Established in 2014, the forum on Global Hispanophone Studies provides a space for scholars to advance knowledge about the simultaneous global patterns that have historically and culturally shaped Spanish-speaking countries beyond Latin America and Spain, despite their distant and apparently disconnected geographical locations. These patterns include movements of peoples and ideas: among them are the networks interconnecting the Americas with Africa and the Philippines during Iberian colonial hegemony, and the interplay of both the Atlantic and the Pacific trade routes; territorial exchanges between colonial powers; the impact of Latin American emancipation on the rest of the Spanish-speaking world; and current migration patterns from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa into Spain and beyond. Also of interest are Spain’s 1898 colonial re-redesign, and the dialogues arising from the relocation of intellectuals from all colonial territories to the metropolis, before and after independence. Other areas of study that this forum would foster are comparative approaches of the increasing presence of the U.S. in the imaginaries of global Hispanophone countries, and—equally—the cultural impact of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S.. Moreover, this forum would provide a space for scholars studying the overarching discourses that challenge structures of power based on categories such as race, ethnicity, language, religion, gender, and tradition, across the literary and cultural productions of the Hispanic world.
2018 Global Hispanophone Panels
31 March 2017 at 1:07 pm #1013959
Panel I. Documenting the Geography of the Global Hispanophone, Forum of the Global Hispanophone
The archive provides us with multiple layouts of possible Global Hispanophone geographies. This panel aims to explore how these unstable networks challenge or expand current notions of Hispanophone literature beyond the traditional Atlantic Studies. What are the key documents on which such geographies are articulated? What are the centers of these networks and how can we account for their relation to each other rather than only accounting for their relation to the Iberian metropolis? What are the factors that triggered change within these unstable networks? This panel seeks proposals exploring efforts to reconfigure North/South geographical discourses in an attempt to establish South/South alliances. We are also interested in colonial conflations of East/West geographies and efforts to subvert this homogenizing discourse.
- “Inventing the Spanish Empire in the Pacific: Jesuit Writings on the Edges of the Spanish Empire (1581-1667)” by Ana M. Rodríguez-Rodríguez (University of Iowa)
- “Milton and Shakespeare in Hispanophone Mexico and Latin America”, by Angélica Durán (Purdue University)
- “Rethinking Intercoloniality: Philippine Literature in Spanish Across the Pacific”, by Paula Park (Wesleyan University)
- “Dispossessions: Warscape, Migrant Text, and the Limits of the Archive. Gorica Majstorovic (Stockton University)
“Inventing the Spanish Empire in the Pacific: Jesuit Writings on the Edges of the Spanish Empire (1581-1667)” by Ana M. Rodríguez-Rodríguez (University of Iowa)
Re-conceptualizing the connections that were created among the variety of territories where the Spanish monarchy implemented its political, economic and cultural policies demands new analyses of the colonial experience in the Philippines. The archipelago was the final destination for many colonial agents who, starting their journey in Madrid or Mexico, ended up living (and writing) in the Pacific islands. Jesuit missionaries had a pivotal role in the textual production of the Pacific colonies. For a long time, they were the main producers of the discourse that contained and invented the Philippines for consumption in the archipelago itself, in the American colonies, and in the metropolis. The Jesuits arrived in the Philippines in 1581 and soon it became obvious to the Spanish authorities that their hegemony in the islands depended on the authority and prestige of this order, whose members normally came from the Iberian Peninsula via New Spain. They were in control of most of the land, outnumbered the rest of the Spanish colonizers, and learned the native languages, which gave them the control of communication with indigenous peoples. Francisco Colín, Pedro Chirino, Alonso Sánchez, and Francisco Combés are four of the Jesuits who analyzed the complex (and sometimes unexpected) encounters with a heterogeneous set of antagonists that included “sangleses”, “moros”, and “indios filipinos”. The Jesuit writings (including travel accounts, letters, and historical treatises) widen the context of these issues during the Early Modern period, offering new challenges regarding our understanding of intersectionalities between race and religion. In the Philippines, the Spanish priests operated in a colonial context whose textual construction was further complicated by the narratives of the American conquest, the so-called Reconquista, and the rivalries with the Chinese and Dutch imperial ambitions. Those encounters took place in a colonial space characterized by its eccentricity within the Spanish empire. The texts by the Jesuit colonizers reveal a unified attempt to understand and explain an unknown reality for the metropolitan audience and, at the same time, to defend the relevance of their evangelization labor in such a marginal place. Paying attention to their writings opens new paths for questioning assumptions on the Spanish imperial project from an ultra-peripheral context whose perception was always mediated by the previous colonial experiences in the Americas.
