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Minorities and Mentoring in the

Postcolonial Borderlands
Vik Bahl and Manuel Callahan

The imperatives of radical mentoring, in the context of the corporatization of the academy and budgetary cutbacks in the humanities and
social sciences, must attend to the project of identifying and enhancing
student power, authority, and autonomy.' In the face of the devastating
success of structural adjustment in the academy, students have struggled
for reductions in tuition and fees, access to opportunity, the unionizing
of teaching assistants, improved health care, increased funding for alternative programs, and curriculum reform.2 For students (and faculty)
of color, regressive shifts in the public discourse around race further
complicate the challenges posed by the most recent phase of the globalization of capital. The alarmingly successful attacks on affirmative action, such as the Hopwood decision in Texas and Proposition 209 in
California, herald a period of renewed ra~ialization.~
The response to
Hopwood and other such initiatives must take many forms, including
creative legislative and administrative strategies, popular mobilization,
and education. However, the post-Hopwood era also calls for new
strategies directed at and within the academy itself.This article describes
one pedagogic and political response to these conditions and objectives,
the Advanced Seminar in Postcolonial Borderlands (ASPB), undertaken
entirely by Chicano/a students (with the exception of one member from
India) at The University of Texas at A ~ s t i n . ~
Writing as "students" for this special edition of Teaching Radical
History, we recognize the significance of mentorship for the formation
of radical5 academics. But we would insist also upon the capacity of
students to take responsibility for their own education, that is, to attend
individually and collectively to their own mentorship and the future
of their communities. Notwithstanding the transformative power of
radical faculty mentors, whose sufficient presence and availability in
any given site cannot be guaranteed, our individual experiences prior
to the founding of the seminar revealed the impossibility of relying
upon faculty alone to provide the necessary tools and support for our
RADICAL HISTORY REVIEW 72121-31 1998

pose additional challenges and contradictions for students of color through the lived experience of race (or cultural difference) and class (or cultural capital). including their own struggles for professional survival. Moreover. must attend to the aspirations and claims for a radical cultural identity as they intersect with the constraints and logic of the academy. and sexuality. These factors. The question of mentoring. The relatively recent but increasinglyembattled presence of new constituencies. from culturally marginalized positions has of course altered the conditions through which institutional academic social relations can be read. and teaching commitments.” there may be necessary limits to the important role that faculty mentors.6While radical students of color may seek to reject the bourgeois values associated with the acad- . nor the hierarchies of academic relations. An investigation of the conditions for radical mentoring must also confront the irony that while the academy promises to be a unique site for the flourishing of unalienated labor. contributions to and leadership within a discipline and field. as the latter empower themselves. is often an intolerably alienating experience. if one way of characterizing the aim of radical pedagogy is the production of ”de-professionalizedintellectuals.22/RADICAL HISTORY REVIEW academic success and evolving political identities. crucial to occupying the academy successfully as a site of political investment. these relationships cannot easily undo the conservatism of professionalization. These include the formal demands of academic progress. teaching innovations. cannot be understood as a set of desired prescriptions.Beyond these effects that reflect the academy’s participation in capitalist relations as well as in traditional professional frameworks for measuring and rewarding intellectual excellence. Having said the above. and other dimensions of professional development such as administrative work. at the faculty and student levels. academic work. only that they are distributed between faculty and students. Radical mentoring. radical or otherwise. political activities. among other potential conflicts. we do not suggest that the need for and challenges around mentoring are any less urgent. institutional culture is necessarily constituted by broader bourgeois values and by dominant relations of race. the alienating apprenticeship associated with the guild system. They may also have a set of priorities regarding their politics within a department or the campus at large that cannot meet the myriad needs of developing students. especially dissertation writing. gender. often experienced primarily as institutional agents. Access to the relatively few radical faculty on campus may be difficultfor various reasons. can play. which can produce empowering but also devastating effects. While individual faculty members have been crucial to our learning and for making opportunities available. and future academic survival. it seems to us.

