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Conference date announcment

2024 Presidential Conference Address

Placing Justice and Joy in Latinx Studies Conference
April 19, 2024 (12 Noon)
Tempe AZ

Frances R. Aparicio (LSA President)


As President of LSA, I want to welcome you all to LSA 2024, Placing Justice and Joy in Latinx Studies.  We hope you are already appreciating the dynamic, powerful and incisive presentations in our panels and roundtables, the activities in La Plaza, the book exhibits, and so many wonderful exchanges among colleagues, old and new friends.  I love the ENERGY!

I acknowledge the twenty-three Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University’s four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today.  I also want to acknowledge the meaningful foundational role of Manuela Sánchez Sotelo, an ancestor known as The Mexican mother of Tempe, who helped to develop Tempe AZ as well as the Territorial Normal School in 1885, today known as ASU.

Let me begin by thanking all the colleagues without whose vision, leadership and hard work this amazing gathering would not have happened. LSA does not have support staff, so all the work is on the Executive Committee and the Site Committee.  It has been truly ONEROUS to do it all, but the joy of collective work makes it meaningful.   GRACIAS, Monika Gosin, our Secretary, Julie Minich, our Treasurer; Josie Saldana, our Vice-President, Rafael Pérez Torres, our Past President and Ex officio member, Lee Bebout, past Secretary and ex officio, Anita Huizar Hernández and Sujey Vega, Co-chairs of the Site Committee, Brad Amburn, our graphic designer, Michael Innis Jiménez, in charge of the book exhibits and the advertisements, Lillian Gorman and Louis Mendoza, for La Plaza, and a special acknowledgement to Alicia Vanessa Nuñez, who singlehandedly entered the whole program into our excel spreadsheets and took care of all the changes;  our many co-sponsors, listed in the Program, most eminently the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at ASU, chaired by Natalie Diaz, whose generosity and vision have made possible  a dynamic part of our programming; the program committee members who took time out of their busy schedules to evaluate the panel and paper proposals, ASU administrative staff, the Library, the student volunteers, the academic presses that traveled here to share their published books, the hotels that are lodging us and their staff who clean our rooms and change our towels every day, to those who prepared the boxed lunches, to the av technicians and the custodians who vacuum and clean up after us every night. We need each other, so MUCHAS GRACIAS to all of you.

LSA 2024 marks the tenth anniversary of the Latinx Studies Association, so we are celebrating!. Ten years ago, we organized the Chicago founding conference with 0 dollars in our pockets, and despite advice from senior colleagues that we should not create this space because it was not going to work, today we have over a thousand names in our email listserve, a well-established infrastructure, savings in our accounts, professionals like webmasters and graphic designers, lawyers and accountants who work for us.  This is a source of joy for all of us this weekend.  Its reason to celebrate by sharing space, voices, by acknowledging our vulnerabilities as producers and recipients of alternative knowledges as well as our achievements and logros in this last decade.  However, given our theme, Placing Justice and Joy in Latinx Studies, how do we comfortably feel JOY in such moments of unending state violence against our bodies, of the family separations and criminalization of asylum seekers in the U.S./Mexico Border, of the barbaric genocidal massacre of more than 33,000 Palestinians and the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, of the fascist policies and laws that are censoring and defunding all fields of study related to race, ethnicity, decolonial and gender studies?  Our fields?  This conference marks a sober moment in which to reflect on and acknowledge the symbolic violence and censorship exerted against our field of study and to engage in critical reflections about the state of the field, which I will comment on, and which our plenary speakers will address immediately after this keynote. To be sure, we cannot avoid acknowledging the fissures between the celebratory JOY and the lack of JUSTICE in today’s world. Our joy is always already tempered by the acknowledgement, documentation, and denouncing of the numerous instances of inhumanity, injustice and inequities in the United States and in the world. Thus, JOY and JUSTICE cannot be separated but always understood as entangled and mutually contingent on each other, leading to  what we may deem a DECOLONIAL JOY, one that is derived from the decolonial struggles that we imperatively engage and from the practices of placemaking that mark our presence in this country.  As the Call for Papers stated, our commitment and struggles against state violence in the US and globally allow for transformations that make space for Joy.  Even acknowledging the insistence on living, as Audre Lorde says, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence.  Self-preservation is an act of political warfare.”  (A Burst of Light and Other Essays, 1988, page 130)


