(Re)Constructing Coyolxauhqui: Alternative Epistemologies and Decolonial Feminist Praxis in Global Digital Humanities

(Re)Constructing Coyolxauhqui: Alternative Epistemologies and Decolonial Feminist Praxis in Global Digital Humanities

Karina Ocañas Suarez

Coyolxauhqui, although typically described as female, is actually dually sexed and represents both male and female powers. She is killed by her warrior brother for attempting to usurp their mother’s power. After he dismembers her, he throws her body parts up into the sky and she becomes the moon. The reassembled and reconstructed body of Coyolxauhqui is reconstituted and reimagined beyond the gender binary as the quintessential post-borderlands subject.”

–T. Jackie Cuevas, Post-Borderlandia: Chicana Literature and Gender Variant Critique


The figure of Coyolxauhqui has long been a conduit for theorizing the Chicanx subject in the borderlands. Coyolxauhqui—Aztec moon deity, child of the Earth goddess/mother Coatlicue, and sibling of the god of war Huitzilopochtli—provides an understanding of the self as a set of (re)constructed and (re)configured parts that are not legible through Western paradigms of knowledge. In this way, the image of a reassembled Coyolxauhqui (and, indeed, the labor of putting her back together) is analogous to decolonial feminist methodologies that take up marginalized epistemologies and knowledge bases as valid forms of knowing, being, and becoming in the world. As part of a queer Chicanx theoretical framework, Coyolxauhqui offers an alternative to Western constructions of the gender binary. I argue, then, that the act of (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui—as a continual process of learning and unlearning—is useful to an overarching liberatory project in its attention to the multiplicity of the lived experiences (or configurations) of peoples on the margins of modernity/coloniality.

This annotated bibliography aims to illuminate the ever-shifting matrix of alternative feminist epistemologies that challenge systems of power in unique ways. The digital projects that I have gathered here address varying questions of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and other intersecting vectors of identity (or, alternatively, oppression) for equally varying liberatory pursuits. I have intentionally chosen projects that span a wide range of geo-historical foci, not to put forth a complete image, but to trace various and inherently incomplete works along three ideological nodes: decoloniality, feminism, and intersectionality. In bringing these projects together—theoretically and physically on the page—I aim to locate Coyolxauhqui in the digital. Further, I offer (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui as decolonial feminist praxis that both acknowledges marginalized epistemologies as valid forms of knowledge and facilitates epistemological hybridity for the purpose of liberation. Additionally, (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui along the three ideological nodes requires that we take up questions of place, space, and power to challenge, ultimately, the construction of ‘the human’. As such, the praxis that I put forth here is useful only if it is always fundamentally committed to resisting all iterations of colonization and the violence that modernity/coloniality enacts against Black women and femmes.

(Re)constructing Coyolxauhqui, then, is intended to be a multivalent decolonizing tool that foregrounds legacies of resistance by validating and recentering marginalized voices and ways of knowing as they resist Western epistemologies. In the entries that follow, I trace plural paths of resistance to reveal where these paths converge, diverge, and/or transform—changes that are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive, though the latter would suggest that change is all the more necessary. I view the ten digital projects in this annotated bibliography as different, sometimes overlapping, parts of Coyolxauhqui that can be assembled in a variety of ways.

Broadly, the list of projects compiled here offers an entry point for visualizing the goals of the Global Digital Humanities theme/track within MSU’s Digital Humanities minor. As such, each project is included based on its engagement with globally diverse materials to “[e]xplain how power, positionality, access, oppression, or equity influence digital technologies, and are influenced by digital technologies, in global contexts” (Michigan State University). My hope is that, in bringing these projects together, we can generate new epistemologies and solidarities across difference. Each new configuration offers different insights, unveils previously unseen paths, and requests that all peoples resisting systems of oppression be in conversation and community with each other. It is time to (re)construct.


Local Contexts

Local Contexts is a digital hub that focuses on recentering Indigenous data sovereignty and governance practices in relation to Indigenous data, cultural materials, and knowledge production. Of particular importance are the Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Biocultural (BC) labels and notices that illustrate a commitment to digital practices that foreground local epistemologies and community decision-making. Through their development of TK/BC labels and notices, the Indigenous Data Sovereignty Agreement, and involvement in various efforts to “develop an alternative model of cultural curatorial workflows” that center the voices and rights of local communities, Local Contexts is addressing the concerns of access, power, positionality, and ethical distribution/use of Indigenous data (“Reciprocal Curation Workflow”).