“Milton and Shakespeare in Hispanophone Mexico and Latin America”, by Angélica Durán (Purdue University)
Through a focused case study of the Biblioteca Palafoxiana (BP, est. 1656), the first public library of the Americas, Duran discusses some of the ways that Mexican readers and writers of the colonial period (1519 – 1812) inherited and transformed the second of the two foremost European literary cultures that integrated into early American culture: English culture. The holdings of the BP are especially important to the geographical circulation of European literary culture not only because Puebla was the major nodal point for European imports for distribution to the rest of Mexico and Latin America through the 19th century, but also because upon President Benito Juárez’s secularizing national policies of the mid-19th century, La Reforma, Catholic schools, universities, and libraries deposited many of their holdings to the BP. The BP holdings reflect that, in addition to their circulation in their original English, John Milton’s name and works circulated in Latin, French, and Spanish, while William Shakespeare’s circulated in German and Spanish.
Duran then shows that these examples of English literary presence corresponded with English literary influence on Mexican Hispanophone literature in the heady years between Mexican Independence (1821) and the Mexican Revolution (1910). Milton’s Paradise Lost is made more ecumenical) and dramatized in the Hispanophone play El Paraíso perdido: Drama en 4 actos arreglado por Ambrosio Nieto, sobre la inspiración del inmortal Milton [Paradise Lost: Drama in 4 Acts Arranged by Ambrosio Nieto, Upon the Inspiration of the Immortal Milton] (c.1900). The Mexican press El Universal exemplifies its high printing abilities in its publication of the Ibero-Spanish novel El viaje de Shakespeare [Shakespeare’s Journey] by Léon Daudet (Mexico, 1896). Finally, the first Hispanophone translations from Latin America of Milton’s and Shakespeare’s works emerge from Mexico. Key translational choices and their circulation in Mexico, Latin America, and Spain nuance our appreciation of the linguistic and cultural innovations in Global Hispanophone via Mexico and in relation to “English” literature.
“Rethinking Intercoloniality: Philippine Literature in Spanish Across the Pacific”, by Paula Park (Wesleyan University)
Although Hispanists have made commendable efforts to recover the importance of Hispanophone literatures in Asia and Africa, the impact of these literatures remains questionable since the usage of Spanish in these continents tends to be viewed as neocolonial, or marginalized at best. In the Philippine case, this question merits reformulation when one considers that, from 1565 to 1815, New Spain (that is, Mexico) was largely in charge of administering the colonization of the Philippines. The Philippines’ reconnection to Mexico may remind us to Lionnet and Shih’s model of “minor transnationalism”, or Mignolo’s and Dussel’s emphasis on the alliance between former colonies, a “decolonial project”, or a “transmodern” dialogue “delinked” from, or unmediated by, the former imperial center. However, in this article I argue that the Philippines and Mexico inherited a remarkably different connection: one always already disengaged from their colonizer. In fact, in the 1960s and 70s (notably during the emergence of postcolonial studies), various Mexican and Filipino scholars, such as Rafael Bernal, Agustín Yánez, and Carlos Quirino, agreed that, in hindsight, the Philippines had been “a Mexican colony.” This provocative claim renders postcolonial theory irrelevant and calls instead for a horizontalist intercolonial approach. Borrowing from Lowe, I contend that beyond the metropolitan and national center, the Philippines and Mexico share a unique intimacy that is palpable in implied but less visible forms of alliance. By recovering the historical and diplomatic links between them, I ultimately contend that Philippine literature in Spanish could gain global readership and relevance not only across the Pacific through Mexico, but by way of Mexico throughout Spanish America and to the extents of the expansive field of the Global Hispanophone.
“Dispossessions: Warscape, Migrant Text, and the Limits of the Archive”, by Gorica Majstorovic (Stockton University)
Drawing from Gianfranco Rosi (Fuocoammare), and Hakim Abderezzak (Ex-Centric Migrations), I take “Burning the Sea” as a metaphor of contact, conflict and contagion in order to interrogate multiple nodal points within the current Mediterranean poetics/ politics of confinement, repatriation, and (un)belonging. In addressing the contemporary refugee crisis, I first focus on the Balkan migrant route (Ai Weiwei and also Marko Drobnjaković’ photo essay “Na putu”/ On the Road” and news of 165 Cuban citizens currently in Serbia (via Russia) hoping to enter Spain); I subsequently refer to the ‘Warscapes’ magazine, Najat el Hachmi (Morocco-Spain) and Diana Al Azem (Siria-Spain). To make legible the forcible encounters and removals omitted in official accounts of migration, migrant literature and art require from the contemporary reader/spectator to devise other ways of reading and seeing the fragment, so that we might begin to critically interrogate not only forced mobility in the age of unlimited global economic flows but also contemporary remnants of empire, deepening inequalities and new forms of domination across the Global South. Mobility and the economy of movement, of capital and human bodies, puts into question the narratives of modern reason and progress in the western world, while relegating migrant ‘others’ to geographical and temporal spaces that are constituted as backward, uncivilized, and unenlightened. Whether one thinks of Benjamin or Agamben’s essay “We refugees” (1994), the deeply disconcerting fragments through which migrant narratives are told require new critical insight into whose lives and which objects are transformed by global economy and wars.
Panel II. Expanding Colonial Geographies, Joint panel proposal between the Forum on Colonial Latin America and the Forum on Global Hispanophone
This panel aims to re-conceptualize traditional colonial geographies in the Spanish speaking world by considering the interactions between Colonial Latin America and the Global Hispanophone (the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and the Maghreb). This is an invitation to deconstruct the teleological narratives that often inform our conceptual mapping of the field. How did colonial commercial and knowledge networks between Latin America and the Global Hispanophone affect identitarian discourses in these regions? What theoretical approaches can most effectively address this highly diverse geographical span, without reifying the colonial drive that charted the territory in the first place?
- “Viceroyal Practice, Pacific Praxis: New Spanish Colonial Popular Culture in the Far East” by Anna M. Nogar (University of New Mexico)
- “Testimony and Imagined Space in Bernardino de Escalante’s Discurso de la navegación” by Colt Segrest (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
- “Centering Manila. Symbolic Geographies of Spanish Colonialism in Asia”, by Miguel Martínez (University of Chicago)
- “Relaciones comerciales en el Pacífico y su influencia en la conformación de identidad criolla”, by Verónica Rodríguez (Lebanon Valley College)
“Viceroyal Practice, Pacific Praxis: New Spanish Colonial Popular Culture in the Far East” by Anna M. Nogar (University of New Mexico)
Discourse on topics of “official” interest weave through the trans-pacific colonial archive connecting the Philippines to New Spain (Mexico) and then to Spain. From documents treating colonial administration, to religious hierarchies, to events and activities sponsored by authorized entities, archives can tell us a great deal about how sanctioned behaviors and events were propagated across two oceans, and the extent to which they were enacted in the Philippines. But what about practices, beliefs and devotions that fell outside the articulated jurisdictions of colonial order? How might New Spanish candidates for sainthood, for example, be promoted in the Pacific theater—or were they? Were non-dogmatic theological ideas shared with, or supported by, organizations and individuals in the Philippines? To what extent and with what kind of support? This paper is a preliminary examination of specific ideas (epistemologies, ways of relating to, or incorporating, indigenous beliefs and practices and theologies), and texts (especially those written by Mexican writers, or printed exclusively in the colonies), originating in Mexico, and that were shared along the Nao de China, the trade route between the Mexican port of Acapulco, China, and the Philippines. I am specifically interested in ideas relating to the promotion of Felipe de Jesús, Madre Mariana and the precept of the Immaculate Conception. Drawing on past collaborations with scholars of contemporary popular religiosity, and with lateral archival research methodologies, this paper hopes to uncover the how and whys of the unofficial edge of trans-pacific exchange through the ever-expanding global hispanophone geographies.
