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3.3: Embodied Memories- Archival Movidas and Oral Hxstory

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    Archival Movidas

    During the Chicano movement era, activists developed a robust print culture to publicize important issues, explore and debate ideas, and connect across regions. Many Chicanas published important essays and produced photojournalism, but were often not given credit. These “anonymous” sources are part of the Chicano movement archive, which scholars utilize to produce studies of the era. Coupled with colonialist and patriarchal historical practices, Chicana participation in El Movimiento is often written out of history. 

    Such absences in the record replicate the invisibilization of Chicana labor in the 1960s and 1970s and reinforce the need for oral historians and researchers to talk directly to movement activists, explore extrainstitutional archives, and perhaps more importantly, ask the right questions of their sources. More often than not, excavations of Chicana memory have been undertaken from the ground up, with scholars tracking down sources, sifting through personal archives, and conducting lengthy interviews and oral histories.32

    These archival movidas expand what is typically considered valid source material and documentary evidence by also including oral histories as a source of embodied knowledge, which is explored further in the remainder of this section. 

    In The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (2003), performance studies and Latin/o American studies scholar Diana Taylor calls attention to how colonial historiography creates a distance, a binary, and a hierarchy between “the archive of supposedly enduring materials (i.e., texts, documents, buildings, bones) and the so-called ephemeral repertoire of embodied practice/knowledge (spoken language, dance, sports, ritual).”33 The texts/objects that constitute archival memory are thought to be unmediated and remain unchanged, despite changing interpretations of them, and the repertoire is often restricted to the past. Taylor argues that the repertoire enacts embodied memory and requires people to be present and participate in the production and transmission of knowledge. She says that both the archive and the repertoire are mediated (people make choices about them) and they are both important sources of information that work in tandem. 

    María Cotera provides fresh understandings for engaging with the archive and the repertoire as embodied sources of memory and knowledge. Along with Linda Garcia Merchant, Cotera created the Chicana por mi Raza Digital Memory Project and Archive (CPMR) in 2009, collecting more than 100 oral histories of Chicana feminists from the movement era, one being her mother Marta Cotera, as well as 7,000 objects and materials from their personal archives such as “letters, photographs, meeting notes and agendas, conference programs, out-of-print books, journals, newspapers, flyers, posters, buttons, and even audio recordings and filmstrips,” which were then digitized.34 Cotera began the project as a daughter seeking to recuperate and preserve her mother’s personal archive, which she notes is part of a “stunningly rich constellation of largely unexplored collections that collectively haunt the official archive of both the women’s movement and the Chicano movement, a constellation that offers its own disruptive version of the past.”35

    She found that gathering a personal archive was a common practice among Chicana feminists, naming this phenomenon a praxis of memory, which provides “a model to critically reframe the relationship between the past and the present” and “new objects of inquiry and new methods of analysis.”36 Through her work building the CPMR, Cotera confronted the colonial emphasis on the so-called authority of the archivist and attempts to organize the objects into a single linear narrative focusing on the product rather than the process. She recalls,

    What we were collecting wasn’t just bits and pieces of evidence of historical presence, but collections themselves, some small and carefully curated, some haphazard, some sprawling and wild, and others meticulously organized in rows of file cabinets and folders. Our developing archive was something more than a collection of documents––it was a collection of collections and recollections, a space where Chicana memory practices are both preserved and performed. [This work incited] … a series of theoretical and methodological questions about memory, knowledge production, and historical meaning-making. Is it possible to interrupt erasures of the archive/knowledge system, to decolonize the archive? Can we challenge the power relations between scholars and their objects of study that all too often render silent the multitude of voices and articulations that cannot be contained in a single coherent narrative? Can we create an archive that responds to the radical potential of the memory practices it documents? Can an archive become a site/sitio of encuentro and conocimiento rather than simply a repository––a place where new ways of producing and exchanging knowledge are explored, where new modes of identity, affiliation, and memory are forged in the meeting place between present and past?37

    Cotera addressed these questions first-hand, working with students to build the CPMR archive, noting that those who access the archival materials become historical practitioners, actively engaging with the past to critically theorize the present, moving through a path of conocimiento.

    Key Term: Conocimiento

    Conocimiento is an aspect of consciousness, a living theory, and a praxis laid out by Gloria E. Anzaldúa in her essay “now let us shift… the path of conocimiento… inner work, public acts.”38 It describes the journey one takes in the development of an embodied self-awareness, questioning reality and dominant paradigms, and experiencing shifts in perception. Building on her earlier theory of mestiza consciousness, Anzaldúa writes, “Her first step is to take inventory. Despojando, desgranando, quitando paja. …She puts history through a sieve, winnows out the lies, looks at the forces that we as a race, as women, have been a part of. …She reinterprets history and, using new symbols, she shapes new myths. She adopts new perspectives toward the darkskinned, women and queers. She strengthens her tolerance (and intolerance) for ambiguity. She is willing to share, to make herself vulnerable to foreign ways of seeing and thinking.”39 The task of the traveler, then, is to take inventory and sift through history in order to develop new insights about the self and the world and to act on this new consciousness, moving towards connection, liberation, and healing.

    These acts of Chicana remembrance are a technology that can bridge the past and the present of Chicana feminist thought. As an alternative archive, the CPMR attends to the structured silences and colonial mechanisms of erasure, moving beyond seeking inclusion in official archives, questioning the collecting, documenting, and organizing logics of historical knowledge production. 

