My interest in studying the North American continent comes from a place of both loyalty and frustration. I am loyal because I am from here, which i will elaborate on later. I am frustrated because of the imperial nature of the United States. I call various parts of the United States home and have been a part of this society for the majority of my life. This translates into the kind of loyalty one might have to a family – not within a nationalist framework but more in honor and solidarity with the long, rich history of antisystemic movements this land has seen. I believe for white folks living and learning in the United States, especially those who were raised in this country, we must take a hard look at what our connections have been through family and history so that we may be here today, with the time to read blogs or be in school.
I see myself implicated in the functioning of this country’s institutions: I pay taxes so I can legitimately work in the federal work study program, I have relied on the infrastructure of this country to enable my mobility between California, Colorado, and Massachusetts, I have found/been given work and educational opportunities within a white supremacist society that sees a blonde female-bodied, friendly person as non-threatening, and finally I recognize ways that my family has been able to have social mobility in various social arenas and eras. This feeling of deep implication in the functioning of this society’s structures fuels my interest in both critical inquiry and social action.
From there I wish to proudly associate myself to anti-systemic movements. I think it is worthwhile for us all to uncover and respect the daily or organizational acts of resistance that we are somehow connected to, either through our family history, community/cultural legacy, or personal actions. I derive strength and inspiration from my paternal grandmother, Anne Burlack Timpson, also known as the “Red Flame.” Born in Pennsylvania in 1911, she was the oldest daughter of a Ukranian family with 4 children and needed to start working for wages at age 14. Her father worked in the coal mining and railroad industries before moving to Pennsylvania to work at Bethlehem Steel. All three industries at this time in American history were incredible sites of danger and conflict. At the coal mining town, the wives and mothers of workers rushed to the mine every few days at the dreaded sound of a bell ringing: accidents in the mine were frequent and fatal. I would have had two older great uncles or aunts had it not been for the stress that caused two miscariages for my great grandmother during this time. By the time the family arrived in Bethlehem, they had experienced a lot and my great grandfather was openly and strongly pro-union. This was the context my grandmother inherited. When she started working at the textile mill and experienced gender based discrimination and trying work conditions, my great grandfather was supportive of her trying to organize her peers. From there she led a lifetime of persistent, courageous, and edgy political organizing. Her children, my father and my aunt, did not carry the union organizing torch, but did hold onto and pass along values and history to my siblings and I. This connection to such a strong woman in my family is really important to me. Just because I am related to someone very involved in struggle by no means diminishes the ways in which my family has aided the growth of US empire or white supremacy, it merely deepens my understanding of how my family has envisioned their roles in this society. The work of preserving histories, especially non-dominant stories, is crucial in connecting people at a deep, emotional level to movements for justice.
I started the first paragraph here by referencing the “North American continent,” but I want to put out there that even conceiving of the Earth in terms of north and south is a product of European expansion where map makers believed Europe to be the center of civilization, superior to others, and the consensus was that it would also be visually above the “Orient,” Africa, and later South America. This conception of the globe is false: we are spinning rapidly through space which knows no up or down. With that said, I find “North American” studies somehow more appropriate to speak of than “United States and Mexico relations” because I see these two countries as inherently linked on so many levels that dividing them everytime I speak of my interests also seems to strengthen the border(s) that exists physically, economically, linguistically, and culturally. Now is the time to think spatially about our communities and future and to question our acceptance of how citizenship and nation-states work, namely to recognize that they operate through exclusion and domination respectively.
Given all that I have said about some kind of loyalty to the United States, I want to further that notion to an honoring of all of North America. This honoring and recognition of centuries of life and resistance in these lands is all the more pertinent as the mainstream/whitestream society gets increasingly frantic about immigrants and migrants. The transborder realities for millions on this continent have been getting more and more dangerous because of economic and military policies. Blurring and counteracting borders and hierarchies necessitates both political and cultural action, and is underway all over. We must connect the history of slave labor making possible the industrial revolution to today’s profitable base the United States’ economy: cheap, deportable labor from Mexican indigenous communities. I have two points to make about connecting these eras of racialized labor. The first point is about how similar laws like Arizona’s SB1070 “Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Communities Act” (or some bs jumble of words like that) are to the Fugitive Slave Act. These kinds of laws are put in place when there is an economic imperative to maintaining a certain labor pool, with a complimenting, vehement denial of cultural or political citizenship.
The second point I wish to draw out between the legacy of slave labor and Mexican immigrant/migrant labor is one of historic racial solidarity. At the US Social Forum in Detroit I learned that along with cities like Detroit, the underground railroad also had destinations in Mexico. This legacy is not one taught in schools. It is one of innumerable key pieces of information that we would do well to disseminate as an example of linked histories in racial and social justice. The integration of the economies of the United States and Mexico alone is reason for me to think about the continent and not just the United States nation. Add in surprising and exceptional histories of resistance, I can only be inspired and energized by our proximity to other worlds – the “third world” to our south in the present, and the ones we want to see collectively.
With all of this in mind, it seems to me that reclaiming space through cultivation is a present day actions with incredible meaning for our histories as well as building capacity and foundation for organized movements now and in the future. It is an important subversion of capitalist consumerist ideology that many of us have been raised – land is for people to survive on, not to be made endless profit off of….