, a live tour, several final albums, and coverage in the press. Media therefore shapes popular understanding of the symptoms of the disease through a narrative of nostalgic loss, but it also reinforces the values we attach to particular forms of selfhood. Campbell’s tenuous media presence highlights how the values of self are described precisely through a capacity for mediation, an individual capacity deeply suited to celebrity. The first half of the film trailer emphasizes a version of self that stems from the mediated past while the second half describes Campbell’s fight to retain media relevancy in the present.
I argue in this essay, however, that these kinds of celebrity enunciations of Alzheimer’s can set up unrealistic expectations for everyday people living with the disease. This is especially true given the way the experience of Alzheimer’s can vary significantly, especially when considering factors like race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Indeed, the complicated caregiving situations that Alzheimer’s often mandates diverge notably from the myth of individual autonomy historically central to American popular culture and politics.
Early in the essay, I discuss the ways that Alzheimer’s has been conditioned by celebrity ever since it became widely known in the 1980s. A mixture of stigma and lack of knowledge about the disease initially kept most celebrities from publically discussing their diagnoses. However, over the last decade, much of the shame and stigma that originally accompanied Alzheimer’s has shifted to celebration and awareness. Here are three links to some important celebrity involvements with Alzheimer’s.
- Most celebrities who address Alzheimer’s publically in the U.S. do not have the disease themselves. They are more often related to someone with Alzheimer’s. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association celebrates its “celebrity champions” who help raise awareness and money for research.
- The first widely known star to announce that she had Alzheimer’s was Rita Hayworth. Her diagnosis raised awareness and helped draw attention to the efforts of nascent philanthropy organizations in the 1980s.
- Ronald Reagan wrote a letter announcing his diagnosis in 1994. The news catapulted the disease into public eye, both helping to destigmatize the disease and draw attention to its effects on families. Nancy Reagan would go on to become a key advocate for research funding and America’s most famous caregiver.
When Glen Campbell began his final tour in 2012, he stood out for his willingness to continue to record and perform despite having advancing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. In fact, he was widely celebrated for his honest account of the disease and its effects. However, most of the media attention only highlighted disease narratives receptive to popular mediation: love, humor, and his remarkable ability to continue to play music. In the process, it emphasized the way we attribute value to a person’s capacity for mediation—even describing personhood itself in those terms.
- I bookend the article with accounts of two different Campbell performances at the 2012 Grammy Awards. The first is a nationally televised Campbell tribute, featuring Taylor Swift, the Band Perry, and Blake Shelton performing some of Campbell’s hit songs. Campbell himself joins them onstage at about the four minute mark of the video to sing his iconic song “Rhinestone Cowboy.” At the end of the performance, you can hear him ask “Where do I go? Do I go somewhere or shut up?"
- The night before the Grammy broadcast, Glen Campbell gave an acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement Award. In this context, it is evident that it was difficult for him to recognize the contributions of other people—especially more recent collaborations. His wife Kim ended up helping him with his speech.
- CBS Sunday Morning broadcast a farewell retrospective on the day of the ceremony itself. Note the way the nostalgic treatment of the star highlights Campbell’s media identity through particular images and videos. His “unprecedented” decision to continue to perform in the wake of his diagnosis ironically erases the lived reality of the disease, emphasizing instead a threatened capacity for mediation.
- Campbell’s daughter Ashley testified before Congress in 2013, appealing for funding for Alzheimer’s research. She emphasized the importance of interpersonal memories to self and person: “I think a person’s life is comprised of memories, and that’s exactly what this disease takes away from you...it’s hard to come to the realization that someday my dad might look at me and I will be absolutely nothing to him.” Her statement not only makes personhood a nostalgic artifact of the past, personhood ends up being described through her own value in an economy of recognition.
Some possible questions for classroom discussion:
- Campbell’s media capacities can be described as a mixture of musical talent, memory, and a broad range of celebrity agencies. How do you have a capacity for mediation? Through a specific media talent? Through social media? How does that relate to how you understand your identity or self, or how others recognize that self?
- Listen to Campbell’s song “Rhinestone Cowboy.” How do the lyrics model a specific perspective on individualism and identity? How does that relate to what it might mean to live with Alzheimer’s in the United States, especially for people without the resources that Campbell has?
- Watch the three-minute trailer for I’ll Be Me. Try keeping track of every form of media referenced in the three-minute trailer, and then decide why the producers have chosen to include it. What forms of media are used to tell the story of Glen Campbell? What aspects of Campbell’s identity or Alzheimer’s disease are not described through this media? Do you think there is a difference between an old polaroid photograph and a social media profile photo and how they communicate different values of self?
- If Campbell and his family wanted to show the world the reality of the disease, why did so much media focus on his ability to continue to play music?
- How are celebrities involved with other diseases like breast cancer or HIV/AIDS? What is different about how celebrity relates to Alzheimer’s?
Continuing the Movement: Activist Art in the Trump Era
Roots: Asian American Movements in Los Angeles, 1968–80s at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles exhibited cultural artifacts from the Asian American Movement. Artists, practitioners, and activists created a politicized identity that mobilized a community to fight for social justice locally, nationally, and internationally. Artists continue the movement by rebelling and subverting the Trump administration. I turn to these artists to find ways to strategize in this fraught moment.
Oakland-based artist, writer, and educator Jessalyn Aaland works with youth and educators to provide free pedagogical tools that center social justice. In the face of police brutality against youth of color, Aaland created the “The Guide for Youth Protestors.” Through kitschy line drawings of food, the free zine is a visual representation of a youth activist training workshop. The zine outlines protest safety precautions and police tactics and engagement. Class Set is a collaborative project with local underrepresented Bay Area artists. The goal of the project was to fill the classroom with beautiful and inspirational posters featuring quotes from radical authors and activists. The set also includes a curriculum for students to engage and analyze the content and aesthetics of the poster. A part of the lesson is for students to create their own inspirational posters to spark creativity and resistance in the classroom.
Proyecto MercadoFRESCO in East Los Angeles from Public Matters on Vimeo.
Creative projects for and by the community is the driving force behind Public Matters: “Public Matters is an award-winning, interdisciplinary, Los Angeles-based social enterprise that designs and implements long-term, place-based, socially engaged art, media, education, and civic engagement projects that advance social change.” Their consulting services range from educational programs and development, marketing campaigns for community change, and equitable art and culture development. An example of their work is “Market Makeovers - East LA + Boyle Heights” (2010-2014) where they worked with local organizations to collectively address the availability and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in corner stores. What makes this project spectacular, and is indicative of all projects by Public Matters, is that the community implemented the solution and took ownership of the project.
These are two examples of how organizations and artists address a need in their communities. It is imperative that we forge creative solutions but also support organizations and artists in their endeavors. Our task is to turn to your community and find these practitioners.