Symposium 12-13 March 1999: Migrations, Diaspora Communities, and Transnational Identities

Information on Participants and Papers



Thomas F. Thornton - Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Alaska

Title: "Driven Out by Glaciers and Governments, Holding on by Spirit and Song: The Story of the Tlingits of Glacier Bay, Alaska"


The history of the northern Tlingit of Alaska is intimately bound-up with Glacier Bay National Park, an area that they refer to as their "homeland" and "storehouse" or "icebox." Tlingit oral history is corroborated by geomorphology studies of the bay which show that there have been several glacial advances and retreats over the past 10,000 years. It was one of these advances that forced the Tlingit exodus from their homeland, although they continued to utilize its bountiful fish, wildlife, and plant resources even after resettling elsewhere. But a "second ice-age" occurred in the 20th century when the federal government appropriated the area for a national park, prohibiting most Tlingit activities in the area as a consequence. In the face of this federal freeze-out, Tlingits vigorously maintained their social and symbolic ties to Glacier Bay--through kinship networks, narrative, songs, stories, names, and visual art--and consistently resisted efforts to outlaw their material (subsistence) relationships to the park. This presentation examines the Glacier Bay Tlingit diaspora, the potent cultural means that descendants of the bay have used to maintain and revitalize their ties to this sacred homeland and nourishing landscape, and some promising possibilities for thawing the second ice age in Glacier Bay. [The presentation will include slides and video or a presentation by a Glacier Bay Tlingit elder]

Alejandro Lugo - Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana

Title: "Border Inspections"


Social theorists such as Morales, Anzaldua, Rosaldo, Rouse, Flores and Kearney have contributed to our better understanding of the complexities of everyday life in the globalized context of "transnational circuits" in the late twentieth century. In the same spirit, I will explore the pervasiveness of "border inspections" under late capitalism in a few foundational texts about border crossings as well as in the experiences of one young Mexican man who tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border but failed. By juxtaposing these border narratives as told by the individual themselves (a few Latino scholars and one young Mexican maquiladora worker), I will argue that before any border is crossed, there is likely to be an inspection station. Roberto, for instance, one of the maquiladora workers I interviewed and worked with in an assembly plant, will tell us about two instances in which he tried to cross the border in different ways and at different inspection sites (for lack of time and space, I decided to focus on only one working class voice). In this process, and contrary to what we as scholars (being more privileged than those we study) tend to recognize, it becomes evident that border inspections are much more common than border crossings in the lives of such unprivileged subjects as factory workers, bracero workers, and other migrants. The recognition that inspections may be more common than crossings has several implications for theorists, particularly for our understandings of culture, power, everyday life, and the nation-state.

Hamid Naficy - Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, Rice University

Title: "House"


Place is a segment of space that people imbue with special meaning and value. It refers not only to a physical entity, such as a country, but also to the peoples social relations within it and to their relations to the physical place itself. Most of us take for granted our place in the world and come face to face with its constructedness only when we are threatened with displacement or are in fact displaced. Thus, our sense of placement is tied to its opposite--displacement. Home is bound to horizons of reach, refuge to rummage inside to outside, and homeland to exile. However, our idea of place is palimpsestical and multisided. It refers not just to a country, but also to a region, a town, a village, a particular street, a specific house, or a special nook in a house. Place is also historically situated; as a result, displacement and emplacement acquire a temporal dimension. My presentation will center on the function of the house in constructing local, national, and displaced identities, as inscribed in the films of filmmakers working in exile and diaspora.

Julia Rodriguez - Columbia University

Title: "National Science in an Immigrant Nation: The Argentine Fingerprint System"


This paper explores the little known story of Argentine fingerprint science, known in its day as dactiloscopy. Developed by police scientist Juan Vucetich in the last years of the nineteenth century, dactiloscopy promised to assist the state in controlling its largely immigrant and politically volatile population. The Argentine system, which predated its better-known British counterpart by a number of years, was considered first a complement to and then a replacement of the French system of detailed body measurements called Bertillonage.

The paper begins with an explication of the influence of European ideas about measurable racial differences on Argentine criminalistics. Then, it explores the social and political context in which those ideas evolved, namely linking the development of an Argentine fingerprint science with the openly perceived social need to limit and control immigration. It also addresses the extraordinary degree of state investment in the new "national" science of dactiloscopy, and the hopes for international recognition which it inspired. The paper ends with a brief discussion of how dactiloscopy ultimately contributed to the successful implementation of repressive police practices characteristic of twentieth-century Argentina.

In its examination of turn-of-the-century Argentine criminalistics, this paper explores two seeming paradoxes. On the one hand, it reveals the theoretical ambivalence of scientists such as Vucetich who were foreign-born themselves yet targeted recent immigrants (and their supposedly distinctive biological and psychological attributes) as particularly dangerous to the nation. On the other, it explores how, in the years after 1910, just as the tide of newcomers was receding, anti-foreigner rhetoric intensified around questions of criminality and the
maintenance of the social order.

Elliott R. Barkan -  Professor of History & Ethnic Studies, California State University, San Bernardino.