which may be difficult and in some instances not even desirable to refuse. forge links between the university and the larger Austin political community. and intervened in hiring . In the fall of 1996. multicultural models sanctioned for students and scholars of color. Rather. desired identity formation. We also rejected the liberal. class mobility. In large part.” an effort to transform ”public houses” and “happy hours” into mobile community spaces where politicized students. nor were shared scholarly interests sufficient for its formation. An initial effort responded to the failure of the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS)to fulfill its mandate in its service to students and the larger Austin Chicano/a community. including two undergraduates. the seminar represented a specific political strategy of a particular grouping of people that had developed over the course of several years. provide mutual support. the ASPB grew out of our specific needs for radical mentorship to aid us in defining a suitable alternative and enhancing our already existing political commitments.MINORITIES AND MENTORING/23 emy. The Advanced Seminar in Postcolonial Borderlands While we could not refuse the academy altogether if we were to remain here. it often remains alluring as a site of privilege. it nevertheless embodies powerful forces. A small group of students developed a “virtual center. and enable our active participation in campus politics and community struggles. faculty. While this culture is heterogeneous and uneven in its effects for student/ scholar subject formation. seven students convened the as-yet-untitled Advanced Seminar. which was eventually comprised of nine students from six disciplines. and community activists could gather to share information and resources. we were not content with defining academic radicalism in terms of topic or even methodological approach for the development of our scholarship and pedagogy. This community had first formed consciously to address collectively the needs of campus radicals and students of color. The ”virtual center” provided a critical site where students variously called into question the leadership of CMAS. successfully promoted the radical alteration of the Center’s governance structure through the development of an executive committee that included students and staff. This was not a random collection of students. recognizing that we were often outside of standard channels of academic support and therefore needed alternative mechanisms for our professional development. who met each week for nearly a year. and social and political power. Pedagogic responsibilities and mentoring projects can finally only be understood within this context of institutional culture and the radical possibilities within it.

and intellectual support and.24/RADICAL HISTORY REVIEW decisions throughout c a m p ~ sFurther. Many Ye~es!”~ Members of AZ who would later form the ASPB investigated the extent to which the western academy itself constitutes a distinct sector. accepted the potential value of the training. These spaces also facilitated contributions by students to other community projects. in particular the Barrio Student Resource Center. experience. one significant feature relevant for our formation have been their initiatives in staging dialogues with civil society. . thus. interrogated its relation to other sectors. for our own intervention in this site of profound resources and contestation. . as radical students. while retaining our commitments to specific activist projects. which achieved institutional legitimacy through formal access to essential administrative bodies. roles. Working from the models of postdoctoral programs and other academic spaces reserved for advanced scholars. and political ambitions that effectivelyensured their marginalization in the academy.promotion. and. reflects more than a refusal of the subordinate position allotted to us as (graduate) students. ”One No. identities. the non-commercial community radio station (KOOP 91. political work around the Zapatistas through the local activist organization Acci6n Zapatista (AZ). While a great deal has been and remains to be said about the uniqueness of the Zapatistas as a revolutionary force. scholarly agendas.~ this site ensured our role in the landmark founding of the Graduate Student Assembly in service of student movements.7 FM). the alternative university based newspaper (sub)TEX. A central innovation of the ASPB was that it emerged from a constituency that tried to see itself as such. They have repeatedly called for a move beyond solidarity to a consideration of the possibilities for linking of multiple. heterogeneous struggles as well as for transformations between and within sectors and locales. long having moved beyond cultural nationalism and now applying the internationalist and autonomist challenges of the Zapatistas to their own condition and locale. finally.* Our involvement with the Zapatista revolution currently underway in southeastern Mexico represents a crucial dimension for understanding the birth of the Advanced Seminar. and explored the possibilities in this particular historical moment. But resisting their logic. research agendas. Our own efforts at alternative. Since the members of the ASPB all claimed histories. we undertook to identify positively our range of expertise. we sought to interrupt and redirect the sanctioned circuits of institutional authority and power. This current shift in revolutionary political discourse is captured well by the phrase. the category of ”advanced seminar” we chose for our formation encouraged the subversion of accepted flows of academic information. collective mentoring. and responsibilitiesafforded by the academy and specific disciplines.

