Imagining Our Americas: A Transnational History of Chile and the United States

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 10:00 AM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
Heidi Tinsman, University of California, Irvine
My comments focus on the promise of transnational approaches to the Americas that bridge area studies distinctions between “Latin American history” and “U.S. history” and borrow from different methodological strengths of Latin American Studies and U.S.-American Studies.  As a jumping off point, I discuss research from my forthcoming book, Buying into the Regime: Grapes and Consumption in Cold War Chile and the United States.  This project blends a history of commodities with a cultural history of advertising, feminism, and civil rights.  I argue for the importance of “reversing the gaze” to consider Latin Americans’ impact inside the United States as distinct from the tradition of studying U.S. action on Latin America.   For example, during the Pinochet dictatorship, Chilean businessmen actively marketed Chilean grapes inside the U.S. and collaborated with Californians in shaping American attitudes about healthy eating and fresh food.  Americans did not eat grapes from Chile simply because “they were there,” but because Chileans long promoted a relationship with Califorinia agribusiness and aggressively pushed Chilean exceptionalism within U.S. borders.   At the same time, Chilean messages about food differed from California’s.  Whereas the California grape industry pushed pastoral images of grapes as “Gifts of Mother Nature” that made American women sexy and independent, Chileans emphasized the technological and hygienic fitness of their grapes, processed by modern women workers.  

I emphasize the importance of historicizing “disconnections” as well as “connections” in transnational and world history projects.  As another example, I discuss the parallel but entirely separate grape boycotts inside the United States led by Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers (against California grapes) and the U.S.-Chile Solidarity movement (against Chilean grapes).  I argue that cold war politics focused the UFW on national civil rights whereas solidarity activists saw neoliberalism (exemplified by Chilean grape-exports) strictly as a product of “U.S. imperialism abroad.”

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