One of the Hemispheric Institute's most important long-term projects has been intensive summer courses—taught outside the US and open to students from affiliated institutions across the Americas. Bringing together scholarship, art, and activism, these courses investigate performance and political movements in the Americas. For several years, Diana Taylor and Jesusa Rodríguez taught a course on Art and Resistance at Centro Hemisférico in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. In summer 2015, Taylor returned to San Cristóbal to team-teach, with Marcial Godoy-Anativia and Jesusa Rodríguez, Art, Migration, and Human Rights. This course explored the violence that was caused by the dictatorships, neoliberalism, and the trafficking of drugs and humans, which has led to an increase both in migration and in the violence that migration itself produces. Introducing participants to the various groups that intervene in the crisis—the Zapatistas, journalists, photographers, filmmakers, human rights activists, scholars, artists, and others who try to bring international attention to the situation and help mitigate the violence—the course also examined current scholarship that explores the history, politics, and potential outcomes of the current situation. Though drawing from the model of previous years, this course was a unique iteration, involving a week of travel to the southern border with Guatemala, the pedagogical integration of an online digital publishing platform (Tome), the creation of a collaborative multimedia dossier ( and a public performance.

In this interview—conducted by Olivia Gagnon, an NYU Performance Studies doctoral student who was a graduate assistant for Taylor's course Art, Migration, and Human Rights—Taylor discusses a myriad of the ways that the Hemispheric Institute engages globally.


OLIVIA GAGNON: What was your founding vision of the Hemispheric Institute—the beliefs, passions, and investments that motivated and continue to motivate you in the work that you do?

DIANA TAYLOR: I started Hemi in 1998 with a couple of Latin American colleagues who were both doctoral students in the Performance Studies program at NYU. One was from Brazil and the other from Mexico. This was a time when Latin American universities were very keen to have their faculty get PhDs; they're still in that process, in fact, and many full professors don't have PhDs. So, these two colleagues were already professors in their own institutions and they were doing graduate work with us. We started talking about how we needed to create what we were then calling cultural corridors. We needed to share knowledge, materials, pedagogies—to work together, basically. So we had always envisioned it, from the very beginning, as a collaborative venture. Based on that idea, we started the Hemispheric Institute, and in 1998 we received funding from the Ford Foundation to really get it started.

Right away, we decided that there were two things that we needed to do. One was to organize physical get-togethers1, because it's very hard to work with people you don't know; and the other was to offer courses together. So teaching was absolutely central to the foundational vision of what we wanted to do together. We designed four courses, which we taught collaboratively: I would teach it at NYU, Javier [Serna] would teach it in Mexico [at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León], Zéca [Ligiéro] would teach it in Brazil [at Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro], and then we got Luis Peirano [from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú] involved in Peru. These became the four founding institutions.

Our first course was conceived as a way to think about what the history of the Americas would look like, from the Conquest to the present, if we actually took embodied practice, rather than just texts, as a basis for thinking about knowledge production. What could we learn from a consideration of where bodies were—what they were producing, their migrations, patterns—that we wouldn't know just by looking at books? That became a fascinating project. By this time, the students knew each other, and we were sharing our pedagogies. It was about understanding that everyone's a knowledge-maker, and that we don't just have knowledge over here that we are selling or shipping someplace else. It's all a process of making together. That was a very valuable experience, very rich, and I'm still not sure why we didn't continue with it [the courses taught across four universities]. But I guess lives just got too busy, and Hemi got too big. But that's how it started. The beliefs, passions, and investments came out of the idea that we're all knowledge-makers: it doesn't matter if we're scholars, activists, artists, students, or professors. How can we get people to work together to bring their knowledge into some kind of productive and exciting collaboration?

The other was that, as a Latin Americanist, it's very important for me to maintain my theories and practices in conversation with other Latin Americanists and people who are actually living there. I can't just be theoretically invested in ideas that then have no practical uptake. So it's a way of keeping me grounded in terms of my theoretical approaches. You could almost think about my investments in terms of time and money: where do I put my time, and where do I put my money? Both have been used to build and sustain this project over seventeen years. I'm invested in collaborative work, and I have great faith in the people I work with. I think that I've been lucky to meet so many incredible people, but on the other hand, maybe it's not that I've been so lucky; maybe it's just that we have a lot of incredible people, and we just have to take the time to talk to them.

OLIVIA GAGNON: There's an article published in the Latin American Research Review that states that only 1.7% of the scholarly knowledge about Latin America is produced domestically. "The limited voice of Latin American scholars in Latin American studies constitutes a loss of a valuable and unique cultural perspective," which is aggravated by the fact that the research object is Latin America itself. "The failure of Latin American intellectuals to claim a prominent place on the international academic stage has not been explained and cannot be attributed simply to lack of academic knowledge exposure" (Mu and Pereyra-Rojas 2015). Do you feel that these dynamics reflect your experience, or the experience of other Latin American scholars with whom you've worked? How do you see yourself and the Institute playing a role in rectifying this problem—trying to disseminate more knowledge about and from Latin America?

DIANA TAYLOR: I think it's a very real problem that has a lot to do with the way that the academy is set up. It's very Anglocentric; I know this from my work in the MLA [Modern Language Association]. People don't care about what's happening in other parts of the world. That's just a fact that we have to face. The United States pays less for translation into English [from other languages] than almost any other country. Many countries think that it's very important to read works that are originally published in other languages. That's not the case here. And the scholars who do read French or Spanish—the scholars trained in the US—have a very, very limited reach. They're not part of a larger public debate. It's very specialized knowledge. Publishers will tell you that they're not interested in publishing monographs or books on very specialized topics. They want a cross-disciplinary readership, that's what they're trying to foment.

There are a lot of problems. One of them is that even if you are a very well-known academic in your home country—and I'll just give the example of Nelly Richard, who has been published widely in Chile—by the time her books were translated, the debates, the conversations in which she was engaging, were basically over in the US, because it took years to translate her work. So then people say, "Well, we translated her books, and nobody buys them, so there's no point in translating these authors." So one issue is the timeliness of the debates. One strategy might be to actually place intellectuals in debates—as part of conversations—rather than isolating them. I think that if they're in debates, people might be more interested in reading them. If they're isolated, I don't think that people understand their value.

Another problem is that it's very expensive to translate, and publishers won't take that on. I know this from experience. All the things that we've done at Hemi, or that I've done with other presses, we've had to pay for. This is money that comes out of one's own pocket, one's own research money. Another issue is that, for example, I have asked very major artists and thinkers in Latin America to contribute to some of these books. They get paid for their work in Latin America, but I can't pay them, because the publisher won't pay them. I either have to beg, or borrow, or lose friends, because I can't afford to pay them what their work deserves. Take this book—Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin America Theater and Performance (2008)—we paid for the translations, we paid for the rights, and this was money out of my own research fund. I do it, and other people do it, because of the value that we see in this work, but I don't think that we yet have a shared sense of this value. Frankly, I don't know how to do it. It has to be, I think, part of our educational system; perhaps we should teach works in translation in every course and buy the books, not just Xerox them, so that publishers have an incentive to publish them. It's a big economic problem. I wonder about the translated authors who are read here in the US. I know a lot of French work has been translated because it has a certain cultural capital. It would be interesting to do some research on that question.

OLIVIA GAGNON: At the Hemispheric Institute we have a huge investment in digital publishing, done in multiple languages: English, Spanish, sometimes Portuguese, and hopefully French is on the horizon, too. I've heard you speak in other contexts about the importance of our digital publications as sites of cross-cultural exchange, and as one way for knowledge from Latin America to come to the US in a timely fashion, without the lengthy timeline of academic publishers. Could you speak about how you see these digital books intervening in some of the problems you just mentioned?

DIANA TAYLOR: I think that, right now, the digital books are really our only hope of having these conversations in a timely fashion between artists, scholars, and activists in the Americas. Part of the problem is that in Latin America, if we want these materials to travel, we have to translate them into other languages. This means four different versions of the same book, if we're just sticking to the big colonial languages. With digital publishing, we can have the same version of a book with several languages in it. What Is Performance Studies? (2015) [one of our digital books, created using Scalar] is a great example of that. These books can travel: you don't have to go to a specialized place to buy them, you can keep the conversations fresh, and you can make sure that they're much more widely distributed. Again, the problem is the economics: how do we sustain them? How do we pay for translation? What Is Performance Studies? was incredibly expensive for us, partially because we hadn't learned how to do it properly. We got different translators, and then we figured out that you have to get the same translator—you know, things you learn along the way. But even so, the translation costs are not lower if you're doing it online. It just, in theory, takes away the time lag. It hasn't in this particular case, but we're getting better at it.

OLIVIA GAGNON: We're going to shift gears now slightly, and talk about engaged pedagogy, scholarship, and creative practice. This is, I think, another way of referring to what you've often described as situated knowledge, or situated pedagogy. Are these notions meaningful to you? And if so, how do you understand them and see them exemplified in the Institute's work? Finally, what possibilities do they open up for knowledge production and sharing?

Figure 1: The migrants of La 72 (Tenosique, Tabasco) show us how to make baleadas and guacamole.
Photo by Tamara Skubovius.

DIANA TAYLOR: I absolutely believe that situated or engaged pedagogy is the most profoundly transformative form of learning, but I think that the nature of each experience varies enormously. For example, you could have campus programs abroad, where students basically learn very little, and which they take as a break. It's a kind of tourism. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps later they'll reflect on how much fun they had in Spain, getting drunk when they were 19 years old, and maybe they'll go back and learn something. I saw that a lot when I was a professor at Dartmouth. It really made me think about what it means to be there, to be someplace. The being someplace is not necessarily in and of itself the defining factor. I would say that we do have to be there, but also that we have to be engaged. This means that either the topic, or the people we meet, or the challenges we face have got to be real. And we have to care about the project. I know that sounds very vague; I'm wishing I could define it better.

I think, for example, that the course we just did on Art, Migration, and Human Rights was more powerful than the courses that we did in the years before [in Chiapas], because we were addressing an urgent problem, which was migration. People in our group could understand it and identify with the humanity of those who were living through this problem. Many of the migrants were the same age as people in our group, and everyone in our group understood that the difference had to do with where people had been born. It had nothing to do with "bad" people, or criminals who "deserved it." If you're born in El Salvador or Honduras today, your chances of doing well are greatly reduced, unless you happen to be born into the .01% that owns the country. We were able to see this as a political problem and as a human rights problem—one that both affected and implicated us, even as we were learning what it meant for the people who were actually living through it. I think that's where the power came from. Now how do you create a context in which this kind of course can happen? I think we were also very lucky this year, because not everybody cares. We screened people for participation, and we tried to be careful. But you never know. One of the things that I thought was very powerful about this particular group, but that I've also noticed in other groups, is that a group will regulate itself. If you have enough strong people, it will raise the level of that group, even if you have some who are not as strong. So even if you get one or two people who are less engaged, the general ethos of engagement will raise the level. I kind of count on that happening, although it doesn't always—sometimes it's the other way around.

OLIVIA GAGNON: I hear you saying something really interesting, which pertains to the difference between what we did in Chiapas this year versus what you've done there in previous years, but which also addresses the difference between a course like this and a study abroad program. The latter is much more regulated—it happens every year—whereas this course was responding to an urgent issue. You hadn't even been planning to run another course last summer, right? But then, it suddenly felt so important to engage with and address the migration crisis.

The other thing I've heard you speak about is the importance of going to a place where no one—or almost no one—is at home. In this way, everyone finds themselves together in a place of discomfort. Could you speak about this notion of being in a place that is no one's home? I know we had a few colleagues from Mexico this year, so that's slightly different, but perhaps you could say something about the experience of shared discomfort—how you feel it encourages certain modes of collaborative or collective work?

DIANA TAYLOR: Well, if we are all in a place of discomfort in the sense that nobody feels at home—which is, I think, very very important—then we become more vulnerable, and therefore more open to each other. We don't have anything to fall back on: we can't go home to our roommates, our partner; it's just us. So, we open up to each other in a way that we wouldn't if we were, say, doing a similar course in New York, regardless of how urgent the political problems the course addresses. I think this is a very important piece. You could say that this happens in all off-campus programs, and that's true to some degree. Usually, there is a ton of bonding. But I think that it's got to be combined with something that people can care about, and the more urgent, the better. Art and Resistance is very important, and the course helps people learn strategies, which they end up applying to their own work.

Before this past course, we'd had three versions of this [Chiapas] class. In Montréal [at the 2014 Encuentro], we had a Zapatista exhibit, and I saw about eighty of the students from these classes. After the first course was over, many of the students started the Graduate Student Initiative [Hemi GSI] because they knew that they wanted to work together. I think they realized that they had as much to gain from working with each other as they did from working with faculty or mentors. Because we're all doing this interdisciplinary work, the students tend to be open to different kinds of engagement and varied approaches. They find natural allies in each other, and that's very powerful.

And we had always tried to do something of the pedagogy that I'd rehearsed with Jesusa [Rodríguez, one of Mexico's foremost political performance artists] so many times: the pedagogy of stones. 2 This is pedagogy where people don't raise their hands. They have to listen for the right place to intervene. That's the pedagogy of the stones: where does your rock fit? You put it when it fits. You don't sit there for an hour, raise your hand, and then regardless of whether it fits or not, you just say what you want to say! It's an attempt to think about new ways of listening to each other and contributing to a conversation. It's an important way of getting us to listen to each other differently, and also to take responsibility for both a conversation and a class. What do we want to get out of this class? It's not up to me—it's up to all of us. And again, what I said about a class that can self-monitor: it means that the power's different. Which is not to say that the students are bossing each other around. It's more that we're saying together: "This is a really important conversation, and we're going to move it along in this particular way." We've tried to achieve this before, but I got the sense that this time—because the course was so focused—we were able to do so much more.

Figure 2: Lacey Schauwecker placing a stone.
Photo by Diana Taylor.

The other thing that made a huge difference this time is that we were creating our dossier in real time, using the Tome platform. We've had wonderful ideas in previous years, but we didn't have a way to put them together quickly. And as you said before we started the interview, it all seems like so long ago. That piece is so over now, in a way. We did it there, and it was meaningful, and that was it. To come away with the work that we did feels like an extraordinary accomplishment.

OLIVIA GAGNON: I think it is, and it has so much to do with the possibilities offered by digital publishing. One of the most remarkable things for me was that it was the first time I'd ever engaged in what we were describing as collaborative pedagogy. Working on Tome, building the multimedia dossier online in real time, all together—although it posed its own unique challenges, technological and otherwise . . .

DIANA TAYLOR: And the third-world realities also.

OLIVIA GAGNON: Yes, exactly: the slow Internet, the website crashing.

DIANA TAYLOR: And that's being situated.

OLIVIA GAGNON: Absolutely. It was also the first time I had participated in a practice of collaborative writing—and we were all doing it with people who were not in our PhD or MA programs, with people whose first language was Spanish, or who spoke Portuguese and Arabic, or who came from radically different disciplinary backgrounds, or who were undergraduates! I could go on and on about it! Now that we're back in New York, what are your thoughts about our experience of collaborative pedagogy?

DIANA TAYLOR: Well, in all my years of teaching—and I've been teaching now for 32 years—I've never been able to do collaborative writing, and it's because, previously, we didn't have all of the pieces in place. What that means to me was that we—in this very short period of time—developed small groups where everyone had input and responsibility, but not everyone was doing the same thing. We had time to organize ourselves, we had the structure, we had a platform, and we trusted each other. So nobody was second-guessing anyone else: one person was doing this, one person was doing that. Helene [Vosters] and I were responsible for our group's writing sections, and that's what we did: we sat side-by-side, and just went back and forth—you're doing this, I'm doing that, and that's fine. There was this kind of confidence that we were going to do it, and I think, exactly like the pedagogy of stones, we felt that we were going to try to reach the highest point possible. We knew we had set a very difficult task for ourselves. We knew it. And I was so surprised and thrilled by what we did. When we raise the bar very high, I often find that I start lowering it a little bit. I always start off with very high expectations, and then—given the reality of things, time constraints—you start saying, "Well, we're not going to be able to do all that, so let's just do this." But this time I didn't lower my expectations, and it was extraordinary. I suddenly felt what we were going to be able to accomplish, and I think that gave us a clear sense of the power of our collaborative approach. And nobody had an ego in it!

