An Update from the Interim President, Sue Hyatt
Greetings to our SANA membership! Welcome to our updated website and many thanks to our webmaster, Ryan Logan, for his work on this project. I am pleased to be serving this short interval as the interim president of SANA. By a vote of the SANA Board, I was asked to serve as interim president of the section when the previous president was compelled to step down due to personal and professional pressures. I took up this role this past January and will continue until the next meeting of the AAA in November in Toronto, when Angela Stuesse will take over. Also as of November, our next president-elect is Ana Croegaert. Thank you to these two extraordinary scholars and activists for their service to the section and for their support to me as I navigate the current challenges facing SANA and the AAA more broadly.
These are challenging and parlous times in North America and there has never been a more pressing time for SANA, with its history of linking scholarship to progressive activism, to take a significant role in instigating and leading organizational responses to the challenges facing us, ranging from the impacts of climate change to the one-year anniversary of the end of Roe v. Wade and its deleterious consequences for women’s health. Restraints on the exercise of affirmative action in universities, a ruling that allows for discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the overturning of plans to alleviate crippling student debt are among the decisions issued by the Supreme Court this season that pose a direct challenge to the values of SANA and its membership. Canada, where our next AAA meeting will be taking place, is currently struggling with the effects of record-setting wildfires and dealing with the horror of ongoing discoveries of the remains of indigenous children on the grounds of Canadian boarding schools; additionally, the failure of our governmental institutions to develop a humanitarian policy response to migration continues to promote unbridled cruelty at our southern border. And there are so many more issues we could mention.
It’s a lot to deal with for sure. Nevertheless, I look forward to working with SANA and its membership to revitalize our section in my capacity as interim president during these next few months and to continuing to support oppositional movements intended to ameliorate these injurious circumstances and others.
You may be familiar with the AAA feature, Weekend Reads, which is emailed to the entire AAA membership twice every month. Each month, a different section of the AAA collaborates with the AAA staff to curate readings, podcasts and other resources of interest that are particularly relevant to our section’s membership but which all members of the AAA will enjoy accessing. I am currently working on assembling the links for our Weekend Reads features, which will hit your inboxes on July 14th and July 28th. For these Weekend Reads features, members of the board and I have chosen resources focused primarily on two issues. One is the lingering aftermath of the ambitious highway construction program undertaken in the US beginning in 1956, with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act. Over the past 10 years or so, there has been a public reckoning with how highway construction and its accompanying neighborhood clearance programs were used to displace thousands of African Americans and immigrants, and to divide and destroy vibrant working-class communities. An article from the British newspaper, The Guardian, describes ongoing efforts among residents of Philadelphia’s Chinatown to redress the disastrous consequences that the 1966 construction of a highway created when it split the neighborhood in half and seized several hundred properties for demolition.
This kind of highway construction is mostly found in the United States; other countries created what are often called “ring roads” that bypassed densely populated center cities. By way of comparison with the road-building craze in the US, another interesting story from The Guardian describes a narrowly averted effort to build an American-style 8-lane highway through the heart of West London in the 1960s. And a recent series of podcasts produced by NPR station KPBS in San Diego describes the lasting impact of freeway construction on the social and environmental landscape in southern California, a place we think of as almost synonymous with highways.
The second issue we have chosen to focus on is the lingering impact of mass incarceration. Actually, there is some slightly optimistic news to report in this arena. As of this month, eligibility among incarcerated people to receive Pell Grants to support higher education in prison has been restored after having been eliminated in the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill. Colleges and universities around the country are working on developing curricula that are credit-bearing and degree-granting, requirements that are now part of the new Pell funding program. The Anthropology of Incarceration has been on the table for the last several years, demonstrating the value of bringing our perspective to bear on understanding the multiple consequences of such policies as the hyper-policing of communities of color, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the replacement of factory jobs by prison labor in many parts of rural America. On this last topic of how employment as a prison guard is replacing factory jobs in many rural communities around the US, see the work of Andrea Morrell.
The Weekend Reads posts provide several resources on this topic of incarceration, including links to a number of podcasts. Ear Hustle is the first podcast produced in a prison, San Quentin, and continues to cover stories of life on the outside, as the two primary podcasters, Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, have now been released from prison. The Visiting Room Project is a searing collection of first-person narratives from men serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. And Solitary Gardens imagines a world without prisons by addressing mass incarceration’s most dehumanizing form, solitary confinement, through the creation of public gardens planted in collaboration between folks on the inside and on the outside. (Thanks to Ana Croegaert for many of these resources).
We hope to see many of our members and friends (and friends who may become members!) at the upcoming annual AAA meeting in Toronto. In particular, I am highlighting our SANA Business Meeting (which we hope will take place on Saturday at noon but please check the AAA program when it is available to confirm). At that meeting, we will present several awards, including our 2023 SANA Prize for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America, which is being presented to Professor Lynn Bolles. At the business meeting, we will also have a book launch for Roger Lancaster’s newest book, which will be hot off the press, The Struggle to be Gay–in Mexico, for Example (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming 2023). Please join us there where we will also enjoy some refreshments, and please get involved with SANA! We have lots of exciting plans on the horizon.