Latinx Studies, which emerged from the radical politics of Chicanx and Puerto Rican Studies in the early 1970s, centers the lived experiences of Latinx communities within the United States, and is a field that is constantly transforming itself along the historical and political impetus of this country, while it also continues to resist the very same imperial and colonial forces that have racialized our communities historically. Latinx Studies seems to me a sort of amorphous intellectual space that defies definition, given its constant shifts, uneven structures, and multiple arrangements and locations on campuses, yet is rooted in the strength of decades of resistance, decolonial and embodied knowledges, and critical pedagogies proposed by those who envisioned a decolonial education. In the 1970s, we imagined models of cultural nationalism and identity politics that unraveled the internalized colonialist ideologies we all carried.  In the 1980s we began to articulate our anxieties regarding the mainstreaming gestures and our gradual inclusions into dominant institutions, including universities and museums. Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s book, Chicano Art Inside/Outside the Master’s House: Cultural Politics and the Cara Exhibition (University of Texas Press, 1998) is an eminent example of this reflection. We also welcomed the feminist, queer and hybrid writings of Chicanas and women of color theorists and activists, foundational voices that offered us the language of resistance and the aesthetics of hybridity. The 1990s challenged us with the struggles to belong as Americans and Americanos as we wrote about the meanings of a slain Selena and against the egregious California Propositions that excluded immigrants from state and human services.  After 9/11 we faced the State violence against Arabs and Latinx as the “double brown threat” and the increasing surveillance and policing of border-crossers.  After 2010, our attention has shifted to our power to survive amidst the environmental disasters and destruction that climate change and ecological crises, closely aligned with racial capitalist agendas, have produced. A common thread throughout these decades is clearly the ongoing state violence that uninterruptedly dehumanizes us. Let us not take our field of study for granted, for it has served well as a site for decolonial imaginings. Yet rather than attempt to define what Latinx Studies is or is not, avoiding a positivist imposition on our epistemologies and boundaries, I leave these definitions to you, colleagues, artists, activists, scholars and students, who will determine its shape and content by the very specific decisions you make about agendas, research priorities, methods, and topics. Here I share some of my own critical perspectives on the contradictions and tensions that emerge because of the field’s growth and mainstreaming, while relegated to an inherent illegitimacy in the eyes of higher education and commodified by higher administration and the elite.

The metaphor of “building the house” seems like an apt image to refer to the constructivist politics through which our field of study has been developing. As Audrey Lorde warned us in the 1980s, we cannot build our house with the Master’s tools.  Socialized into the financial and material rewards of the scholarly life, once we feel SETTLED in academia, we have a choice on how to use and share our resources and intellectual power. As Olufemi Taiwo writes in Elite Capture:

“A constructivist politics is one that engages directly in the task of redistributing social resources and power.  This is a demanding approach.  It asks that we swim upstream, that we be accountable and responsive to people who aren’t yet in the room, and that we build the kinds of rooms in which we can sit together, rather than merely seek to navigate more gracefully the rooms history has built for us.”  (Haymarket Books, 2022, 84)

LSA, as we envisioned it in 2014, is that room of our own. In these current moments of power struggles against “the domination of elite interests in the production of knowledge by research universities and think tanks” (Taiwo 111), the potential of a constructive politics to make a difference in our world and in our U.S.Latinx communities is undeniable, although not easy.  It unsettles the long-held assumption that publishing our scholarship and that teaching are inherently forms of resistance. They have the potential to be so, but I believe we can do much more in democratizing our academic language and circulating our bodies, voices and texts outside of academic spaces.  We can expand our placemaking within higher education by honoring and respecting those who refuse to be in, and who are not allowed, in our institutional rooms.

The internal struggles that I have witnessed in the spaces of Latinx Studies throughout the last four decades involve precisely the tensions between the imperative for building the house, for increasing our scholarly productivity, for increasing faculty hires, for creating new courses, for expanding our enrollments of majors and minors, or generally, course enrollments so that we can finally be “legitimated” in the eyes of our higher administrations, and on the other hand, for honoring the radical origins and politics of the founding generations of Chicanx and Puerto Rican Studies, a radicality that was possible only within the marginality we inhabited then. Aware of the neoliberal trends in Latinx Studies that have neutralized the foundational activism of the field, and that prioritize individual publications and achievements over collective survival and empowerment, let us ask ourselves the following questions:

How do we engage and acknowledge our US Latinx communities, those who do not enter “the room”, through our writing and teaching?  How do we strengthen the mutual exchanges between our communities’ lived experiences and the knowledge produced in universities? What have been the constraints and structural impediments for producing sites of activism and social justice in our work?  In our curricula, in our programming?  How are our scholarly projects transforming and unsettling our institutional hegemonies?  How do we as scholars negotiate academic survival and growth with the imperative for decolonization?  How are we “building and rebuilding rooms” instead of “regulating traffic within and between them”? (Taiwo 113) These contradictions between our liberatory rhetoric and the consistent reproduction of hierarchies in our daily decision-making continue unabated. How many times have we internalized academic ranks in faculty meetings, in building curriculum, in assigning service tasks?  How many times have we acquiesced to the power structures of our Colleges and campuses without taking the time to speak against them, to question these power differentials, to attempt to eliminate them one way or another?  These are but some of the small yet radical gestures that will allow us to continue to resist the “elite capture” of what once were radical spaces.

In brief, let us ask ourselves if the JOY as scholars that we feel is informed by our productivity and our individualist career goals, or are we truly and profoundly engaging with our colleagues, students and compa ñeres in the community in search of a joy that is about solidarity and collective wellbeing?  Has fundraising and applying to Mellon and Ford grants replaced the foundational roots of social activism?  Do we need to validate ourselves mostly through financial viability or can we engage community in ways that may be less visible to the mainstream but yet just as meaningful to us as forging community?  Finally, how do we make sense of the growth of Latinx scholars, as evinced in this Conference with over 500 Latinx scholars, vis a vis the diminution, underfunding and continued illegitimacy of Latinx Studies academic units?

As LSA President, I ask you not to think about what Latinx Studies can do for you, but what you can do for Latinx Studies. Our Executive Council is open to proposals from our members, to considering new projects that will document our histories, that can serve as testimonios about the power of LS in our lives, to publishing op eds and critical interventions in social media that validate our field of study as well as engage in serious critiques of the limitations of the field. This is indeed a CALL for you to take action for LSA to be able to resist the censorship and attacks against us as we continue to build the house through collective work and a politics of solidarity that allows us to connect to each other through the acknowledgement of our vulnerabilities. Following Taiwo’s call for a politics of solidarity, “we have to decide collectively where we’re going, and then we have to do what it takes to get there.” Let us hear from YOU, our members, about ideas, visions, projects, that can serve as reaffirmations of our presence, power, and agency during these political wars.

Let us first reclaim JOY as we celebrate our logros this past decade and reaffirm our right to SURVIVE.

Let us reclaim JOY for the decades of sustained growth of students, researchers, scholars, and radical teachers who have built and expanded the rooms history gave us.  If in the 1980s a well-meaning senior colleague in the Spanish Department advised me not to continue in Latinx Studies, since it was only a “temporary” trend and a political movement, today I wish he were here to witness the expansion of our communities as academics and activists. LSA has consistently brought together hundreds of colleagues since our first conference in 2014 and continues to steadily grow with time and work.

Let us reclaim JOY as Latinx Studies continues to transform itself through the emergence of new academic spaces and fields.  Let us celebrate the achievements of the earlier generations who challenged the traditional disciplinary canons, the “common ground” devoted exclusively to the European and White Anglo scholarship, yet now diversified and unsettled by the decolonial voices and lived experiences of subordinated writers and thinkers of color. Today, topics and areas of scholarly inquiry, some emerging, others foundational. –including Central American Studies, Dominican Studies, Colombian Studies, Environmental Studies, Queer and Trans Studies, Inter and Intralatinx Studies, Communities of Care, Disability Studies, affect and race, Aging Studies, and the Solidarity of the Global South—are all instances of decolonial and embodied knowledges, responses to our current precarious world.  We need to continue to open up spaces of inquiry as we strive to understand the destructive forces of the world around us.

Let us reclaim JOY as we celebrate the longevity of our academic journals, all of which emerged within the struggles for social justice nationwide and the recognition and validation of our communities as worthy of academic attention. The Latinx Studies Journal, Aztlán, the Centro Journal, Chiricú, Meridians, and other sites in social media that have become living archives of our critical ideas throughout time. If in the 1980s we could not find places to publish, today scholars have numerous sites that welcome and validate our writing.

