The Politics of Race and Globalization, Part III

September 25, 2007

Four years ago, we initiated a yearlong conversation on race in the pages of this magazine with the series “Race and Racism in the Americas.” Over several Reports, we considered critical developments at the nexus of race, culture and identity. Since last fall, we have continued that exploration with our current series, investigating how ethno-racial politics has fared under conditions of globalization—and the new affirmations and engagements, the permeability of identities and the double-edgedness of racial politics these conditions entail.

With this issue, we bring to a close our second three-part series on race by returning, in a way, to our place of origin—the centrality of culture, especially cultural production and cultural policy in and across diaspora communities.

There has been a tremendous amount of scholarship and reporting on the impacts of immigrants on their home countries and the influence those countries continue to hold over their diasporic populations. In the lead article to this Report, Juan Flores, however, turns the tables on dominant diaspora studies, applying an analysis of “transnationalism from below” to consider the myriad impacts that the ideas, values and activism of returning migrants have on their homelands. ("The Diaspora Strikes Back" title of this issue is borrowed from Flores' forthcoming book project.) These remittances, he argues, are necessarily cultural, for “it is after all in language, music, literature, painting and other artistic and expressive genres that the values and life-styles remitted from diaspora to homeland become manifest in the most tangible and salient ways.”

Dominant discourses and ideologies “from above” also play a defining role in the lives of diasporic communities and how their new neighbors receive them. Roberto Lovato describes the vice in which Latinos find themselves, caught between the Pentagon’s recruitment drives, which seek to fill the dwindling ranks of the military with the children of immigrants, and the rise of anti-immigrant ideologues and vigilante groups like the Minutemen, which seek to label Latinos as “immigrant terrorists.” Even in the face of paramilitarism, military recruitment, extreme poverty and racism, however, Lovato argues that the rise of a counter-recruitment movement from within the Latino population may mark a turnaround in Latino perceptions of self within the United States.

Contradictory notions of identity are not, of course, limited to immigrant populations. In a provocative and ambitious argument, Deborah Thomas asserts that in a post-colonial diasporic situation, in which national identity is a subject of policy, there will emerge often competing claims on what it means to be of a place, in this instance, “Jamaican.” She notes that signs of apparent capitulation to capitalism—whether in the form of hyperconsumption or hypersexualization—can be part of a subterranean reconstruction of identity, couched as resistance to official glorifications of national culture.

As documented in the last article of the Report by George Yúdice, when the state and the private sector join together to bridge economics and culture, as in the case of Miami, the consequences can be far-reaching. In an effort to make a world city like Miami attractive for investment and tourism, the cultural exuberance of the city’s diasporic communities has been commodified, repackaged and sold by developers, city officials and the entertainment industries. In the process, the city’s life-giving, cultural heart—its diasporic, migrant communities—has been forced to move further into the spatial, social and economic peripheries.

Ultimately, we invoke diaspora not only in its multiple senses—as international constructs of peoples, as circular processes of exchange, as sources of creativity—but also as a way of thinking about, refashioning, and ultimately, opposing systems of oppression, within and across borders. For all of these authors, the push and pull between home and away is complex and dialectical, continuing to shape the boundaries of racial politics throughout the Americas.


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