I got my undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies, but I always lie about it. I usually call it Latin American history or languages or sociology or religion or any other number of things it wasn’t. I find my discomfort with my career productive. To admit I study a completely made-up thing is to recognize that made-up things are meaningful to human beings. Academics have a habit of renaming their habits instead of changing them—e.g. “hemispheric studies” for “Latin American studies,” as if geographic labels were any less artificial than ethnic ones. I’d like very much not to fall into that. I suppose the most honest thing I can say on this subject for now is that my career, like everyone’s, has only the coherence I give it. I act like my work is connected by something called “Latin America” for marketing purposes, but in truth, I study stray textual products from across geographies connected mostly by my own curiosity. I figure there has to be an ethical way to do that. I suspect it will be a long time before I figure out what it is.
If you have thoughts on this, I want to hear them.