Queer Chicano Digital Stories

For the final project of my visual research methods class I decided to construct an academic research based website dedicated to queer Chicano digital storytelling.  I must confess that when my professor asked us to translate a 10 page academic paper into the digital, I was completely speechless.  At first this seemed impossible to me mostly because I have been trained and socialized to produce knowledge through the tradition of academic writing which until prior to this class remained on paper.  Thanks to my classmate and friend Sarina, I was introduced to weebly.com.   Weebly.com is a very easy to use site where I constructed my digital research paper.   

The focus of this project was to bring together examples of queer Chicano digital stories in order to emphasize the liminal space of the digital and to illuminate the contact/trading zones found in the Digital Humanities through a queer Chicano perspective.  I depart from the work of Patrik Svensson and Kirsten Drotner.  I merge their analysis of the DH and digital storytelling with queer Chicano/a theory.  The act of making teorias along with the theory of nepantla by Gloria Anzuldúa and migrancy theory by José Esteban Muñoz were utilized to illuminate how queer Chicanos have utilized the digital as a tool for deep reflection and as a tool to reach local and global communities.    Equally important, this digital research project elucidates the elements of border ideology, sexuality and queer Chicano identities while simultaneously challenging heteronormative institutions by providing deep reflection.   Queer Chicano intersections thrive in the digital liminal space or in “digital nepantla”.  Finally, I included my own queer Chicano digital story as an exercise to explore this new tool but also in efforts to be in dialogue with other queer Chicano digital storytellers. 

This course has profoundly challenged my traditional modes of thinking and writing.  In addition I have gained new knowledge and have equipped my academic foundation with tools found in the digital.  To this point I have produced an academic blog, a video essay, a documentary and a digital research paper through a website.  You can visit my final research project on my website: http://kahlitos.weebly.com/ 

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Indigenous Digital Storytelling

The following is a blog post collectively written with my group (Sydney, Sarina, and Ned) in response to an essay written by Faye Ginsburg titled, ”Rethinking the Digital Age”.  We decided to focus on digital story telling in indigenous communities.  
 

In Faye Ginsburg’s”Rethinking the Digital Age” she writes about the positive impacts indigenous storytelling projects can have on indigenous communities.  Her primary argument can be summarized as such:

“The cultural activists creating these new kinds of cultural forms have turned to them as a means of revivifying relationship to their lands, local languages, traditions, and histories, and of articulating community concerns.  They also see media as a means of furthering social and political transformation by inserting their own stories into national narratives as part of ongoing struggles for Aboriginal recognition and self-determination” (616).

nDigiStory is a digital storytelling project designed by indigenous women with the mission of integrating the stories of indigenous communities in innovative forms.  They “draw upon respective strengths and resources,” and share their passion for “the overall well-being of humanity, storytelling art and media.” Their specific focus is on health education, policy and cultural preservation.

One specific video called Hummingbird speaks directly to the nDigiDreams project as well as Ginsburg’s article.  It activates memory through storytelling to show the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another.  It extends the oral tradition to storytelling into the digital world.  It also is an example of self-representation being activated through digital.

it is important, however, as Ginsburg warns to lead with cautious optimism.  It could be argued that giving voice to people is illusionary.  It creates an illusion of a public sphere, an illusion of a place where political action can take place.  As Ginsburg says, “questions of the digital age look different to people struggling to control land and traditions appropriated by now dominant settler societies for as long as five hundred years” (615).  In other words, we must be careful not to champion the voice granted through digital storytelling because it can be used as another form of communicative capitalism – it could be used as a way to steal, oppressed and marginalized groups through the illusion of voice and agency.

