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UNC Latina/o Studies Graduate Symposium: Latinx (Im)mobilities: Identity and Belonging in the Pre-Covid-19 Era, Pandemic Times, and Possible Futures

November 22, 2021 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

UNC Latina/o Studies Graduate Symposium:

Latinx (Im)mobilities: Identity and Belonging in the Pre-Covid-19 Era, Pandemic Times, and Possible Futures

November 22nd at 6 PM



For our 4th annual UNC Latina/o Studies Program graduate symposium, we are interested in accounting for the historical relationships that Latinx populations have had to (Im)mobility as well as the ways the current pandemic moment has affected Latinx mobility.


From the early Spanish conquistadores traveling through North America to the more contemporary Latin American migrants from Central America and Mexico to the U.S. (as well as those Latinx who travel to and from the U.S. and Latin America as well as parts of Spain), mobility has been a defining characteristic of Latinx populations. Such Latinx movements have shaped U.S. social, political, and physical landscapes. The U.S. South, in particular, has experienced a greater rise in Latinx populations than any other region in the U.S. Latinx populations in this area have increased from 18.3 million to 23.1 million from 2010-2019, and such numbers have led to a growing presence of tiendas and products marketed toward their needs. Such Latinx migrations or mobilities throughout what we currently inhabit as the United States, then, tell stories about these populations. As importantly, they help us consider how Latinx people have come to build lives for themselves in the U.S. and left impressions upon its physical, political, and economic landscapes.


Some topics to consider are:


  • Latinx (Im)mobility
  • Pandemic Travel Restrictions
  • Latinx Migrations
  • Border Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • Latinx Disability Studies
  • Latinx health disparities
  • Latinx consumerism


For this symposium, we are conceiving of mobility, or lack thereof, from various angles and disciplinary methods to explore Latinx movements or Latinx people in flux—that is, evolving Latinidades with new formations occurring continually. As we consider Latinx people’s historical and current place in and beyond U.S. mainstream society, we must also ask how Latinx presence and cultural, intellectual, artistic, and economic contributions have translated, in some instances, to political mobilization in scopes from the broader internationalism and/or nationalism of some Latinx groups to the more local work of others. As Latinx people continue to (re-)form through ongoing political efforts and contacts with other Latinx and non-Latinx people in U.S. society, we must also consider the systems that allow for/restrict their upward social mobility. We need to consider questions of privilege and where Latinx people land on this envisioned spectrum of (im)mobility.


Considering Latinx social (im)mobility also enables us to recognize Latinx populations as consumers with spending power and, thus, the means to influence U.S. and global markets. If Latinxs’ purchasing power influences production and industry output, then we must also consider Latinxs’ essential role in environmental impacts, as industrial waste flows through waterways and pollutants travel through air. How might Latinx populations invest in sustainable forms of consumption that lessen their footprint? How might they celebrate and journey to their ancestral lands, particularly during pandemic times, in ways that do not require physical trips by plane, ship, train, bus, or car? Such questions are especially relevant to Latinx people when we consider the disproportionate health impacts of both industrial pollution and Covid-19 on working-class and minoritized communities, including Latinx populations. As such, we also invite scholars interested in exploring Latinx (im)mobilities through disability studies frameworks to submit abstracts that focus on the special health challenges Latinx populations face due to the web of social networks that define their realities and the ways they might change industries or personal practices to positively impact their environment(s).



Keywords: Latinx (Im)mobility and Place, Latinx Journeys, Latinx Travel Narratives, Latinx Health Disparities, Migrations and Deportations and Expatriation, Ecocriticism, Latinx History and Politics, Health Humanities, Disability Studies


Presenter Abstracts & Bios:


Presenter: Meleena Gil 


La Pietà, La Prieta: Wanda Raimundi’s Pietà, Space-Making, and Geographies of Resistance.”  


In 2017, Wanda Raimundi debuted the Pietà, a radical reimagining of Michelangelo’s iconic sculpture as a multi-sensory performance piece. As a response to the public’s increased attention to police brutality, Raimundi’s performance features police lights and sirens, gospel singers, spoken word, and a playlist of songs that centers themes of struggle, resilience, and hope. “I cradle 33 men and women of color for 3:33 seconds,” she writes, “a nod to the age that Jesus Christ was at the time of his execution” to create a space for grieving and profound empathy. I analyze the ways that Raimundi’s Pietà invites us to explore concepts of “safe space” and “community” to better understand how space, race, and history intersect. 

It is also important to note that the Pietà was conceived and performed in Florida, a historically afro-indigenous Latinx landscape that US Americans often exclude from the cultural “South.”  I use Florida as a case study to further analyze intersections of space, race, and history. I consider how Raimundi’s Pietà and the history of Florida at large make us think more intimately about how spaces are curated, created, and imposed. How do shifting demographics impact survival and futurity? How do we face histories of colorism in LatinX communities, especially as Florida has a growing LatinX population in a demographically diverse location with black-indigenous-Latinx legacies?  


Meleena (they/she) is a second-year PhD student and teaching fellow in the department of English and Comparative Literature also earning a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. Meleena is the administrative assistant for the Sexuality Studies Program and the co-director of Social Media in the Digital Literacy and Communications Lab. Meleena’s research focuses on contemporary LatinX literature a cultural production, queer theory, and the environmental humanities. They are interested in botanical epistemologies, multispecies worldbuilding, and the impact of environmental degradation on at-risk communities. Outside of academia, Meleena is a nature enthusiast, a friend of strays, and a celebrator of quirks and kinks. They aim to create a space for meaningful experiences and mutual acknowledgment.


Presenter: Krysten Voelkner  

“Land Has a Memory: Routes of Migration in the Panoramic Photography of Delilah Montoya” 


Historically, panoramic art has emphasized a sense of cohesion and spectator immersion through the elimination of the architectonic and vertical frame and the careful curation of the presentation space. In contemporary panorama photography, these traditions are revised or contradicted in order to allow the panoramic frame to accommodate modern problems of perception and representation. One such photographer whose work contributes to the evolution of the panorama is Chicana artist Delilah Montoya. Her panoramic series, Sed: Trail of Thirst, stages both aesthetic and political interventions through its depiction of migrant trails in the Sonoran Desert between the United States and Mexico. Employing Elizabeth Povinelli’s concepts of the Desert and the Animist in her theory of geontopower, this essay analyzes select photos from Montoya’s series. This essay argues that through her use of the photographic panorama, her staging of found objects, and an audio-visual supplement, Montoya is able to disrupt the coherence of the desert landscape to narrate the tensions and juxtapositions rooted in the memory of the land.


Krysten is a third-year PhD student in the department of English and Comparative Literature. Her primary interests reside at the intersection of environmental humanities and contemporary Latinx literature. Recent publications of hers can be found in Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, and The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy. She is currently at work researching for her dissertation, which investigates the ways in which Latinx writers experiment with aesthetics of horror, dread, anxiety, and other ‘bad’ affects associated with the climate crisis. In this regard, she hopes to explore the affective ecologies of Latinx environmental literature, poetry, and film as they offer ways of thinking within and beyond the Anthropocene.   


Presenter: Mindy Buchanan-King  

“Unframing the Photograph: Reflections on an LSP-Based English 105 Unit Project”


Roland Barthes conceives of the photograph, “Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.” Barthes’ unraveling of the photograph as something “real” or “authentic” was the linchpin of my desire to create a social sciences unit for a Fall 2021 English 105 section that endeavored to ask students to think beyond the frame of the photograph. I wanted them to try to understand the constructions of “seeing.” Moreover, I wanted them to use photographic representations of Latina/o and LatinX cultures as the primary source for beginning to “un-see”: to notice what is, but—more importantly—to interrogate what is not seen (e.g., political, economic, social, and/or cultural constructions of the Latina/o or LatinX image). Students were encouraged to select a social science publication that featured a photograph of Latina/o or LatinX culture, while engaging with supplementary works by Elizabeth Ferrer, Frances Negrón Muntaner, and Lázaro Lima, who each speak to under-representations of LatinX or Latina/o culture in visuals. What I hope to achieve in this talk is a thinking-through of the design of this unit, including the efficacy of the final project (a blog analysis) and ways of incorporating activism into future unit projects.


