Memorial for Dr. Maria C. Lugones
Wanda Alarcón and Cindy Cruz
University of Arizona
I want my communal self wide.
January 26, 1944 – July 14, 2020
It is a shock to accept that Maria Cristina Lugones is no longer with us. She is not in Binghamton, Nueva York, in her grand home with the stone fireplace, the long uphill road that leads to her front door. She is not on the other side of the telephone line. It is a shock because we spoke so recently with Maria. She said she was fine with sheltering in place and that when she goes out into the public she is covered from head to toe. “I look like a ninja,” Maria told us and we all laughed at the image. She had every confidence that there would be time to talk together, with a slowly progressing cancer, that we would meet again in Valdez, New Mexico. Now that we are Tucsonianas, we were that much closer to Maria.
Nuestra reina filosofa feminista cachapera compañera tortillera del barrio y the
movement peregrina curdler “world”-traveller callejera theorist
translator tango-dancer calo poet improper linguist singer decolonial doodler popular educator theorist of US woman of color feminism scholar of resistance and radical friendship
This is how we remember you, Maria. You are many-worlded and we are privileged to travel to you and be with you in many of our worlds that still touch and cross.
Maria Cristina Lugones was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 26, 1944. She began her undergraduate studies at the University of Buenos Aires and transferred to UCLA where she majored in Philosophy and graduated in 1969. Beginning her graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, she received her PhD in Philosophy in 1978. She became faculty at Carleton College soon after and joined Binghamton University in 1993, where she created the important Center for Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture. Maria was also a popular educator and greatly inspired by the Highlander Folk School, she co-founded and sustained La Escuela Popular Norteña in Valdez, New Mexico.
With a long and illustrious career, the impact of Maria’s groundbreaking thinking is felt in multiple fields beyond her training in philosophy. Her body of work is incredibly creative, radical, and distinguished by a poetic voice audible in her earliest writings, including the 1983 essay/dialogue with Elizabeth Spellman, “Have We Got A Theory for You!,” and across all her writings. Maria’s 2003 book, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions gathers some of her most important papers, including “Playfulness, “World”-Travelling and Loving Perception,” among many others. Her work inspired a 2018 conference dedicated to her, Towards Decolonial Feminisms at Penn State University, the anthology Speaking Face to Face: The Visionary Philosophy of Maria Lugones, and three special issues in several journals–Hypatia, Critical Philosophy of Race, and Frontiers. Maria was awarded the 2020 Franz Fanon Lifetime Achievement Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association and the 2016 Distinguished Woman Philosopher Award from the Society for Women in Philosophy.
Her work on decoloniality has been translated into Spanish, notably the articles “Colonialidad y género” published in Tabula Rasa in 2008 and “Género y descolonialidad: Hacia un feminismo descolonial” in the 2014 Género y Descolonialidad. Francophone audiences can read “Playfulness” as “Attitude joueuse” in the 2011 issue of Les Cahiers du CEDREF titled “Théories féministes et queers décoloniales: Interventions Chicanas et Latinas états-uniennes” alongside and other classic U.S. women of color writings in translation. The essays “Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System” and “Toward a Decolonial Feminism” introduce her indispensable thesis on “the coloniality of gender” and offers a praxical response to undoing it. “If gender is our destiny,” Maria would say, “then we are doomed.”
Her lasting contributions to major conversations on gender, race, resistance, decolonial thought and decolonial feminism place her among the luminaries of feminist philosophy and woman of color theorizing. Her many students, collaborators, and lifelong friends honor her in their continued work in INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and La Escuela Popular Norteña even as we mourn and feel her passing from this world deeply. Maria Lugones was a genius and a visionary teacher and compañera and we are honored to have known her and worked along side of her tremendous energy.
Johnson City, NY 2007
We met Maria Lugones at a birthday party in a snowstorm in upstate New York. She was intense and laughed out loud and was serious all at the same time. She had to leave the party early so that she could snowplow her long driveway. Yes, she owned her own snowplow for her house that was once a hunter’s lodge. She cooked souffles, paellas, bundt cakes, bread and opened her home to us as we talked about growing up machonas and troublemakers. Her living room had a river stone fireplace and a well-loved piano where we imagined she played and sang tangos and milongas. We danced salsa and practiced our “decolonial turn” in the great room of her house with new friends at the summer institute party. When we heard Maria talk about La Escuela Popular Norteña and the coalitional work happening in Valdez, New Mexico, we are sure we fell in love with this woman, this fierce tortillera thinker who talked and walked her praxis in all the ways that we wanted to live our lives in the world. “Look at all these nice buildings, all this space. The university is just space,” she told us. Maria believed in making a “university within a university,” occupying space to do this important work of decolonial feminist practice.
We would like to think about Maria’s notion of faithful witnessing, where we learn with others the difficult practice of recognizing resistance in the smallest of gestures and spaces. It is very hard work to reconsider, revise, and reconfigure experience, to move against the grain of power and refuse to act in loyalty with oppression. Faithful witnessing is Maria’s calling for Chicanas and women of color to move away from a monosensical life, to find different ways of accessing meanings that can be constructed against the grain of oppression, to “world”–travel in ways that are not agonistic or hierarchical, racist or transphobic, to “sense resistance, to interpret behavior as resistant even when it is dangerous…” (p. 2 Pilgrimages).
Why faithful witnessing? Because now it is our turn to recognize Maria’s everyday resisting, where in this capitalist, individualistic and very hierarchical place of the university, she created spaces for us to think and practice together outside of the surveillance of power. She is asking us to think communally, rigorously, and responsibly despite the indifference of the university of our presence. In her many worlds of sense–the activist worlds of INCITE and La Escuela, in the world of the Center for Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture, and in the many “worlds” of her activism and the research working groups she developed such as Decolonial Thinking, Decolonial Feminisms, and the Politics of U.S. Women of Color (among many others)–all spaces of resistance within universities and in community spaces that want change and nothing less than recognition of themselves as survival-rich and life-affirming communities.
In our faithful witnessing, we recognize the radicalness of Maria’s persistence, her body always in pain. A young student told a story of her conversations with Maria, knowing she was in pain yet she always smiled to see her. The good conversations, the student believes, helped relieve a little of Maria’s suffering. Her persistence saved her own life many times, from illness, violence, and imprisonment. In Maria’s persistence over oppression, she yearned for the company of women and radical friendships.
I am incomplete and unreal without other women. I am profoundly dependent on others without having to be their subordinate, their slave, their servant.(p. 8 “Playfulness”)
We read the obituary in the Washington Post that mentions in passing that Maria was a lesbian. It is important to us that we know her as a tortillera, una cachapera y marimacha, a jota or dyke who insisted that male scholars take seriously the work of US feminists and queers of color. Maria took seriously the work of US woman of color thought, she drew life from their work and then extended it in her new theorizing of decolonial feminism. But in particular, Maria took seriously the work of Chicanas, especially Borderlands, where she found her thinking intertwined with Anzaldúa and in that space she discovered a “borderdwelling friendship.”
I have seen Chicanas become Chicanas
“Why do we love Maria Lugones so much? Because she loves Chicanas,” our friend Marcelle Maese exclaimed. These are the outrageous things we can only say at MALCS that other mujeres would understand. In the first lines of “Borderlands/La Frontera: An Interpretive Essay” Maria writes that she felt from the first moment that she and Anzaldúa were “hermanas de pensamiento.” Maria sustained a philosophical relationship with Anzaldúa’s pensamiento for over twenty years. We like to think of this as not only an intellectual relationship but also as an act of radical friendship, what our friend Marcelle recognizes as “friendship as coalition but also as reading practice.” Maria is one of Anzaldúa’s most important interpreters. We know from Anzaldúa’s good friend Randy Conner that she loved Maria’s work too.
The essays “On Borderlands/La Frontera: An Interpretive Essay,” “From Within Germinative Stasis: Creating Active Subjectivity, Resistant Agency,” and “It’s All About Having a History,” offer deeply engaged, creative, and rigorous readings of her work and trace the shifts in Maria’s thinking, the deepening of her insights on Anzaldúa’s complex interlingual thought. Perhaps one of her most moving offerings in reading Borderlands is a way to sense the communal in what seems the solitary path of the shaman. In her recent lectures, Maria offers us a new reading of Borderlands as a cosmology. This idea was presented in the keynote talks “Mestizaje and the Communal” (The Feminist Architecture of Gloria Anzaldúa Conference at UCSC, 2015) and “My stories are acts encapsulated in time” (Gloria Anzaldúa: Translating B/borders Conference at the University of Paris, 2019). Maria does not let us forget Anzaldúa’s queerness, integral to coalition, although “queer” is not the term she would use. To explain why she names what Anzaldúa created a Chicana cosmology, she offers these bold conclusions:
Why is it a Chicana cosmology: Because a jota created;
Because she created it interlingually;
Because she sensed Chicana desires;
Because she “saw” Chicanas’ intentions;
Because she was a Chicanita from the boondocks;
Because she “saw” in a present in which Huitzilopochtli cut up Coylxauqui,
and in a present in which the dismemberment was celebrated in Chicanismo,
and in a present in which she “saw” her completa;
Because she does not use Nahua to prove her authenticity;
Because she made interlingual art;
Because she learned from animal and insects in el retrete;
Because she was pueblo, a comunera;
Because she “saw” multiplicity, ambiguity, fluidity, and put them in the masa;
Because in the obsidian mirror she saw the new mestiza.
Thank you Maria for the way you have cared for and been in pensamiento with this cherished Chicana text. Together we learn to be better readers of Anzaldúan thinking.
Pachuca Caló at Binghamton
(Wanda’s Reflection) Binghamton’s Center for Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture (CPIC) was a radical space. I was a graduate student in English but I spent all my time amongst Maria’s advanced doctoral students and the active decolonial thinking groups. A theoretically rich and generative space, CPIC was an immensely creative place to learn. Graduate school began before classes actually started when I attended the Decolonial Thinking Summer Institute. Later for my graduate language requirement, I took “Pachuco Caló” with Maria. I had not read most of Maria’s works, she was still writing “Toward a Decolonial Feminism,” yet I learned what I consider core ideas and practices of decolonial feminism in this class. We read the caló poetry of Chicano poets like José Montoya and we read the interlingual literary theory of Chicano poetics by Alfred Arteaga. Without sanitizing the poetry, Maria asked how we could think of the language in ways that did not immediately tie it to criminality or marginality. For instance, the word “mujerona” could have several meanings and not all needed to be oppressive or dehumanizing. Our thinking was informed by postcolonial translation theories but the way she approached the class was very much in a decolonial mode. We looked up words and re-read and re-listened to them. One week we would identify all of the words for gender, another all of the words for flora and fauna, these tasks shared and divided among us. We worked in the library and collected all of the dictionaries on Chicano language we could find and we began the work of delinking caló from logics of marginality and the categorizing projects of dictionaries. We examined this living, resistant, unassimilable language in a decolonial mode. We even made our own caló lexicon.
I’ve been thinking about what this experience means. As a first generation Chicana from East Los Angeles, it’s beyond serendipitous to me that I had to travel all the way to New York and meet Maria to learn caló. This class only really matters to other Chicanxs. It matters because she took our work seriously. Maria took this poetry and theory created by marginalized people in this country, further marginalized in the university, and she placed it at the center of our thinking and learning. This is one of the ways she showed us that the theories of people of color are whole knowledges that did not require comparison to hegemonic worldviews or officially recognized canons or philosophies. I learned this through Maria’s radical pedagogy in that class, in her generous mentorship toward me, and in her sustained work with other Chicanas, in particular, Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera.
Finishing the class, I remember all of her students said, “Now you can teach it, you teach the decolonial.” That’s how I think of her, a consummate teacher. Maria’s teaching lives in her wonderful graduate students that we met in Binghamton, many of whom are professors now, colleagues and friends. The stellar roster includes: Manuel Chavez, Josh Franco, Nikolay Karkov, Jen-Feng Kuo, Hilary Malatino, Xhercis Mendez, Pedro diPietro, Shireen Roshanravan, Gabriel Soldatenko, and Gabriella Veronelli among many others. At CPIC I never felt the tension of competition or individuality or conformity I would come to experience in other academic spaces. I learned to work alongside others in a capacious way, all of us gathered in this decolonial work together yet always plural with room for all who came as we were.
Maria was my teacher, a most cherished and respected mentor, though it hurt her feelings to be thought of as someone apart from the group. I will always learn from her.
I Am Playful With You In This World
(Cindy’s Reflection) It is true that I met Maria in a snowstorm. I had moved to upstate New York for a postdoc at Cornell and was invited to the 2007 Decolonial Thinking Summer Institute at Binghamton University. It was there I was introduced to Maria’s work and wonderful students, where a theory of race and gender and the story of the rise of modernity/coloniality was put together on such a scale that I felt like tossing my previous training as a critical pedagogist out the window. Beginning with the work of US feminists of color, Maria and Catherine Walsh discussed how race and gender and the New World collided, speaking truth to power. I saw the histories of my family as part of this new thinking, my own commitment to woman of color theory and listening to this new work, I experienced the same feeling I had when as an undergraduate a professor broke it down about race and class in the US and I was shaking for days. It was that intense and I wanted more.
Maria’s “Playfulness” article is a primer to understand and create relationships that are not based in domination. I think it is rare to experience a relationship in schools that is not of a conquistador/”world”-destroyer, gatekeeper or voyeur. I work with new teachers. It makes sense that we read “Playfulness” first in my education classrooms, where it is mostly white middle class teachers who will be working in schools with mostly brown and black students and their families. It is important that new teachers take the time to think about coalitional relations and meditate on Maria’s words:
The reason why I think that travelling to someone’s “world” is a way of identifying with them is because by travelling to their “world” we can understand what it is to be them and what it is to be ourselves in their eyes.(p. 17 of “Playfulness”)
I have a personal example of coalitional relations. All through my undergraduate and graduate school years, I played rugby. I have played many sports, but I have never found anything as close to the camaraderie of the rugby team I played with for over 10 years. I’m sure what made it even more enjoyable was that we won often and we were arguably all friends, at least on the pitch. But what I have realized after all those years of being “retired” from rugby (we old girls don’t quit the sport–we retire) was that it was one of the few places were I have practiced something like coalition.
In rugby, you can only pass the ball horizontally, never forward. Unlike the specialized positions in football, rugby is a game where every player is valuable no matter your position, and if you want the ball you support the ball carrier, because eventually the ball carrier will need to pass the ball to a teammate in order to continue the play and move the ball downfield for a try. When you want the ball or when you know that your teammate carrying the ball forward is going to get tackled, you call out “with you,” as in “I am with you for a pass on the right side or I am with you for a pass on your left.” I knew my teammate Sue was always going to be supporting me on my left. She would say “with you” and I would pass the ball laterally and now I became her support. The relation is horizontal when you pass the ball at a full run to your teammate and then it’s your responsibility to support the ball carrier. When the pass is done right, it is beautiful.
I am sharing this example of rugby passing because it’s one place where I have been able to practice and experience non-hierarchical, horizontal relations with others. There is a pedagogy to rugby passing and I know I learned to be “with you” through the many afternoons of practicing this relation until my teammates and I could do it even as we were getting tackled. Now as a scholar of pedagogy, I am trying to figure out ways of helping new teachers in Arizona public schools develop skills of coalitional relations for their own work in and outside of the classroom. I often imagine what this relation of being “with you” might look like for teachers. If being “with you” is the relation necessary to build coalition or simply to build relationships with your students and their families that are not based on dominating or assimilating them, then how can I move this idea forward with my new teachers?
It is Maria’s work that helps me think about the practices of decolonial feminism, where I feel free to use rugby passing as an example of coalition. I was honored that Maria came to see our panel at the Penn State conference dedicated to her work. As part of the roundtable activity, we asked people to draw their impressions of our presentations, to “doodle decolonially.” Here is Maria’s playful doodle of our panel:
I am forever grateful for meeting Maria, her friendship and hospitality and generosity in her invitation to participate in her research working groups and to be a part of creating a popular education project with youth in Valdez. I am and will always be with you, Maria.
Vuela, vuela palomita…
The last time we spoke with Maria we talked about reuniting in New Mexico once we got out of this pandemic. We looked forward to participating the work of La Escuela and mostly catching up with Maria. We had so many things to talk about and we were sure there would be time.
Maria Lugones, Presente!
Maria Lugones, Presente!
Maria Lugones, Presente!
Maria Lugones, Presente!
We wrote this memorial with the company of many friends who loved Maria. We thank them for their contributions of time, art, images, memories, and stories and hope that they see and hear themselves reflected here in this remembrance. We especially thank Alma Lopez Gaspar de Alba for the beautiful and playful digital portrait “Our Philosopher Queen” and to Pedro diPietro for permission to use personal photographs. It was Angie Chabram and Maria Soldatenko who first called Maria “our philosopher queen.” The more we speak about Maria the more stories we hear, even through our broken corazones. Mil gracias to Joshua Price and Rick Santos for sharing some of Maria’s favorite tangos in “Lugo’s Tango Mixtape.” And finally, a big thank you to MALCS Chair Yvette Saavedra for the invitation to write this for Maria. It has been a labor of love.
