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About S.B.

 There is a current, seemingly unilateral emphasis on identitary intersectionalities that dictate the validity with which one might do certain forms of intellectual work; that is, one’s “identity”—that unfixed, constantly changing social determination that one categorically “possesses”—determines if one can have “knowledge” of a certain “lived experience.” These quotations are not to belittle these ideas, as the guarding of identity borders has become part of an arsenal of vitally important protective measures and the prerogative of those of us articulated within those borders. As Aurora Levins Morales has noted, “For oppressed people, defining the boundaries of group membership is often a life-and-death decision...The more embattled a community is, the more narrowly it patrols its borders” (36). The quotations, rather than belittling, are meant to earmark how these particular words will surely be replaced by other, equally axiomatic charges within the decades to come, as these ideas have done for centuries. My concern with this pathway of thought is that it establishes lived experience as “incontestable…and as an originary point of explanation” to follow Joan Scott, which then functions as the “origin of knowledge, the vision of the individual subject (the person who had the experience or the historian who recounts it) becomes the bedrock of evidence upon which explanation is built.” This then disallows the deconstruction of the very notion of the individual, who is at its core, also a fabrication, a social ontology that is reified by that which is uniquely poised to tear it down: knowledge that supersedes notions of both “individual” and “experience.” To my mind, lived experience does not produce knowledge, it produces data. The interpretation of that data becomes richer the more widely it is interpreted. To again follow Scott, the fetishization of lived experience “reproduces rather than contests given ideological systems—those that assume that the facts of history speak for themselves and, in the case of histories of gender, those that rest on notions of a natural or established opposition” Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (1991): 777.  More recently, standpoint epistemology theorists have maintained that increased levels of oppression does automatically produce better or deeper understandings of that oppression, just as social dominance does not necessarily produce ignorance about oppression or an inability to deeply understand such oppression (Emily C. R. Tilton, “‘That’s Above My Paygrade’: Woke Excuses for Ignorance,” Philosophers’ Imprint, forthcoming).

As Levins Morales, Jennifer Nash, and Marquis Bey have noted, the notion of the intersectional configuration of identity leaves much to be desired. Levins Morales sustains that “Oppression is more like a landscape with its layered geology, its pollen drift, its leaching of minerals from one level to another” (25) as Nash flags the roots of intersectionality within forms of property, territoriality, and other property relations embedded in notions of ownership, theft, and use-value. Bey too constructs a vision of the intersection as lacking the ability to attend to “what is happening on the sidewalks along the road, the sewers underground, the skyscrapers up above; or what it sounds like out there, how hot it is outside, what snoozed alarm made the person late for work and in need of going fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit in the first place” (7). I think about this often, what this means for me, who it makes me, how I will be-coming, always coming to be. I wonder what lies in the pollen and the sewers of myself. I wonder how I might recover those pieces in a way that does not cause harm.  Understanding humanity as a product of who one is born to, as a flat piece of colonized land gridded by lanes, leaves so much of us lost, discarded and unwanted in the gutters. (Levins Morales, Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals, 25; Jennifer C. Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, Next Wave: New Directions in Women’s Studies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019); Bey, Black Trans Feminism, 7.

That being said, who am I? This is not answerable, or rather, I cannot or I will not answer it. Or rather, for the reasons listed above, I cannot answer it in  in the terms of the verb “to be”, that tricky, ontologizing copula that interpellates me in ways that clash with my practices of queerness and living. However, I will make use of some of the language popular today: what liberal “identities” do I “hold” and which can I not “hold”?  To be sure, I experience white privilege as my skin is light. I enter into the conversations within my research after decades of sustained study, dialogue, and struggle. I am in relation with indigenous, black, queer, trans scholars as well as white, cis, straight scholars from what we now call Latin America and the US. I hope to generate a form of intellectual work that will generate its own critique and also generate new possibilities, and I foster a radical practice of allowing my thoughts to roam untethered and allowing my words to be held accountable in their roaming. I seek a world where we abandon the language of colonization and radically so, following Sadyia Hartman’s call that black revolution might black revolution would make everyone freer than they actually want to be” (see Frank B Wilderson, III, “Blacks and the Master/Slave Relation,” in Afropessimism: An Introduction (Minneapolis: racked and dispatched, 2017), 30). So it might come as no surprise that I find no home in raceness or genderness or any other category of identity—I seek to radically abolish their existence. Indeed, I seek a world where even “home” is scrutinized (following Nael Bhanji and Aren Z Aizura). 

