December 2021

The essays in this issue all address how borders, places, cities, and life are managed, controlled, and represented by the possessive logics of the state, empire, and capitalism as well as how they are radically imagined and lived otherwise by those who refuse those logics.

Alana de Hinojosa's "El Río Grande as Pedagogy" examines the Chamizal Dispute that purportedly ended when the 1964 treaty returned el Chamizal to Mexico and displaced 5,600 Mexican American residents of South El Paso. Jennifer Ponce de León analyzes Ricardo A. Bracho's dystopian science fiction play Puto, illustrating how authoritarian modalities of social control are systematically produced by US capitalism and imperialism.

Introducing the neologism of "transmilitainment," Waleed Mahdi examines Morocco's role in the production of Hollywood's "war on terror" films. Chandra Russo's "Cities of Fruit" examines how art activism can promote popular education and mobilize radical collectivity in the face of eco-social alienation. Danielle Haque discusses an alternative imagining of city space and life in "Collective Care and Human Rights Cinema." Finally, in his essay that turned out to be an excellent tribute to the late Lauren Berlant, Chad Shomura presents a reading of Jennifer Egan's short story "Found Objects" to show howBerlant's notion of "impasse" points to the life otherwise.

Aria S. Halliday reviews three books that examine how Latina and Black girls make sense of themselves in a society built on their objectification, consumption, and familial connection. Hōkūlani Aikau discusses three important works that center Hawai'i as the site of settler colonialism and cultures of US imperialism. In a digital project review, Dylan Rodríguez engages Edmund T. Gordon's online exhibit Racial Geography Tour that guides the visitor through the University of Texas at Austin campus and its institutional foundations in racial, colonial history.

 


 

Transmilitainment: Morocco's Role in Hollywood's War on Terror Films

Waleed F. Mahdi

This essay examines Morocco’s role in the production of Hollywood’s “war on terror” films over the period 2000–2020. Rules of Engagement (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Green Zone (2010), American Sniper (2014), and The Yellow Birds (2017) are examples of a Hollywood trend of shot-in-Morocco films mediating US culture of militarized entertainment (militainment). The essay introduces the neologism transmilitainment as an analytic frame to make sense of how the Moroccan transnational support of US militainment is not merely about the monetary transactional relationship between Hollywood producers and Moroccan partners: it is about the economic, cultural, and political infrastructure of such support and its implications. If militainment is about the commodification of US state violence into pleasurable consumption, as Roger Stahl defines it in Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture (2010), I argue that transmilitainment’s commodification of Morocco for this pleasurable consumption is itself an act of neocolonial violence. This violence ranges from the material effects of Hollywood’s fleeting promise of growth and prosperity in Morocco to the symbolic implications of both using Morocco to legitimize the US reductive logic of “war on terror” and repurposing Moroccan people, geography, and tradition into an Islamophobic visual repository for global consumption.

 


 

Cities of Fruit: Arts Intervention and the Radical Imagination

Chandra Russo

This essay examines the importance of the radical imagination in the face of eco-social alienation and shows how arts activism can promote popular education and collective mobilization. The analysis is based on the Guerrilla Grafters, an activist artist collective whose members surreptitiously graft fruit onto sterile city trees predominately in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Here is a slideshowthat shows some of the fruiting trees the Grafters have worked with between 2011 and 2021.)[1] Many observers now acknowledge the imaginative challenges of ecological crisis, a phenomenon global in distribution and implications. Yet the way such imaginative dilemmas take form, and the histories and geographies that make new imaginaries possible, trace specific histories. I argue that the Guerrilla Grafters provide a generative example of using creative arts intervention to contest dominant social-spatial arrangements and forge new eco-social imaginaries of the US city. The group's practices, which have earned them an outsized and enthusiastic public response, help participants and audiences to see the systemic roots of ecological crisis and to envision alternatives.

Grafting is the process of appending a young fruit tree branch onto a compatible tree with the goal of producing fruit.[2] Fruit tree grafting, as I learned through interviews and grafting workshops, is a practice that has been around since the origins of agriculture and is today a norm for commercial fruit tree cultivation in the Global North. I thank the Guerrilla Grafters, other eco-artists, and San Francisco residents who took time to speak with me. Artist Margaretha Haughwoutoffered invaluable insight throughout this research as well as helpful resources for those interested in learning more about grafting.[3]

Credits:


[1] Photographs by Margaretha Haughwout, Thomas Levy. David Wade Crane, Britta Leijonflycht, Nicholas Zurcher, and anonymous Guerrilla Grafters. Courtesy of the Guerrilla Grafters

[2] Photographs  by Robert Lopes. Courtesy of the Guerrilla Grafters.

[3] Courtesy of Guerrilla Grafters

 


 

El Río Grande as Pedagogy: The Unruly, Unresolved Terrains of the Chamizal Land Dispute

Alana de Hinojosa

This essay demonstrates that, contrary to what the US and Mexico would like us to believe, the Chamizal Dispute along the El Paso-Cd. Juárez borderlands is a still unfolding, unresolved story. My analysis rests on those who are often removed from this dispute’s official rendition—those deemed irrelevant or inconvenient to the telling of this story. To do this, this essay undermines and exposes the geographic and ideological logics and projects of domination, omission, and erasure that have shaped this history’s hegemonic rendition. One of the key sites this official narrative takes place is the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas. When I first visited the Chamizal Memorial in 2016, I was stunned by its flattened historical narrative on the complex, living history that is the Chamizal Dispute. Since its opening in 1973, the Memorial’s visitor center and attendant history exhibit have offered visitors and tourists a version of the Chamizal story that replicates US and Mexican state narratives about this conflict. As I discuss in my essay, this version has been largely anchored to racist scripts of the frontier, the erasure of the 5,600 residents displaced by the 1964 settlement, and an overtly assertive insistence that the US and Mexico wholly resolved this conflict because of their remarkable friendship, goodwill, and diplomacy. However, in July of 2021, staff and Park Rangers at the Chamizal National Memorial (which is run by the National Parks Service) opened their doors to a renovated history exhibit. This renovation and its divergence from this history’s official narrative suggest an interest in righting some of the wrongs of this history by offering a more honest, fuller rendition of the Chamizal story.