Let us reclaim JOY and celebrate the increased access to major funding from the Mellon, the Ford, and other foundations and philanthropies that have made a difference in the growth and expansion of Latinx Studies academic spaces.

Let us reclaim JOY in celebrating the radical contributions of our queer, trans and LGBTQ+ colleagues who have been foundational to our field, who unsettle the heteronormative logics of our patriarchal societies and whose scholarship enriches our understanding of intersectionalities, our fluid gender identities and their articulation with our bodies as performative. Latinx Studies remains committed to our evershifting identities and ultimately returning to our bodies as ongoing sites of struggle.

Let us reclaim JOY as we celebrate the qualitative transformation of the field, enriched and unsettled by the voices of Afro-Latinx scholars, writers, artists and activists who were not only foundational to Puerto Rican Studies in the east coast, but who continue to transform us.  The racial awakenings proposed by Miriam Jiménez Román and The Afro-Latin@ Reader (Duke University Press, 2010) duly invigorated the emergence of a younger generation of outstanding Black Latinx scholars whose internal critiques of a dominant whiteness in the field and in our communities have made us rethink critically about our own personal racial positionings and institutional racism, and have moved us to imagine racial equity and justice in our world.  This self-reckoning is transforming all of us across racial boundaries and ethnic multiplicities.

Let us reclaim JOY as we celebrate learning from and about Indigenous and Native communities in the United States, and further understanding their contributions to our fields of study, to understanding decoloniality, state violence, survival, and responding to our current environmental challenges.


However, today, Latinx Studies, as a component of Critical Ethnic Studies, and jointly with Gender Studies and Black Studies, faces the political censorship of Republican Governors like Ron de Santis and Greg Abbott, their state legislatures, and the communities that support them in this divided country, what Eduardo Lalo calls “the antiunited States”/ los estados antiunidos.”  (EL Nuevo Dia, April 29, 2024) While none of these attempts at censorship are surprising, we must empower ourselves to make personal and strategic decisions about how to continue our work of decolonial resistance and toward social justice in these times of State repression. Today there are more than seventeen states that are considering or enacting laws modeled after Florida’s House Bill 999, criminalizing academic freedom and faculty governance, prohibiting creating majors and minors in our fields and any field related to race, gender, and power, and transferring the power of faculty governance to politically appointed Trustees.  As Robin Kelley has written, “As we face a rising tide of fascism right now, let us remember how we got here:  by protest, occupation, rebellion, and deep study.  And as long as racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy (and I would add mysoginy), class oppression, and colonial domination persist, our critical analyses will always be considered criminal.” (Our History has Always Been Contraband: In Defense of Black Studies, Eds. Colin Kaepernick, Robin D.G. Kelley and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Kaepernick Publications and Haymarket Books, 2023, 15)

If Robin Kelley has described Black History and Black Studies as “contraband”, Latinx Studies continues to struggle with its structured “illegitimacy” in academia. Latinx Studies continues to represent a disturbing threat to the U.S. mainstream and to the growing conservative sectors both within and outside our Latinx communities.  In the 1980s and 1990s, colleagues of my generation witnessed and participated in the Culture Wars over the inclusion of non-Western content in the graduation requirements for university students, faced Republican students in our classrooms who would secretly record our lectures and compile our syllabi to later denounce us in their student campus newspapers, spoke with CNN journalists who would visit our campuses to document in the news these intense debates around the power of alternative and subjugated knowledges, and participated in difficult and painful discussions around transforming our curricula and imagining courses about race and racism that would help students of color navigate the legacies of State violence that their families had experienced. Today, thirty years later, despite the institutionalized presence of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Latinx Studies continues to be structurally domesticated, underfunded, undervalued, and undermined by neoliberal logics. The corporate interests of academia commodify us in ways that satisfy the liberal agendas of higher administration, yet still deeming ethnic studies in general as not worthy of current funding and validation, and as fields of study that should be dismantled as the future of academia rests on technology, science, and engineering.

