An Open Letter to the Leadership of the National Association of Chicana & Chicano Studies

Editor’s Note: On September 4, 2014, NACCS leadership sent this brief memo to its membership: “The NACCS Board appreciates the comments expressed on the 2015 theme. At this time the description has been removed and the Board will be discussing these concerns.

Editor’s note: On September 7, 2014, NACCS leadership sent this brief memo to its membership: “The Board thanks the membership for the feedback of the recent CFP. After deliberation and feedback from Board Members, a CFP revision will be released on September 12, 2015. The Board feels that the idea of “civility” is important to engage in its different forms, in its various meanings, and in its numerous consequences. We look forward to the continued discussion of these ideas in our forthcoming conference.

Editor’s note: On September 12, 2014, NACCS leadership updated its Call for Papers:

NACCS XLII

April 16-18, 2015
PARC 55 Wyndham Hotel
San Francisco, CA 

Chicana/o In/Civilities
Contestation y Lucha: Cornerstones of Chicana & Chicano Studies

The NACCS 2015 conference theme critically explores concepts of civility and incivility within and outside of Chicana/o Studies as a crucial aspect of our historical and political development, to locate ruptures, and to examine ways to comprehend and address the use of and challenges to civility.  This needs to be explored both in how dominant society deploys the concept as a mode of social and political control, as well as how it is perceived as an academic, professional, and political discourse(s) amongst and between Chicana/o Studies practitioners.  Communications and dialogue with the NACCS membership have critically highlighted the coercive uses of the term of “civility” and prompted a vigorous dialogue and debate about the meanings of the term and how it relates to contemporary society. We recognize colonial histories in which the term civility has been and continues to be misused to silence and control us and to perpetuate a climate of distrust, fear, brutality, superiority, racism, and discrimination.  These reasons, among others, we believe merit close and critical scrutiny.  

“Civility” is a complex yet essential concept for social interaction and communication. Change agents such as Emma Tenayuca, Ernesto Galarza, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Corky Gonzalez, Gloria Anzaldúa, and many current leaders of different social movements have struggled to strategically find the balance between “civility and “incivility” in order to achieve cultural, political, and economic transformation at both the individual and social level. 

Human societies lie within a fluid context that is constantly re-defining ‘civil’ and ‘uncivil’ behavior. Chicana/o Studies does not stand outside of this fluidity of definition. We wish to use the theme of this year’s conference to explore themes of civility and incivility in Chicana/o Studies across a broad range of topics and areas of interest, including but not limited to how the theme relates to: 

  • Chicana/o Studies discourse(s), including holy and unholy texts, utopian contestations, political and tactical disagreements within Chicana/o Studies, and the continual struggle and disagreement over the legacy and meaning of the Chicana/o Movement
  • Chicana/o Studies on campus, including interpersonal politics, peer review, networks and cliques, and processes of hiring, tenure, and promotion 
  • Chicana/o self-determination and self-definition
  • The theme within/between Chicano radicalism and Mexican American assimilationism
  • A new, emergent, and maturing electronic media
  • Socio-political resistance and refusal
  • Decolonial practices and critiques
  • Academic freedom and institutional discourses of civility
  • Knowledge production, the politics of research and collective work
  • Contemporary and historic civil disobedience(s)
  • Globalization and neoliberalism

Submissions due by October 15, 2014.

—-

Dear Professor Olivencia and Members of the National Board,

I’m writing to express my concerns about the 2015 NACCS conference theme, “Exploring Civility within the Chicana & Chicano Studies Discipline,” and the related call for papers which has been circulating via email and social media with a great deal of commentary over the past two days. I write as someone with deep regard for NACCS, having been involved with the organization since 1988, when I attended my first conference in Boulder as an undergraduate Mechista. And even now, 25+ years later as an Associate Professor, I look to NACCS as a place of intimacy, fierceness, social movement work, and radical politics.

I was looking forward to the prospect of the upcoming conference in San Francisco…until I read the CFP. Even though the title of the conference is “Exploring Civility,” which would seem to leave a bit of space for critiquing the discourse of civility, the CFP makes it clear that the theme is not only promoting civility, but that it is blaming human suffering, greed, union busting, and other forms of oppression on a general sense of incvility, rather than say…capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, genocide. I think I have read the CFP a dozen times by now, carefully trying to understand the work it is trying to do and trying to have a reparative reading (as Eve Sedgwick might encourage). But I am honestly at a loss.

