deadline for submissions: 
March 22, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
MLA 2021 Toronto / LLC Southern United States

The 14th Amendment stipulates that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Yet the conferrence of the rights of U.S. citizenship to Indigenous peoples, descendants of enslaved Africans, nonwhite immigrants, and refugees has been repeatedly contested and warped by and in federal and state law. The full expression of national citizenship by nonwhite peoples in the U.S. South has been mutually shaped and conscripted by the experience and legacies of Jim Crow, indigenous removal, and anti-immigrant and refugee policies. For example, Wong Kim Ark’s successful petition for birthright citizenship in 1898 was predicated on the 14th Amendment making citizens of the enslaved African. 1924 saw the passage of Johnson-Reed Act, which severely limited the number of nonwhite immigrants to the United States, as well as the Indian Citizenship Act, which made citizens of all Indigenous people. Though the 1848 Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo required Mexican nationals to become U.S. citizens or leave, in keeping with then-current U.S. immigration restriction policies in 1929 the U.S. forcibly repatriated hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, the majority of whom were birthright citizens. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which did away with the quota system, was passed in tandem with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In our present moment, the Trump administration’s fomentation of Birtherism is manifesting in the detention of nonwhite refugees and immigrants along the southern border. We seek 15-minute papers that investigate constructions of the citizen in southern literature and culture along ethnic, sexual, racial, and regional lines. How have these citizenship acts—and others not mentioned here—been interrogated, deconstructed, resisted, or explored by writers, artists, and culture workers in the south? How has the experience of navigating and agitating for citizenship been mutually constitutive for Indigenous peoples, the descendants of the enslaved, and immigrants? We will give special consideration to abstracts that engage in cross-ethnic analysis, critical border studies, and/or that show how these citizen acts respond to the 2021 MLA convention theme of persistence. Please send a 250-word abstract and CV as a Word doc to Joanna Davis-McElligatt (University of North Texas) at by March 22nd 2020.

Joanna Davis-McElligatt is an Assistant Professor of Black Literary Studies at the University of North Texas.