New Perspectives on Migrations, Radicalism, and Transformations in 20th-Century North America

AHA Session 103
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Room A703 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level)
Seema Sohi, University of Colorado Boulder
The Audience

Session Abstract

Migrations fundamentally reshaped North America throughout the twentieth century, with new forms of and ideas tied to radical politics emerging from migrations to and within the continent at large. The bulk of the scholarship examining migrations and radicalism views this relationship as one where radical migrants traveled to and settled in new locales and radicalized the communities around them, to the chagrin of the local dominant class who sought to suppress or expel radical influences. Yet recent histories of migrations and radicalism have demonstrated the transformative power of migrations themselves, with various experiences during the migration process and unjust relations with the host society contributing to these radical transformations.

This panel works in the vein of this recent scholarship by excavating three unexplored case studies of migrations and radicalism within twentieth-century North America. Not only did migrants undergo political and ideological changes during and after their travels throughout the continent; they often experienced affective, spiritual, and identity-based transformations as well. For example, Nicole Guidotti-Hernández illuminates the oft-neglected emotive aspects of anarchist Enrique Flores-Magón’s forced exile from Mexico before and during the Mexican Revolution. Dominantly portrayed on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border with a masculinity of rebellion and dissent, Flores-Magón’s correspondence and other personal writings highlight the underlying feelings of love, family, desire, and loss he developed away from Mexico. Tammy Heise reframes the history of the American Indian Movement (AIM) through an examination of their Ghost Dance “restoration” during their 1973 Siege at Wounded Knee. AIM’s establishment was rooted in the intra-continental diaspora of American Indians from reservations to urban areas via the assimilative federal policies of Termination and Relocation, and their history has often been framed as one that separates urban “secular” radicalism from “traditional” reservation cultural practices. Yet as Heise shows, American Indian radicals often held political activism and spiritual restoration as inextricable from the other. Aaron Bae examines the relationship between migrations, the urban crisis, and the rise of internationalist radicalism in the postwar San Francisco Bay Area, focusing on how the migrant streams flowing into the Bay Area during and after World War II led to the formation of the area’s urban crisis through the suburban boom and subsequent capital and tax divestment of inner cities, which held the vast majority of the Bay Area’s people of color. Moreover, Bae highlights the ways in which similar experiences under the structural impediments of the Bay Area’s urban crisis oriented future local radicals toward multiracial coalitions in the 1960s and 70s.

These papers engage with pressing issues within migration studies, such as intellectual currents, state violence and surveillance, and transnationalism, broadly construed.  Our age of late globalization—and the ills produced therein—necessitate new perspectives on migrations and radicalism. These histories provide scholars with the knowledge of how migrant transformations emerged through efforts to resist the hegemony of their homelands and their host societies and lend themselves toward an understanding of how societies might work toward a more just and equitable world.

See more of: AHA Sessions