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Next Week at CLACS: PoeTea, NYPL Oral History, CineCLACS and Revolutionary Feminism!

We’ve got amazing events planned for next week here at CLACS at NYU! It’ll be a busy week–from having the New York Public Library’s Community Oral History Project on site to hosting an important discussion on feminism in Latin America–and we want to invite you along! All our events are free and open to NYU students and faculty as well as the general public. Read below for short descriptions on the upcoming events, and we hope to see you here next week!

On Monday, join us in celebrating National Poetry Month at PoeTea! We’re collaborating with the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York to showcase the work of young local Haitian poets and spoken word artists and also sharing traditional Haitian teas. This is the perfect opportunity to witness the power of poetry and storytelling all while learning about a part of Haitian culture that has been around for centuries! Additional refreshments and drinks will also be served. Event starts at 6:30pm, for more info visit the event page on our website.

On Tuesday, we’re hosting a brown bag lunch talk featuring the NYPL Community Oral History Project! We’ve invited Alexandra Kelly, Manager of Adult Programming and Outreach Services at the NYPL and director of the Community Oral History Project, to present and lead discussion around the project model and the challenges around maintaining oral history standards in a large-scale volunteer-driven project. Event starts at 12:30pm, for more info visit the event page on our website.

Also on Tuesday, CineCLACS presents a collaborative documentary produced by filmmaker and faculty member Peter Lucas. We’ll be screening The Rules, a film shot in Rio de Janeiro that prompts participants to answer the question, “If you could break the rules… what would you do?” The screening will be followed by a conversation with the filmmaker. Event starts at 6:30pm, for more info visit the event page on our website.

On Friday, CLACS and Ni Una Menos NYC is hosting Verónika Mendoza, last year’s Peruvian presidential candidate and women’s rights advocate, in a conversation about the power of intersectional feminist leadership in the process of ending feminicides and gender inequality in Peru and Latin America. This conversation will also feature Claudia Salazar, author of “La Sangre de la Aurora, and will be moderated by CLACS faculty member Pamela Calla as part of her Feminist Constellations and Intercultural Paradigms working group. The event will be held in Spanish and simultaneous interpretation will be provided. Event starts at 5:00pm, for more info visit the event page on our website.

We hope you can join us next week! Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more information on our events; there’s always something happening at #CLACSatNYU!

Wynnie Lamour on The Sanité Bélair Women’s Empowerment Series

SaniteBelair

At CLACS at NYU we’ve been celebrating International Women’s Month by hosting The Sanité Bélair Women’s Empowerment Series all this month. So far, we’ve hosted Black Afro-feminist activist Fania Noel and rapper and spoken word artist Theresa Sophia Alphonse. Later this month we’ll be hosting Stephani Saintonge, an award-winning filmmaker & documentarian. To give the CLACS at NYU’s community more insight about the inspiration behind the series, Haitian Creole Language Institute founder Wynnie Lamour talks about Sanité Bélair and the deep historical roots that ground the events:

“Despite the invaluable contribution of many women in Caribbean history, their voices and stories have often been left by the wayside, having fallen prey to the whims of a society that often undervalues women. From providing the nurture needed by their communities to blazing new pathways, women have always lead the way for movements of great change.

The Sanité Bélair Women’s Empowerment Series was born out of a desire to celebrate and center the visionary work of contemporary Caribbean women. Sanité Bélair was a Haitian freedom fighter and revolutionary, and one of the few women soldiers who fought during the Haitian Revolution at the turn of the 19th century. Sanité, whom Dessalines described as “a tigress,” is formally recognized by the Haitian Government as a National Heroine of Haiti.

Just as the Haitian Revolution led the way for so many others in the Caribbean, the courage and fortitude displayed by Sanité during the Haitian Revolution was unparalleled and continues to echo in the spirits of many Haitian women today. Her passion and fire serve as inspiration for the three Modern-Day Revolutionary women being featured this month in the Sanité Bélair Women’s Empowerment Series: Fania Noel, Black Afro-Feminist Activist; Theresa Sophia Alphonse, Rapper & Spoken Word Artist; and Stephani Saintonge, award-winning Filmmaker & Documentarian.”

Thinking Through Milanich’s Children of Fate in Contemporary Times

By Amanda Sommer Lotspike, MA candidate at CLACS

“No Charges Filed Against Off-Duty LAPD Officer,” the headline reads. A video shows a grown white man bearing a gun, clutching the shirt of a child. Another grown white man stands away with his hands in his pockets, while children rush to support the child, who is being dragged by the hands of the grown white man. In the news, the perpetrator’s name is concealed to protect his identity. As he walks free, two children are detained in the Orange County Juvenile Hall.

