Monday, March 17, 2014

"Paginas en Blanco": Whitewashed History

Douglas Hale, Secrets (2014)
Recently we've been reading the Junot Diaz novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a novel that is profoundly concerned with storytelling and history. In describing the absences in both family and national history, Diaz uses the phrase "paginas en blanco" which he describes as a "blank page...to be filled in with the truth" (90).

This year we, too, have been thinking about the relationship between national history and family history. So, we borrowed the model from the Post Secret project and invited the students in our class to each offer up a single pagina en blanco from their own families. We wanted to explore the secrets that remained hidden or the truths that were never talked about openly within family history in a project we call "Paginas en Blanco de Mi Familia". The rules were simple: a single sentence of text and evidence of thought in the graphic presentation of the "secret." Please check out the finished compilation below.


Páginas en Blanco de Mi Familia from Spiro Bolos on Vimeo.

Now it's your turn! We'd like to invite readers of Anamericanstudies.com to contribute their own "pagina en blanco" -- a story from your family history that has been whitewashed or silenced, or one that may simply lurk unexpressed. Do NOT include your name or other identifying information. Instead, just upload the annotated image by using the dropbox in the right-hand column of this blog. When we get enough submissions, we will publish the results here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Between the Lines: Covering (and Uncovering) Sports


Things really seem to be progressing. Take, for example, the responses to Jason Collins, the first openly gay male athlete in a major professional sport, who was just signed to a contract with the New Jersey Nets.  Or the announcement of Missouri football star who announced he was gay just before the NFL draft.

(We like the "first ever..." narrative so much we seem quick to forget about women athletes such as Martina Navratilova, who came out over 30 years ago or even male athletes such as boxer Orlando Cruz or the professional lacrosse player Andrew Goldstein since they did not compete in the so-called "big four sports").  Many have greeted Jason Collins and Michael Sam with applause and high fives.  But, to what extent do the cases of Collins and Sam's brave articulation of their identity really represent progress? The answer may be found in those very high fives.


Consider the case of Glenn Burke, the man who invented the high five: an article on "the origins of the high five." The article itself is fascinating, particularly in light of our consideration of stories and storytelling. Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Dodgers and later the A's invented the phenomenon, but the behind-the-scenes stories are where the real action lies here.

You see, Burke was a gay man at a time when no professional athlete in "major sports" had ever come out. That Burke -- and presumably many other gay athletes -- had to keep his orientation secret in 1978 may come as no surprise. After all, many gay professional athletes still think they must keep their identities secret for fear of hateful reactions from teammates and fans and the loss of advertising revenue. (Think of recent ex-pro athletes Tualo Esera in the NFL, Billy Bean in the MLB, and Jon Amaechi in the NBA, who came out when their careers were over).

So, do you see Jason Collins and Michael Sam's announcements as a cause for celebration or an opportunity to lament the pain of earlier -- and current -- athletes who could not come out? Some, including Josh Levin at Slate  have even seen a new form of homophobia in the responses to Jason Collins' announcement.  Levin cites a chorus of people who aggressively shout "I don't care" or "This means nothing" as a means of shutting down the coverage altogether.

How are the storylines of sports are being managed today? Whose stories are privileged? Whose stories are silenced? What are the "paginas en blanco" in the world of sports? Are the lines drawn differently for men and women? For athletes of different races, classes? Do we see in the case of Jason Collins and others reasons to be optimistic for the future of sports?