Picturing Mexican America

Welcome to Picturing Mexican America where we’re looking back at the history of Mexican Los Angeles to help us understand our present and undo the systematic erasure of Los Angeles’ Mexican past – in a fun way!

What we’re doing: Since fall of 2018 I have been leading a research team to develop a mobile app that will display images of nineteenth-century, Mexican California relevant to users’ locations.  With digital humanities and library staff at UCLA, along with community partners at the Los Angeles Public Library, I have been able to work up a proof-of-concept which led to me becoming an inaugural Scholars and Society Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in the Spring of 2019.

This has allowed me to work full time on “Picturing Mexican America” for the ’19-’20 academic year. In the spring of 2019, undergraduate researchers helped me to cull data from UCLA’s collections to form the core of my database.  “Seeing the Past” highlights some of their archival discoveries. Please explore!

Since then, my research assistants and I continue to add material and metadata to the database, and I have been working with volunteer developers to plot the back-end infrastructure to the front-end design produced for us by Madi Albers, Doreen Farahdel, and TJ Jesrai as part of their course work at General Assembly. They were students then, but available for hire now, and I highly recommend their work! Check out the video walk-though of their prototype below.

We are aiming to make a beta version of the app available for a soft launch in by the end of 2020.

Be sure to check us out on Instagram @PicturingMexicanAmerica. We’ll post pictures, stories and videos about our Mexican past and share our adventures with you (it’s not just going to the library!).

Who we are: I’m a Professor of English and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA where I study Chicanx literature from the 19th century to the present with an emphasis on 19th century Mexican California. I’ve written two books: Chicano Nations (NYU 2011) is about nationalism and Chicanx literature from the early-1800s to post-9/11; Racial Immanence (NYU 2019) explores uses of the body and affect in Chicanx cultural production.

I have two graduate students assisting me with my research: Gabriela Valenzuela is a PhD candidate in English; Pradeep Kannan is a PhD candidate in Musicology.  Both are at UCLA.   For PMA, Gabriela works primarily with archival material while Pradeep focuses on metadata and georeferencing.  Yvonne Condes, a Los Angeles-based journalist and blogger, handles PMA’s publicity and social media.  Last, but most certainly not least, Lexi Quint and Tim Urian, tech professionals whom I met through Los Angeles’ civic tech community, coordinate the volunteers building PMA’s backend infrastructure.

How you can get involved: We are looking for tech volunteers, and we are always looking for more information about the material we circulate. If you have programming skills to share, if you recognize anyone in the pictures we’re posting on Instagram, or if you have a connection to the places we’ve featured, we’d love to hear from you. Email me directly, or fill out this form (coming soon!), and we’ll be in touch.