Title: "On The Edge of a Rimless World: Immigration In an Age of Globalism"


We have for so long spoken of traditional immigration in terms of the Atlantic World--migration across the Atlantic Rim--including slavery. Then, with the revisions in American immigration laws beginning in 1965 the rivulets of migration across the Pacific Rim swelled to huge flows crisscrossing that ocean and, suddenly, everyone was speaking about the new revolution in migration patterns. But, the even more rapid changes in communications and transportation modes, accompanied by continuing political, civil, and military crises in many parts of the world, have profoundly altered even further the traditional patterns of transoceanic (and over land) migration. In effect, there are no regions from which people do not now come and their destinations abound on several continents--from neighboring countries to those most distant. Moreover, migration is now not just multidirectional but also reconfigured by the multitude of opportunities and options for preserving ties with homelands and other ethnic communities located virtually anywhere on the globe. The questions now concern the extent to which these changes might alter traditional patterns of immigrant accommodation to new homelands, their subsequent integration, and the attitudes of the second generations. How real is this transnationalism; how important is it; and how persistent might its influence be beyond the newcomers themselves?

Gage Averill - Director, Ethnomusicology Program, New York University

Title: "Music in Diaspora Consciousness: Lessons from Caribbean Case Studies"


What is it about music that causes it to serve such a richly constitutive role in migratory and diasporic community life? Music is quintessentially portable/transportable. It is perceived at an intimate and personal level, yet it can be the sonic tissue connecting large groups through collective audition (in mediated forms, music may reach thousands or millions of people instantaneously, or may circulate for years, linking distant populations in networks of musical production and consumption). Something about the way sound is perceived and stored in the mind ties music and sound closely to memory. In addition, music may be the most important medium for rituals and ceremonies that structure sacred and secular public life. How does music function in diasporic life? In this paper, I will draw from ten years of research on Caribbean music, and more particularly, on music of Caribbean communities in the US, to offer a preliminary typology for understanding complex role of music in diasporic life. I will conclude by offering a model to understand the role of diasporic communities in reshaping or reconfiguring the culturescapes of host societies, indeed of the globe.

           Lee "Aca" Thompson - Performer, Master Choreographer, Dance Specialist,
           Costume and Fashion Designer, The Artists Collective, Inc. Hartford, CT.

Title: "Ancestral Roots Through Piragramic Dance"


The performance and lecture demonstration will be based on sound vibrations, movements and creativity as it is conceived by people of African ancestry.  It will explore how they are perceived on the continent of Africa,  in particular, how they influence the traditions, culture and creativity in music and dance of African thought the world.

The performance will investigate the sound of music and the various movements of dance as they effect our minds and bodies through their various forms.   These include traditional dance, piragramic dance, gospel and plantation dances, Blues, jazz, Caribbean/ South American genres, tap and modern dance.  Finally we will look at dance as a form of therapy.

Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Adjunct Associate Professor of American Studies, Brown University

Title: "Rock, Rap and Race in Contemporary Cuba"


Decades of hostilities between the US and Cuba, based on ideological differences and antagonistic economic systems, have created seemingly impenetrable obstacles between the two nations. Nevertheless, these barriers have been unable to stop the circulation of music. In Cuba, US rock and jazz have been permanent, if marginalized, features of the Cuban popular music landscape-albeit under strained circumstances- throughout the Revolutionary period. Rap is the most recent example of a US cultural expression that has taken root in Cuba-primarily among urban, mostly black, youth. This paper discusses the current state of rock and rap in Cuba, focusing on the changes that have occurred in the process of transmission and translation. While rockers and rappers in Cuba both take their cues from their US counterparts, they have indigenized the lyrics, and often the rhythms, transforming Cuban rock and rap into expressions of local culture that are quite distinct from their US models. This is particularly true in the way that this music has been racially coded by musicians and fans. The talk will be illustrated with slides, video, and recordings collected during recent field research in Havana.

Ethel Brooks, Department of Politics, New York University

Title: "Maquilas and Sweated Girls: a Study of Transnational Protest & the Garment Industry in El Salvador"


The globalization of manufacturing has given rise over the past few years to the globalization of industrial protest. Movements to improve working conditions now organize transnational campaigns. Like the corporations themselves, the campaigns are increasingly concerned with affecting a product's image, marketing and consumption. Some of the better-known transnational campaigns for workers rights that have been carried out in various parts of the world are that carried out against Nikes sneaker manufacturing practices in South East Asia, the campaign against labor violations at a Phillips Van Heusen plant in Guatemala, and that against worker abuse in Disney's factories in Haiti. This paper addresses the protest campaign against The Gap, Inc., carried out by the National Labor Committee (NLC) and other U.S.-based NGOs against the poor treatment of workers and the violation of labor codes at the Mandarin International garment factory in El Salvador's San Marcos Export Processing Zone (EPZ). Mandarin produces clothes for U.S. retailers such as The Gap, JC Penney and Eddie Bauer. My paper focuses on the relationship between the campaign and the shop floor, and more specifically on how the mostly women workers at Mandarin are represented in the corporate campaign, in the negotiations to resolve the dispute, and in the resulting agreement in the day-to-day running of the factory.

Su Zheng, Assistant Professor of Music and Women's Studies, Wesleyan University

Title: "Travel: Race, Class, Gender, and History in Chinese (Asian) American Musicking"


Drawing upon examples from varied Chinese experiences of coming to America since the mid-nineteenth century, the paper contends that there is no universalized, abstract experience of "travel," and that the concept of "travel," as proposed by James Clifford, cannot adequately describe the myriad movements and feelings of human subjects conditioned by race, class, gender, and history. Several music pieces will be discussed.