Borderlands and Latino Studies Seminar: Gabriela Nuñez, University of Louisville and Ana Elena Puga, Northwestern University

Borderlands and Latino Studies Seminar
Thursday, January 21, 2010

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

“El tren de la muerte: Youth Border Crossing Narratives
Gabriela Nuñez, University of Louisville

This paper examines contemporary narratives about children and adolescents who travel unaccompanied from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border in search of long-lost parents and better life opportunities. Contemporary feminist scholarship has succeeded in complicating early research on migration and immigration that focuses on the lives and experiences of adult men. Although the study across academic disciplines centered on youth border crossers is still in its nascent stages, there is a proliferation of narratives in journalism, and feature and documentary film representing the “war without a name” – a phrase used to describe the harrowing phenomena of youth who travel on the top of freight trains to reach the U.S. These contemporary texts challenge audiences to question their assumptions about undocumented immigrants and to consider the unique struggles for young migrants. I assert that reading these texts in tandem demonstrates a problematic focus on the moral arguments regarding parenting that elide the socio-economic connections between the U.S. and Central America that motivate northward mass migration.

“Elvira Arellano and Migrant Melodrama
Ana Elena Puga, Northwestern University

This paper delineates how melodrama, as a mode of imagination, played a crucial role in the construction of the public performances and spectatorship of the undocumented migrant activist Elvira Arellano during and after her year in sanctuary in a Chicago church, where she remained for a year together with her son Saul. It asks to what extent and in what ways our melodramatic imagination simultaneously propels and circumscribes migrant claims to human rights. How can advocates for migrant rights best negotiate expectations, even demands, for moral clarity and spectacles of suffering as the price of inclusion in the national imagined community? he national imagined community?

Commentator: Bill Johnson González, DePaul University