The new map is more reminiscent of early modernity, of the trade and pilgrimage routes, of the links between holy cities and routes of world communication. Periphery and centre, far and near – everything is being re-positioned. Even the most recent scenes of coming clashes are marked on this map of the new Europe: the London underground stations, the Moscow metro, the suburban railway station of Madrid-Antoch, where the bombs exploded. Marked on these most recent maps are the places where Europe is at its most vulnerable – in the public spaces of its great cities.

I wish I had expressed this as effectively as Karl Schlögel has here.  However, the fuzzy world which he sees coming into view–the one formed in spite of the memories of Cold War conflict between Europeans–has a much deeper history.  The Wall divided Europe, but the since of East and West has been ingrained in memory for much longer, at least since the Enlightenment.

Where the West ended and the East began was never clear, and many would argue that they were truly in the West, those over the next hill were in the East.  But East and West were two parts of the Christian world at different stages of development. Progress and openness on one side of the continent appeared opposite despotism and feudalism on the other.  The western states were in control of their own nations, subsequently dominating the world.  The eastern states-if they could be called states–were at the mercy of competing nationalisms.

Moreover, the eastern states were at the periphery, muddle in affairs of Asian countries and peoples.  Their orientation forced them to adapt to their social and cultural institutions to the proximity of the non-European world.  The orientalism of the West allowed them to overcome geography and dominate the non-European world.  The vestiges of this perspective appear whenever affairs of Georgia or Turkey are discussed.  It’s not the division between East and West made manifest by Soviet domination.  But it is a division made by the West, with a longer life.


Something I always love about discussing regionalism: trying to dissuade people from seeing unique places and peoples, whose histories can be tangential or contrary to the national narrative, as something other than special cases.

Take the current controversy over Larry Whitten, the hotelier who has come under fire for requiring employees in Taos, NM to Anglicize their names and speak only English in his presence.   Certainly, it’s not difficult to see how his actions were insulting and impracticable, not to mention detrimental to the charms of tourism in the Southwest United States.

But the AP article, which has served as the basis for discussion about Whitten, makes Taos (as well as New Mexico) a special case where the normal expectations of assimilation do not apply:

His rules and his firing of several Hispanic employees angered his employees and many in this liberal enclave of 5,000 residents at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where the most alternative of lifestyles can find a home and where Spanish language, culture and traditions have a long and revered history.

Taos is not originally Hispanic, and to its credit, the author (Melanie Dabovich) mentions that it has been “an American Indian dwelling inhabited for over 1,000 years”.  The author’s language, which were reproduced or mimicked in most articles about this affair, plays into perceptions that Spanish speakers are tolerated in Taos, not native to Taos (if not properly indigenous).  Yet they are not there because Taos is “liberal” or accepting of  “alternative lifestyles.”

This presentation is moreover troubling because it plays into the equating of Hispanic and immigrant that is at the heart of the immigration debate.  Rick Sanchez, who can be a visible advocate for Hispanic issues from the anchor desk at CNN, made this very point:

“My real name is Ricardo Leon Sanchez de Reinaldo. I don’t use it because I want to be respectful of this wonderful country that allowed us as Hispanics to come here, and I think it’s easier if someone’s able to understand me by Anglicizing my name.”

Yet there is no reason to believe that the Taosenos were “allowed” to come to American.  Even if there were immigrants (or their descendants) among those working for Whitten, Hispanic culture had already taken root in New Mexico before the arrival of the United States.  Sanchez, born in Cuban, rather arrogantly has made his story that of all Spanish speakers.

Ultimately, the nationalization of Mexicans that occurred with the annexation of the Southwest in the 1840s ought to be sufficient for tolerating all Spanish speakers anywhere in the United States.  Making New Mexico a special case, even its  unique history is acknowledged, has the effect of territorializing and containing Hispanic heritage.

A few weeks ago, Turner Classic Movies ran a night of films with Hispanic themes.  Even better, several of them were set and filmed in New Mexico.  Milagro Beanfield War and Salt of the Earth were already familiar to us.   Another, And Now Miguel (1953), was entirely unfamiliar.  Filmed as a documentary of rural Nuevomexicano life, the narration describes a young boys yearning to “go to the mountains”–that is, to go with the men to the summer shepherding grounds and, consequently, fulfill an important right of passage.  Aspects of integration and migration are raised in subtle ways, and gender divisions between home and mountains are present, if not analyzed.  Elias, surprisingly, was gripped by the young boy’s work with the family sheep.

The strange outlier among these films was a short, called “Give them the land.” The film depicted efforts of an American scientist to educate Mexican farmers on scientifically-informed methods of farming in the harsh Mexican deserts.  Perhaps it is a bit of a nit to pick, since the rest of the films concerned Hispanics in the United States, and rural life in New Mexico is not necessarily comparable to that of rural Mexico.

Certain underlying messages distburbed.  The short was a stunning visual document of farming practices.  The scientist, of course, encounters various inefficiencies of agriculture methods, and he discusses how Americans can educate Mexican peasants in order to make land improvements.  His approach: literally become “a good neighbor”, living among the peasants to serve as an example and compatriot.  The good neighbor disarms opposition to innovation by living among Mexicans, offering advice and supplies for barter (some of the improved yields) rather than capital.  In some sense, the good neighbor is socially assimilated, but culturally radical, working from within rather than as part of a hierarchy.

The final message puts the film into context: “We need him more than he needs us.”  We need Mexicans (and by extension, subalterns) to become more efficient farmers rather than come to us for employment.  It is a pro-development policy that carries an anti-immigration sentiment.  It is, perhaps, little different from the thoughts and arguments that drive so-called free trade agreements, substituting the flow of people with the inverse flow of technology and capital.  Indeed, the film begins with a soaring montage in which a message from the UN reaches the tiny village by telegraph, postman, and finally pidgeon, and ends with the peasant staying in his place, revealing how flows can be controlled.

Rick Perry needs help! His ramblings about the possibility, no matter how unlikely, of Texas’ secession seem Yeltsinesque (you know, the hegemonic state claiming to be oppressed by the imperial system it created).

Of course, how could I, a sympathetic regionalist, complain of Perry’s threats? Although each state encompasses different resources and populations, the governmental uniformity of the US is boring. And the possibility of redrawing the American map plays into fun role-playing games from high school. And the whole rhetoric of the “Lone Star State” is an effective rallying cry to motivate the population.

Perry’s threat, though, is lame. The notion that Texas’ integration into the Union was both negotiated and conditional holds little water, and was easily debunked by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Statehood occurs nationally and constitutionally. Territories and populations aspiring to statehood must meet the conditions set by Congress (conditions that delayed statehood for Louisiana and New Mexico). States do not have special relations to the Union, as for example Alsace to France, Andorra to France and Spain, or Hong Kong to China. Other nations may have come together in a heterogeneous fashion. The United States, a late comer influence by the Enlightenment, is more Cartesian in its constitution. Even the original states surrendered what made them unique upon ratifying the constitution, and conformed themselves to national standards. Of course, some Americanist will raise issues about the Civil War and changing meanings of integration in both culture and law that will further weaken Perry’s case. Ultimately, neither Perry nor the Texas legislature can unilaterally declare their sovereignty from the United States. It’s like a big bowl at a party: guests must leave their keys behind in order to drink, and can’t get them back without the hosts ok. (And you might have to drive home someone you don’t like, too.)

Now, just because it’s not constitutional, we can’t dismiss secession out of hand. Perry could appeal to the global community on the basis on indigenism: the native peoples of Texas were not adequately represented in the decision to join the Union, or joining the Union deprived native peoples of their autonomy. Yes, bring it back to the original Texans. Though that might empower those who would not want to leave the United States. (Like I’ve said, Tejas por los Tejanos!)

Whatever the merits of Perry’s argument, he’s simply overplayed his hand. Few “divorces” are as easy and successful as the fracturing of Czechoslovakia (they were effectively two states being administered side by side). The list of bloody and unsuccessful secessions is much longer. Even in the realm of polite politics, separation is expensive, something the Quebecoises have learned. It might even require renegotiation with Mexico. (Not to mention that Perry would secede over matters of degree rather than real policy differences.)

I doubt that Perry wants Texas to leave the Union; he’d rather make use of secessionist rhetoric in order to gain political capital. But he may already have lost by appearing among those calling for independence rather than representing Texans (which would include those who doubt the future of the Union). In European regionalism, the more politicians appeared with separatists, the more their lost support of the general population. (ETA: Indeed, it seems Texans aren’t really behind this, according to some numbers from Rasmussen.) They were more successful first denying separatism as a solution, but giving voice to the complaints of the separatists. Catholic Democrats in Alsace were thereby able to delay the full integration of French law indefinitely, and in the Rhine Province they were able to gain autonomy with the Prussian state that they might not have been afforded had it become a Land.

So, Mr. Perry: don’t be a secessionist–use the secessionists! Those are people with real complaints who need a voice! (And maybe–just maybe–secession will happen anyway.)

Looking something to give me?  How about the digital collection of personal papers of Heinrich Böll, lost in the collapse of the Historical Municipal Archives of Cologne.   You may place the document images in a new iPod , and sent Express Mail to Puzzler Tower.

Donations to the Digital Historical Archives of Cologne are also accepted.

It appears that Obama has some roots in Alsace, his closest relative living in Bischwiller.

… Vacation Homes!  That’s what I’ve decided after reading this article in the NY Times.  Here’s what disturbed me:

This year, many of these colleges say they are more inclined to accept students who do not apply for aid, or whom they judge to be less needy based on other factors, like ZIP code or parents’ background.

Zip Code is a meaningful indicator of socio-economic status?  Here again, our effort to enumerate space will produce disastrous results.  Zip codes, like congressional districts and area codes, aren’t designed to represent the existence of a community or a homogeneous social group.  They delineate a useful area for delivering the mail.  But colleges will use them as a measure for ability to pay tuition?

My concerns are many.  First, zip codes will cut across populations, across complex social hierarchies without actually containing them.  Poor and rich may well be contained therein–unless social forces have pushed out the poor, especially minorities (or conversely, concentrated them).  So either it won’t represent what the college admissions committees are looking for, or it will double the deprivation of opportunity that comes from processes like gentrification.

Second, areas with high incomes are notoriously expensive to live in, and high income may go into paying high mortgages, high tuition, high taxes, etc.  A families financial reality might not be reflected by the income statistics of the area, and they may be less capable of paying tuition expenses out of pocket.  Conversely, success in a less affluent area may be ignored.  Such a family might be more resourceful when it comes to affording education.

Finally, there will be those areas in which the effects of poverty will be magnified.  Growing up in a poor household, going to a poor public school, now branded by applying from a poor zip.

Why vacation homes?  Because it will be the only true marker of disposable income that colleges can measure.  It has the advantages of geographic discrimination, but it would also measure families’ financial resources and resourcefulness.

(I wonder if people will fight to be included in particular zip codes–appealing to the Postal Service–as a way of increasing their social mobility.)