I know for many, my “biological” or “genealogical” background is important. I struggle to perform this custom for many reasons and at the same time, I think it is an important gesture in this current historical moment. So, I will say this: I descend from a series of nowheres; from crossings, of racial borders, of ethnic ones, ones of gender; from uprootedness. I descend from places: a trailer in the Appalachian foothills, an Infonavit house in a fraccionamiento on the southwest side of Mérida, Yucatán, an apartment in Humboldt Park, Chicago and now a home I share with my partner and my sibling in Chicago’s northwest xburbs where I live with three acres of so-called "land."  I have written, erased, and rewritten research; I have taught in Spanish, English, EFL as well as interdisciplinary courses centered on the textual during the last 20 years in the occupied lands of Athens, Ohio, of Mérida, Oaxaca, and Valladolid, Mexico; in the occupied lands of Champaign-Urbana, Tacoma, Washington, Chicago, and now, Evanston. All of these stories, these places, and many more, inform my scholarly perspective and the de/construction of person. 


What is to be sure, and I wish to make this abundantly clear, is that I make no claims on any identity, especially the Maya one (yet, as Juan Castillo Cocom has demonstrated quite succinctly, there are no maya at all. See Juan Castillo Cocom and Saúl Ríos Luviano, “Hot and Cold Politics of Indigenous Identity: Legal Indians, Cannibals, Words, More Words, More Food,” Anthropological Quarterly 85, no. 1 (2012): 229–56.) Further, I refuse the gender binary, but I am not non-binary: I refuse straightness and uncritical normativity of all forms. Similarly, I refuse categories of racial mixedness—the complexities of race in Appalachia are not representable in current racial identities and categories. See Barbara Ellen Smith, “De-Gradations of Whiteness: Appalachia and the Complexities of Race,” Journal of Appalachian Studies 10, no. 1/2 (2004): 38–57;

Anita Puckett, “The Melungeon Identity Movement and the Construction of Appalachian Whiteness,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11, no. 1 (2001): 131–46, https://doi.org/10.1525/jlin.2001.11.1.131; David Henige, “Origin Traditions of American Racial Isolates: A Case of Something Borrowed,” Appalachian Journal 11, no. 3 (1984): 201–13 and especially Michell Chresfield, “Creoles of the Mountains: Race, Regionalism, and Modernity in Progressive Era Appalachia,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 21, no. 1 (January 2022): 19–39, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537781420000250.

 

Who I am might be held, then, in one sentence: I am someone who longs for more active, process-based words that supersede the use of “to be.”

My latest projects

Publications

Thumbnail U jeets'el le ki'ki' kuxtal

U je'etsel le ki'ki' kuxtal: A Hemispheric Meditation on Abolition and Autonomy
2023, South Atlantic Quarterly


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Thumbnail Pirate Novels

Yucatán's Pirate Novels and the Discursive Mayan Rebel in the Nineteenth-Century Criollo Imaginary
2019, Revista de Estudios Hispánicos

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This article imagines abolitionist politics in the Yucatán peninsula as one group, known as U jeets'el le ki'ki’ kuxtal, pushes against one portion of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador's development plan known as the “Tren Maya.” I contend that U je'etsel's calls for autonomy speak to forms of radical abolitionist politics present in the United States, where we might observe the centrality of land in both abolition and decolonization. To this end, I first provide a definition of a trans feminist abolition radically focused on the otherwise, or the eradication of all forms of social oppression. This definition is followed by close readings of U je'etsel's communiqués regarding AMLO's 2021 visit to the Yucatán peninsula and the continued role the so-called “Caste War” plays in attempts to expand nationalized colonization into the region. My final goal is to proffer that “Caste War” constitutes a historicized form of radical autonomy as well as project of abolition subject to forces that seek to vacate it of its liberatory power. I demonstrate that part of U je'etsel's discursive project is to reclaim the “Caste War” narrative as part of an emancipatory project involving a radical reclaiming of autonomy's regional history.

During Yucatán’s Caste War, described in the nineteenth century as the Mayan rebel uprising against criollo (European-identified) hegemony, more than half the Yucatán Peninsula’s population either perished or fled, fearing for their lives. As one of the most violent indigenous uprisings in the Americas, it was also one of the longest: the Caste Wars tormented the Mexican Southeast for over 50 years. While historical scholarship has examined the Caste War at length, the study of the peninsula’s literary production has yet to be considered for the contribution it makes to fully understanding the sociohistorical context of the war. In this article, I examine the pirate novels of two of Yucatán’s most prolific nineteenth-century letrados—Eligio Ancona and Justo Sierra O’Reilly—as they delve into the anxieties that the Caste War provoked in the elite population. Through analysis of the well-established genre of the pirate novel, I demonstrate the way literature served as a space to test new configurations of racial discourses that emerged from the criollo construction of a race war. When paired with historical monographs by the same authors, it becomes evident that the pirate took on new meaning in the context of the Caste War, allowing criollo intellectuals to substitute their increasingly threatened mastery of the land (under attack by rural uprisings) for an imagined mastery of the sea.

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