Geographies of Land/Liberation: Reflections from the American Association of Geographers' Conference

About a month ago I attended the American Association of Geographer's (AAG) meeting in New Orleans. At this year's AAG, I presented as part of the Geographies of Land//Liberation paper session sponsored by Black Geographies. I also attended the panel by the same name. How would I describe these sessions? Dynamic, provocative, inspiring. Here are my takeaways: 

1) Coming out of the spiritual closet is an on-going process

This was my first time presenting as a geographer and holistic practitioner. Typically at academic conferences, I de-emphasize my personal and community work as a ceremonykeeper. Though guiding ceremony and meditation has been central to my life for the past decade, I've never focused on these from an academic perspective. I've focused on other women as healers or medicinemakers, but I've never "outed" myself in research. My paper reflected on ceremonies I've held with Black women and youth of the global majority (aka of color). Here's the abstract. By starting with drumming, I opened up the paper and invited us all to breathe. The drumming centered me, too, for this personal rite of passage. 

2) Intentionality matters

From the initial call for papers to conference day, session organizers an intentional space. Before the paper and panel, they opened up by acknowledging the Native and indigenous land where the AAG meeting was taking place. Yes, this is becoming more commonplace. But I've never experienced a deep acknowledgement like this one. Organizers offered local history and context of New Orleans; they situated the sessions within past and present realities of Native dispossession, reclamation, and power. By facilitating with intention, the organizers made way for thoughtful dialogue that centered the knowledge and lives of Native, queer, and other historically-oppressed populations. 

3) Relational dialogue across difference is powerful . . . 

As presenters we were (truly) diverse in our lived experiences. Our research often reflected our intersectional identities across race/ethnicity, culture, nationality, sexual orientation, and gender, among others. As one panelist put it, it was rare to be in dialogue, in this way. It's certainly been rare for me to witness Native/indigenous, Mexican, Black Caribbean, African-American, Blaxicana, and other histories and lives, shared alongside each other.  As other presenters noted, anti-blackness among Native/indigenous populations (among others), on-going tensions over land, and more challenge a sense of collective struggle. Now I'm thinking about the challenge of a collective or interrelated sense of history as well. 

4) Claiming identities, claiming relationship?

How can I participate in conversations, about land and liberation without (re)drawing impervious boundaries between racial and cultural identities? For instance, how are Black experiences also Latinx? (I'm asking as a Blaxicana. I'm also asking as more and more Afro-Latinx populations claim their identities, and in some cases, claim land.) How have people of color practiced solidarity through social movements, learned from/with each other, or exchanged cultural practices? How do these relationships reimagine land justice? Or do they?

Next year

The Geographies of Land // Liberation sessions reminded me that liberation is both inner and outer work. The next AAG meeting will be in Washington D.C., April 3-7, 2019. (Yes, as a geographer, I'm making a shameless plug for Geography. It's much more than maps!) . I look forward to it.

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Further Readings/Links:

American Association of Geographers

Black Geographies specialty group