    Chicana feminist scholars have also become historical practitioners working with their own family archives. In “A Familial Legacy of meXicana Style,” Chicana feminist literary and cultural studies scholar Domino Renee Perez longs for intergenerational family photos, saying that they are a “non-portable luxury” not afforded to her migrant family.40 Despite this limitation, Perez was able to obtain three photos of her grandmother, which led her on a journey to piece together her life story, with many questions arising along the way. She also gathered photographs from her mother, aunts, and uncles to build an abundant collection of images, memories, and stories. Using auto-ethnography, Perez digs into her family’s and communities’ complex social history through the practices of dress and adornment, offering a historical and poetic recounting of her family’s style and its influence on her own identity. Her non-linear narrative jumps back and forth in time from the story surrounding the photo to her own present-day interpretations and feelings about the encuentros with the photo and its surrounding memories. Perez presents the immigration history of her family, the class divisions among Latinas/os at the turn of the twentieth century, and the buying patterns of Latinas/os as they struggle with constructing identity through self-adornment and intersectional oppression through the impositions of social class, ethnicity, gender, and race. 

    Oral Hxstory

    Through storytelling, testimonios, and oral history interviews conducted in the late 1990s with translatina singer, performance artist, and Bay Area, California icon Teresita la Campesina, queer Latino oral historian Horacio Roque Ramírez further expands our understandings of the archive. Ramírez documents Teresita’s life history, which represents “a living archive of evidence that responds to both the whiteness of queer archiving practices and the heteronormativity of Latino historiography.”41 As a translatina elder who lived through the second half of the twentieth century (1940-2002), the later part of her life with AIDS, Teresita was, “Deeply committed to laying out a living historical record of queer desires,” assuming “responsibility to pass on the stories and histories of the fallen, those who came before the current generations of queer Latina/o community builders.”42 Through the example of Teresita’s communal and intergenerational narratives connected to the larger socio-political landscape of San Francisco, Ramírez challenges us to think about individual memories not merely as objects to collect, but as deeply social living testimony. 

    Ramírez was impacted by Teresita’s presence as a queer Latinx historical anchor and a living archive of desire, meaning, the body itself holds memories, knowledge, “sexual consciousness, erotic desire, and gender expression.”43 He wrote about the profound exchange between them and his concerns as a queer oral historian, listener, and witness. Over time, they became collaborators who built a relationship based on trust. “That she trusted me in her final years of life also meant that she set a responsibility for me to do something with the archive she was revealing,” Ramírez writes.44 Maylei Blackwell contends that oral history can be understood as an embodied knowledge practice for both the narrator and the witness/researcher. Expressions and interactions may not be captured in the transcript––connections and relationships are developed and additional meanings are conveyed “off tape.” Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x feminist and queer oral historians often develop long-term collaborations with their narrators, which can grow into friendships and/or political commitments, leading to deeper knowledge and higher levels of accountability. That Ramírez was explicit about these intimate and vulnerable moments as a graduate student researcher provides a fruitful example for those of us who wish to use oral history and testimonio to gather stories from our beloved communities.  

    Ramírez’s work is instrumental in the development of queer oral history methods and queer Latinx archives, particularly those that document the lives, embodied memories, and histories of those impacted by the AIDS epidemic. Like other scholars discussed in this chapter, Ramírez poses a set of questions in Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History (2012), along with his co-author Nan Alamilla Boyd, that create additional openings in Chicanx/Latinx historiography:

    How has queer oral history evolved? Are queer methods different from other oral history methods? What has it meant for narrators to talk openly with researchers about queer life, especially when queer genders, sexualities, and desires have been protectively hidden or vowed to secrecy? What has it meant for researchers to focus their work on queer history?45

    These questions can provide an important starting point for those who wish to collect queer Chicanx/Latinx oral hxstories and testimonios, which are critical acts of documentation and oppositional histories that “provide alternative perspectives to the course of history and its archives” that quite literally speak back to historical absences through the creation of new materials and new records.46 While many queer oral history projects have been developed over the past decades, similar to Chicana/Latina feminist history, there is still much work to be done.


    32 Cotera, Blackwell, and Espinoza, “Introduction,” 10.

    33 Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 19.

    34 María Cotera, “Unpacking Our Mothers’ Libraries: Practices of Chicana Memory before and after the Digital Turn,” in Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era, eds. Dionne Espinoza, María Eugenia Cotera, and Maylei Blackwell (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), 305.

    35 Cotera, “Unpacking,” 299.

    36 Cotera, “Unpacking,” 301.

    37 Cotera, “Unpacking,” 306-307.

    38 Gloria Anzaldúa, “now let us shift… the path of conocimiento… inner work, public acts,” in This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, eds. Gloria E. Anzaldúa and Analouise Keating (New York: Routledge, 2002), 540-578.

    39 Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 104.

    40 Domino Renee Perez, “A Familial Legacy of meXicana Style,” in meXicana Fashions: Politics, Self-Adornment, and Identity Construction, eds. Aída Hurtado and Norma E. Cantú (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020), 109-133.

    41 Horacio Roque Ramírez, “A Living Archive of Desire: Teresita la Campesina and the Embodiment of Queer Latino Community Histories,” in Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and The Writing of History, ed. Antoinette Burton (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 113.

    42 Ramírez, “A Living Archive,” 112.

    43 Nan Alamilla Boyd and Horacio Roque Ramírez, eds. Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History (Oxford University Press, 2012), 1.

    44 Ramírez, “A Living Archive,” 7.

    45 Alamilla Boyd and Ramírez, Bodies of Evidence, 1.

    46 Ramírez, “A Living Archive,” 120.

    This page titled 3.3: Embodied Memories- Archival Movidas and Oral Hxstory is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amber Rose González (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .