This project investigates how the myriad discourses of migration and globalization have become manifest graphically across social spaces and street graphics in the contemporary American South. In explosions of color and juxtaposition, this digital collection documents some of the significant ways the large and unprecedented Latino migration to the South has transformed and shaped visual spaces and street graphics in this new borderland of cultures.
It is a well established axiom of cultural geography that ordinary landscapes have cultural meaning, and globalization and transnational studies continue to uncover new hybrid cultures and ways of being in the world within these scapes. Using selected urban and rural areas of North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee as case studies, this project explores the Latino transformation of visual spaces in the South and present the emergence of a new cultural geography in the region.
The demographic revolution and transnational re-creation of the South ranks among the largest and most significant developments to occur in the United States during the contemporary globalized age. The subsequent impact on the visual-cultural landscape of the Southeast is enormously significant and yet little studied.
In the process of exploring new migrant spaces in the South, this project maintains a strong sense of the singularity of the existing visual landscape of the region within this process of transformation. The new migrant-influenced visual landscape in the South is not merely the layering of a new cultural style over an existing one, but the formation of a new hybrid, dynamic, and fluid landscape in the region.
A crucial aspect of this project is identifying how the emerging transnationality of life in the South produced by Latino migration can be viewed in terms of borderlands. Borderlands are hybrid, malleable, and ephemeral places. In standard usage, the borderlands of the United States are viewed primarily as the long southwestern borderland shared with Mexico. This border has a distinct ethnography, cultural style and visual character, all of which have been explored by a rich field of scholarship. But what scholars have not done yet is situate and explore the nature of this new borderland in the social spaces of the South, or define and explain the newly emergent cultural landscape of the region. These pictures present the form, style, and utility of the newly Latinized southern borderland as a visual introduction to this approach.
Conceptualizing the southeast as a borderland of the globalized era reveals the recapitulated spaces characteristic of other borderlands and encourages application of a rich array of interpretative lenses hitherto used to explore the many complexities of the United States-Mexico borderlands of the southwest. Engaging the sensory landscape is a vital aspect of recognizing the cultural, social, and economic shifts to the region. To explore the genesis of this dynamic new borderlands culture in the Southern landscape, and to assess its long-term resonance in rooted regional terms, requires fresh consideration of the visual scapes and social spaces newly shaped by migrants.
As is perhaps most clearly wrought in a borderlands environment, and as now may be readily viewed in South, cultural landscapes are the product of an ongoing discourse between peoples, cultures, ideas, systems of power, expressions, and sovereignties. This discourse is manifested prominently in loose spaces, unorganized and unused areas ripe for migrant re-imagination. They include the frayed edges of modern America in roadsides, abandoned downtowns, decaying strip malls, churches, and community halls re-fashioned and newly enriched by migrant arrival, and an evolving streetscape. These loose spaces riddle American regions and particularly urban areas, and may be even more prevalent in the South, a region which has endured dramatic economic fluctuations over time.
There has recently been an explosion of interest in such street graphics from artists and design historians exploring regions globally, with particularly exquisite coverage of Mexican street graphics in the recent collection of Juan Carlos Mena. Latino spaces in the South provide a similar market-oriented and highly stylized recapitulation of Mexican identity in the sensory landscape. The street graphics provide important sites of cultural negotiation and social reproduction that are readily accessible to the public. For example, Inez M. Miyares characterizes Latinization of neighborhood spaces in New York City as a "streetscape of invasion" evident in the Spanish language signs and the flying of foreign flags. Victor Margolin, in his study of Mexican street graphics in Chicago, argues that "although largely overlooked by cultural theorists, except for the murals, street graphics in their multifarious forms tell us a great deal about how ethnic and national identities are sustained in a multicultural society." This emerging new style of street graphics now also can be observed in many spaces throughout the South in images, signage, and coloration on stores, clubs, churches, job sites, and community centers, all of which provide a fascinating new means of charting the cultural geography of the region.
An exploration of the broad impact on the sense of place and identity in the South must be focused on the migrant re-imagination and recreation of space in these areas, and the visual aspects of these changes are instructive as well as dramatic and often beautiful.