Kelly Lytle Hernández, Historian | 2019 MacArthur Fellow

Kelly Lytle Hernández, Historian | 2019 MacArthur Fellow


It’s the work of the historian to
really use every tool that we have to be dogged and find those hidden stories,
those suppressed stories. My name is Kelly Lytle Hernández. I’m a historian. I investigate how the United States built such a massive deportation system and a
massive incarceration system. I definitely feel like a detective and I
think that’s what drives me. I go into basements, and archives, and closets, and all kinds of forgotten little places to find pieces of paper from the past, and I
bring them all together to try to tell the story about what happened and how it
matters to our lives now today. My goal in writing “Migra” was to unmask the realities, the history, that drives the racialized policing of immigrant
communities in the United States. I was able to uncover the U.S. Border Patrol’s own historical records and documents, which had been forgotten in the National
Archives, and I worked with scholars and archivists in Mexico City to find the
records of the Instituto Nacional de Migración. And it was uncovering those
records that helped to transform our understanding of border politics and
border enforcement as being not just unilaterally about U.S. interests, but also
about Mexican interests as well. In writing “City of inmates” what I learned
is that, what is winding through our jails, our prisons, and our detention
centers is a long history of very powerful entities in the United States
attempting to remove unwanted populations from the country. I really
had to pull together my own archive, That the primary records that you would
expect to be available to write a history of jailing in the United States
in Los Angeles would be those of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, each of which have either destroyed or made not
available their historical records. So what I did is I went to local health
agencies, to labor unions, to schools, all over the place to find a wide variety of
records written by, or about, anybody who ever set foot into a jail in Los Angeles.
I call those records the “rebel archive.” What it is, is a set of records that we
were not supposed to see. I developed with community members a project
called Million Dollar Hoods. We map the fiscal and the human cost of mass
incarceration here in Los Angeles, and in fact across the state of California. We
demonstrate that in certain communities authorities are spending more than a
million dollars per year locking up local residents, and the two leading
charges is drug possession and DUI — substance abuse related charges. And so
the argument is that we are throwing away millions of dollars per year, and if
we take the money out of policing and out of jails, and we put it into
counseling, we put it into housing, into education, into family support services,
in fact we will be building stronger communities, stronger people, healthier
thriving environments for all of us.

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