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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Martín Espada

Second Advisor

Haivan Hoang

Third Advisor

Wilson Valentín-Escobar

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Art and Architecture | American Literature | American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Chicana/o Studies | Contemporary Art | Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Ethnic Studies | Higher Education and Teaching | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Latin American History | Latina/o Studies | Literature in English, North America | Museum Studies | Other American Studies | Performance Studies | Political History | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social History | United States History


A 19th Century Ethnographic Exhibit Un/Caged takes a systems-thinking approach to the study of the 50-year exhibit of microcephalic Salvadoran siblings Maximo and Bartola as “Aztecs,” positing their exhibit, the production of many cross-pollinating discourses, as an ethno-racial project of informal empire built on the backs of Central American individuals. As such, I analyze the discourses of civilization – as related to Christianity, whiteness, capitalism and colonialism – and those of entertainment, travelogues, racial science, and ethnography/anthropology during the second half of the 19th century, unveiling them as intertwining threads comprising the “racial project” (Omi & Winant) that is the exhibition of “The Aztecs.” These interdisciplinary narratives, when taken together, become a lens magnifying the transnational investments, historical moments, and paradigms of their tellers. Specifically, I argue that the fabricated myths of “The Aztecs’ ” Mesoamerican origins supported real imperial aims through the rhetorical diminishment of Latin American peoples. Relatedly, I show that anti-blackness is mobilized both visually and linguistically in the treatment of Maximo and Bartola; across venues, they are semiotically and literally aligned with AfroLatinx and other Blacks in bids to place non-whites in a descending hierarchy of race, ability, and humanity. Interspersed is analysis of the collaborative work of Latina/o artists Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who mobilize the tradition of the ethnographic exhibit in Year of the White Bear and Two Amerindians Visit the West, a multi-part, multi-medium show which questioned a tautological narrative of US American ethno-racial progress, inclusivity, and post-colonial status on both individual and institutional levels. The artists highlight how museological practice, writ broadly, has created and reflected logics of settler colonialism, imperialism, and erasure of Latina/o/x peoples and histories, while providing usable examples of how resistant artists envision alternatives while fomenting dialogue and social change. The cultural history comprising the bulk of this dissertation is framed by: an argument that this kind of scholarship has a crucial place in the humanities classroom; and a theorization of call-and-response as educational paradigm. I consider llamada y respuesta as a model for both curriculum development and classroom practice, embedded in the praxis and values of critical pedagogies.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.