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Digital Peer Review

Today in class we explored elements in the DH that challenge traditional forms of scholarship.  I am exploring the element of digital peer review as an exercise that challenges the traditional methods of offering feedback.  Instead of writing my comments on actual paper, I will attempt to offer feedback through blog to blog correspondence.  I will be looking at a classmates’ blog and offer feedback digitally. In my classmates’ blog “The Visual Animal” Ned refers to the work of John Collier Jr, http://thevisualanimal.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/the-work-of-john-collier-jr/. In this particular blog post, Ned refers to the historical impact of photography and still images. An element that captivated me in his blog is a quote he found in the reading, “The Dead would come to life, and we would see wholly new relationships in what had been only a frozen moment” (249). In addition, I was captivated by the image Ned posted, the still images that is presented is a photograph by John Collier and it is of a Navajo Woman looking back towards the landscape. http://www.flickr.com/photos/johncollierjr/344497098/. This image allowed me to reflect upon the massive eradication of the Navajo community through colonization. What I offer to Ned in this digital peer review of this particular blog is the exploration of incorporating personal reflection on what the still image inspires or activates or the possibility to integrate a poem next to the still image. How can one add personal reflection of a still image through the digital? This is part one of my peer review, however a second part will come soon where I will digitally record my own reflection of the image and post it on Ned’s blog as an example of how we can integrate personal reflection of still images through the digital. By doing this I will be participating on digital peer review…more to come as soon as I charge up my phone in order to have enough juice to use the camera component.

Here is the peer review that was completed with the help of my friend Jonathan who took the time to record my feedback.

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Self-Revelation on Video and “The Skin I’m In” by Brodrick Fox

I decided to finally post this in-class project of self-revelation after watching a film at Pitzer College. The Film titled,”The Skin I’m In”, directed by Brodrick Fox, illuminates the blurred boundaries of performance and autobiography in documentaries. In this documentary, Fox sends the viewer on a journey of his own self discovery. By presenting multiple personas, Fox highlights the struggles presented in his life that lead him to seek a higher power. Fox found his higher power through nature and through indigenous beliefs of survival and transformation. He exposes the personas that make up his identity and at the end of the documentary these personas unify a whole through the autobiography. Though by no means is my class project anywhere near the self-disclosure presented in “The Skin I’m In” however Fox’s courage to illuminate his own process of spiritual quest and survival motivated me to post this short piece filmed by my classmate Monica. The project was intended to explore the process of self-revelation on video. I disclose my coming out experience to Monica as she proceeds to ask questions regarding my family and my religious upbringing. Because I have been out for many years, I thought it would not be a difficult process to reflect on my coming out experience, however this process proved that self-revelation not only entails a trust factor but also lingers after the camera is turned off. The following was initially posted on Monica’s blog but I have decided to re-post it on my own blog as a response to watching Fox’s film, “The Skin I’m In” ( http://skiniminmovie.com/ )

Self-Revelation on Video
Posted on March 14, 2013

In class today my filming partner Pablo and I worked on a project trying capture the self-revelation process on video.Our method was self-revelation through ethnography.

Monica: As the person doing the filming and asking the questions I was testing the boundaries of trust as I asked him about his experience coming out.

Pablo: I felt I was starting to build a trust with Monica as the person being interviewed and self-disclosing. We both discovered that the process of self revelation begins before and after the video was filmed.

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A Documentary: Reflections on the Intersections of Feminism

            The documentary project on intersections of feminism illuminated the collective effort and the building of trust that is necessary in accomplishing a creative production.  The beginning stages involved being an active listener and becoming aware of everyone’s creative ideas.  Our responsibility and challenge was to integrate our ideas and voices into a single project.  This took some compromising but did not involve surrendering our individual ideas.  For example, I wanted to document the experiences of Latino/a students at the Claremont colleges.  I wanted to record the ways in which Latino/a students at the Claremont colleges navigated their identity as students and as a minority population on the college campuses.  I also wanted to document how collective activism is integrated into the scholarship and the daily lives of Latino/a students at the Claremont Colleges.  Another student wanted to document an actual protest to show how activism is played out in local communities.  Another student wanted to focus on gender roles and stereotypes to seek how women challenge these roles and stereotypes in the workforce.  Another student wanted to explore the concept of feminism and interview people in her family to demonstrate feminist perspectives.   In this group of 5 members we mapped out the possibilities and agreed we could include all our ideas by focusing on the intersections of feminism. 

