The Lieux de Mémoire of Aztlán

“Representation proceeds by strategic highlighting, selecting samples and multiplying examples. Ours is an intensely retinal and powerfully televisual memory.”
Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire

As I learned about les lieux de mémoire in the Nora reading, I thought of the transformation of the sites of collective memory of Chicanx culture over time. In Los Angeles, there are certainly many Chicanx sites that meet the criteria of being “material, symbolic, and functional” (19): Self-Help Graphics comes to mind, as does the former Sixth Street Bridge.

Piers of the Sixth Street Bridge.

It’s interesting to think of these sites of collective memory as always shifting, as our understanding of the past, the present, and our selves change. These days, popular Chicanx lieux de mémoire include: Selena Quintanilla, tacos, Saltillo blankets, pan dulce, and 1940s pachuco outfits. Pan dulce existed in the 1970s; why did it only recently become a popular motif? I think the answer to that lies in the “principle of double identity that enables us to map, within the indefinite multiplicity of sites, a hierarchy, a set of limits, a repertoire of ranges” (20).

Pan dulce.

Nora references “the cult of the dead” as a “broad category of the genre” (20): this is fascinating, given the commodification of calacas, marigolds, and other symbols associated with the Day of the Dead in the 2000s. Formerly a tradition observed mainly by indigenous people in certain parts of Mexico, it had become popular in the US. In the fall of 2016, MAC released a Selena Quintanilla-themed line of makeup, 21 years after her death. While she was always beloved among Mexican-Americans, she experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 2000s among Latinxs and non-Latinxs alike.

Marigolds.

While Nora seems averse to “dominant and dominated lieux de mémoire” (23) imposed on from on high, I wonder what he would have to say about these sites when they are co-opted?

Works Cited

Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux De Mémoire.” Representations, no. 26, 1989, pp. 7–24, www.jstor.org/stable/2928520

One thought on “The Lieux de Mémoire of Aztlán”

  1. Brigitte, I appreciate how you always bring the discussion back to communities you know and whose stories aren’t always told!

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