Accompanied by its online virtual rendition, this new history exhibit offers perspectives on the Chamizal Dispute and Treaty that were previously left out. “The resolution came at a cost,” reads the exhibit’s opening plaque, “disrupting people, the land, and the river that shaped them.” While the previous exhibit glossed over the significance of this river and the consequences of forced displacement, today the exhibit emphasizes the Río Grande’s instructive qualities and dedicates an entire room to the experiences of the displaced. This attention to the river and those displaced is remarkable given official renderings of this history have required their omission and belittling. Perhaps the most notable addition to the latter of these two emphases is a 1963 letter written by an 11-year-old girl named Bertha Isela Chavez wherein she explains the many difficulties displacement will have on her family. An audio-visual rendition of Bertha’s letter read aloud by an actor (and which includes several other quotes from residents narrated by actors) takes the room’s centerstage and is available on the Chamizal National Parks Service website. Chavez’s letter reminds me of a 2020 El Paso News article written by María Eugenia Trillo titled, “Río Linda…a community of the Chamizal—forever.” Trillo, who was herself a child when her and her family were displaced, has described similar difficulties found in Bertha’s letter elsewhere. But in her El Paso News article Trillo also insists, as the residents who I spoke to and quote in my article maintain, that their “resilience to the traumatic effects of being dislocated and dismembered as community is a testimony to the determination of the people of Río Linda.” “Perhaps,” Trillo continues, “it was the fact that prior to being dislocated we did thrive as an extended family unit.” Today, the Chamizal Memorial makes unprecedented room for perspectives like Trillo’s and Chavez’s, and which upsets the dominant narrative that would prefer to gloss over these perspectives in favor of emphasizing the settlement as an unprecedented example of equity and diplomacy.

Moreover, where the previous exhibit focused almost entirely on the bi-national surveying of the US-Mexico boundary and the Chamizal Treaty’s production of a fixed (canalized) international boundary, today’s exhibit emphasizes an unruly river that required US and Mexican officials “to confront difficult questions.” A rare map of this meandering river available online via the Boston Public Library and a timeline of this meandering river can be found on the Chamizal NPS website. To compliment maps such as this one that offer static representations of this unruly terrain, artist Nicole Antebi’s digital, moving map of the Río Grande between El Paso and Cd. Juárez is particularly instructive. Maps like Antebi’s illuminate aspects of land and geography that traditional maps (and perhaps all maps) cannot; maps like Antebi’s illuminate at least in part what I argue in the closing page of my essay: “that space is malleable and perpetually unfinished; and that different spatialities to white settler colonialism are not only possible but already exist.”

My point throughout this essay is that the Río Grande is a rebellious terrain of struggle with a much longer historical presence and role in undermining empire. John Jota Leaños’ animated video “Frontera! Revolt and Rebellion on the Rio Grande” offers this perspective by telling the story of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and how this pan-Indian uprising successfully expelled Spanish occupiers from the entire Rio Grande region. Like my analysis of the Chamizal Civic Association and my insistence that the Río Grande’s pedagogies of refusal underwrote their mobilization, the Río Grande’s can be neither separated from the Pueblo People nor their 1680 uprising. The staff involved in the renovation of Chamizal Memorial recognized this river’s significance and the Pueblo People’s relations to it in the telling of the Chamizal story. The exhibit begins with the voices and perspectives of members of the Tigua / Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. Titled, “Water Made This Place,” visitors can listen to Tigua War Captain Javier Loera explain how the Río Grande “is a living entity” and sacred site for Tigua cultural traditions. “Our ceremonies, our ceremonial calendar, our dances, everything starts with the river,” Lorea explains in the recording, “And everything ends in the river.” In a second interview also available on the Chamizal NPS website, Loera speaks to the Pueblo’s perspective on various aspects of Chamizal Treaty, the militarization of the international boundary, and its hindrance on their traditions and ceremonies. “There’s a big wall being built right now, that fence,” Loera says, “It is a hindrance [and] very frustrating sometimes, in which we have to ask all these governmental agencies. . . . We have to ask prior permission at least a month in advance for us to be there, to this area, where we have our traditional activities.” Lorea also speaks to how the Tigua People were left out of Chamizal settlement negotiations and were only later, in 1968, granted federal recognition as an American Indian tribe. The Ysleta del Sur Peublo’s presence in the Memorial’s history exhibit is necessary to the telling of this story in more ways than one, as they are complexly connected to the Chamizal Dispute. Indeed, following the Pueblo Revolt, a Spanish Captain named Alonso Garcia—and the great-great-grandfather of one of the original Mexican claimants to el Chamizal—forced the Tigua People from their home in New Mexico and brought them to El Paso del Norte (now Cd. Juárez) as captives and slaves of the Spanish Crown. The Tigua People have remained stewards of this region since their forced exile in 1680, and are today El Paso’s only federally recognized tribe.

The renovated history exhibit at the Chamizal National Memorial now offers visitors and tourists to this region of the borderlands a version of the Chamizal story that is far more representative of its complex, enduring impact and presence. The exhibit’s virtual rendition makes this more honest, fuller version accessible to those unable to visit in El Paso, Texas. Though there is certainly more to be done when it comes to telling the Chamizal story and righting the wrongs of this history, changes such as those made at the Chamizal National Memorial are a step in that direction.