Mindy is pursuing her Ph.D. in English Literature at UNC Chapel Hill and is a teaching fellow. Her graduate research is focused on questions of disability and medicine in late 19th-/early 20th-century U.S. literature, the history of “disfigurement,” and representations and interpretations of the World War I facially wounded in wartime medical photography, modern art, prosthetic augmentation, and personal narratives. She is pursuing the graduate certificate in Literature, Medicine, and Culture. Mindy is a contributing editor for Iris: The Art and Literary Journal at UNC, is a co-coordinator of the Furst Forum, and is the recipient of an LSP Teaching Award.


Presenter: emilio Jesús Taiveaho Peláez 

“memories of the future: languaging latinx landscapes.”

Abstract: Published by The Concern Newsstand in 2020 amidst the rising global pandemic, landskips (words are a hard look) emerges as the expression of Latinx movements, migrations, and flux—a flux of language, places, and people. A road poem dedicated to the highways of Texas, the piece probes the histories and commonplaces of “America,” painting vistas that echo the fragmentary and disjunctive nature of first-generation immigrant experience. As such, landskips works to attune readers to latinx realities, including nonlinear orders of time, optative (rather than action oriented) reactions to trauma, alienation and dis-ease, and a total dissolution of the distinction between fiction and documentary. This presentation, “memories of the future: languaging latinx landscapes,” reckons with the compositional practices of this book of poetry to culture an understanding of the formative and transformative weight of words in shaping our contemporary epistemic landscapes. In short, I argue that contemporary latinx poetry allows us, its readers, to weigh ‘what is’ against the ethical ‘what ought to be,’ thereby helping us unforget a possible future beyond violence and coloniality.


emilio is a first-generation migrant and a PhD. student through the Department of English & Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. As both poet and scholar, their work engages the intersection of aesthetic experience and political discipline, blending critical, creative, and archival inquiry. Focusing on 20th-century hemispheric experimental poetry, their dissertation (“Grass Root” Poetics: Twentieth Century Hemispheric Poetic Experimentalism and Cross-Cultural Writing) sheds light on an overlooked strain of experimental poetry that bridges the philosophical, cultural and literary histories of the Américas, orbiting around the work of María Sabina, Anne Waldman, and Cecilia Vicuña.


Presenter: Daniel Reyes

“Connections through Fieldwork: An Autoethnographic Reflection on Dancing with Takiri”

Abstract: Using an autoethnographic lens to reflect on my master’s thesis research, I’ll explore how body, traumatic life experiences, personal narratives, and identity influence and are influenced by ethnographic fieldwork. Through the intersection of folklore, performance studies, and documentary arts, my research identifies how the role of dance is used as a way of community formation and healing. Takiri Folclor Latino (Takiri), a Durham-based dance group started as a Colombian dance group in 2004 by Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, a native from Bogota, Colombian. It evolved over the years to reflect North Carolina’s diverse Latinx community, with members from across Latin America and the Caribbean, including Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico. It was that later into my research, when I started dancing with Takiri, that the embodied performances allowed me to experience the connection and healing that earlier had only existed in interviews and field notes. This research will culminate into a podcast series that will be accessible to the public and contribute to the scholarship of Latinx folklore and performance studies.


Daniel, a UNC Master’s student in Folklore, is a filmmaker and writer with interests in documentary film, storytelling, and Latinx diaspora of the South. As an emerging performance artist, Daniel frames his work through an auto-ethnographic lens, investigating and interviewing material culture, archives, and other personal artifacts. Serving in the Air Force, practicing yoga and meditation, working in a homeless shelter, and traveling to Mexico and China are a few life experiences that have inspired his creative, professional, and academic interests. He received his BA in Asian Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.



November 22, 2021
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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