Imagine Otherwise: Karma Chávez on Queer Migration Politics

Imagine Otherwise: Karma Chávez on Queer Migration Politics

September 7, 2016

Karma Chávez wearing a light blue shirt


How are gender and sexuality implicated in the immigration process? Are there concrete steps that academics can take to engage with the broader community? What are the benefits of sound-based media (like this podcast)?

In episode 19 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews guest Karma Chávez about the intersectional politics of migration, how grassroots activism is essential to make change, and how her work integrates art, activism, and academia.

Guest: Karma Chávez

Karma Chávez is an associate professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latino/a Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

She is co-editor of Text + Field: Innovations in Rhetorical Method (with Sara McKinnon, Robert Asen and Robert Glenn Howard, Penn State Press, 2016), Standing in the Intersection: Feminist Voices, Feminist Practices in Communication Studies (with Cindy L. Griffin, SUNY Press, 2012), and author of Queer Migration Politics: Activist Rhetoric and Coalitional Possibilities (University of Illinois Press, 2013).

Karma is also a member of the radical queer collective Against Equality, an organizer for LGBT Books to Prisoners, and until recently a host of the radio program, “A Public Affair” on Madison’s community radio station, 89.9 FM WORT.

In Madison, she worked closely with several community organizations on issues surrounding queer, racial, economic and immigrant justice and she hopes to do the same in Austin.

We chatted about

  • Karma’s work around queer migration studies (02:10)
  • Queer leadership in social justice activism (04:20)
  • The unique benefits of radio, podcasts, and other sound-based media (07:10)
  • How the history of HIV/AIDS activism has intersected with immigration policy (09:40)
  • How Karma’s work braids art, activism, and academia (14:00)
  • Imagining otherwise (19:20)

Karma Chávez wearing a light blue shirt. Text reads: Freedom has to be actual liberation. It can't be basic reforms that strengthen the structures that continue to oppress.


The power of sound

Sound brings a different kind of imagination in a conversation form.

The intersections of art, activism, and academia

The more that I’ve gotten involved in understanding how power works, I’ve really become invested in these three arms. You have to have the theoretical arm, you have to have the on-the-street, activist arm, which can take a variety of forms. And then there’s also this aesthetic piece that is necessary to reach people in a different ways. I’ve been invested in finding ways to integrate those things.

Community engagement for academics

I think it’s important for academics who want to be connected to the communities they exist in to find  other mediums like op-eds or other forms of popular writing, because that’s another kind of way to engage with the community, and also find ways to uplift those community voices.

Collaborating and signal boosting

My project has been to uplift and work alongside young, Black queer and trans women who I think are doing the best kind of analytical and street work right now.

Imagining otherwise

Folks who are invested in prison abolition, community control of the police, a queer and feminist politics, eliminating poverty, and ensuring that anti-blackness doesn’t reign, that those who continue to be the most oppressed to create a world from their vision.

More from Karma

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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