Annotation: Diaz-Barriga, Miguel. 2008. Distracción: Notes on Cultural Citizenship, Visual Ethnography

Diaz-Barriga, Miguel. 2008. Distracción: Notes on Cultural Citizenship, Visual Ethnography, and Mexican Migration to Pennsylvania. Visual Anthropology Review, 24(2):133-147.

In contrast to previous literature on cultural citizenship that focuses on “space” (Holston and Appadurai 1999; Flores and Benmayor 1997), the author suggests to pay attention to the “structures of belonging” as a way to understand how “cultural citizenship is a visceral experience.” Structures of belonging include the exploration of how belonging is ‘felt’ in everyday life and the ways that its meaning is articulated and contested” (137). The author introduces the efforts of Luis Tlaseca, a Mexican working for a mushroom picking company in southern Pennsylvania, and a labour union leader documenting the participation of Mexican workers in the annual Mushroom Festival. Since 1980, the festival had been used by the state and by private companies to instil a feeling of belonging among Mexicans in the community. While events such as mushroom-picking contests and beauty pageants were actively covered by the local press, political organizations who join the parade were ignored. Eventually, in 1994, the organizers banned political organizations from participating at all (1994). In this hegemonic project of belonging (135), Tlaseca’s project challenged the dominant representations of “culture” at the festival. Interviewing the spectators of the festival, Tlaseca’s videos suggest that the Mexican workers only participated half-heartedly, as a kind of distracción. Distracción refers to this ambivalent attitude of participating labourers, who had no alternative but to join the festivities (139). With many of the labourers unable to visit Mexico, they had difficulty articulating their sense of belonging to either the US or Mexico. As a film genre, the author suggests that Tlaseca’s project does not neatly fit within indigenous filmmaking. He films as a migrant, and does not film in his “own” community (137). Also unlike “native” filmmaking that seeks to represent a unified group/ culture, Tlaseca’s film strived to jar “the links between visceral experience and these wider structures of belonging and power” (142). The author suggests that cultural citizenship can be better understood by paying closer attention to the visual representations (e.g. gestures, the body, distracted gazes) found at events, as seen in this discussion of belonging as observed at the Mushroom Festival.

 

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