“Testimony and Imagined Space in Bernardino de Escalante’s Discurso de la navegación” by Colt Segrest (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
This paper will examine the narrative representation of imagined spaces based on eyewitness testimony in Bernardino de Escalante’s Discurso de la navegación que los Portugueses hacen a los reinos y provincias del Oriente, y de la noticia que se tiene de las grandezas del Reino de la China (Seville, 1577). Based on this testimony of Portuguese merchants and Chinese immigrants living in the Iberian peninsula, as well as the observation of material culture such as books, maps and fine objects sold in Lisbon boutiques, Bernardino de Escalante constructs imagined spaces across the Pacific world. His discourse on maritime navigation surpasses descriptions of trans-Pacific routes to include local knowledge concerning fluvial navigation in China. His descriptions of Chinese cartography and its lack of the celestial sphere also influence this imaginative task. Building on these imagined spaces, Escalante provides ethnographic descriptions of customs and religion that serve as an important precursor to Juan González de Mendoza’s Historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de la China (1585), which was written based on the testimony of those returning to Mexico from China. This paper will address questions of space, empire, ethnography and evangelization in the Discurso de la navegación, as well as its textual legacy in subsequent descriptions of Pacific colonial expansion.
“Centering Manila. Symbolic Geographies of Spanish Colonialism in Asia”, by
Miguel Martínez (University of Chicago)
The Spanish settlement of Manila significantly altered the symbolic geographies of Spanish imperialism. The first printed source about the Philippines remarked, in 1566, that, “those in Mexico are truly happy with their discovery, as they find that they will now be the world’s heart [el corazón del mundo].” The Spanish colonial discourse on Southeast Asia, however, will increasingly trope Manila as the key, the knot, the ultimate hinge between east and west: rather than the remotest periphery of the empire, the city’s poets and colonial administrators situate it at the center of a new world imagined anew. By examining seventeenth-century chronicles, sermons, urban festivals, and poems this paper will argue that the dispute over these changing symbolic geographies can also illuminate our current attempts to rethink, critically, the geocultural articulation of the discipline.
“Relaciones comerciales en el Pacífico y su influencia en la conformación de identidad criolla”, by Verónica Rodríguez (Lebanon Valley College)
A partir del descubrimiento de la ruta del Galeón de Manila, el comercio transpacífico del siglo XVI y principios del siglo XVII tomó rumbos que atrajeron a los inversionistas de la Nueva España, los cuales activamente participaron en las actividades mercantiles hasta que la Corona limitó su participación. Estas restricciones de búsqueda comercial habrían de traer como consecuencia un sentimiento/ conceptualización de lo que era ser novohispano en oposición a los españoles. Un ejemplo de estos habitantes fue Rodrigo de Vivero, el cual en su Relación del Japón y Testamento deja muestra del efecto que tuvieron las relaciones comerciales y conocimientos de otras regiones en la conformación de la identidad novohispana. En este trabajo, propongo entonces analizar estos textos para mostrar dicho efecto aun en aquellos que como Vivero se caracterizaban por ser criollos leales a la Corona, revelando un vaivén que da paso a un devenir de una conciencia novohispana. Esta identidad, y discursos, según argüiré, habrían de formarse y reafirmarse a través de la actividad transoceánica, ya fuese participando o no en dichas actividades. Esto invita a reconceptualizar un mapa global en el cual la Nueva España se perciba como el centro geográfico y económico de las relaciones comerciales, lo cual habría, pues, de tener a su vez un efecto en la conceptualización de la identidad de los novohispanos.
