Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Theoretical Interpretive Frameworks for Research Focus

In order to foster a fertile and empowering context where Feminist Action Research methodology can take place, I must first delineate the theoretical foundations from which my study with Mixtec/Zapotec communities in the U.S. and Mexico stems: Indigenous Feminisms.  As a self-identified Chicana and first generation Mexican-U.S. citizen, I find the two lenses relatively entwine, overlap and dialogue.  As a woman, the lenses are natural extensions of my worldview, embodied experience, and transnational values.  

Through the lens of Indigenous Feminism, I will collaboratively addresses complex issues affecting some of the most historically oppressed, impoverished, and erased communities of the Americas.  Among these groups are indigenous women, girls, and transgender women, and immigrants to the U.S. with questionable legal status.  In my research I will work with intergenerational Mixtec/Zapotec research members to integrate their interpretations of indigenous worldviews and cyclical notions of time and space.  For example, there is a perpetual spiral-like overlap and reenactment of past events, themes and beings, so that all generations of all living things remain connected.  Another valuable aspect inherent in many indigenous perspectives is the belief that all living beings/things are animate—imbued with spirit.  Depending on the priorities of the research artist group, this notion may infuse the artmaking process.  While perceptions of women within indigenous communities vary considerably across the Americas, there are rich myth histories where women deities are protagonists in the creation of humanity, land, values, and tradition.  Earth herself, is mother: simultaneously creator and destroyer.  Meaningful priorities and goals of the Feminist Action Research project will be determined by Mixtec/Zapotec research members, so that the knowledge formed and archived will be relevant and have a lifespan beyond the time frame we create.  In keeping with the feminist lens, all content will be women-girl-Muxe centered and produced.  Another powerful aspect of Indigenous Feminism is that it leaves room for alternative gender identities to have voice and value, such as in the case of the Muxe, or transgender women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.  These self-identified women are valued for their simultaneous masculine and feminine being, artistry, caretaking for elder women, and beauty.  Outside of the context of Tehuantepec, Muxe experience the same homophobia that saturates Mexico’s conservative Catholic-laced society.  Mixtec and Zapotec communities also share a distinct reception within the homogeneous constructs of Mexican identity.  Though Indigenous Feminism in action, memory, oppression, silence, and distortions, and centuries of physical and symbolic violence can be critically examined from within.  A potentially healing and empowering process can begin through Indigenous Feminist Research, when rooted in the worldview, priorities and vision of indigenous women and girls. 

The democratic social justice nature of using an Indigenous Feminist lens in research requires the highest ethical standards.  As a researcher facilitating Indigenous Feminism, I must be mindful of my own biases, romantisizations, and limitations.  For example, while I am conscious of my nebulous indigenous heritage, I was never raised within entirely indigenous life-ways.  I cannot say if I will ever be able to genuinely say, “I am Native American”.  My upbringing was mestisized, with only a few indigenous practices and beliefs in tact, namely: respect all living beings, mixing of herbal remedies, and healing rituals involving prayer, natural elements, and elders.  Because of my position at the periphery of  Mixtec/Zapotec society, I must always be sensitive to the ways in which I gather research data, interpret information, and offer information. Since the research is completely informed by those “researched”, we will need to find a balance with organically developing aspects of the work, with those that for the sake of time, should be more structured. Trust and communication is key. In fact, I will likely need to take courses in Mixtec or Zapotec language, so that we are not continually using the colonizer’s language for all interactions. I am a visitor, after all.

My proposed research entails a great deal of coalition building, interpersonal relationship building, and consistency of passion. It is my hope that the research the members and I conduct will be of transcending significance to us all and that the knowledge created will continue in self-sustainable form within each community.  I will simply be one of many flutes for the breath of the universe. 

Concept Map Rough Draft 2

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Concept Map Rough Draft 1

Problem Statement 1

We live in an era marked by excessive xenophobia in the United States, particularly towards immigrants from Mexico.  On the southern side of the border, numerous indigenous villages in states like Oaxaca, Mexico, are scarcely populated— in search of work, most of the men immigrated to U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Charlotte.  Those left behind for months to decades, are often women, girls, and Muxe (transgender women). 

Through the collaborative creation of an indigenous action research project rooted in postcolonial, border identity, queer theory, and feminist epistemologies, my goal is to foster an alternative mode of ethnographic art education in which indigenous transnational narrative construction and intergenerational material cultural production break new ground for participatory empowerment, self-representation, and visibility.  Indigenous women, Muxe and girls are members of historically forgotten and oppressed communities both in Mexico and even more so, in the U.S., where their immigrant status often renders them invisible.

This action research project is focused on indigenous Zapotec women, Muxe, elder women, and girls who currently practice a form of visual culture production, (i.e. huipile making/embroidery, or weaving), or who would like to make art centered in the story of their lives.  One group will currently live in Oaxaca, while another group will simultaneously live in Los Angeles, CA area.  All participants, together with ally educators/artists will inform the curriculum's content and implementation.  The needs and interests of participants will be reflected in our pedegogical and research approach.  Each group will be guided by a team of indigenous and/or chian@ art educators. (I will also be part of this team.)  

Over the course of 8 months, participants will be asked to engage with their individual and collective notions of gender, sexuality, history, time, migration, land, spirituality, beauty, and voice, via oral, visual, and textual narrative construction.  Women and Muxe will be encouraged to work with their daughters or a mentee. Ideally, their work will be transferred a few times between family groups in each country so that for example, a Zapotec teen in L.A., collaborates on part of the work her younger sister made in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.  Their work may take the form of an accordion book alluding to pre and post-conquest codices made by Zapotec ancestors, or take on other visual manifestations such as textile or performance, as they see meaningful. 

An overarching goal of this action research project is to create an intergenerational women/girl-centered art program that is self-sustaining within at least one community, so that there is continuity in the transmission of woman/girl-made indigenous knowledge and wisdom captured each year.  A culminating exhibition of works or a publication would enable participants to reach a broader audience in cultivating awareness of the complex contemporary lives indigenous women, Muxe, and girls live in Mexico and/or the U.S.  Of course, all these suggested parameters may shift in time and upon collaboration and council with the teams in each country.