Sunday, January 27, 2008

POAET Conversations

On Friday I had the opportunity to present some of my summer research at the POAET Conversations, organized by Comparative Literature at IUB. I gave a paper entitled "The Nostalgic Landscapes of the Botánica". I found people were very excited about my work, encouraging me to keep myself in it. I struggle with how much of myself to include in my ethnography, I find that each time I present my work, people are excited by my presence within it. Perhaps I am tired of this angle, or insecure of how I fit into my own research, but the presentation was yet another affirmation that I am on the right track. My work should appeal to the public, no?
Another issue that came up was that of ethics in fieldwork. My colleague Joe asked if there were ethical issues that arose for me while studying with my own family. Of course there are. Our relationships and roles seep into each interview, but being aware of them is the first step. Charles Briggs offers some good insight into the dynamics of an interview in Learning How to Ask.
Other great questions helped me see how people hear what I am saying and process it with or against what they already know about Caribbean spiritual traditions. Santería is often a stumbling block for me and for others, as many of these traditions (for some reason) seem like Santería to an outsider. It was apparent in questions posed to me that people were using what they knew about Santería as a jumping off point for processing my paper. While that was frustrating in some ways, it also helped me see how to better organize my work vis-a-vis popular understandings of folk religion or healing in the Caribbean.

Here is an excerpt from the paper:

For this ongoing research project, I am interested in the words and images that evoke the idea of Africa or African. A brief examination of pre-packaged baños sold in many botánicas in New York City shows how illustrations of African people, landscapes and architecture are part of the assemblage of a botánica. I believe these packages communicate their effectiveness through an appeal to a common sacred homeland. Drawing on the work of Raquel Romberg (2003, 2007), Anthony Smith (1991) and my own ethnographic interviews, ongoing research will examine how imagined landscapes of Africa and the Afro-Latino concept of El Monte are utilized in botánicas. Examining the illustrations on the packaging for these baños we encounter a landscape, which, I argue, commodifies the notion of a sacred land while simultaneously fortifying relationships based on the recognition of this land.

See the entire paper here:
Professor Jason Jackson published a shout out to my presentation as well as to Terri Klassen, a colleague who studied quilts this past summer, on his website

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