Panel III. Border Archives.
Migration records help memorialize as well as articulate the identity of those living on both sides of the border. This panel invites contrastive analyses of State and informal migration records in the Global Hispanophone world (the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, ant the Maghreb). How have State-run efforts to register demographic moves in these areas contributed to form expanded –or diminished— notions of citizenship? How does cultural production help reinforce or erode statistical representations of migrant communities by disputing the validity of ethnic and national identities? How do informal migration records counter official narratives?
- “An Other Spain: The Moroccan Protectorate and Spanish Migration During and After the Guerra Civil”, by Mahan L. Ellison (Bridgewater College)
- “Covert and Overt Spheres in two recent Spanish tv. Series El Príncipe and El final del Camino.”, by Adolfo Campoy-Cubillo (Oakland University) and Baltasar Fra-Molinero (Bates College).
- “‘Mule Women’: The Invisible Crossers of the Spanish-Moroccan Border”, by Raquel Vega-Durán (Claremont McKenna College)
- “Video-migrant geographies, and the last colony in the world”, by Benita Sampedro Vizcaya (Hofstra University)
“An Other Spain: The Moroccan Protectorate and Spanish Migration During and After the Guerra Civil”, by Mahan L. Ellison (Bridgewater College)
Between 1935 and 1955, the Spanish expatriate population in the Moroccan Protectorate doubled from 44,379 to 90,939. Spanish expatriates accounted for almost 10% of the population of the Protectorate. In addition, another 25,000 Spanish expatriates resided in the territory under French control and over 21,000 lived in Tangier alone. These numbers were not solely administrative or military positions, but included immigrant citizens that left the Peninsula for the Protectorate for a variety of reasons. The reasons behind this migratory wave have been considered in a variety of sources, both academic and fictional. One of the most nuanced considerations comes from Concha López Sarasua’s 1990 novel La llamada del Almuédano. Her work humanizes the quotidian experience of the Spanish immigrant, creating a powerful reflection on belonging and national identity and disputing the validity of ethnic and national identities.
López Sarasua’s novel is, in many respects, a fictional reflection on Spanish political discourse about the Maghreb from the late nineteenth and early/mid-twentieth centuries. The sympathetic protagonist, doña Natalia, speaks in disarming testimonials that echo the words of Donoso Cortés, Carvajal y Hué, or Ganivet—though minus the political bombast. Both narrative strategies (the political and the fictional), however, give primacy to Spanish national identity in their conceptualization of the Maghreb and the (Spanish) immigrant experience therein. In this work, I will examine the political rhetoric about the Moroccan Protectorate and consider how this politic discourse is adapted and nuanced in fiction. Henri Lefebvre’s Spatial Triad will be a useful tool in analyzing this shift from political to fictional discourse. For example, López Sarasua’s novel provides a fictional space of quotidian practice that complements the political/colonial ambitions articulated through the representation of space and representational space. The fact that the novel is a fictional work blurs the distinctions between reified practice and representational space. My work will consider how fiction both supports and counters official, political narratives. I am submitting this abstract to be considered for the joint panel proposal between the Forum on 20<sup>th</sup> and 21<sup>st</sup> Century Spanish and Iberian Studies and the Global Hispanophone Forum titled Border Archives.
