Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Hybrid Americas: Contacts, Contrasts, and Confluences in New World Literatures and Cultures

Date: October 23 - 26, 2003
Scientific Organizer: Prof. J. Raab (Bielefeld)

This interdisciplinary symposium examined cultural, literary, linguistic, and historical encounters between and within North and South America. The heterogeneous processes of perceiving and (stereo-)typing the American Other, of negotiating and refashioning the Self, and of translating cultural phenomena were dealt with in the context of inter-American relations. Throughout the symposium, the focus was on contact zones, i.e. on geographic, cultural, literary, linguistic, and other areas in which two or more elements interact. The results of such interaction can range from synthesis and syncretism to contrasts and competition. Symposium participants discussed whether the term "hybridity" is useful for such discussions or whether preference should be given to concepts like "heterotopias" and "transdifference."
Presentations and discussions at the symposium centered on the U.S.A., on U.S. Latinos, and on interconnections between the U.S.A., Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Instances of U.S. hegemony in the New World - and of Anglo hegemony within the U.S. - were addressed but were also shown to be changing. For example, sociologist Clara E. Rodríguez (Fordham University, New York) illustrated demographic changes within the United States and their slow recognition in mainstream media. Discussing examples of Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, the United States, and Canada, it also became clear that despite national and global trends, constructions of local identities are thriving, although these local identities are becoming increasingly hybrid. Examples include Hollywood typologies in Havanna, "death rock" elements in Californian Latino music, and romanticized Anglo images in the construction of a First Nation Canadian identity. Heterostereotypes (like the view of the United States as the land of economic opportunity and blonde women in Bolivian film) and autostereotypes (like the dominance of Catholicism in Mexican-American cultures) were illustrated and analyzed in an attempt to grasp the diversity of past and present identity constructions in the Americas and especially in the United States.
Questions of gender, literary historiography, and possible parallels to Turkish-German culture as well as a discussion of theoretical positions (on cultural fluidity, heterotopias, and various versions of hybridity) concluded the conference. These are also addressed in a press report.
The academic discussions at the conference were complemented by a lecture and art exhibit by Yolanda López (cf. the article on the exhibit in Neue Westfälische of November 9, 2002), readings by one Native American and two Mexican-American authors, and public plenary addresses on constructions of Native American identity (Prof. Dr. Gerald Vizenor, U of California at Berkeley), the varieties of borders in the fashioning of multi-facetted American identities (Prof. Dr. Ilan Stavans, Amherst College), and on the leadership role of the United States in the age of globalization (Cultural Attaché Thomas Delaney, U.S. Embassy, Berlin).
In retrospect, the conference dealt insightfully with issues of historical, linguistic, cultural, literary, social, ethnic, regional, media-related, and gender-based processes of identity formation. Therefore it was possible for representatives of diverse academic disciplines to learn from each other's work and to analyze together - and in an interdisciplinary fashion - the theoretical framework for approaching contact zones.

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