                We decided to use a quote by Chicana Feminist Gloria Anzuldúa to capture and hold our ideas on feminism.  This quote exemplifies the many voices and borderlands that encompass feminist perspectives.  Anzuldúa captures the inner struggle of consciousness raising and the liberation that occurs when we shift our understanding of oppression.  We liberate ourselves from dominating forces of oppression when we shift the images in our heads to ones that promote collective liberation.  Our method was too bring this quote into life.  By positioning ourselves in front of the camera and stating our positionalities in life. We became the borderlands of Anzaldua’s quote.  We highlighted our understanding of feminism, we discussed the way we came upon feminism and we spoke about the complexities of embracing a feminist perspective while maintaining a sense of loyalty to ourselves, our community and family members.  We brought into focus the way feminism becomes a force for change and social justice.

               We utilized the Claremont Chicano Latino Student Affairs Office on our campus to film our documentary.  We used two different cameras to record our conversations and our positionalities (the footage taken by my camera contain an awful background sound effect that overpowered our voices).  We used a cell phone and a mac computer to record our voices reciting Anzaldúa’s quote, and we used an Apple Mac video program to edit our footage.  Originally we were going to use youtube clips of demonstrations and protest that spoke to feminist consciousness but we decided to edit these clips as they over shadowed our own narratives.  We decided instead to use still images that invoked feminism.  We collected a lot of footage that was not used in the final production of the documentary however this footage can now belong to an archive of feminist data. 

           I appreciated most the collective efforts of every group member.  I appreciated our diverse ideas and our multiple understanding of feminist perspectives and how these elements where channeled through Anzaldúa’s quote.  We supported our efforts entirely.  Even when some of our ideas did not coincide with the goals of the project we acknowledged the effort in building those ideas.  Trust was built through communication and support.  I felt that everyone’s voice was acknowledged and collectively put into motion.  Doing this documentary highlighted the dynamics creating collectively.  It also enhanced my understanding of the editing process.  Finally, it is our voices and our presence in the documentary that merged with Anzaldua’s understanding of the intersections of feminisms.  Check out our documentary! 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIt-lmpwgaU

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Documentary at the Claremont Colleges

For the video Documentary project I would like to focus on the dynamics and representations of student identities.  Having been influenced by Theresa Cortez’s video essay on ethnic stereotypes and the tensions of representations, I would like to document Latino students at the Claremont colleges and capture the many ways Latino/a students negotiate a student identity with an ethnic identity of representation.  Cortez’s video essay raises important questions regarding ethnic stereotypes and social myths that I wish to explore in this documentary and extend into the Claremont College communities.  Cortez illuminates how one’s history impacts identity on an intimate and personal level and she demonstrates how this identity gets represented and played out in society.  In Cortez’s video essay the question of “Who am I?” get’s interrogated, explored, questioned, and confirmed.  I would like to continue and explore this question by extending it to “Who am I at the Claremont Colleges?” or “Who am I as a Latino/a student at the Claremont Colleges?”

                The function of this documentary is for Latino/a student voices from the Claremont colleges to emerge in light of being a minority student population at the Colleges.  In addition, this documentary seeks to illuminate the way Latino/as navigate student life and student representation.  The hope of the documentary is to identify the resources Latino/a students seek in order to establish support and solidarity among other students and other Latino/as at the Claremont colleges. In addition, the documentary process will seek to caste light on the history of Latino/a student activism. 

                The location or setting of the documentary will take place at the Claremont Colleges. I hope to utilized the space of the Chicano Latino Student Affairs where often times I find myself studying, connecting with other students, watching political commentary with other students, finding support, organizing student events, and resting on the comfortable couches.  The documentary will not be limited to this space but it will provide a meeting ground and a departure to other settings and narratives.  As a Chicano student at CGU, I also anticipate to capture my own experience in the documentary. 

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AIDS TV and Documentary: A Reflection on Activist Video Production

      As I channel my academic scholarship into the landscape of visual production I find myself reflecting and rewiring my understanding of activism and scholarship. Making my first video essay gave my academic work new breath and regenerated my passion for the work I create.  It strengthened the bridge of creative community and cold stone theoretical writing. It unified text and practice.  I am embracing a new tool that has transformed itself and its accessibility throughout the years.  Many activists have taken the tool of video production as a tool for activism. 

