Decolonizing the archive in contemporary American Indian and Mexican American literature

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2016-03-24

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Lederman, Emily Ann

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Abstract

This dissertation examines twentieth and twenty-first century American Indian and Mexican American novels and short stories that decolonize the archive through Indigenous and queer archives and archival practices. Historical documents such as colonial maps and newspaper clippings appear within the pages of these texts, and characters engage with objects and ephemera to access and assemble histories of settler colonial violence, tribal politics and culture, and queer lineages. Beyond filling in the gaps of the colonial archive, these texts challenge the epistemologies and power structures that sustain a colonial conception of the archive. Disrupting understandings of an archive as an institutional repository that contains a stable and objective past, they further work of the interdisciplinary archival turn of the past two decades and emphasize the importance of understanding historical and contemporary sociopolitical realities through the lens of a decolonized archive. My first chapter theorizes what I call “archival sovereignty,” demonstrating how American Indian texts such as LeAnne Howe’s Miko Kings (2007), as well as novels by Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, and N. Scott Momaday, repurpose materials of the colonial archive within Indigenous epistemological frames. Exploring the limitations and possibilities of archival recovery, my second chapter reads queer archival practices in Felicia Luna Lemus’s Like Son (2007) and considers the politics of recovering Indigenous histories in Mexican and Mexican American contexts. Bringing together the theoretical threads of my first two chapters, my third chapter explains how Indigenous and queer archival practices strengthen tribal community bonds in Greg Sarris’s Watermelon Nights (1998), and contextualizes this novel within Sarris’s tribal political career and the politics of tribal citizenship. In conclusion, I analyze Manuel Muñoz’s “Lindo y Querido” (2007) and Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s “He Has Gone to Be With the Women” (2012) to consider how those undocumented and disappeared in the official record are remembered through queer archival practices that underscore the affective and political necessity of reimagining the content and form of the archive.

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