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Journal of the Month is a new feature of the CELJ website that features CELJ president Debra Rae Cohen and Vice President Eugenia Zuroski chatting with editors about their journals. You can find previous Featured Journal of the Month interviews under the "Membership" tab. All Membership content requires sign in as a CELJ Member.

Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies

Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies - Charlene Villaseñor Black, Editor

Debra Rae Cohen: We usually begin by inviting the editor to talk about the history of the journal, and where they inserted themselves into its history when they took over as editor, but I think we should acknowledge from the outset that this time we’re talking to somebody who edits two journals. Could you tell us about first about what you see as the arc of Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies and how you entered into it, and then we’ll talk later about the starting of your second journal, Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture (LALVC).

Charlene Villaseñor Black: The journal was founded in 1970, directly linked to the Chicano civil rights movement. It is the flagship journal of Chicano Studies at this point, and it was founded by an editorial collective of four graduate students at UCLA. It continued to be edited by an editorial collective for many, many years. This is a manifestation of the Chicano movement—our sense of community and shared political commitments. There wasn’t a sole editor until my colleague Chon Noriega took over, I believe in 1996, and he edited it until 2016. I was asked to edit it after that, so I've been editor since 2016. I'm the second sole editor and the first woman to in this position.

The journal was founded in direct response to the planning at a 1969 meeting at UC Santa Barbara, this really important Chicano meeting that laid out the educational goals and political goals of the Chicano movement. So it has this radical activist history that’s really important that I try to keep in mind as the latest editor. In line with that commitment to the Plan de Santa Barbara, we conceive of the journal as a tool for important scholarship and activism but also as an educational tool. And so we always employ graduate students or young scholars in the journal: the Book Reviews Editor is one of my doctoral students in Chicana/o Studies, Kevin Cruz Amaya, and the assistant editor is a recent PhD in Film Studies at UCLA, Heather Birdsall. That piece is really important, that we’re able to train students to think about the direction of the field.

DRC: Does that translate into different kinds of platforms or different differently directed sections? Or modalities of the journal? For example, many journals are doing more public facing web work.

CVB: So far, it has not been particularly visible in the ways I want it to be on the web or in social media, and I’ve been working on this for some years. Aztlán has recently been acquired by UC Press as of January 2024. It’s funded and published by the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA and always operating on a shoestring, but with the upcoming acquisition by UC Press, I think we’re on the verge of revitalizing the web presence. In some ways, it’s a very standard journal: it usually has four longform research essays, book reviews, editorial commentary, editorial, introduction, and a guest curated dossier. We don't do special issues. But we do have this special guest-curated dossier that’s probably 30- to 40,000 words—so five, six essays, about the length of some special issues. Those are the main components we’re considering in thinking about a refresh of the journal at this point.

Eugenia Zuroski: Are there past issues of Aztlán of which you’re particularly proud, or that you think represent the journal in a particular way that you would like to publicize for people who might be interested in what you’re doing but haven’t been regular readers of the journal to this point?

CVB: That's a tough question; it's tough to single out an issue. Since I came on, I’ve trying to broaden the vision of Chicano Studies—to move away from the vision at the founding of a strict Chicano nationalist notion of what the journal would cover. That vision was really important at that moment, but now we’re living in this incredibly interconnected world. Even Los Angeles—51% of the city speaks Spanish, but it’s not just Mexican American; the city has a very large Central American population. I’m interested in scholarship that shows the importance of Chicano Studies to the world. So we’re looking at Latinx, Afro-Latinx, Afro-Chinese and Afro-Asian Studies, looking at the Chicana/o/x community hemispherically or transnationally. We just published, in the last two volumes, a guest-edited dossier on Global Latinidades, which is so important. I was in Oxford for a year last year and I was just astonished by how the Latinx population is growing in London and Latinx studies is becoming a known quantity there. So I'm very interested in how we're moving to a more global vision at the journal.

We’ve also won some awards, including the 2019 CELJ Best Public Intellectual Special Issue for the dossier “Gringo Injustice,” edited by Alfredo Mirandé of UC Riverside, on policing of the Latino population. Recently, the Spring 2021 essay “Zorro Down Under: Settler Colonial Architecture and Racial Scripts en Route from California to Australia” by Genevieve Carpio won the Michael P. Malone Award from the Western History Association—it looks at the Spanish colonial architecture in California and then the spread of that settler colonial vision to places like Australia. That broad reading really made visible to me the global import of these studies.

DRC: I'm interested to hear you talk about the range of the journal’s ambit because interdisciplinarity can be incredibly difficult to manage, even in terms of the logistics of finding reviewers, for example. What particular challenges does that pose for you?

CVB: The interdisciplinarity was certainly a challenge. I’m trained as an art historian. At the beginning, I had experience in Chicano Studies, but I’m really trained in the humanities. There was a steep learning curve to understand the social science submissions that we wanted to publish as well. I’ve learned from colleagues and we’re dependent on peer reviewers, dependent on the Editorial Board. And then, of course, you know, peer review became really difficult during COVID. I’m not sure we’ve fully emerged from that.

EZ: To follow up on the difficulties of peer review during COVID, have you played at all with format, content, or editorial procedure to try to get through the challenges of the last few years, in ways that have been interesting for you?

CVB: That’s a serious and important question. The longform research essays, of course, are double-blind peer reviewed. The dossier is reviewed in-house and has always been more experimental—that’s where we can have a photo essay or forms of writing that are not the traditional longform research essay. We published a dossier that was a series of letters to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, for example, edited by Alicia Gaspar de Alba, which was just beautiful (Fall 2019).

In terms of lower submissions and difficulties with peer review, one of the things I did was to work with my assistant editor to send out rolling deadlines. We just started following up with people who had received revise-and-resubmit and trying various strategies to help facilitate resubmissions. But I would say we did not make any major changes to the format.

DRC: When you are approaching people to edit the dossier section, how do you describe it? In terms of what it might contain and what it entails within the journal?

CVB: It’s always thematic; it really takes the place of themed issues. We ask for a coherent proposal, 5–6 essays plus an introduction. The theme allows for different kinds of content. It’s one of the most popular features in the journal. We’re always trying to get people to return their research essays, but there’s a lineup of people waiting to do these dossiers, interestingly enough.

DRC: It sounds to me like, even though it’s part of the print issue, you use the dossier to do what a lot of what people are doing with web content these days, in that it allows for different formats, quicker turnover, in-house reviewing, etc.

CVB: Yes, that's for sure. For the other journal, I did a lot of research into online formats. LALVC is a hybrid: it's online, but it's also print-on-demand. We researched the latest kinds of online journals, online peer review, the ability of authors to respond to critiques in real time; we looked at a lot of interesting models for that. We ended up with something of a compromise that looks like a traditional journal in some ways, but it’s online. Neither journal is open access, but as long as people pay for the subscriptions, we can make certain content available freely available at times. And although LALVC isn’t open access, we will probably make more content available there because it's a new journal, trying to increase the numbers.

DRC: Can you talk about what prompted you to create LALVC? You won the CELJ Best New Journal Award for that in 2020. So that dropped right before the pandemic. Can you talk about the founding of it, and also how the pandemic affected it?

CVB: I was so thrilled with that award. Just so thrilled. I mean, there had been many years of discussion at the College Art Association with the Association for Latin American Art about founding a journal, but nothing happened. Then I happened to be at a meeting in 2017, I think it was in New York, with my colleague, Emily Engel, who's an independent scholar here in Southern California, and during our discussion I realized, “Oh, gee, I know something about journal editing.” And I'm relentlessly optimistic—I have this activist’s optimism, like change can always happen and we can found this and push it through! And Emily had been thinking the same thing and had done some research. So we were armed with research—at this point, I had published an essay on how few mainstream art history journals published on Latinx art or even Latin American art—so we were ready with data and had already done some of the background work arguing for the importance of this journal. There was no journal covering Latin American and Latinx art and visual culture, so people were interested and Emily and I just ran with it.

We ended up separating from the Association for Latin American Art at CAA at a certain point, because of the terms of the contract with UC Press. We’d put together a proposal to shop around, had various presses interested in it, and ended up with UC Press, which was the best move. There was also some controversy over incorporating Latinx art—some people feeling rightly that that should be its own journal, and I was like, Yeah, but it isn't. And I'm not willing to do Latin American without incorporating Latinx. Those conversations are so important, and actually the most exciting scholarship recently is really happening in Latinx right now. So all that work coming from ethnic studies can influence more mainstream scholarly approaches to Latin America. It was really modeled on Aztlán and what I had learned at Aztlán.

DRC: Did both journals go to UC Press at the same time, or did you found LALVC directly with UC Press and then Aztlán followed?

CVB: Yeah, that’s what happened. Aztlán is published by the Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) at UCLA. They have a small but powerful and amazing press. It's won so many awards and publishes all these important books in the field of visual culture studies and other fields. I'd been looking at other sponsors for Aztlán to help with a greater web presence, more outreach. The field had moved beyond just Chicano Studies to Latinx Studies and there are all kinds of fantastic competing journals, so I was looking for ways to keep Aztlán a vital contributor to our intellectual and activist discourse. And I had an incredible experience working with UC Press to start LALVC, and the acquisitions editor was looking for ethnic studies journals, too.

EZ: Has the relationship with UC Press put you in touch with other ethnic studies–related journals that you might not have had any kind of relationship with before? They’ve been so instrumental in bringing a lot of these journals into being, I’m curious if there's any sense of a community of journals forming through the press that you've already felt or that you have hopes for.

CVB: I certainly keep track of the other ethnic studies journals, because that scholarship is so important to what we do in Chicana/o Studies and Central American Studies. I know some of the other editors, especially here at UCLA, and I'm aware of what they're doing, and have contributed to an ethnic studies reader and have been publishing in those venues. Chicano Studies, in its early years, had this very strong nationalist foundation, but it was also influenced by the African American civil rights movement. And that scholarship, especially in visual culture studies, is much better developed than it is in Latino and Chicano Studies. So I'm always looking to see what's going on. Our relationship to Native American and Indigenous Studies is also so important. That relationship between Native Americans and Chicano/a/x people, there have been some rough moments in past years, and so I'm sensitive to those issues, and I'm always following what they're doing. And then being in LA, Asian and Asian American Studies are so important and there’s all kinds of new scholarship on the Asian Latinx experience, too. I try to keep up.

DRC: What are your hopes for the futures of both journals?

CVB: I've been very focused on getting LALVC established, and then in the wake of the pandemic, keeping both journals going. As new Latinx Studies journals have been created, I’ve been trying to think about what the place of Aztlán is in this greater landscape. One of the most important things to do was to open up the journal’s scope. I thought about the title, which encapsulates the Chicano movement of the late 1960s and 70s, and the politics of that movement. We’re going to leave it for now; I think there's a certain respect for the founders in the movement. But the web presence and a greater curation of more experimental things are really important to me. The web presence is really key to this expansion for Aztlán. For LALVC, I wonder if the Latinx piece is going to break off at a certain point. That would be amazing if there was so much content that it could become its own journal. I'm very sensitive to who the authors are—there are important new trends in terms of Afro Latinx content, and I'm sensitive to the place of Indigeneity in the journal. I'm interested in critical theory. I'm interested in decolonizing. So I'm always looking for ways we can push that work of decolonizing further.

EZ: It's really exciting. I'm really struck by how many balls your journals have to juggle just by the nature of the relationships among the fields that make them, and the fact that the communities that are representing themselves through this work and are represented by this work are so complex and changing, at a at a rapid clip, moment by moment, both in and outside of academia. It sounds like you've got a lot going on. It's very exciting.

CVB: The issue of community is really important, and I didn't say this yet, but it is one of the reasons that we have not jumped on to new formats. Particularly with Aztlán, it was out of respect for the founders of the Chicano movement, folks who founded that journal, and who may not be as web savvy. That was part of the keeping of the title, too, even as the scope changes. You know, I tend to use the -x which I also know is controversial, and people are now saying Chicane, but I tend to be very careful about what I say when I say it, as an act of respect for the elders that founded us.

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