Lugones Citations & Websites of Interest
Lugo’s Tango Mixtape
Anthologies and Special Issues
Critical Philosophy of Race Special Issue 8:1-2, Spring 2020: Toward Decolonial Feminisms. Guest Edited by Nancy Tuana and Emma Velez
Hypatia Special Issue 35.3, Summer 2020: Tracing the Lineages of Decolonial Thinking Through Latinx Feminist Philosophy
Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies Special Issue 41.1, May, 2020: “World”-Making and “World”-Travelling with Decolonial Feminisms and Women of Color.
Speaking Face to Face: The Visionary Philosophy of Maria Lugones, edited by Pedro DiPietro, Jennifer McWeeny, and Shireen Roshanravan. SUNY Press, Praxis in Action Series.
Conferences and Keynotes
Toward Decolonial Feminisms: A Conference Inspired by the Work of María Lugones. Nittany Lion Inn, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA. May 11-13, 2018.
The Feminist Architecture of Gloria Anzaldua Conference at University of California, Santa Cruz. Date. May 2015. Keynote Talk: “Mestizaje and the Communal”
Video Link: https://thi.ucsc.edu/event/anzaldua-2/
Work In Translation, Honors, and Other References
Les Cahiers du CEDREF: Centre d’Enseignement, de Documentation, et de Recherches pour les Etudes Feministes.
Chicana and U.S. Latina feminist, queer, and decolonial theories translations into French. A project directed by Paola Bacchetta, Julie Falquet, and Norma Alarcon. https://journals.openedition.org/cedref/667
Global Social Theory
The Franz Fanon Prize, 2020, Carribean Philosophical Association http://www.caribbeanphilosophicalassociation.org/the-frantz-fanon-award.html
Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing coalition against multiple oppressions. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003.
Milongueando macha homoerotics: Dancing the tango, torta style (a performative testimonial). Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands (2012): 51-57. https://iupress.org/9780253005748/performing-the-us-latina-and-latino-borderlands/
It’s All in Having a History: A Response to Michael Hames-García’s Queer Theory Revisited. In Michael Hames-Garcia and Ernesto Martinez (Eds.) Gay Latino Studies. A Critical Reader (2011): 46-54.
Toward a Decolonial Feminism. Hypatia 25, no. 4 (2010): 742-759.
Heterosexualism in the Colonial/Modern Gender System – Hypatia vol 22 no 1 (Winter 2007). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1527-2001.2007.tb01156.x?casa_token=0QQJryyyQrgAAAAA:uRr3oQ0rbxZm3vdg9snYNzWXyQ1U002NQWbvwvHZEEaZByNcAdP7JoAcvYSza146hBNwyhQm7DMUc5c
Problems of translation in Postcolonial Thinking – Anthropology News. April 2003. With Joshua Price.
The Inseparability of race, class, and gender – Latino Studies Journal. Vol. I no 1 (Fall 2003) p. 329-332. With Joshua Price.
Impure Communities – in Diversity and Community: An Interdisciplinary Reader, edited by Philip Anderson. 2002. Oxford: Blackwell.
On Maria Pia Lara’s Moral Structures – Hypatia, Vol. 15 no 3, Fall 2000.
Wicked Caló: A Matter of the Authority of Improper Words – In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly. Edited by Marilyn Frye and Sarah Lucia Hoagland. Penn State University Press, 2000. http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/0-271-02018-0.html
Tenuous Connections in Impure Communities – Ethics & the Environment, Vol 4 no 1, 1999, pp. 85-90.
The Discontinuous Passing of the Cachapera/Tortillera from the barrio to the bar to the Movement – In Daring To Be Good: Feminist Essays in Ethico-Politics. Edited by Ami Bar-On and Aim Ferguson. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Motion, Stasis, and Resistance to Interlocked Oppressions – In Making Worlds: Gender, Metaphor, Materiality. Edited by Susan Hardy Aiken, et al. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1998. https://uapress.arizona.edu/book/making-worlds
Enticements and Dangers of Community for a Radical Politics – In Blackwell Companion to Feminist Philosophy. Edited by Iris Young and Alison Jaggar. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998. https://philpapers.org/rec/JAGACT
Playfulness,“world”‐travelling, and loving perception. Hypatia 2, no. 2 (1987): 3-19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.1987.tb01062.x