Latin American and Latino Studies Professor Catherine Ramirez Speaks at Latino Literature Symposium

November 18, 2014

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In her presentation titled "The Good Citizen: Narratives of the Immigrant Rights Movement," Professor Catherine Ramirez talked about how Native Americans in the late 19th century were sent to the assimilation program at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Behind her is a before and after photograph of a Navajo man.

Last week, the Chicano Latino Research Center hosted its fifth biennial symposium of the Latino Literary Cultures Project - an event that puts artists and academics together to discuss the representation of Latinos in a historic and global context.

By putting scholars, writers, artists, poets in dialogue, the event shows how the arts is also an intellectual endeavor and vice versa, that academia can be as much a creative process as it is a scholarly one. Kristen Silva Gruesz, a professor in the USCS literature department emphasized the importance of these interdisciplinary opportunities in her opening remarks. “The creative is intellectual,” she noted.

Xochiquetzal Candelaria, a poet, academic and speaker at the event said that analyzing literature and the arts can help fill in gaps in the historical narrative. “Memory itself is unreliable - we need each other to assemble an accurate historical record.”

Catherine Ramirez, a professor in the division’s Latin American and Latino Studies department and Director of the Chicano Latino Research Center, also talked at the event as part of the morning panel titled “Imagining Worlds Through Language.”

Professor Ramirez presented her latest research about immigrant assimilation, the topic of a book she is currently writing. In her talk, "The Good Citizen: Narratives of the Immigrant Rights Movement," Ramirez argues that assimilation is an organizing rubric of citizenship. It is an affect that immigrants and US born descendants are expected to perform.

Ramirez pointed to a range of examples that tell an uneven and paradoxical story assimilation in American history. From Native Americans in the late 19th century being sent to the assimilation program at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, through to the Japanese American concentration camps in WWII and most recently the case of Jakadrien Turner, a Texan teen who was deported after she assumed the false identity of an undocumented Colombian woman, Ramirez argues that assimilation is dependent on the cultural distinction of inclusion and exclusion. Assimilation crosses space and identities.

Ramirez comments that paradoxically, these stories of assimilation only reinforce the margin. The tile of Ramirez’s book manuscript is Assimilation: An Alternative History. For more information about Ramirez’s work, please visit her website.

The event was supported by the Puknat Literary Studies Endowment of theDepartment of Literature,Institute for Humanities Research, theOffice for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Merrill, Stevenson, Kresge, Cowell, Oakes and Porter Colleges. The day also included discussions with award winning winning novelist/journalist Ana Menéndez and writer/artist Maceo Montoya.

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