            In Chapter 6 of AIDS TV: Identity, Community, and Alternative Video, Alexandra Juhasz links art and theory in the making of alternative AIDS media.  Engaged in activist video production, Juhasz regards the process of funding, distribution, production and viewing as integral components of theory and vital to the practice of a collective vision.  This chapter, “WAVE: A Case Study”, illuminates the social, theoretical, and art practices of alternative and activist video production.  In the making of the video We Care, Women’s AIDS Video Enterprise (WAVE) brings into focus collective and diverse voices of women and their experiences in the AIDS crisis and their experiences as care providers for people with AIDS.  Through sociological, feminist, and ethnographic frameworks, Juhasz activates the practice of art making to challenge hierarchies of power and power positioning.  Art in this production is utilized to open a vital space of accessibility, visibility, identity, community, dialogue, and education that has been historically unavailable to people outside of the mainstream.  The politics of sexuality, health care, poverty, race, and gender are constantly reflected upon by all participants involved in the making of We Care.  Art in the making of We Care illuminates all aspects of the AIDS crisis, “The production of art cannot be separated from the other tensions, anxieties, and problems that women encounter during their daily lives and in their sense of themselves” (180).  The production of We Care illuminates voices, built community trust, offered partnership in the making and challenges mainstream representations and social hierarchies. 

            In addition to recalling the difficulties and the forms of exclusion that are evident in the “highly professionalized requirements of arts funding” (184), along with validated mistrust of mainstream media Juhasz also incorporates her own reflections on positionalities as both an insider and outsider to the production of We Care.  The importance of this reflection is vital for any researcher to partake, it fuels the important and intimate relationship of activism and scholarship. 

 

Questions of reflection on documentary and We Care:

 Who is the Audience?  In watching the documentary We Care, the target audience ranges from care-providers, people with no or little knowledge regarding HIV infection and AIDS, women of color and marginalized communities that have little to no access regarding HIV prevention and education.  I also believe that the audience can include activists and people exploring the world of activist documentary making.  In referencing the audience Juhasz writes in chapter 6, “We made a tape assuming that the majority of our spectators, like the producers of the tape, would be urban women of color affected by AIDS.  We assumed that they would be people wanting to know more, and people who would also benefit (as we had done) from the sense of community” (212-13). 

 What are the ethics of working with real people? The ethical component of documentary entails the vital reflection and understanding of power relations and positionalities between the person with the camera and the person and/or communities being filmed.  For example, during the last half of the video we see only half view of a women’s face as she gives her narrative.  This ensures her privacy and anonymity which protects her from the discriminating forces of society and culture.   Another example is illustrated in the circle of women discussing their experiences with AIDS.  In this section of the film the video gaze is not directed towards any one single woman.  The participants are not looking directly at the camera, instead the participants are looking at each other exposing communal dialogue and participation with everyone involved.   There is no single voice of authority instead we see and hear the communal voices of a diverse circle of women. 

 What is the Function?  What is the purpose?  The function of the video is to offer community members and care providers a deeper understanding of AIDS and to transmit real facts on AIDS while breaking down myths. The purpose is to illuminate real life experiences and real diverse voices from women affected by the AIDS crisis. 

 How do you characterize visual and sound design?  The visual landscape of the video entails intimate footage of some of the participant’s homes (including an actual tour inside a home), an intimate footage of a participant at the ocean reflecting on her life experiences, a doctor’s office, a counselors office, and the setting of what appeared to be a community space of where the support group for WAVE participants met.  The beginning of the video illuminates the voices of the participants of WAVE through the reciting of a poem.  The collective voices at the beginning highlight the communal efforts in the production of We Care.  The visual effect of the myth breaking section included the opening and closing of a book that not only included text in the form of questions but actual live responses from people in the community.  The section where a counselor gives breathing techniques to sooth stress could have functioned differently if the setting was outside her office or if there was a wider angle or even if it took place in a circle with WAVE participants.  Most settings seemed organic (especially those where the camera gaze was not specifically directed towards the face of a participant), the counselor’s setting seemed clinical where the doctor’s setting seemed inviting (though it was still in her office). 

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