Consuming, Creating, Contesting: Latin American Diasporic Practices

By Sheringham, Olivia; Brightwell, Maria Das Gracas | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Consuming, Creating, Contesting: Latin American Diasporic Practices


Sheringham, Olivia, Brightwell, Maria Das Gracas, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Having long been a region of immigration, the 20th century saw a reversal of this trend as Latin America became characterized by widespread patterns of emigration (McIlwaine 2011). The majority of these migratory movements were toward the US, yet since the early 2000s--in part due to the increasing immigration restrictions following 9/11--there has been a diversification of destination countries with large numbers of Latin Americans turning toward Europe, in many cases following ancestral ties dating back to the European migration to the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Solimano 2003). (1) While scholarly attention has begun to capture these diverse migratory trends, there remains a lack of comparative ethnographic research into the lives and practices of Latin Americans in particular places. Moreover, a tendency to focus on the socioeconomic aspects of migrant life--such as integration, employment, and transnational remittances--has led to a lack of attention being paid to migrants' cultural practices, and the different ways in which diasporic groups carve out spaces of belonging in and engagement with host society settings. Finally, we argue that turning attention to more recent migratory flows--of Latin Americans toward Europe, for example--should not ignore the fundamental role that older diasporic movements have played in the cultural and social life of the Americas. With a view toward providing a broader conception of the notion of "diaspora" in the Americas, this special issue brings together articles that explore the diasporic practices of Latin Americans in London and New York, and Brazilians of African heritage--the West African diaspora in Brazil.

This collection of articles--most of which were originally presented as part of two panels at the 2012 Latin American Studies Association Congress--does not aim to capture the complexity and wide geographical breadth of migration to and from Latin America, focusing more specifically on Chilean and Brazilian migration to London and New York and African influences in the northeast of Brazil. (2) Yet, brought together as they are in this collection, the articles draw attention to the ways in which diverse sociocultural practices--including food, music, religion, protest, and street commemorations--represent "diasporic moments" (Hall 2012) in "transnational spaces" (Jackson, Crang, and Dwyer 2004) and contribute to the creation of a sense of belonging in these locations. Moreover, despite the collection focusing on only three diasporic groups, the distinct migration trajectories and experiences allow for fascinating comparisons, parallels, and contrasts between these three contexts, between these three ethnic groups, and between different generations within the groups. Moving beyond the abstract realm, all five articles provide grounded and situated approaches to current debates on diaspora, transnationalism, and material culture.

Influenced by broader conceptions of diaspora, such as Brah's (1996) notion of a "homing desire"--which she distinguishes from a "desire for homeland"--this interdisciplinary set of articles also points to the different manifestations of "the diasporic" through social and cultural practices. Thus, rather than conceptualizing diaspora as representing a single homogeneous group, united by a desire for a single specific homeland, the articles examine different diasporic moments, places, and practices. In all cases diaspora becomes a "heuristic device" (Fortier 2000) that can refer to "diasporic stances, projects, claims, idioms, practices and so on" (Brubaker 2005, 13). These articles also draw on conceptualizations of "transnational spaces" (Jackson et al. 2004) that, like Brah's (1996) "diaspora space," encompass many more people than just those who migrate or whose lives are lived--physically--across borders. Finally, these articles, in different ways, explore the complex circuits and interconnections that link people and places across the dynamic and constantly shifting globalizing context, constituting what Appardurai (1996) has termed "ethnoscapes. …

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