NEW YORK - Car bombs, sand storms and possible biochemical warfare aren't the only threats now facing American Indian soldiers in Iraq. Now they have a fight on the anthropology front.
An assistant professor in Columbia University's Anthropology Department is raising a firestorm on the Internet and in New York City newspapers with the call at a recent "teach-in" for "a million Mogadishus." The reference to the 1993 urban fighting in Somalia that killed 18 American soldiers and inspired the recent movie "Black Hawk Down" has drawn widespread condemnation. It is an especial affront to Native soldiers and their families, coming from a department which made its reputation by studying, and some say exploiting, the North American tribes.
According to the Columbia Spectator, the school's student daily newspaper, Associate Professor Nicholas Paul de Genova told a Columbia University audience at a six-hour teach-in March 26, "I wish for a million Mogaqdishus." Organizers of the event, which presented some 30 anti-war speakers, condemned his remarks, some hinting darkly that he had conspired to hijack the event. Jean Cohen, professor of political science, told the Spectator that his speech "was a planned undermining of this teach-in." She said that de Genova was a last-minute substitution. "He ended up on that platform by accident, almost by manipulation," Cohen said.
De Genova himself said in a letter in the Spectator on March 31 that the intensive press coverage gave "no indication whatsoever of the perspective that framed that remark."
"My rejection of U.S. nationalism is an appeal to liberate our own political imaginations such that we might usher in a radically different world in which we will not remain the prisoners of U.S. global domination," he wrote.
De Genova teaches in both the anthropology and Latino studies programs and has studied Mexican migrant workers. He has written several articles on the "cultural politics" of "gangsta rap."
His curriculum vitae gives the following description of his work:
"My ethnographic research explores the social productions of racialized and spatialized difference in the experiences of transnational Mexican migrant workers within the space of the U.S. nation-state. More specifically, I examine transnational urban conjunctural spaces that link the U.S. and Latin America as a standpoint of critique from which to interrogate U.S. nationalism, political economy, racialized citizenship, and immigration law. This work contributes to a reconceptualization of Latin American, Latino, and "American" (U.S.) Studies."
Neither de Genova nor Anthropology Department Chairman Nicholas Dirks could be reached by Indian Country Today. De Genova's phone mailbox was no longer accepting calls because it was full. In fact, the high volume of hostile calls, including death threats, caused the department office to close down the Friday after the teach-in.
The Columbia anthropology department made its reputation in the late 19th century through the research on Plains Indians conducted by Franz Boas and his students. One of his prot?g?s was Ella Cara DeLoria, member of a prominent Yankton Dakota family and a leader in creating a written Dakota literature. Another Columbia anthropology student, Frank G. Speck (later chairman of the department at the University of Pennsylvania), conducted intensive studies of New England tribes through the first half of the 20th Century. His prot?g? Gladys Tantaquidgeon, still alive at age 104, was instrumental in preserving the traditions of her now resurgent Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.
Some Native intellectuals of today directly connected to this tradition speak harshly of what they call anthropology's exploitation of Indian sacred traditions. One directly criticized de Genova for "being so self-righteous when the activities of his own profession were so up for question."