On March 29, the University of Redlands Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGS) Department hosted its 11th annual conference in celebration of Women’s History Month. The day-long event recognized how questions of race, class, and sexuality impact women's social movements in the U.S. and around the world.
Each year, the conference aims to provide a forum where students, regardless of major, can present their work in women, gender, and sexuality studies and examine important questions within the area. Students submit essays and research in disciplines including literature, history, anthropology, and psychology. The student work is then featured and discussed in panels throughout the day.
“A highlight of the event for me is seeing the papers—I always learn about new topics that I’ve never thought about before,” says Megan Wilensky ’20, a research assistant for the WGS Department who led the student planning committee for this year’s conference. “Students from the Race and Ethnic Studies major have submitted papers, and we’ve even received some from people in the sciences.”
This is the first year the conference has had international participants, says Jennifer Nelson, professor and director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. Students from the Institute for Cultural Research at the Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexicali, Mexico, presented their research on feminism, gay identity, and gender during the first panel of the day.
Other conference panels explored queer literary resistance, pregnancy and health, sex work, the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, and religion, and more. Students who are seniors in the program also had the chance to present research conducted during their senior seminars.
Attendees gathered for lunch, which was followed by Maylei Blackwell’s keynote presentation on indigenous women’s activism and organizing in transborder communities. Blackwell is an interdisciplinary scholar, activist, oral historian, author, and professor of Chicano/a Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In her talk, Blackwell focused on the research she has conducted while working with the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB), a human rights organization that works to secure the rights of indigenous populations living in the United States and Mexico. This research will be compiled in her upcoming book, Scales of Justice: Indigenous Women’s Transborder Organizing and the Practice of Autonomy in the Age of Neoliberalism.
“You might notice that I’m using the word ‘transborder’ and not ‘transnational,’” she said. “I use that word because ‘transnational’ is a tricky word for indigenous people because we’re already in nation-to-nation relationships with each other. Transborder is a different way of saying ‘transnational’ without complicating the layers of political geography and economy and indigenous erasure.”
How do people organize in migration? How do they organize across borders? Blackwell asked these questions of the audience throughout her presentation. One way is by creating their own indigenous communities in American cities, such as Los Angeles. Blackwell and her colleagues have created story maps that display the Pico-Union, Koreatown, Culver City, and Venice and Palms areas in Los Angeles, which have become vibrant communities for the Latin American diaspora.
Still, crossing physical borders is not a simple task for indigenous migrants. Blackwell noted that transborder organizing is complicated by geographies of difference, which are the cultural borders that migrants must cross in addition to the physical ones. “When migrants cross, they’re not just crossing the U.S.-Mexico border,” Blackwell said. “They’re crossing borders of colonialism, racial geographies, new gender geographies, class geographies, and the borders of other indigenous nations—all of these other borders that aren’t marked.”
In addition to changing geographies, Blackwell explained the changes in gender roles, language, and issues that indigenous people are facing as a result of modern migration. The indigenous populations in L.A. and Oaxaca are working to solve problems specific to their locations. Those in Oaxaca are focusing on their right to not migrate, which involves working and making enough money in order to stay in their homes. In L.A., indigenous populations are concerned with keeping their children in the culture and transmitting cultural value and knowledge to younger generations through music and group events.
“All of these questions and thoughts are about indigenous survival within a transborder context,” said Blackwell. “They also raise the question of—as much as it’s about surviving in this way—how we can organize in different ways that still build a political project across borders while attending to the fact that we are indigenous people on indigenous land.”
Learn more about the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at the University of Redlands.