Inheriting the Grid

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #11 in July 2010]

Over the past two years, AREA has undergone a process of reflection and organizational restructuring. At a retreat in March of 2010, AREA reassessed our mission statement and redoubled our commitment to supporting people and organizations that work for social justice in Chicago. While social justice has always undergirded the art, research, education and activist practices that make their way to the pages of AREA, this has become a more explicit organizing principle for how we go about our work. We are focusing attention on how we relate to communities in struggle and how the work of collaboratively gathering, producing and sharing knowledge contributes to these struggles.

Taking on the theme of im/migration has been one way to challenge ourselves in exploring these questions. Chicago was shaped by the influx of migrants and the politics of displacement even before its incorporation. And in more recent times Chicago has continued to play a pivotal role in national immigrant rights struggles, while also remaining infamously at the forefront of trends in urban renewal/removal. To do justice to the complex and contentious issues of im/migration, we knew we needed to draw upon many perspectives and experiences. We assembled a group of advisors with diverse relationships to the theme, to brainstorm with us and help flesh out the goals for the issue. Early on in the process we confronted questions such as: What points of reference do we draw upon when we begin a conversation about human movements? What geographic relationships are assumed? What scale is implied? What perspectives might we be overlooking?

Each issue of AREA becomes an act of mapping—plotting connections between an expanding network of individuals and organizations we have come into contact with, been inspired by, been challenged by and wanted to know more about—voices, stories and perspectives we want to share. As with any map, we must continually remind ourselves to look beyond what is represented in the pages of AREA and the picture of reality this presence constructs. We can learn as much be observing what is absent and what remains invisible, as we can by noting what seems to be clear and indelible.

As the contributions for issue 11 have taken shape, many of our initial assumptions about what the theme of im/migration might elicit have been challenged or reconfigured. Unexpected connections have emerged, opening onto new ways of approaching the issue. The gaps also become more apparent—issues that remain unrepresented or only partially explored. In particular, we’ve realized through the process of editing that indigenous perspectives are conspicuously absent—though the forced removal of Native American populations from our region forms one of the earliest chapters in the story of migration that has shaped the city and country we now inhabit.

With immigration reform front and center in national policy debates, contemporary notions of the nation-state threaten to obscure all other orientations toward issues of migration. When systemic acts of erasure are so pervasive, how do we go about the work of retracing lines that have so long been obscured? How do we gain access to voices and stories that have been intentionally drowned out? How do we initiate conversations with communities that have been scattered? How do we reconstruct sequences of events that have gone undocumented and unacknowledged by “official” narratives? These questions come up in the process of creating each issue of AREA. For example, one of the contributions that follows continues a conversation begun by previous issues’ frustrated attempts to tell the story of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation, from the perspective and in the words of former residents who experienced that displacement. This contribution reveals the challenges inherent in the work of resisting erasure and is a good example of the reflective process that continues to propel the work of AREA.

In this issue we have solicited contributions that add nuance and complexity to accepted frameworks for thinking about bi-national experiences. We have also worked consciously to balance our own understanding of im/migration by linking the crossing of clearly delineated national borders with more subtle boundaries and barriers, and less visible acts of crossing. Still, we come up skewed—over looking important perspectives, or just running out of time as we attempt to initiated conversations and relationships that develop at their own pace and do not heed print deadlines. The gaps in each issue become signposts indicating ways forward for our future work. With each issue, AREA builds new relationships that expand the territory we are able to map and introduce new opportunities for collaboration.

Last fall a new group of collaborators joined the AREA advisory board—all contributors to previous issues, events or projects of AREA. This issue builds upon the insights, skill sets, and relationships these new advisors introduce as they take on more central roles in AREA. In particular, new advisors have supported AREA in taking a first step into the realm of multilingual publication. We could hardly ignore language as an important terrain of struggle for many im/migrants, but the capacity to take on the technical demands of multilingual publication has hinged on the support and collaboration of a diverse network of advisors and contributors. All of the translations in this issue have been created by bi-lingual contributors, with support from advisors and friends for proof-reading and copy-editing. In this issue you will find contributions in Chinese, Korean and Spanish, in addition to English. Many articles were composed in English and then translated by the author, but this is also the first issue of AREA in which contributions have originated in a language other than English.

The editorial process for AREA has always been highly collaborative, leading to ongoing conversations and relationships between contributors, editors and AREA advisors. This first experiment in introducing non-English languages into the process of creating AREA has simultaneously created a new level on which editors and advisors of AREA can dialogue with contributors and a new form in which readers can access contributors’ voices. We are excited to share this multi-lingual issue of AREA as the newest chapter in an ongoing conversation about how AREA can become increasingly accessible and relevant to Chicago’s diverse communities in struggle. We welcome you to join in the conversation.


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