The Persistent Geography of the indio bárbaro: Racial Representation, Racism, and the Mexican Migrant: María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo

Lecture | April 10 | 5:30-8 p.m. | Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, Multicultural Community Center

 Center for Race and Gender

CRG Spring 2018 Distinguished Guest Lecture:

The Persistent Geography of the indio bárbaro: Racial Representation, Racism, and the Mexican Migrant

Visiting Professor, English, UC Berkeley
Professor of Social & Cultural Analysis, New York University

Introduction by Prof. Susan Schweik, Department of English

Tuesday, April 10, 2018
5:30pm – Reception
6pm – 8pm – Lecture & Discussion

How does the citizenry of the United States arrive so frequently at the representation of the Mexican migrant as a would-be rapist, drug dealer, or murder? Why is it so easy for politicians to blame hard-working Mexican migrants for all of the collective problems of the working masses? Economists and migration scholars correctly suggest that the denigration of the Mexican immigrants has correlated, historically, to economic downturns in the U.S. economy. Even as the U.S. economy recovers from the 2008 financial crisis and unemployment creeps down to 4%, U.S. workers continue to feel deeply vulnerable in an era of globalization that whittles away at high-paying jobs and stagnates wages. This talk, however, examines the representation of the threatening Mexican immigrant by delving into the long history of constructing Mexicans as barbaric Indians. Professor Saldaña-Portillo examines the genealogy of the indio bárbaro from the beginning of Spanish colonization in the early 16th century through the Anglo-American expansion of colonialism on the western frontier; from the 1846 U.S. war of aggression against Mexico through the application of Jim Crow in the Southwest; from the Chicano nationalist movement through the proliferation of the drug economy under the shadow of NAFTA. By understanding the historical function of the deathly Indian/Mexican bandit, we gain insight into the long life of this myth that goes beyond the economic, or even the political, by seeping into our collective unconscious and even our perception of landscape.


María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo is a Professor with the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU and is currently a Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of English at UC Berkeley. Her book, Indian Given: Racial Geographies across Mexico and the United States (Duke UP 2016), received the 2017 John Hope Franklin Book prize for the most outstanding book published in American Studies for that year, as well as the 2017 NACCS Book Award for an outstanding book in Chicana & Chicano Studies. Indian Given compares racial formation in Mexico and the U.S. from the colonial period to the present through historical, discursive, and textual analysis. Saldaña-Portillo has also co-edited Des/posesión: Género, territorio, y luchas por la autodeterminación with Marisa Belausteguigoitia Rius on indigenous women’s leadership roles in the global struggle to defend their territories (UNAM 2015). In The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development, Saldaña-Portillo analyzes the discursive complicity between Mesoamerican revolutionary movements and economic development discourse to elucidate the failure of these movements to understand their constituencies (Duke 2003). She has published over twenty-five articles in U.S. and Latin America on revolutionary subjectivity, subaltern politics, indigenous peoples, racial formation, migration, and Latin American and Latino cultural studies.

Generously co-sponsored by: Division of Equity & Inclusion; Multicultural Community Center; Center for Latino Policy Research; Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies