Academic journal article Criticism

Wise Latinas

Academic journal article Criticism

Wise Latinas

Article excerpt

US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the court in May of 2009 was met with great skepticism by the North American Right. When Republicans went through her public record, they came across a speech she had given at a few universities. Sotomayor's and President Barack Obama's enemies had attached themselves to the quote "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."2 Republicans decried this quotation as an example of reverse racism. Their objection, it would seem, had much to do with the idea that a jurist who did not claim universality in the fashion in which white men could was an invalid adjudicator. I contend the sensationalist ire that the quote generated was in no small part due to her use of the term "wise Latina." It would seem that the term "Latina" and its linkage to a word like "wise," which is usually associated with more so-called universal subjects, was precisely the site of provocation for her conservative enemies. We are left to conclude that "wise" is a word reserved for subjects who claim a more objectivist mode of knowledge production and knowing.

This essay focuses on what I would like to describe as the "otherwiseness" of Brownness. By otherwiseness, I mean to render the production and performance of knowledge that does not conform to the mimetic coordinates assigned to both the designations wise and other. I want to sketch another, more subterranean route to the production of knowledge. To do this, I cast an odd Puerto Rican predecessor to Justice Sotomayor: underground screen legend Mario Montez. This essay mediates upon Montez's embodied production and performance of knowledge during select moments during his work with Andy Warhol and Jack Smith. I turn to Montez as an important and indexical moment that allows us to imagine a brown otherwise. The cinematic/performance moments I consider display Montez's performance of an affective particularity that displaces much of the coercive mimesis that structures North American understandings of Latino particularity. This essay draws a zigzagging line between Montez and Sotomayor and contemporary performance artist Nao Bustamante for the purpose of a brown mode of knowledge production and knowing-beyond-knowing, otherwiseness, which gives us a richer account of feeling and being brown in America.

I will narrate the parallel tales of Montez and Sotomayor's star-turn performances, especially the staging of both of their big auditions for careermaking cameras, as well as the way in which Bustamante, like Montez and Sotomayor, found affective and other immaterial resources so as to stand tall in the face of hostile fire. The linkage between feeling brown and being brown is crucial to the larger sequence of writings that this essay belongs to. No simple idea of Latino ontology makes any sense unless it is linked to a phenomenological field. We often know latinidad, or what I will alternatively call brownness, through its effective contours, which is to say the set of collective and often contagious responses to one's historical and emotional situation. This relay of responses is once again knowable to us as a kind of effective performativity, which is to say a kind of feeling which is a mode of doing. Certain collectivities, like those that provisionally cohere under the sign brownness, share historical trajectories of negotiating particular sets of material obstacles within the social, which include, but are not limited to, uneven distribution of resources; systematic race-, nation-, and languagebased bias; unjust and phobic immigration policies; and a general tendency to be scapegoated during a nation-state's moments of economic or cultural instability. Thus, I am interested in a mode of affective particularity that I am describing as brownness, and this focus leads me to the project of describing particular performances of brown feelings that produce knowledge about singularities and pluralities that do not conform to anticipatable notions of reason. …

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