OLIVIA GAGNON: And people wanted to raise the bar for themselves! I have this striking memory from our last week—right after we got back from our trip to the southern border. You asked if anyone felt like they weren't being "used" to their fullest potential, or rather, if they felt like they weren't contributing as much as they wanted to. And Rita [Akroush], who is an undergraduate student at NYU Abu Dhabi, raised her hand and said, "I feel like I can and want to take on more. I want to contribute more." And I thought, wow! These students are exhausted, and they still keep raising the bar for themselves, which is something that we learned how to do together in the first two weeks.

DIANA TAYLOR: It was remarkable, and I think that it's replicable. I think we could do it again. It's a question of finding the right circumstances. We were also lucky that nobody got really sick or anything like that. But we did have a doctor, and we had an emotional support dog. And we did have mishaps, like Tamara [Skubovius] being detained. That was a mishap that was completely in the order of what we were doing. I mean, it was awful, but it was not a surprise, considering where we were. But I think we could do it again. I'm going to see if we can try to do it in Bolivia.

OLIVIA GAGNON: And what would that course be structured around or respond to?

DIANA TAYLOR: We were thinking about environmental degradation and violence. I think it's a very urgent and important issue to tackle.

OLIVIA GAGNON: So, one important part of the course is going somewhere where no one is at home—being situated in a particular space and engaging an urgent political issue in that space. But, the other important part of these courses is the diversity of the student body. The application is more or less open to colleagues and students from member institutions across the Americas. So there are people from all over—many of whom are artists and activists—who come from a variety of different levels: PhD, MA, and MFA students, professors, and undergraduates. Is this an important part of the pedagogical project?

DIANA TAYLOR: Absolutely. It allows for more unexpectedness. School tends to be really homogenized: all the MAs are together, all the PhDs are together, and so forth. I think that it's good to break that and interrupt whatever has become the educational norm. We're thinking about how to bring people together in new ways. The different levels are important, because I think many of those undergraduates, for example, will now want to become graduate students. I think there's no question about it. They saw what you were doing, and they thought, "Oh, that's what I want to do. That's not what I thought graduate school was at all!" But aside from the different levels, I think it's very important to work with people from different countries, especially coming from a US context where we have so much in terms of both technologies and resources. Everything is available here, we have access to so much, and so it's very important to work with people who don't live in those conditions, but who live in a very very different environment.

Take for example, Alina [Peña-Iguarán] who teaches in Guadalajara. She's getting all sorts of hate mail because of the work that she does on migration through Mexico. She told me that she's not sure about her safety—something very bad could happen to her, the way it's happened to some of her colleagues. So, it takes a special kind of conviction that you're doing the right thing. She could work and teach in the US, there's no question. She's even a US citizen. But she chooses to be there because she is so committed. And so, I think that working closely with people who are in these different places teaches us about engagement.

A lot of people are taking this very seriously, and we were able to work with a lot of them on this course. We had Rubén [Figueroa, a human rights activist involved with Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano] with us—that's his living, that's what he does everyday. And we had Juan de Dios García Davish [a political journalist working on migration, and the director of Quadratín Chiapas] and his wife, and Moyses [Zuñiga, a Chiapanecan photojournalist and photographer], and all the people that we met, also Fray Tomás [the radical Franciscan friar who runs the La 72 migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco]. These are people whose lives are centered on trying to address very urgent issues in the lives of others, who are embarked on incredibly violent, and in some instances almost hopeless, journeys. I think that this helps us readjust our sense of what we're doing in our lives, because it's so easy to be comfortable. And so, by going there and doing this work, we're putting ourselves in a situation where we have to question everything about ourselves and our work: what we're doing, how we're doing it, and what for.

OLIVIA GAGNON: Which brings us to questions of access and expectations of access. You've recently written about the act of waiting at the gate outside of Oventik [an autonomous indigenous community in Chiapas, called a Caracol]—what it means and what it feels like to be refused entrance, or to have your access restricted in a variety of ways. In fact, during our trip we tried to visit a different Caraco [not Oventik, which we ultimately were allowed to visit] and we were told that we couldn't enter. Could you speak a little bit about how issues of access, privilege, and marginalization figure in your pedagogy? How do you prepare your students to engage with these issues, especially those coming from New York or from other more privileged academic settings?

DIANA TAYLOR: Those are all really important blocks that get put in our way. We know we're not going to have access. We know we're going to feel uncomfortable. We know we don't know the codes, we don't know how to act, we don't know how others are going to see us. Are they going to see us as tourists? We're not going to have easy access to the Internet. We're not going to have access to any of our books. We're not going to have access to any of the things that we're used to. And that's a very good thing for us I think it's one of the most important things, because this is the way that most of the world lives. They don't have access, but we assume that we do. And I would say that the US actually has very limited knowledge of the world. Very limited. And part of it is because of how we're educated. I mean, how many people are bilingual in the US? Very few. And the people who are bilingual are looked down upon, just like the migrants.

OLIVIA GAGNON: And in those cases, we're mostly talking about English as a second language, rather than English speakers learning to speak another language.

DIANA TAYLOR: Exactly. And those people are put down, are told not to speak Spanish. There are laws against speaking Spanish in the workplace, when we should be saying, "It's fantastic that you have two languages, it would be great if you would teach Spanish to our kids." But instead, we have this way of closing off, and closing off, and closing off. In the US, we're indoctrinated to be very suspicious and dismissive of other forms of knowing. If you think about how little we actually know—as a people, not individually—about what's happening in China, for example. What do I know about what's happening in China? I haven't the slightest idea. None. Nothing. I know what's happening in Latin America because that's my life's work, that's what I do, that's how I live. The isolation that we experience here, we just don't see it. We live here, and we think that we have access to everything, when in fact we're very provincial in our knowledge. But, theoretically we have access to everything. We can Google, we can do this, we can do that, but what do we really know? I mean, half the people in this country don't know where Canada is. It's all wrong—this sense that we have everything, that we know everything. I would say that most intellectuals and scholars in Latin America probably know a lot—certainly a lot more about us than we know about them. I think that we need to be more humble in our approach to what we know, or what we think we know. We have "access," but what is access? Is that knowledge? I don't know. Not to romanticize it, but I just think that a lot of the questions are skewed.

OLIVIA GAGNON: How does performance fit into this conversation about access and knowledge? Thinking about Performance Studies as a discipline—about embodied practice as an alternative way of producing, accessing, and transmitting knowledge—but also about our final performance, what do you think performance can do that the discursive can't?

Figure 3: Working on our street acción.
Photo by Diana Taylor.

DIANA TAYLOR: We can't separate them out. The tendency to separate out discursive—and what I've called archival—knowledge is somehow definitive and foundational without thinking about the importance of what is transmitted through bodies. It's just so patently wrong—why would we divide it up like that? That seems to me like the old mind-body divide. It's absurd beyond belief. It's not tenable. Think about what we saw in the course. If you think about it discursively, everything in Chiapas says that migrants are welcome—"Migrant, you have rights!" I mean, it's written everywhere, huge. This is a performance of the state. And then you see what happens to migrants, how visible the violence is that they're subjected to. You see the reality of what happens to these bodies and the way that these bodies get transformed. We saw the feet, and the scars, and the bodies of amputated migrants, and we see that this is what happens if you try to move. And for us, moving is the most natural thing. We get on a plane, we can order food, we can pay for entertainment, and it's all fine, it's more or less pleasant or else bothersome, and that's all it is. But then, you think about how violence gets played out [in these other contexts]—how it becomes invisibilized, how the discursive part makes it so invisible—and then all of a sudden it's right there, and we can't deny it. It's a very forceful thing.

I'm also thinking about the ways that you all related to each other. The dancing with migrants at one of the shelters we visited in Chahuites, for example. What gets communicated through dancing? We're human beings! On a level that goes beyond the political, beyond who was born where, and all of that, we're human beings. We can have a fun time together and laugh together, we can try to comfort each other, we can paint each other's nails (which one colleague did do with a woman she met at the La 72 migrant shelter). There's something about that which is so reassuring on a basic human level, and it enables us to go back and think about the discursive, think about how to intervene in other areas.

Figure 4: A migrant dances with Luis Rincón-Alba at a shelter in Chahuites.
Photo by Raymundo Marmolejo.


Figure 5: At La 72 (a shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco) a female migrant offered to paint Lacey's nails. Here, she admires them.
Photo by Lacey Schauwecker.

I think our performance was the same thing: a way of making the issue visible to everybody. When Juan de Dios Davish came to speak to us afterward, he said that he felt it was one of the most powerful things to have happened during his 20 years working in the region. Because it was an affirmation, in public space, of what's happening. It's not like you're crazy, or you're paranoid because somebody said this or that. This is what's happening, and we all know it's happening, and as a community we are testifying to that. "Us" as the people who were performing the act, Jesusa who stood up and spoke about it at the end of the performance, the people who were watching. We came together, and we said: this is what's happening. There's something very grounding about that and also affirmative because what's so difficult about the situation is this invisibility, the way that you can just not see it. So, embodied acts are a fundamental part of our knowing and our transmission in all the ways that I've written about, but also in the ways that we just lived. I think it's very powerful. If we had only read all of those texts on migration, we would not have even gotten close.

Figure 6: Our performance-based street acción [action] addressing the urgent migration crisis. Here, we use our bodies to depict Mexico as una fosa común [a mass grave].
Photo by Moyses Zuñiga.

OLIVIA GAGNON: I'm also thinking about the difference between reading or seeing recordings of testimony and actually being there with people in the shelters, actually talking with them. And about really specific forms of testimony. Do you remember Victor—the deaf, mute migrant from Guatemala who I spent a few hours with at La 72? His was a testimony that was totally incommunicable other than through his body. You couldn't hear it, you couldn't see it anywhere else, he couldn't write it down for you, you had to be there to receive it.

DIANA TAYLOR: And you had to engage with him.

OLIVIA GAGNON: Right. To engage and to build a shared system of understanding.

Figure 7: Rachel Russell shows some of her photos to, and chats with, a migrant she met at La 72 (a shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco).
Photo by Raymundo Marmolejo.

DIANA TAYLOR: That's right. You had to do that together. I think that's how we learn. We're not vessels. People don't fill us up with knowledge. Everything we have is stuff that we have created. And then there's this whole thing about parents saying, "Why can't I spare my child the pain?" Because that's the life, right? That's life. And it's interesting. I don't believe in teaching. I believe in learning. I don't believe in teaching; I don't think we can teach other people. I think what we have to do is create environments for learning. So when I say that I'm always there learning, I'm always learning as much as everybody else in that room, and I have always felt that way. I've never felt differently. That we're learning, and we're learning it together, and that makes it always so interesting for me, because it's always that relationship. It's always a relationship with the people who are in that room. So that's always been one of the wonderful things about teaching that I love, which is learning.

OLIVIA GAGNON: I think that's a beautiful place to end. Thank you so much, Diana.

Figure 8: Diana Taylor chats with a migrant at the shelter in Chahuites, while looking on as others dance in the courtyard.
Photo by Raymundo Marmolejo.



1 These physical get-togethers are known as Encuentros. Every two years, the Institute hosts an Encuentro—a weeklong conference/festival—at a different site in the Americas. Fostering experimentation, dialogue, and collaboration, each Encuentro brings together hundreds of scholars, artists, activists, and students to take part in a program of keynote lectures, working groups, performances, installations, round table and long table discussions, exhibits, video screenings, and hands-on performance workshops. Past Encuentros have taken place in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, the United States, Argentina, and Colombia. The 2014 Encuentro took place in Montréal, Canada.

2 For more on Jesusa Rodríguez's pedagogy of stones, see the course dossier:


Work Cited

Mu, Enrique, and Miagros Pereyra-Rojas. 2015. "Impact of Society Versus Impart Knowledge: Why Latin American Scholars Do Not Participate in Latin American Studies," Latin American Research Review 50 (2): 216.

Taylor, Diana, and Marcos Steuernagel, eds. 2015. What Is Performance Studies? Duke University Press/HemiPress.

Taylor, Diana, and Sarah J. Townsend, eds. 2008. Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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