One of the most powerful and challenging experiences I’ve ever had was to be involved in helping to recover and repatriate ancestral remains of local Native American groups. As a direct result of my culture’s practices local Native burials were disturbed on a tragic and massive scale. Because of their descendant’s generosity and spirit, I was allowed to use my skills and expertise as an archaeologist to help them deal with the consequences, and to teach our students about the context and outcomes. My role was a very small part of a decade long effort, but it required me to confront, directly, the impact on people of the historical legacy and contemporary role of archaeology. Every day I worked with people who were mourning deeply, sometimes angry, sometimes depressed, but always driven by a need for just treatment of their ancestors. That was a profound lesson on intersectionality, community, inclusivity and diversity. I try to bring that lesson into my classes. Hy’shqe (Thank you).
Judith M.S. Pine
Linguistic anthropologists concerned with the issue of language and social justice, of whom I am one, argue for the need for “productive interruptions” of the ideological structures which maintain, and are maintained by, injustice. As a White woman I have learned to navigate these structures and am made to feel fairly comfortable in them – the system is designed to keep me comfortable. My job, as a scholar, is to disrupt that comfort in myself and others. I fell in love with anthropology because it has, as an ideal, a holistic attention to detail combined with a recognition of the significance and complexity of context, broadly defined. As a linguistic anthropologist I am intimately aware of the discursive construction of all human contexts. As an optimistic-leaning pragmatist I believe that building awareness of the way structures of meaning work, the violent damage words and ideas regularly do, will allow us to move towards a more equitable, just world.
I came to anthropology through Nicaragua, not the other way around. I studied anthropology because of the political and ethical commitments that I made, and that made me, early in my life. I pursued anthropology as an interpretive framework not because of a distant and idle curiosity about the world, but because it guided me to think and enact a better world. As a result, going to or returning from "the field" is no simple matter of getting on a plane, in part because it is no single place on a map. “The field” in which I work as an anthropologist is an indeterminate space of complex and contradictory connections, commitments, obligations, and other entanglements, some of which span great social, political, economic, and geographic distance, and others are right here at home. “The field” is something in which I willingly and self-consciously enmesh myself, in which I have come to have a stake. This act of “self-entanglement” (enredarse in Spanish) is generative of knowledge not despite the resulting tensions, the necessary uncertainties, but because of them — because a plural “field of relations” continually makes and remakes my attitudes, practices, understandings, worldviews, commitments, and self. As an anthropologist, doing anthropology (or doing “fieldwork”) is an interrelation and interdependence through and through, always and from the beginning. My anthropology will always make me beholden to those with whom I work to think and enact a better world, but it also obligates me to challenge the field of anthropology to be better and more inclusive than it is.
I first became interested in the health of underrepresented peoples in high school when, as young Latino, I wrote my US Senator about insurance and health care access for the growing Latino population in Texas. After completing my bachelors degree, I explored community health practices in an unusual setting –the Amazonian region of Ecuador– and later focused my attention back on the US–Mexico border. Returning to the United States for health research was not a difficult decision to make. While I enjoyed researching in the Amazon, I felt there were simply too many health issues in the United States that needed (and still need) attention. At present, my research draws from public health and anthropology to test health interventions for Latinos living with chronic disease, examine gender-based disciplinary trends in anthropology, and document risky fieldwork practices, all with a critical eye on policies that impact underserved populations.
When I started in archaeology 40 years ago, I was motivated by intellectual curiosity. The discipline was just beginning to grapple with ethical issues about who owns the past and who has the right to interpret it. Since then, engagement of archaeologists with the public and especially with descendant communities in former colonial areas has led to remarkable changes in practice. I still find satisfaction in using scientific methods to illuminate past human/environment interactions, but it has been equally and differently rewarding to be pushed out of my comfort zone and give up my “authority” as a scientist when I collaborate with Native American communities on site protection, burial recovery, and resource rights. Generations of North American archaeologists owe their livelihoods and academic success to studies of the material remains left behind by ancestral Native Americans; it is important to me personally to honor that debt and give back to the descendants by working together on social justice issues.
When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you...when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing. It takes some strength of soul--and not just individual strength, but collective understanding--to resist this void, this non-being, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.” Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985
I first read Adrienne Rich decades ago and just the fact that someone out in the world could articulate that psychic disequilibrium was heartening. I try to bring that lesson into my classes. Hy’shqe.