How do we organize collectively to resist the neoliberal university’s agenda to render invisible the interdisciplinary fields of ethnic studies, race studies, and gender studies at a time when STEM and Artificial Intelligence are deemed as the fields of the future?  How do we convince Deans and Higher Administrators that our fields are still of social urgency in the country we live in and around the world?  The Republican conservative attacks by De Santis and Abbott are intimately interconnected to the rise in funding and valoration of STEM and AI, Business and the economic market as the only valid fields of study and professional training. For instance, in SUNY Albany, Havidan Rodríguez, the University President who happens to be Puerto Rican, is defunding Latinx Studies and the graduate Phd Program in Caribbean, Latin American and Latinx Studies because it is considered “a field that belongs to the past.”  If some colleagues have desisted from asking for funding and support from their administration and instead apply for foundation monies, what does that imply regarding the accountability of our own academic leaders in guaranteeing our long-term survival?  If many campuses are now celebrating the fifty years of Latinx Studies units (NYU, Rutgers, CUNY, and the UC campuses), will we have fifty more years of continued growth or will we each have to produce knowledge from our respective departments without a centralized unit and curriculum that performs Latinx Studies as a home away from home for so many Latinx students?  For many universities, becoming a Hispanic serving Institution seems like a preferable route than to value and subsidize Latinx Studies teaching and scholarship. Even designated HSI campuses do not assure that institutions will be investing funding into Latinx students or programs. I exhort you all to return to your campuses and engage with funding and resources, ask questions to your administrators, and organize locally to demand more for Latinx students and for our academic units.

As we all grapple with these political attacks against our fields, let us not forget the power of Hispanic Republicans and other right wing Latinx sectors who continuously and forcefully are destroying the validity of Chicanx and US Puerto Rican histories, as was the recent case in the National Museum of the American Latino. This brings us to the concept of horizontal hierarchies, which integrates “both the shared experiences under US imperialism and our internal asymmetries of power” as we reaffirm the relational and situational contexts behind forging community.  In this light, my long-term struggles with understanding the promises and limitations of the term “Latinidad/es” allows me to critically engage with these power differentials among us. How we treat each other, from the personal and individual context to the ways we teach each other’s histories, to the ways we include or exclude each other in our curricula, are all instances of grappling with Latinidad/es. Think of the ways in which we have normalized titles with the term Latine or Latinx for articles or books that only focus on one ethnic community. How do we justify a curriculum in Latinx Studies that only includes one ethnic community, when our regional demographics have been transformed into shared spaces of an inter-latinx texture?  I remember flawed arguments by colleagues ten years ago about not including Central American Studies in our courses because they were too “new” as immigrants. Today, and even then, these arguments were not sustainable and the growing presence of Central American scholars, courses, and publications nationwide speaks to the contrary.

Let me conclude with an anecdote from the late 1950s that movingly illustrates how emerging spaces of Latinidad can become a site for affective resistance and mutual care.

In her 2013 memoir, Puerto Rican actor Rita Moreno recalled a moment during her early years as a starlet in Hollywood that painfully revealed the sexual violence that has long permeated the entertainment industry, one that traumatized and wounded her.  Rita recalled how, as she fled a cocktail party at a stately Bel Air mansion where she was being sexually harassed, she ran into a group of Mexican landscapers:

I was starting to remove my high heels, thinking that somehow I would walk back miles and miles to Westwood, when a pickup truck arrived to collect the gardeners I’d seen working earlier in the day.  They were Mexicans.  I ran over to the truck and spoke in Spanish to one of them.

“Please, can you take me home”?  I begged.

The men didn’t ask why.  They understood without a word.  They sat me down on the front seat, and one of them gently put his work jacket over my shoulders.  They drove me home without a word.  They were the only gentlemen I met that night.  (Moreno 135)

This poignant moment, in which a Puerto Rican female movie starlet finds unexpected friendship among Mexican male gardeners in Los Angeles during the early 1950s, should not be deemed an exceptional moment, but rather be interpreted as an instance of social Latinidad, an encounter between individuals of two nationalities that interact with each other with a mutual understanding of the subordinations, racializations, and colonial subjectivities that Latinx peoples have shared in the United States.  Both positioned as laborers –the landscapers paid to maintain the gardens and Rita as a starlet who had signed a contract with the movie production companies that required her to attend these private parties as sexual entertainment— they all understood their racialized place in the white world of Bel Air.  This quiet solidarity was only possible by the assumed recognition of a shared suffering as brown bodies within the elite whiteness that surrounded them. I close with this anecdote to remind us to continue engaging in a “nobility of survival” (Taiwo 120) through mutual respect and solidarity, reinscribing Latinidad as our communal space.

Muchas gracias for your attention and for allowing me to serve as your President.

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