and debates about how the new space of the seminar should relate to our already existing projects as well as to other groups. we also gave priority to questions of our professional development by evolving a self-consciousbureaucratic politics and by charting viable scholarly projects. The new space of the seminar. and political imperatives out of which they have emerged was a crucial strategy for understanding the current . and formations on campus and in the community. following the goals of earlier and ongoing embodiments of the ”virtual center.S. and representation. Our initial discussions therefore focused on critical pedagogy. And everyone repositioned themselves in relation to scholarly topics. and hybridity. were fundamentally transformed and enhanced by the sustained dialogue and mechanisms of support afforded by the seminar. activist projects. we are confident.” readings on selected themes often structured our meetings in order to assess collectively the forces and issues with which we were contending. and future academic trajectories. These themes included critical pedagogy. academy. comparative modernities. social movements. crucial meetings were organized around the workin-progress of seminar members. masters theses. area exam preparation. postcolonialism. Each member’s projects and vision. among others. Three others advanced to candidacy. subaltern studies. While we resolutely rejected any reduction of the ASPB to the status of ”reading group” or ”support group. For instance. the state of the U.MINORITIES AND MENTORING/25 and political commitments as the bases for our claims and modes of operation. transgressing our status as students and valorizing our various projects.” was also successful in facilitating the professional development and political maturity of the participants. one member successfully completed and defended his dissertation and prepared for the job market. and autonomia. dissertation proposals. Our review of major theoretical innovations in light of the histories. and responsibilities of radical academic work and location and to recompose ourselves as a more effective collective force. Chicana and non-western feminism. an assessment of the politics of disciplines (historically and in particular departmental manifestations). subjectivity. cultural and material violence. including conference presentations. cultural studies. anarchism. the intersections of Marxism. challenges. To this latter end. diaspora. a genealogy of Borderlands. The original motivation for convening the seminar was to explore the possibilities. activist ethnography. and curriculum development. essays. race. Zapatismo and the current transformations of the left. Recognizing that our effectiveness in the academy would not depend upon our understandings of key issues nor on our ideological clarity alone. organizations.

even the prerogatives and responsibilities of "senior scholars. with attention to popular agency and resistance as well as to the continuities and connections across history and geography. which were addressed by the ambitious scope of postcolonial criticism. only came to have meaning in the vibrant dialogue between the various scholarly projects of the members. and education. paradigm.S." The engagement with these discourses informed the evolution of "Postcolonial Borderlands. Postcolonial Borderlands successfully offered new directions for scholarly inquiry that were both intellectually innovative and politically engaged.-Mexicoborderlands with the Zapatistas and the international left. the contradictionsof literary nationalist discourse in the borderlands and Latin America. "Postcolonial Borderlands" sought to link the intellectual debates and political struggles of constituencies in the U.13The paradigm. with special attention to the ironic neglect of . and political consciousnessbetween Rastafarians. Yet it is also important to insist that these various theoretically-aligned paradigms emerge from and are designed to serve distinct constituenciesand often respond to particular disciplinary pressures. such as Diaspora Studies. Spanish literature. and the relationship between the academy and social movements. sociology. the flows of popular culture. however. various Marxisms.itself a critical outgrowth of Chicano/a Studies.S. imperialism and westward expansion within the long history of European colonialism and contemporary global politics. grounded in poststructuralism. and liberal pluralism in favor of analyses that highlight shifting and multiple identity and community formations.-Mexico borderlands. their strategies of representation." As a new. the sociology of community organizations in Chiapas and the lessons of indigenous successes for resistance to neoliberalism in the U. the language practices of Latinas in the context of health care institutions in the US. violence. the critiques of essentialism. sociolinguistics. and cultural formation in late nineteenth-century "greater Mexico".26/RADICAL HISTORY REVIEW organization of disciplines. Borderlands shares with other emerging fields. music. nationalism. Native Americans. and critical race and gender theory." And the idea of articulating Borderlands with postcolonialism grew out of a recognition that many current and emerging fields of study shared a set of concerns and methodologies. seeking to reposition the study of US." The scholarly work of all members (except one) could be placed under the emergent paradigm of Borderlands. The eventual naming of the seminar as "Postcolonial Borderlands" also reflected our ambition of claiming unsanctioned authority. or synthetic. English. The projects included critical work on the link between race relations. representing the disciplines of history. and Chicanos..12For example.