“Covert and Overt Sphetes in two recent Spanish TV series: El Príncipe and El final del Camino” by Adolfo Campoy-Cubillo (Oakland University) and Baltasar Fra Molinero (Bates College)
It does not seem far-fetched to draw a connection between the aggressive anti-immigrant policies of the Mariano Rajoy administration and the Islamophobic narrative that characterizes two recent television series in Spain, El Príncipe (2014) and El final del Camino (2017). El Príncipe has been amply criticized in the Spanish media for its stereotypical depiction of Muslims and by its exaggerated characterization of the Ceuta as one of the main sources of terrorist radicalization in Europe. El final del Camino, aired by Radio Televisión Española between January and March of 2017, depicts a series of fictional situations surrounding the building of the cathedral of Compostela in the 11<sup>th</sup> and 12<sup>th</sup> centuries based on the historical accounts of Historia compostelana, a contemporary Latin chronicle that dwells only marginally with wars between Christians and Muslims in the Iberian peninsula. The series, however, takes as its central narrative line the presence of treacherous Christian characters who have been “islamicized”/radicalized while in captivity in the Rif mountains of Morocco, the same imaginary geography of El Príncipe, and the narratives of the Spanish colonial Protectorate of Morocco.
This presentation aims to study the significance of El Principe and El final del Camino as examples of conservative postmodernism. Following Hal Foster’s definition of conservative (as opposed to post-structuralist) postmodernism as a return to pre-modern traditions that are perceived to have been “disrupted” by the modern rationalist project, we read both series as a concerted effort to critique the multicultural paradigm in favor of monolithic depictions of Iberian identity. If, as Barbara Fuchs explains, Cervantian fictions, among others, had challenged the Counter-Reformation exclusionary narrative of Spanish national identity by presenting characters in different stages of “passing,” El final del Camino deploys the contemporary trope of Islamist radicalization to reify the Counter-Reformation discourse. Similarly, if an obscure divine will is the ultimate justification for the workings of the early modern state in the Historia Compostelana and El final del Camino, El Príncipe resorts to what Timothy Melley has called the covert sphere in order to explain the contemporary security state. Like early modern accounts of divine will, the covert sphere, “a cultural imaginary shaped by both institutional secrecy and public fascination with the secret work of the state,” emphasizes the secret and ultimately undecipherable workings of the state.
“‘Mule Women’: The Invisible Crossers of the Spanish-Moroccan Border”, by
Raquel Vega-Durán (Claremont McKenna College)
In 2005, hundreds of Maghrebian and sub-Saharan immigrants made a coordinated effort to storm the fences and cross over into Ceuta and Melilla at the same time, marking a turning point in the perception of African immigration to Spain. Since then, the Spanish government has been steadily releasing information about the number of migrants illegally crossing (or attempting to cross) the fences of Ceuta and Melilla, thus creating a sense of a threatening “invasion” that has tainted many of the reports of Spanish media. Statistics on the numbers of migrants crossing the border come from different sources. Some of them are official, such as the Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigración (which is part of the Spanish Ministry of Employment and Social Security), the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the Ministry of Interior, the Guardia Civil, and the CETIs (Temporary Holding Facilities for Immigrants); other statistics come from NGOs, such as Prodein or the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Melilla. But there are also many people who daily cross from Morocco to Melilla and back, and yet go unrecorded. This presentation explores de visual representations of Morocco’s “mule women,” who walk to Melilla to pick up clandestine goods from Europe and Asia, and then bring them into Morocco. (For just a few dollars per trip, minus bribes, they carry heavy loads, over a hundred pounds, that often weigh more than they do.) I will analyze their representation in “Mujeres invisibles” (GEA photowords), Tomasz Czech’s work on the mule women of the “barrio chino,” the documentary Muros and Al otro lado (Migueltxo Molina and Pablo Iraburu, 2016), the movie Cien metros más allá (Juan Luis de No, 2009), the documentary Porteadoras: la cara humana del puente de Biutz (Ceuta Reportajes, 2009), and Laia Abril’s photograph series “Going to the Market” (2013). Most of these women are separated or divorced, and often this is the only job available to them. They are protected by a law that allows for “anything physically carried across these borders to Morocco” to be duty-free. This loophole, of course, could easily be eliminated by the Spanish and Moroccan governments, but the goods that these women carry benefit greatly Morocco’s economy. Both Spain and Morocco turn a blind eye to this phenomenon, rendering these women officially invisible. By contrast, national and international press as well as filmmakers have paid special attention to the “mule women,” recording their reality in many journalistic reports and documentary film. This paper will examine how the lack of official records, combined with the abundant recording of these women’s experiences by media and documentary film, affect the idea of citizenship, existence, and belonging of these women. Unlike the mass statistics about immigrant invasion (which inflate the fear of immigrant masses threatening to enter Spain), the “mule women” are highly visible individuals whose existence is nevertheless denied by the state.
“Video-migrant geographies, and the last colony in the world”, by Benita Sampedro Vizcaya (Hofstra University)
Western Sahara has recently been termed “the last colony in the world”, and “the largest prison in the world”. This essay will attempt to assess the ways in which a regional conflict is negotiated from within, through a focus on daily points of transit, and the pervasive failure of decolonial logic through the geographic depiction of border crossings. It will further assess how through border management and movements, the relationship between Western Sahara, Morocco, and Spain is constantly being renegotiated by the conflicting geopolitics of human circulation and human containment. I will start from the premise that, for historical and political accountability, the still-unresolved colonial conflict in the Western Saharan territories cannot be disassociated from former Spanish colonial interventions, and the current Spanish possessions of Ceuta and Melilla. I will explore these legacies through the lenses of two recent video-essay exercises by Ursula Biemann: Europlex (2003) and Sahara Chronicles (2007). In both projects, Biemann engages in a visual theoretical analysis with the conflating politics and economics of mobility and migration on the one hand, and contention and confinement on the other hand, as displayed in those very territories.
Europlex follows the trade routes and the daily border crossings and transactions between Morocco, the Spanish colonial strongholds of Ceuta and Melilla, and the Straits of Gibraltar as a metonymic passage between two continents. Local and global economies are here most successfully concretized by following the steps of the domésticas, or female domestic workers living in Morocco while doing their daily territorial transfer to work for Spanish households on the other side of the border, in Ceuta and Melilla. Sahara Chronicles follows various concurrent West African migration routes towards Europe, stopping at pivotal sites of both passage and containment, including Agadez in Niger, the Tuareg border in Libya, the Algerian border at Oujda and –more relevant for the purposes of this essay— two heavily transited points in Western Sahara, at the extreme north and the extreme south Atlantic coasts of the territory: the Western Saharan-Mauritanian port of Nouadhibou on the border with the Polisario Front in the south, and the deportation prison of El Aaiún under Morocco’s control in the north, El Aaiún bearing particular symbolic value for its role as former capital of Spanish Sahara.
The two documentaries are conceived as separate exercises in video migrant geography. While covering—both thematically and geographically—a very ample spectrum of migration tropes, routes, and departures, the two share a number of critical points of transfer: migration and displacement is the specific narrative thread of all stories told, they both converge (and even duel) at the intersection of mobility and the politics of containment, they both speak primarily (sometimes exclusively) of place and space, and they both reflect on the concept of borderland, as well as the impossibility of fragmenting territories markedly defined by their continuity. Both films are quite unconventional in their own way, not least by virtue of their deliberate concern with narrating space rather than story. Both choose to privilege geographical relationships instead of the full trajectory of individual relationships. They engage deeply and committedly with movement, containment, technologies of space surveillance, and the theorization of borders, walls, gates, prisons, and passage. They also share the impulse to avoid didacticism, posing instead a provocative challenge to the viewer through their fragmented cinematographic language. But, above all, both filmic exercises invite us to a serious rethinking of what we, outside these territorial demarcations, might understand today by colonial, decolonial, and postcolonial in relation to such deeply artificial signifiers of Spanish remnants in north Africa, namely Ceuta, Melilla, and the ill-decolonized Western Sahara territory. If we want to understand what sets this migration and mobility system into motion, we need to look at the geo-historic condition of the region, and the conceptual difference between transit and colonial politics of space. My reading of these documentaries will allow me to conclude that the recurrent images of transit might allow us to form an alternative imaginary to that of the longed-for –yet never materialized— nation-state in the case of Western Sahara, and one where the translocal existence might mirror this very nature of an unfinished concept of citizenship.
- Only members can participate in this group's discussions.