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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Occupying Space in American Literature and Culture: Static Heroes, Social Movements and Empowerment
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Reservations and New Camps

The immediate proximity of large and growing agglomerations of “wasted humans,” likely to become durable or permanent, calls for stricter segregationist policies and extraordinary security measures, lest the “health of society,” the “normal functioning” of the social system, be endangered. The notorious tasks of “tension management” and “pattern maintenance” that . . . each system needs to perform in order to survive presently boil down almost entirely to the tight separation of “human waste” from the rest of society, its exemption from the legal framework in which the life pursuits of the rest of society are conducted, and its “neutralization.”

—Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives

The camp is the diagram of a power that acts by means of general

visibility.

—Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish

As the new disciplinary enclosure, the Res is a class- and ethnicity-based immobilization that actualizes colonial regimes in the new world order. The Res is the new space of eviction, the material representation of segregationist policies, the new manifestation of the camp. As such, it represents the new spatial pattern, the new nomos that awaits those who clutter the urban space of Cali-Texas: the poor, the homeless, and the ethnic Others. Reslifers, also called “cholos,” are considered expendable, a surplus population that is relocated to “internal colonial sites” (14). They are the part with no part, the residue that has been remaindered by capitalist modernization and whose mere presence, like that of Francis and his entourage, upsets the system. Hence the need to contain them behind barbed or razor wire out of sight. The reservations stand as a type of population control mechanism created by the NIO to keep the homeless and the unemployed off the streets and off welfare. Created around 2090 and fully functional by 2100, the reservations represent the perfect arrangement to separate the healthy part of the nation from the increasing numbers who threaten its normal functioning. Lydia explains the rapid growth in population not as the result of a spike in the birthrate but because of massive unemployment and worldwide migrations. The latter emerged as a problem about the time that waste deposits for radioactive materials became uncontrollable. There is a clear correlation between “waste management” and “population management.” Both propositions are part of the same reasoning. “The unemployed were warehoused on the Reservations” (15) just like waste is put out of sight. Noticeably, these class- and ethnic-based camps actualize colonial regimes in the new world order. Lydia tells Pedro about one of her ancestors, Pacomio, who escaped from La Purisima mission and its forced labor and organized an uprising against the missionaries and presidio soldiers (53). The correlation between Spanish missions and reservations is not hard to figure out, as Pedro comments: “The mission sounds a lot like the reservation, Mom, and we’re the Indians” (54). The estrangement of science fiction is thus familiarized and resituated in the past and the present, in the coordinates of what seems to be a perpetual now, or just another stage in the hypermap of incarceration.

Unsurprisingly, and as if to illustrate another instance of gatekeeping ideology, these new “vagrants” or “migros” are mainly Latinos, blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and poor whites with no capital, no jobs, and no connections. Their lack of place legitimizes their relocation and containment. Thus the separation of “human waste” from the rest of society is fully achieved. Since these “wasted humans” cannot be removed to distant places, or waste disposal sites, they are sealed off on reservations, just like waste disposal is sealed off in closed containers (cf. Bauman 2004, 85). Reslifers lose their citizen rights as well as their entitlement to social services (36). Health care benefits are wiped out, all care beyond minimal first aid is privatized (33). They embody another instance of the homo sacer. They are the excluded, the exempted from the law, because they are not protected by any law. For Zyg- munt Bauman, “Homo sacer is the principal category of human waste laid out in the course of the modern production of orderly (law abiding, rule governed) sovereign realms” (2004, 32). These expendable humans are, in Michel Agier’s words, hors du nomos—outside law (in ibid., 76), at the same time that they are contained and immobilized by the laws of the country. The state that can signify modes of belonging can also create the suspension of modes of legal protection and obligation. It can, in short, “signify the source of nonbelonging, even produce that non-belonging as a quasi-permanent state. The state then makes us . . . destitute and enraged” (Butler and Spivak 2007, 3-4). Reslifers illustrate the oxymoronic condition of those who are dispossessed but at the same time coerced and contained by the state (cf. ibid., 5).

Coercion and containment, however, are dissimulated under the appearance of a little town of cholos, except that, Lydia clarifies, the internees were surrounded by razor wire. Once on the Res, the multitude becomes little more than a “controlled laboratory labor force, like lab rats, a disciplinary society that was useful to the state” (14). They become a wageless labor pool, almost like slave labor, to be used in a variety of areas as needed and determined by corporate interests. Reslifers are required to work at assigned tasks; some had jobs in nuclear weapons industries, chemical labs, and more routine industries. Those with no skills were made to maintain the streets. Unemployed teachers were required to teach in the reservation schools. Unemployed nurses and doctors were required to work in the reservation clinics. Cholos produced not only the usual goods that had formerly been shipped south to sweatshops and assembly plants, but also high-tech items. Since the wages were mere subsistence wages, Reslifers become both the indispensable labor force and the consumers of their own products (14). In a way, the inmates build their own fences. Kids have to work, too, if their parents do not get enough hours of work to meet their needs. Everything they consume can be immediately translated into hours their parents have to work off.

The reservation, Lydia explains, was like a prison, except that families could leave it if one of the members was offered employment and housing off of it. Comprising numbered neighborhoods, each had a number of housing projects with an internal patio surrounded by rectangular buildings, each seven floors high. All streets had surveillance cameras and the faces of the internees were automatically recognized (28). As Lydia explains to Pedro, “The reservation was like a Panopticon prison; from the tower they could scan the perimeter as well as every inch of the reservation and see everything and everybody. They could also hear everything, if they wanted to” (35). The reservations are another manifestation of the abstract space of a concentration camp that concatenates watchtowers, razor wire, and absolute surveillance. Like all disciplinary institutions, the reservation secretes what Foucault calls a “machinery of control that functioned like a microscope of conduct” ([1975] 1977, 173). Thus the advances in technology the novella chronicles, like the technology of the telescope, the lens, and the light beam, the inventions that are part of the new physics, intersect with the advances in disciplinary observation to create the perfect Panopticon. Unsurprisingly, writes Foucault, these “observatories” had an ideal model in the military camp, where power was exercised through observation (ibid., 171). Although the surrounding fence could be easily cut or even jumped, rarely did anyone try. Lydia explains, “We knew as kids that beyond a clearing there were patrols and that if you were caught trying to run away you could be killed on the spot” (13-14). Lydia and her brother had bikes and they enjoyed riding them to the edge of the reservation. The ride is captured in a poignant illustration that shows the two kids at the edge of the camp. The image presents an eerie continuity with Estelle Ishigo’s painting, Boys with Kite. Once again, the barbed wire in the foreground and the space-age watchtower in the background dramatize the panoptic space of the camp. Lydia and her brother are caught in between. The image of mobility, as the image of the bikes suggests, is arrested by the barbed wire that seems to sever the wheels of their bikes.

 
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