Today’s February 26. This weekend, forensics teams searched the periphery of the home of the grown white man to protect his private property from future damage. Today’s February 26, and five years have passed since Trayvon Martin’s death. His murderer, a grown man, still walks free. In response to the most recent shooting, The LAPD labor union releases a statement: “an officer has the right to self-defense no matter the age of the offender.”[1]

To talk about recognition and intelligibility under liberalism means engaging with the present. In our Introduction to Latin American and Caribbean Studies II seminar this week, Nara Milanich was invited to speak to our class on the topic of law, filial relations and the production of social inequalities in late nineteenth century Chile. In Children of Fate: Childhood, Class, and the State in Chile, 1850-1930, Milanich traces the paradoxes of liberalism and the ways in which transformations in civil law regarding the family actually re-instated social inequalities. Here, continuity with longstanding social practices rather than rupture, marks the trajectory of the liberal state. One example is the increasing secularization and growth of state power matched by a contradictory emphasis on private rights and personal freedom. Another more pointed example is the function of judicial authorities who characterized children as “too young to ‘determine the use of his person,’” yet acknowledged their self-determination.[2]

During class discussion we drew on contemporary examples of racialized, classed and gendered discourses that castigate certain types of child rearing, and which wield the legal classification of “child” (like “citizen”) as a tool to construct and reinforce social and political hierarchies. I thought about our discussion as I read the news headline today. I thought about the reach of state power in the form of an officer’s gun on a child, while the same state (the legal system) asserts the perpetrator’s private rights by protecting his identity. I thought about how legal definitions of childhood and adulthood fall away when a pillar of the liberal state is held up to scrutiny, when “an officer has the right to self-defense no matter the age of the offender.”

Notes

[1] No Charges Filed Against Off-Duty LAPD Officer, Anaheim Mayor ‘Deeply Disturbed’ By Video. February 23, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/02/23/anaheim-protest-arrests

[2] Milanich, N. B. (2009). Children of fate: Childhood, class, and the state in Chile, 1850-1930. Durham: Duke University Press, 123.

CLACS Faculty Pamela Calla Wins Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty Award

 

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It is with great honor that we share with the #CLACSatNYU community that our faculty member Pamela Calla recently won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty Award for excellence in teaching, leadership, social justice advocacy, and community building.

Professor Calla is a distinguished anthropologist, cherished member of the #CLACSatNYU community, and a mentor to many of our students. She grew up in a mining town in southern Bolivia. Her understanding and construction of collaborative political, pedagogical and research approaches dealing with difference and inequality were shaped by this life experience.

Before coming to CLACS at NYU, she was the co-founder and director of the Bolivian Observatory on Racism. This observatory had the mandate of research, capacity-building, and grassroots action against current manifestations of racism. She was later co-founder and co-coordinator of the “Red de Investigación Acción Anti Racista en las Américas,” an initiative which linked organizations with similar mandates across the Americas, as well as focused on capacity-building and comparative-action research in the creation of pertinent anti-racist strategies.

Professor Calla’s research has also focused on indigenous women in social movements in Latin America. Black feminism’s intersectional analysis and Chicana feminism’s border analysis in the U.S. became crucial to her action-research with indigenous women in Bolivia. This experience led to the co-creation, alongside colleagues and students, of a working group on Feminist Constellations and Intercultural Paradigms at CLACS. She is now writing a book, “Indigenous women and the hegemony of a cultural revolution in Bolivia.”

We are honored to have Professor Pamela Calla at #CLACSatNYU and celebrate her achievements and the positive impact she continues to have among our students.

¡Felicidades profesora!

Aquarius by Kleber Mendonça Filho, or what should have been Brazil’s Oscar nominee

ladjaneBy Ian Merkel, PhD Candidate, History and French Studies, New York University

The Brazilian film Aquarius, released internationally last October, has been celebrated  by critics worldwide after its standing ovation at Cannes. On the front cover of the September edition of the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema, Aquarius was applauded as “a marvelous and surprising act of portraiture”[1] and considered “triumphant, a one-woman show of strength, sensuality and indomitable staying power”[2]. This very Brazilian film managed to do something that Brazilian film historically has often failed to do: to present stories, characters, scenarios, and aesthetics that a more global audience can identify with. In the United States, Aquarius deserves our special attention after having been deprived, by the Brazilian government, of the possibility of competing for an Oscar.[3] But while almost all critics, Brazilian and international, mention the presence of the protagonist Clara (Sônia Braga)’s maid Ladjane (Zoraide Coleto), few[4] analyze the relationship between them. In this article, we propose to demonstrate the very centrality of this question, as well as a broader critique of upper middle class privilege[5], within Mendonça Filho’s film.

