Jacqueline Hidalgo, PhD Candidate, Religion, Claremont Graduate University 

"Standing in the No-Place: Scriptures, Utopias, and the Unhomeliness of Empires in Aztlán, the New Jerusalem, and California"

As part of her dissertation project, Hidalgo introduced “textual moments” that she argued to be thoroughly imbricated in imperial discourse, the negotiation of identity, and the complex phenomenon of scriptures. Hidalgo considered utopias—from the New Jerusalem in the New Testament book of Revelation to El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán from the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan (MEChA)—as “homing spaces” that construct place-inflected identities while simultaneously critiquing and revisioning the empires under which they emerged. Eschewing a facile study of disembodied ideas and beliefs, Hidalgo grounds her focus in the sociopolitical, which enables a study of the systems and behaviors that establish, legitimize and contest the parameters for identity formation and reformation as communities locate themselves in no-places and make meaning in their worlds.

Hidalgo’s work with ISS governs the questions that her project raises and the manner in which she excavates the phenomena of “utopias” and their scripted-ness. Communities’ uses of utopias as central devices to imagine and construct their identities frame the primary focus of the project. Hidalgo deploys a participatory model by which she examines the way in which utopias continue to (de/re)construct identity in the present. Utopias play with space and time; envisioning a place that is no-place that exists but is concurrently in the process of becoming. Hidalgo’s use of “utopia” encompasses the ways in which groups locate themselves in no-places in attempts confront the often harsh realities of living lives of blurred boundaries and under imperial power.

Having set forth her method and governing questions, Hidalgo moved to one particular site of her inquiry—El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and its use in the context of el movimiento (“the movement”)—to explore the connections between a specific group and the utopia it imaginatively inhabits. Aztlán represents the pre-Columbian Mexican civilization’s mythic place of origin that various nationalist and indigenous rights movements have claimed and deployed in the face of U.S.A. imperial structures. El Plan emerged during the Denver Youth Conference in 1969 when Chicano/a nationalism swelled, and it utilizes subversive rhetoric of reclaiming the Chicana/o homeland. The authors of El Plan patterned the document on the Declaration of Independence and other planes to construct a lineage to prior cultural traditions and the physical land of the Southwest to achieve a kind of nationalist unity. It seeks both to recuperate Chicana/o identity as well as to reimagine a Chicano/a place in the present.

To achieve its goal, El Plan uses Aztlán—a past vision of utopia—to contest what sort of place California should be in its future. Thus, it uses Aztlán to ground a past in service of constructing a future. El Plan’s significance in shaping el movimiento lies in its language of envisioned unity and rights reclamation. Regardless of its cartographic existence, the utopian Aztlán re-renders Chicana/o diasporic existence such that Chicana/os no longer live as outsiders. Instead, it places them in a fluid, pliable location—an “already not yet” of sorts—whereby physically they exist on the borderlands and temporally entretiempo (“between time”). Aztlán thus constructs the promise of a liberated future by re claiming space and time: it is an ancient homeland that exists amidst and in defiance of a present otherwise determined by U.S.A.’s occupation of the Southwest. El Plan thereby suspends spatial and temporal realities to establish an archetypical future.

The utopian ideal of Aztlán continues to reflect Chicana/o imaginings while at the same time unsettling realities. As no-places, utopias do have tangible effects on the present because persons and communities invest in them. In a very fundamental way, then, utopias function in a way similar to scriptures themselves, whether or not the utopias are en-texted: they facilitate group formation. Utopias’ irruption of the status quo leads to the often violent claiming of present space through texts. Chicana/o experiences and imaginings in the U.S.A., and especially California, provide an ideal site for Hidalgo’s examination of the convergence of diverse identities, scriptures, visions of utopia and empires. Such diverse factors interact, entangle, and reform in complex and often compelling ways.

Invitations for Further Discussion:

If El Plan’s utopian vision responds to the diasporic situation in which Chicano/as find themselves, then does international globalization present a situation in which utopias have special utility? What kinds of groups in the 21st century can be seen as forming specifically around no-places?

In her larger project, Hidalgo discusses utopias in the hands of both the powerful and the marginalized. How does location with respect to centers of power affect the ways in which utopias function? Do we see the same kinds of (differing) dynamics when looking at scriptures as wielded by dominant and subaltern actors?

With Hidalgo’s examination of these issues as a starting gesture, might we able to speculate that in the construction of any “place”—any culture, even—there are multiple, possibly competing notions of “no-places” at play?

What are some of the most important aspects, characteristics or dynamics of scriptures that are brought into sharper relief through focus on utopias?

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