including our own. It is only meaningful when understood as part of the political strategy of the ASPB to regard the academy as a site of maneuver. In the ASPB. movement through.S. and the relationship between literary cultural production and postcolonial middle-class politics in the context of subaltern social movements and transnational capital (India). an assessment of the various local. committee representation. our ongoing work with Acci6n Zapatista.S. and our multiple initiatives in staging dialogues with other sectors and community activists. particularly with regard to our own location at. regional. We did not therefore regard our elaboration of the paradigm of ”Postcolonial Borderlands” as sufficient.“ We regarded . and Chiapas. which led us to highlight departmental politics (relating to student funding.’~ a social history of Latina workers in postwar urban Texas. group meetings with visiting scholars and activists. communities of color in the U. complementing an investigation of gender and power relations in the Southwest. the diverse Austin progressive community.MINORITIES AND MENTORING/27 Mexican culture deZ otro Zado in Borderlands Studies. taking into account the operations of disciplinary fields and the needs of constituencies.. from a particular sector. culminating in our participation in the historic Austin Encuentro. These included our development of an analysis and strategy in response to Hopwood. and international Encuentros called for or inspired by the Zapati~tas. The ASPB never imagined that innovative scholarship would be the sufficient basis for a radical academic politics that sought to make the academy accountable to social movements.. in India). While the seminar saw the legitimacy of the critiques and positive efforts made available by various critical paradigms. and the redefinition of fields and curriculum) and also to interface with other groups such as the ”Post-Hopwood Strategy Committee” in order to promote and participate in a sophisticated campus-wide movement. Significant sessions of the ASPB revolved around ongoing activist projects on campus and in the community. we regarded the writing of ”cultural history”” (an interdisciplinary methodological category) itself as a form of participation in them. and future diaspora out of The University of Texas at Austin. Far from seeing scholarship as merely representing various social movements. a comparative analysis of culture and pedagogy in educational institutions in the U. we considered our involvement in social movements emerging from the following communities: the Zapatistas and the international left movements and networks that have been galvanized around them. and popular movements seeking autonomy in relation to the logic of postcolonial nation-states (eg. we also sought their political application.

and be transformed by UT and the larger Austin political community. it is not sufficient to posit collectivistand egalitarian values in opposition to the competitive. transform. but also the multiple forms of intellectualand cultural authority and conflict that characterize relations between the academy and community organizations. Our concern with our collective role as pedagogues. However. And as we considered the role of radical academics in social movements. our own experience and the nature of this pedagogic experiment must be understood within the local contexts of a specific grouping of people working to participate in. and collective autonomy. and power within the seminar itself.28/RADICAL HISTORY REVIEW the ASPB itself as an important community. for example. report preparation. intellectual and political authority. and cultural historians was matched by extensive discussions around internal pedagogy. which we fostered by inviting other stude&ts to join and by representing ou.Whatever the general theses we evolved about the relationship between the academy and other sectors. we undertook to navigate not only the distribution of power within the academy. as we sought to insure our own academic survival. and competing needs . the advancement. the relation of academic work to social movements. Rather. Rotating facilitation. and elitist ones endemic to institutional culture. Our work in the Zapatista movement also forced us to examine our own investment in solidarity strategies traditionally associated with left and progressive communities. Refusing the facile and romantic disavowal of power and authority. Such an overtly political project as the ASPB situated in the academy allowed for a dynamic dialogue about the limits of academic training. We discovered in the ASPB that for defining and enacting radical cultural and pedagogic alternatives in the academy. were conscious efforts to distribute and develop leadership and enhance individual authority. alternative projects must also attend to the relations of power that circulate within the relatively disempowered margins that students occupy. careerist. and proposals for each meeting. historically specific countercultures. Indeed. which. we came to understand the significance of ”pedagogy” and ”cultural authority” as important categories for reconceptualizing the traditional limits and hierarchies of organizing. and the role of the university in developing alternative social relations. gender. students. analyses and strategies in different venues. characterize well some of the uniqueness of the Zapatista dialogue with civil society. the complexities of negotiating power also applied to the internal dynamics of the ASPB itself. in our estimation. The seminar allowed us to focus on current political debates about the direction of a radical politics seeking to move beyond traditional Marxist and liberal forms of organizing.

“Faculty. strategies. also continue to find creative new expressions. Seminar members bring the insights and analyses of the ASPB to their participation in other struggles and groups. and the needs it served remain relevant and urgent. Rebecca Gtimez. since the logic of more focused objectives within an organization had to contend with the competing logic of general intellectual development and professional advancement. many of whom are still active in Accion Zapatista. Ultimately. 3. and academic disciplines. the seminar emerged out of an official political organization but would perhaps never have been founded without an already existing self-perceived community. ”Academic Capitalism. While the particular formation of the ASPB is no longer in place. Arguably. The various struggles on campuses across the country are too numerous to list here. and Karen Sotiropoulos of Radical History R e v i m for their careful and generous readings of earlier drafts. students. including collective selfmentoring. campus. not in order to seek power but to exercise it. its analyses. For a discussion of the Hopwood case along with a comparison to Proposition .MINORITIES AND MENTORING/29 and visions of different members could not always be expressed and mediated through the collective space of the seminar. but also encompassing three distinct spheres of activismthe community. and identities. The ambitions of the seminar were many. the Advanced Seminar in Postcolonial Borderlands represented a compelling experiment in exploring and enacting radical and creative forms of pedagogy and cultural authority.” Social Text 51 (Summer 1997): 131-42.A recent article that discusses the shifts in higher education is Gary Rhoades and Sheila Slaughter. then. and academic projects. activist. However. which operates according to a system of rewards and constraints that exceed the local and specific. we confronted the limits of operating like an organization via the ASPB. 2. Students. For a current discussion and a history of the emergenceof the Center for Campus Organizing. 1. it was precisely the difficulties posed by the intersections between objectives that could not be fully managed. we never abandoned the search for collective and autonomous forms. on behalf of our political and professional effectiveness and in collaboration with present and future colleagues. and compi?eros.” Social Text 51 (Summer 1997): 9-38. because it has always been our intention to disrupt the conservative effects of the academy. Managed Professionals. their mandates do not necessarily coincide. and Political Engagement. objectives. The efforts to rechannel the circuits of academic resources and power. and SupplySide Higher Education. see Jeremy Smith.I7Besides individual progress on scholarly. Still. Notes The authors would like to thank Professor Toyin Falola. For instance. other proposed projects that emerged in the seminar are being pursued by various members. While we worked to join the radical possibilities of both political and scholarly identities.