International critics, to a large extent, have failed to address this question as they did for Mendonça Filho’s previous film, Neighboring Sounds (O Som Ao Redor), where themes of labor relations and the legacy of slavery were much more central.[6]  This may be because Brazil’s institution of domestic labor is unfamiliar to them and the film, unlike Domésticas (2001), and the more recent Casa Grande (2014) and Que Horas Ela Volta (2015), does not deal with it directly.  For most Brazilians critics, the institution of domestic labor is perhaps so banal, so omnipresent not simply in the film but in their daily lives, that it fails to garner special attention. These critics have reason to focus their energies on the larger politics of the film, particularly in the aftermath of the recent impeachment, considered by many to be a coup d’état.[7] But critics should also remember that Clara, the very protagonist of the film, is not without her own ambiguities. Although she resisted the military dictatorship[8]— and we imagine her to be a music critic and writer critical of inequalities on so many fronts– Clara proves incapable of criticizing the very institution of domestic labor that she depends upon in her daily life.

Identifying Clara as “good” and the real estate speculators as “evil” misses one of the essential takeaways of the film: namely, that all of us, to varying degrees, are caught up in a social and economic system that is exploitative, segregationist, and, although not overtly, racist.  This exploitation most often takes place at a distance. We know that the clothes on our backs are made by slave labor in Asia; the cellphones in our hands, with materials mined in precarious conditions in Africa and the Middle East; the produce we consume, cultivated either by poorly paid and mistreated labor, by multinationals that are destroying our planet (Brazil being a poignant example), or by both. We choose, however, not to remember these things—in psychology, to repress them— so that we can live our daily lives.

In the case of the Brazilian upper-middle classes, such daily exploitation is often much more intimate. In Aquarius, without cheap domestic labor, who would wash Clara’s clothes, cook her meals, clean her home, and allow her, as a woman, to have been able to pursue her aspirations as a writer? Clara, by most standards, is not only a good, but an excellent employer. Nonetheless, she is still the beneficiary of extreme inequality that makes it feasible (and in her mind necessary) to have someone working at her personal service, day in and day out.

Clara, like her friends, is conscious of this. Mid-way through the film, in the midst of growing tensions with her landlord, Clara dreams of an employee (a black woman) rummaging through and stealing her jewelry before her own eyes. The real thief throughout the film is the real estate company that owns her building. The company pressures Clara to leave her apartment and, when persuasion fails, make her life there a living hell. But in Clara’s dreams, her feelings of vulnerability are symbolized by a much more petty form of theft by an employee in her own home. Her friend Fátima (Paula de Renor), when looking over a family album of photographs in which she comes across an old employee, says quite nonchalantly, “we exploit them, they sometimes steal from us”. The naturality with which Fátima expresses this fact assumes a series of unspeakable truths: the recognition of employee underpayment, the expectation that employees will periodically steal, and the assumption of a given’s employee’s ability to be replaced when this inevitably happens.

Clara’s confrontation with Diego (Humberto Carrão), the grandson of the real estate mogul who is actively working to disappropriate Clara from her apartment, reveals director Kleber Mendonça’s not-so-stereotypical exploration of the upper-middle class existence of people like Clara. While certain critics regret Kleber Mendonça’s stereotyping of the young Brazilian businessman as a typical coxinha[9], Diego’s response to Clara’s provocations are indeed quite profound. Clara’s invective against Diego as an inheritor of family fortune, disguised in the language of “business” that his training in the U.S. allows him to use, certainly finds echo among the Brazilian left. But Diego’s bitingly sarcastic response to Clara, “you obviously had it tough,” gesturing toward Clara’s maid Ladjane who accompanied their argument, is equally powerful. Clara’s monopoly on morality against the exploitative capitalist crumbles in the face of her own reality.

After watching Aquarius, we obviously gain sympathy for certain characters and kinds of personalities more than others. Clearly, Mendonça Filho’s film is situated to the left of the political spectrum. But the film’s strength is to nuance our preconceived notions of good and evil. Clara, even as a woman on the left, a cultivated feminist who represents, to a large degree, progressive forces within Brazil, is still dependent on the exploitation of labor. In the United States, we have our own systems of exploitation laborer that that prop up middle class existence. In Brazil, however, such exploitation is often much more intimate, occurring within the confines of ones own home.

In recent years, the Worker’s Party government has brought domestic laborers out of the shadows and officially into the Brazilian workforce. Now, these workers are ensured, at least on paper, basic standards such as paid overtime, vacation, and employer contributions to social security. Many middle class people complain of the rising costs of having full time maids, and it may be the case that the current economic crisis forces even more of them to go from having someone work for them everyday to only once or twice a week. Nonetheless, domestic labor, as so many other employer-employee relationships in condominiums, houses, and businesses, remain the norm in Brazil. It is so utterly banal that even the left-wing critics of Aquarius are blind to it.