To say—in this historical moment—that “disrespect for authority has decreased the ability of individuals to follow laws” is to verge into the terrain of anti-Blackness. Even if it’s the case that the CFP was written before broken-hearted protestors in Ferguson were labed “lawbreaking, uncivil looters”…and even if it’s the case that the CFP was written before UIUC reneged on Professor Salaita’s job offer based on charges of incivility, there is still abundant evidence predating those cases of how the discourse of civility is deployed by the powerful to regulate speech, to quash dissent, to justify colonialism and genocide. It is unimaginable to me that NACCS would want such bedfellows.

Two years after my first NACCS conference, I worked alongside Deb Vargas, Emma Pérez, Deena González, and Rosalia Solorzano to co-found the Lesbian Caucus (now the Lesbian, Transgender and Bisexual Mujeres Caucus) at the Albuquerque meetings. If Deb, Emma, Deena, Rosalia and I had given in to the cult of true womanhood (a highly gendered and colonialist ideology promoting civility), then we would have never found the determination and strength to go up against the incredible machista homphobia and pushback we faced in Albuquerque. If we had been good girls, or—to use the language of the NACCS CFP—if we had been “well-behaved, cultured, refined, enlightened, polite, and developed” (ser educado)—we probably wouldn’t even have had the audacity to be out lesbians much less angry Chicana dykes demanding of space. Thankfully we didn’t give into that ideology then. And I certainly don’t want to now.

I hope that the NACCS leadership will scrap the CFP and start a fresh one. I truly believe that it’s worth the hassle.

Sincerely,

Sandra K. Soto

——

Call for Papers – Exploring Civility within the Chicana & Chicano Studies Discipline

The contours of global order are being impacted by the increase of lack of civility at a global and local scale. We are living in a society which is imploding and disintegrating into an uncivil and divisive relationship in our politics and discourse at the community, state and national level. The scarcity of civility spells disaster and stifles growth as we increasingly devolve into a total lack of empathy—a trait that makes human beings unique from animals. Empathy is the ability, moreover, to communicate in a compassionate, dispassionate, and courteous manner. At the individual level, the lack of civility creates disrespect, disparagement, and contempt for other individuals; at the political level individuals become social pawns of a government of oppression and despotism by those who rule through incivility and undemocratic processes.

The term “ser educado” in Spanish means being well-behaved, cultured, refined, enlightened, polite, and developed. Unfortunately, our political leadership and public behavior promotes the opposite of civility. As a result, this country is in a deep crisis at a social and economic level that reverses democracy which only works when there is compromise and a balance of power shared by the legislative, the judicial, and the executive branches. Inability to compromise has deadlocked our political system in a way to make it impossible for passage of key pieces of legislation and disables our democratic process altogether. A study entitled Civility in America reiterates the fact “that incivility is ubiquitous; no area of American society is untouched. Eroding civility is harmful to our country’s future and takes a toll on how we interact with the people and institutions around us.” Secondly, disrespect for authority has decreased the ability of individuals to follow laws. Thirdly, an overgrown sense of self-importance and blurring between actions and consequences further inculcate lack of civility and the breakup of any social order. All these sentiments are applicable to a sense of individuality and social consciousness in Chicanos/Latinos.

We encourage you to explore what civility means in different Chicana/Chicano Studies areas and how its lack damages and creates havoc within our political world (partisanship is at a new extreme), our economy (the destruction of unions and collective bargaining—increasing the gap between the rich and poor) and society. Some themes to consider within Chicana/Chicano Studies are:

Civility and Cultural Competence

Politics, Religion and Civility

Civility and Discourse

Civility and the Individual

The Impact of Technology on Civility

Civility and Media

The Arts as an Expression of a Civilized Society

The Global Economy and Civility and Its Impact on the Chicana/Chicano World

Civility and Its Significance in Chicana/Chicano Society

How Civility is Communicated in Different Cultures

Civility in Our Indigenous Cultures

Art Forms and Their Ability to Create Empathy, Civility and Humanity

NACCS welcome submissions of papers and panels to present at the conference.

Nelia Olivencia, Chair-Elect, nelia@ naccs.org

National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies

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