Migration, Space, and World War II in Latin America

AHA Session 99
Conference on Latin American History 17
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Regency Ballroom V (Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Lower Level 1)
Barbara Weinstein, New York University
Paulina Laura Alberto, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Session Abstract

This session examines how Latin Americans and migrants to Latin America conceptualized individual, collective, and national identities in light of transnational cultural flows during and after World War II. Instead of looking at a specific immigrant group or a period of migration, “Migration, Space, and World War II in Latin America” places previously disparate histories—the study of the African Diaspora in Mexico, twentieth-century Chinese migration to Mexico, and migratory theater performers in the Rio de la Plata—in conversation. This approach to migration details state policies in and toward Latin American nations as well as the simultaneous constructions of race and space in Latin America. Each paper looks at migratory peoples and cultures in a transnational context that is tied directly to specific spaces: the Mexican regions that have histories with colonial-era African slavery, the cities where Chinese migrants lived in Mexico, and the translocal cultural exchanges between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. As a result, these papers place Latin America within the global politics of World War II and the early Cold War in the Pacific and Atlantic worlds. Questions of inter-Americanism, democratic racial inclusion, and anti-fascism were vital to the construction of African-descended regions in Mexico. Chinese migrants attempted to use education to overcome the international constraints that precluded return visits and to maintain ties to their homeland. Finally, Montevideo’s municipal projects shed light on role of migration in the post-war construction of welfare states and modern national cultures.

            These papers use recent and historical migrations to rethink the cultural, geographic, and spatial boundaries of nationalist projects in Latin America. Independent of one another, they recall histories that arguably did not succeed. Regional constructions of Afro-Mexico remained hidden in the Mexican national landscape until the multiculturalism of Mexico’s Third Root initiative. Chinese schools in Mexico failed to remain open. In Uruguay, Montevideo’s Comedia Nacional struggled to compete with foreign mass media. Collectively, these case studies show how local and regional projects—regardless of their success—point to the cultural and racial limits of national identities and also attempt to construct the foundation for future democratizing projects. This perspective pulls back from traditional questions of assimilation and instead focuses on how migrants, their cultures, and their perceived cultural legacies animated identity politics and state policies in Latin America during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

            This panel will interest historians concerned with Latin American history, diasporas in the Atlantic and Pacific worlds, and the global legacies of World War II.

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