Mendonça Filho’s film is incredibly nostalgic for Brazilian cities in the 1980s and 1990s. His memory of a much safer, more humane Recife, less affected by real estate speculation and violence, may be accurate. However, it must not be forgotten that in those years, employees like Ladjane were considered as much appliances as they were as people. This, of course, is inseparable from the long history of slavery. According to architect, Lúcio Costa, “The Brazilian machine of housing, from the time of colony to Empire, depended on this mixture of beast and person that was a slave… he is what made the house function: there was a Negro for everything—from the little Negros always at hand for messages to the Old Negro nanny. The Negro was plumbing; he was running water in the bedroom, warm and cold; he was the light-switch and the doorbell; he sealed leaks and lifted heavy windowpanes; he was the washing machine and fanned better than a fan itself. Even after the abolition of slavery, the bonds of dependence and the comforts of patriarchal life […] persisted. During the first Republican period, the low cost of domestic labor continued to allow the bourgeoisie the maintain, without officially having slaves, the easy life of the previous period.”[10]

Aquarius, surely, may have its plot centered on Clara’s disappropriation. But it is much more than about the plight of the middle classes caused by real estate speculation. It is, in many ways, about the necessarily exploitative lifestyle of the middle classes, and the Brazilian middle classes in particular—even when they think of themselves as leftists. Aquarius will surely go down as a Brazilian and international classic. Aesthetically, its value is already recognized, as are Sônia Braga’s performance and the excellent soundtrack. But if Aquarius is to have a more profound impact politically, critics and viewers alike would do well to consider the exploitative nature not only of the real estate industry[11], but of people like me, you, and Clara.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/14/movies/aquarius-review.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/sonia-braga-makes-a-triumphant-return-to-the-screen-in-aquarius/2016/10/20/0966195e-948d-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/28/world/americas/brazilian-politics-smother-a-films-oscar-ambitions.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/may/17/aquarius-review-rich-and-mysterious-brazilian-story-of-societal-disintegration

[5] revistacinetica.com.br/nova/o-pais-do-cinismo/

[6] http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/neighboring-sounds-2013

[7]http://www.democracynow.org/2016/3/24/glenn_greenwald_brazils_democracy_is_under
http://nacla.org/news/2016/09/07/brazil-impeachment-president-and-future-country
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/03/dilma-rousseff-pt-coup-golpe-petrobras-lavajato/

[8] http://www.cartacapital.com.br/cultura/aquarius-e-o-dever-da-resistencia

[9] http://g1.globo.com/pop-arte/cinema/noticia/2016/09/aquarius-faz-reflexao-poderosa-mas-tem-vilao-simplista-g1-ja-viu.html

http://cultura.estadao.com.br/blogs/estado-da-arte/aquarius-e-a-regressao-do-cinema-politico/

[10] “A máquina brasileira de morar, ao tempo da colônia e do império, dependia dessa mistura de coisas, de bicho e de gente, que era o escravo. Se os casarões remanescentes do tempo antigo parecem inabitáveis devido ao desconforto, é porque o negro está ausente. Era ele que fazia a casa funcionar: havia negro para tudo – desde negrinhos sempre à mão para recados, até negra velha, babá. O negro era esgoto; era água corrente no quarto, quente e fria; era interruptor de luz e botão de campainha; o negro tapava goteira e subia vidraça pesada; era lavador automático, abanava que nem ventilador. Mesmo depois de abolida a escravidão, os vínculos de dependência e os hábitos cômodos da vida patriarcal de tão vil fundamento, perduraram, e, durante a primeira fase republicana, o custo baixo da mão de obra doméstica ainda permitiu à burguesia manter, mesmo sem escravos oficiais, o trem fácil da vida do período anterior.”

COSTA, Lúcio. “Depoimento de um arquiteto carioca”. In: Centro dos Estudantes Universitários de Arquitetura. Lúcio Costa: sobre arquitetura. Porto Alegre: UFRGS, 1962

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/world/americas/brazil-president-temer-corruption.html?_r=0

Resúmen de evento: Presentación de la Trilogía del Malamor y Malaluna

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El pasado lunes, septiembre 26, José Ignacio Valenzuela nos visito en CLACS y nos contó cómo nació la idea para los libros que forman la Trilogía del Malamor. Relato que escribir la Trilogía del Malamor se trató de poner “carne latinoamericana” sobre “huesos anglosajones” de manera literaria.

Para revisar el evento completo, por favor vean el video abajo:

Event Re-cap: PoeTEA, Quechua & Kreyòl Showcase

This past September 13th, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies celebrated a night of languages and culture. Our Quechua & Kreyòl showcase included presentations by language instructors Odi Gonzales (Quechua) and Wynnie Lamour (Haitian Creole).

Students also shared poetry and participants enjoyed a playlist curated by Haitian-American DJ Sabine Blaizin, as well as delicious food and tea. It was a wonderful coming together of poets and community and a testament to the cultural relevance of the Indigenous and Diasporic Language Consortium.

Please enjoy a video re-cap of the event below: