Nicole M. Guidotti-HernándezFeb 23, 2022
Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora
Duke University Press 2021
Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández once again engages in the fearless work of challenging structures of domination. In her most recent book, Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2021), Profesora Guidotti-Hernández theorizes through the idea of the masculinized Mexican subject and leads us to the possibilities of historicizing how masculinities are archived and to what degree their intimacies, desires, and emotions emerge in both private collections and public institutions. By taking a Latinx feminist and queer reading of two of the most well-known stories in Mexican History in the United States (the Flores Magón brothers and the Bracero Program), she provides us with an affective history of Mexican masculinities in diaspora. Guidotti-Hernández declares early on that “...migration and separation…altered gender relations and expressions of gender” (2). This critical understanding provides her with a foundation on which to unravel the rest of her manuscript.
Guidotti-Hernández quickly dispels any scent of her book being about an understanding of machismo, and instead, she makes clear that her goal in Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora is to “recapture intimacy and affect as forms of history meriting documentation and interpretation” (4). By utilizing personal letters, drawings, police reports, military communique’s, newspaper reports, and photography, she shows how a transnational approach to intimacy and affect produced new forms of gender. Guidotti-Hernández uses the lesser-known Flores Magón brother’s history, that of Enrique Flores Magón, and the photography of Braceros lensed by Leonard Nadel in the Salinas Valley of California during the 1950s to suture together a feminist cultural transnational history that complicates narratives of Mexican masculinities that have long been lionized. She coins “transnational masculine intimacies” as a way to underscore “the emotional bonds and relationships that Mexican men built with other men and their extended networks during their migration to the United States” (5). The archives of Enrique Flores Magón and of Nadel’s photography have been highly curated to tell specific historical narratives. Guidotti-Hernández reads against the purposeful making and remaking of their narratives in the archives to unearth the role of intimacy and emotion in subject formation. Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora tells histories of desire, longing, and passionate attachment and serves to counter the pathological corporeality of state-sanctioned narration.
Bringing together the history of Enrique Flores Magón and Leonard Nadel’s Bracero photography was strategic by Guidotti-Hernández because they showed how studying the intimate lives of migrant Mexican men through visual archives allows us to track affective and emotional lives across time and space. The lives of both the Flores Magón brothers and the Bracero laborers were forged through political and economic exile, away from their families and kin networks. Stints in and out of prison, in hiding, and in labor camps across the United States produced living situations that facilitated non-normative intimate lives. As Guidotti-Hernández writes, “intimacies matter to our methodology for understanding masculinities because historicizing emotional bonds has the capacity to transform and enrich how stories of the past are told” (7). The Flores Magón brothers and the Bracero Program have calcified national histories, both in the U.S. and Mexico, where positive and negative attachments have formed through the writings of scholars and state-sponsored narratives. However, as Guidotti-Hernández shows, the visual and archival transcripts do not align with these nationalist ideologies. It is through this dissonance that she attempts to offer an intimate history where the private lives of these male Mexican migrant subjects spill into the public and reveal something to us about how migration and distance promoted forms of affection and abjection.
The book is broken into two parts. In the first part, “Enrique Flores Magón’s Exile,” Guidotti-Hernández follows the Flores Magón brother from his initial departure from the Mexican Porfiriato government in 1903 until his return in 1923. His two marriages serve as a vehicle through which to explore his affective-laden archives. Guidotti-Hernández documents his first marriage with Paula Carmona and reveals the role of women’s history in the creation of revolutionary Mexicans and the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM). Enrique’s second partnership with Teresa Arteaga in 1913 served as a recuperation of the affective history of Enrique Flores Magón and the PLM because it offered the idealized anarchist family in the aftermath of Paula’s perceived betrayal of Enrique and resulting public denunciation by the PLM. By 1920, Enrique Flores Magón was publicly frail and withered as a result of his time in and out of prison and at the hands of state violence. During moments of absence, letters to kin networks were the only way through which he could communicate. For example, Enrique’s letters to his children while in Leavenworth Prison were the “emotional currency that made Enrique feel like a father…” (151), Guidotti-Hernández writes. Enrique Flores Magón’s frail stature and distance from family made him politically and emotionally vulnerable – an image that the state depended on to lessen their credibility as masculinized anarchists.
In the second part, “The Homoerotics of Abjection,” Guidotti-Hernández situates us in Salinas Valley, California by focusing on the 1956 Bracero photography of Leonard Nadel. While Nadel was tasked with capturing the most aestheticized poverty of these masculinized diasporic subjects, the author provides the readers with revelations about what the visual field can offer in regard to race, intentionality, and forms of desire and attachment in Bracero labor camps. The Bracero Program was designed as a dream of social and class mobility for Mexican men. As a result, their migration facilitated the reordering of gender roles and provided idealized friendship and intimacy between and among men. In essence, migration broke down and facilitated male-male sociality as dominant in the lives of the Braceros. Guidotti-Hernández writes, “I focus on how Nadel’s realist photographic experiment was designed to document a population and its living conditions as a space of abjection on the one hand and, upon close reading, as a divergence from the compulsory narrative of heteronormativity on the other” (182). She documents how these men in their homosocial homespaces sought pleasure, self-care, and desire. By doing so, the reader’s foundational narrative of the suffering masculinized heteronormative Bracero is disrupted.
Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández first came into contact with the highly-curated archives of these two historical flashpoints and saw what other scholars and public audiences were supposed to see, but, she writes, “Yet I also saw something else that was harder to put into words” (12-13). By exemplifying rigorous interdisciplinary research, she puts into words how migration structured and created feelings. Mexican men’s intimacies, emotions, and desires, as a result of separation, influenced their lives as political and economic subjects. Over 16 chapters and 290 pages, Guidotti-Hernández offers field-shifting contributions to Latinx Studies, histories of migration and labor, and Gender and Sexuality. Readers interested in Latinx feminist and queer approaches to history, and those interested in the history of Mexicans in the United States, should immediately get their copy of Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora.
Jonathan Cortez is currently the 2021-2023 César Chávez Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @joncortz