Luis Alvarez. ”’From the Mountains of the Southeast’: A Review of Recent Writings on the Zapatistas of Chiapas. Vicki Grise.1994. Colonialism and Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.. we hope that this article and the descriptions of our projects will clarify how we understand and deploy this term. We are aware that the category ”radical” is contested as well as easily misapplied and commodified. see Ramon A. In addition to the co-authors. 1992):353-88. a founding statement for the new paradigm that emerged out of the unique conjuncture of members and for our model of .” Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (1995): 447-70.’’ in Race (New Brunswick Rutgers University Press. For a thorough treatment of the Zapatista strategies of political and cultural autonomy. and Toni Nelson-Herrera. For an examination of the Zapatista Revolution in the context of subaltern studies and Antonio Negri’s concept of ”constituent power. and “The Zapatistas and Current Political Struggle” (paper presented at the Second Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism. and Cyan Prakash. Heather Garza. 4. The Zapatistas captured the attention of Mexico’s sixty-five year ruling party and the world as they defied the imposition of neoliberalism and reasserted their political and cultural autonomy. On January 1.’’ see Jose Rabasa. Spain. ed. “Ethnic Studies: Its Evolution in American Colleges and Universities” in David T. “Of Zapatismo: Reflections on the Folkloric and the Impossible in a Subaltern Insurrection. the ASPB included Marco Ifiiguez-Alba.30/RADICAL HISTORY REVIEW 209.Provocative investigations of Borderlands as an emerging paradigm can be found in Robert Alvarez. Rather than providing our definition explicitly here. 13. 1997):133-156. We envisioned. Shifting and the Recruitment of Minorities in Anthropology. 10. An insightful analysis of the relationship between radical politics and anthropology as a discipline can be found in William Roseberry. 1996):242-60. 12. “When Was the Post-colonial?: Thinking at the Limit” in Iain Chambers and Linda Curti. see David Montejano. “The Unbearable Lightness of Anthropology. 11. cynicism. 7. and to develop an entirely new basis for polities. The Post-Colonial Question: Common Skies. Rebecca GAmez. Dirks. A recent review of literature that provides a useful discussion of the progress of the Zapatista struggle can be found in Barry Carr. eds. Guadalajara. Significant interventions in the debates regarding postcolonialism appear in Stuart Hall. 8. 1994): 257-69.’’ in The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital (Durham: Duke University Press. date of the inauguration of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Pancho McFarland. 1994): 157-167.. An important discussion of the process of entering the academy for minorities at the faculty level is Robert Alvarez. For an overall treatment of ethnic studies centers. ’/TheMexican-US Border: The Making of an Anthropology of the Borderlands. Divided Horizons (New York: Routledge. Goldberg. 9. ed. but did not complete. Madrid. to reverse political corruption. ”I am the Director! I am the Director!” (sub)TEX 1 (May 1994). see Gustavo Esteva. and Michael Kearney. and non-participation. Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell.. 1997): 399-431. they called upon Mexican and international civil society to prevent the further imposition of structural adjustment. ”The Meaning and Scope of the Struggle for Autonomy” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association. ” O nHopwood: the Continuing Challenge” in Reflexiones 1997: New Directions in Mexican-American Studies (Austin:CMAS Books. 5. Gutierrez. July 1997).” Journal of lberian and Latin American Studies 3 (December 1997). ”Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Indian Historiography is Good to Think” in Nicholas B. April 1997).” Radical History Review 65 (1996): 5-25. The course of struggles focused on CMAS and its successful reform initiated by Chicano/a student activists is treated at length in Manuel Callahan.” Journal of Historical Sociology 4 (March 1991): 52-74. 6. “Un Chilero en la Academia: Sifting. Mexico. ”Borders and Boundaries of State and Self at the End of Empire.

University of Texas at Austin. sectors and forces. 1997). A broad-based planning committee collectively organized and provided facilitation training for a two day gathering. Among the many initiatives for dialogue with civil society. 16. Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory (Princeton University Press. 15. Many Yeses!” See note 16 for an account of the Austin Encuentro. making creative use of coyuntura analysis. Geoff Eley. . The title of the first Intercontinental Encuentroheld in Chiapas in Summer 1996. eds.MINORITIES AND MENTORING/31 the ”advanced seminar. San Antonio. February 1998.” Mestizo Mainstream: Lone Star Ethnicity and the New Century. along with the work of members. has been represented at two conferences with presentations by Marco Ifiiguez-Alba at the panel ”Race. and Rebecca Giimez at the panel ”Minorities and Theory in the Academy. 17. Inspired by the Zapatista model.” also reflects the political principle of ”One No. Dirks. University of Texas. November 1997 and by Luis Alvarez. held in July 1997. the Austin Encuentro provided a political space for dialogue between and among constituencies. 1994). Vik Bahl.” What’s Goin’ On: Africa and the African Diaspora. Ortner. The ASPB as history and strategy. bringing together over one hundred Austin area activists. Nicholas B. with an outcome proposal of three interlinked community activist councils. ”Against Neo-Liberalism and For Humanity.. Manuel Callahan. See Mark Poster. 14. Rap and Resistance. the various Encuentros that have taken place since Spring 1996 best embody the Zapatista vision of the possibilities for the heterogeneity of social forces and sectors to resist neo-liberalism (the latest phase of global capital) in their diversity. and Sherry B. Cultural History and Postrnodernity: Disciplinary Readings and Challenges (New York Columbia University Press.” which could serve as an introduction to an edited volume and provide the framework for other publishing projects and interventions.