In this way, the goals of the Local Contexts project are aligned with that of the Global Digital Humanities theme, especially as they develop new digital technologies to aid Indigenous communities in reestablishing local cultural authority over their respective archival materials and data. The TK/BC labels and notices were created in collaboration with Indigenous communities in order to standardize the implementation and recognition of Indigenous data and knowledge sovereignty. This is accomplished by using the labels and notices to “identify and clarify community-specific rules and responsibilities regarding access and future use of traditional knowledge” (“TK Labels”). In combination with the labor of reconfiguring the digital infrastructures of archives so as to reflect Indigenous epistemologies and governance practices, the TK/BC labels and notices reveal how digital technologies replicate and reify systems of oppression.

Thus, the project emphasizes how local knowledge (regardless of an Indigenous community’s geographical location) is inextricable from the data and cultural materials produced by that community. Moreover, Local Contexts stresses the importance of a multiplicity of epistemologies and community-based governance practices, an approach that is vital to dismantling the matrix of oppressive systems that stem from Western epistemologies. In asking us to align ourselves with this multiplicity of knowledge bases—and, indeed, in the process of bringing these epistemologies together on the project website—the project directors of Local Contexts are engaging in a (re)construction of archival narratives and notions of data ownership to accurately reflect Indigenous rights and lived experiences. As a multilingual open-access educational resource and collaborative space, Local Contexts emphasizes individual communities’ agency to adapt digital technologies for their needs.

Chicana Por Mi Raza

Chicana por mi Raza is a collective of researchers and teachers who are committed to unearthing the lessons of Chicana feminist praxis. The project is further defined as a Digital Memory Collective, or a digital repository with “grassroots” ideologies—which reveal themselves most readily in the collective’s dedication to honoring the rights of the local communities that they work with (“About”). The CMPR website offers multiple ways to interact with the archival materials that they have digitized; of particular importance are the visualizations of archival metadata that were created by members of the collective. The visualizations concretize a small sample of the multiplicity of lives and histories experienced by Chicanxs in order to locate them within broader geographical and/or historical contexts.

As such, this project is actively shifting away from dominant historical narratives that marginalize Chicanxs and mirror broader networks of oppression. In addition, the visualizations constitute a (re)construction (and, perhaps, deconstruction) of the institutionalized historical record as a means of recentering and reestablishing the validity of Chicanx voices. Chicana por mi Raza, then, is a recovery project that addresses the questions of access, power, positionality, and equity posed by the Global Digital Humanities theme.

Another example of this (re)construction is in the project’s renaming from Digital Memory Project and Archive to better reflect the desires of the community. “Digital Memory Collective” not only carries the connotation of individual rights over materials presented on the website, it also emphasizes the overall importance of collective labor and care toward these materials to serve the communities from which they originated. As a specific instance of global digital humanities in context, Chicana por mi Raza provides a framework for engaging and digitizing physical archival materials while simultaneously foregrounding agency and the legitimacy of Chicanxs’ lived experiences—the multiplicity of knowledge bases which hint at my own path to (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui.


Data Against Feminicide

The Data Against Feminicide project is a digital resource created in collaboration between the Data + Feminism Lab out of MIT, Iniciativa Latinoamericana por los Datos Abiertos (ILDA), and Feminicidio Uruguay. D’Ignazio, Fumega, and Suárez Val define their main objectives for this project as threefold: standardization of feminicide data, development of digital tools to collect said data, and facilitation of international community and dialogue to combat feminicide (“About”). The website offers an eight-week course (in Spanish, English, and Portuguese) on feminicide data collection with an intersectional feminist theoretical framework. Though this course is not free, the project organizers recognize the reality of economic barriers and offer alternative means for accessing the course. In addition, users can access materials from previous Data Against Feminicide events.

D’Ignazio et al. foreground the project as actively collecting, standardizing, and utilizing feminicide data in pursuit of eliminating gender-based violence in a global context. As such, the approach of this digital project mirrors that of the Global Digital Humanities theme—the project organizers and those participating in the project’s events are developing digital technologies informed by intersecting vectors of oppression that affect women in various geopolitical contexts. In using multiple languages and numerous avenues for users to interact with resources, Data Against Feminicide anticipates (and thus acknowledges) the multiplicity of epistemologies of its publics. In this way, the project is (re)constructing traditional data collection methods and technologies to honor the lived experiences of women and support activist efforts to dismantle the systems that perpetuate gender-based violence globally.

This digital project centers the lived experiences of BIWOC, who are systematically pushed to the margins of modernity/coloniality, thus engaging in what I have called (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui. The intersectional feminist perspective of Data Against Feminicide is one that I would like to bring into my own digital project, particularly in its relation to a decolonial liberatory effort.

Gender in Haiti: Unpacking the Masculinist Narrative of Power

Crystal Felima et al.’s Gender in Haiti uses intersectional feminism to validate the lived experiences of Haitian women in the face of “political, social, structural, state, and hegemonic violence as well as its accompanying discriminations” (“Home”). The project engages with the poto mitan, or ‘center pillar, archetype that is forced upon Haitian women which subjugates them to marginality in national and global contexts. The website also offers critical approaches to Haitian women’s agency through analyses of the women’s rights movement, migration, and socioeconomic conditions in the country. To foreground Haitian women’s acts of resistance, this project is attuned to the multiplicity of vectors of oppression affecting women in Haiti.

As such, Gender in Haiti is an example of the Global Digital Humanities theme placed into a specific local context. Moreover, the project also attends to the ways that globalization, in connection to modernity/coloniality, continues to adversely affect rural Haitian women’s ability to access resources and take part in global discourse. In examining gender relations in Haiti, Felima et al. use digital technologies to address questions of positionality, access, power, and struggles for equity in a way that continuously centers the lived experiences of Haitian women.

Like Garcia Merchant’s work in Chicana Diasporic, I identify Felima et al.’s work as global digital humanities in context. Gender in Haiti functions as a project of both recovery and interpretation underscored by the unique vulnerability of rural Haitian women in community, national, and global contexts. This act of (re)centering aligns the pursuits of the Gender in Haiti project with that of my own digital project, particularly in the shared attention to the multiplicity of experiences under modernity/coloniality and its hegemonic iterations.

Taller Electric Marronage

Rooted in radical feminist ideologies, Electric Marronage focuses on locating “points across [the] escape matrix” in order to “abscond + reveal” as well as create futures that tether the collective to a decolonial ideology (“About”). The electricians of this digital project—the collective of curators, editors, and contributors to Electric Marronage—emphasize four rules of fugitivity as the crux of their work. The rules are escaping, stealing, feeling, and “whatever,” the last of which is connected to futurity in its emphasis on creating and acting in abundance (“rule 4: *whatever”).

Electric Marronage offers various spaces for its audiences to think through the rules of fugitivity, interact with others to engage our decolonial potential, and act as witnesses to the varied work and lived experiences of people of color across equally varied contexts. Witnessing, in this configuration, is the decolonial feminist concept of recognizing acts of resistance and standing with oppressed peoples against the violence of colonization that demands (among other forms of violence) the dehumanization of all peoples of color, especially Black women and femmes.

This project emphasizes the importance of recentering alternative/othered epistemologies to the collective challenging of Western constructions of humanity, scholarship, and knowledge. The electricians of this project are actively asking their publics to acknowledge and take up new modes of fugitivity that continuously evolve alongside decolonial efforts. Electric Marronage also foregrounds the value of creative works as subversive endeavors; indeed, by encouraging community engagement in a global context, this project aligns itself with the Global Digital Humanities theme. Further, the applied rules of fugitivity act as digital technologies that reveal the power dynamics and oppressive systems affecting peoples on the margins of modernity/coloniality. As a collaborative, instructional, critical, and creative project, Electric Marronage is in a state of constant motion-change that reflects the pursuits of my own digital project.


Chicana Diasporic: A Nomadic Journey of the Activist Exiled


Garcia Merchant’s Chicana Diasporic is a Scalar research project that tracks the legacies of resistance of Chicana feminists in the 1970s as they converge/diverge with the Chicano Movement and second-wave feminism. The project offers an interdisciplinary approach to the archival materials that it presents. Additionally, Garcia Merchant emphasizes the creation of the Chicana Caucus within the National Women’s Political Caucus as “a need to create a cultural and political space to work, forced upon [Chicanas] as a result of their expulsion from two ideological communities because of gender (Chicano movement) and race (White Feminist movement)” (“Chicana Diasporic: An Introduction”). Through this expulsion, Garcia Merchant views the members of the Chicana Caucus as an ideological diasporic community, which is not to be conflated with the nonabstract processes of dispossession and diaspora of Black and Indigenous peoples.

The suggested navigation of the site parallels the movement of the Chicanas in this project—users are encouraged to embrace the nonlinear, random, and concurrent nature of Scalar visualizations. The goal of these layered journeys is to reflect “how a Chicana thinks—connecting everything to everything and everywhere else” (“On Navigating Chicana Style”). In this way, Garcia Merchant asks their publics to take up an alternative knowledge base that does not hinge on the linearity of a journey to acknowledge Chicana movement (physically and ideologically) as an act of resistance.

Chicana Diasporic, then, is an engagement with the Global Digital Humanities theme as a single plot point—to use Figueroa Vásquez et al.’s language—in the global escape matrix. Within this single point, however, there are multiple paths to coalition and liberation that are equally valid. It is here that I locate my own digital project, as well. The vision for (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui is one that acknowledges the extreme variability in our respective journeys.


The LatiNegrxs Project

The LatiNegrxs Project is a Tumblr-hosted blog that is dedicated to “promot[ing] the narratives and perspectives of LatiNegrxs worldwide.” The collective emphasizes their position as an “anti-oppression project” in pursuit of equity and liberation that foregrounds access, accountability, representation, and identity formation of Afro-Latinx peoples, LatiNegrxs, or “people who identify as racially Black and ethnically Latinx” (“Mission & Goals”). With the ability to reblog posts, respond to submissions, and answer ‘asks’ (i.e., questions submitted non/anonymously) from other Tumblr users, The LatiNegrxs Project is uniquely situated as a multilingual and multicultural digital archive and global memory collective that encourages a multiplicity of voices in community discussion.

It is through a continued emphasis on hybridity and multiplicity that allows The LatiNegrxs Project to embrace the extremely varied lived experiences of the African diasporas. Further, such an emphasis (in combination with the project’s goals and lines of questioning) mirrors the Global Digital Humanities theme by using digital technologies to draw attention to the multifaceted violence and oppressions that LatiNegrxs continue to resist and challenge today. Thus, this project offers a space to interact with individual histories, contemporary news and history-in-the-making, movement histories, opinion pieces, and more—all while centering traditionally marginalized voices and encouraging the development/creation/(re)construction of individual and collective epistemologies.

This (re)construction can be seen most readily in the project’s use of LatiNegrxs and LatiNegr@s as a racial-ethnic identity. The arroba/at sign, @, was originally implemented as an inclusive form of the binary gendered grammar system in Spanish. In recent years, however, the -x has risen in popularity as a gender-neutral ending. The incorporation of ‘LatiNegrxs’ into the project’s vocabulary is an example of the project’s ongoing (re)construction of knowledge in response to the individual and collective lived experiences of queer Afro-Latinx folks both in the US and in a global context.


American Empire

In American Empire, Andrea Ledesma traces the timeline of American imperialism through the lived experiences of the peoples of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Ledesma emphasizes that the personal histories featured in the project represent[] the lives of the privileged few but still reveal how native peoples fashioned themselves as American citizens (“American Subjects or Citizens?”). This digital archival exhibition offers a general historical contextualization of American imperialism and colonization, particularly in relation to contemporary conversations on heritage, citizenship, racism, and globalization (“American Empire”). The conversations that Ledesma cites in the quote above are reflected in the Global Digital Humanities theme, thus making American Empire an acceptable path for thinking through these questions/conversations.

Ledesma’s project situates Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as the primary sites of investigation for the exhibition. This approach, as opposed to a US-centric point of departure, illuminates the various realities of those under American imperialist control as they (re)construct epistemologies and reclaim agency in different ways. A collection of digitized archival photos and documents, American Empire reveals the multiplicity of lived experiences under American control. Ledesma’s attention to the roles of White saviorism and White supremacy in relation to imperialist policies is especially important as it unveils the need to acknowledge the role of race within the American imperialist project. Further, by citing the anti-imperialist work of Black activists, Ledesma also emphasizes the (re)construction of coalitions and communities against the multiple visages of racism.

In relation to my own project, I view American Empire as one of multiple points of departure for addressing the alternative epistemologies of peoples on the underside of modernity/coloniality. Additionally, Ledesma’s digital exhibition lays the groundwork for uncovering connections between American imperialist policies and the construction of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as ‘exotic’ places in the American psyche.


History of Survivance

History of Survivance is a digital archival exhibition that focuses on the legacies of Indigenous communities in the Upper Midwest. This project asks its publics to sit with narratives that offer an alternative to the US-centric historical perspective that inaccurately starts and ends with the colonization of the Upper Midwest by Europeans (“Ancient Legacies”). As such, the project recenters the historically marginalized voices of the Dakota and Anishinaabe peoples in order to properly contextualize their relations with the US government. History of Survivance reestablishes the extremely long legacies of Native resistance, survivance (as opposed to the reactionary state of ‘survival’), and transformation in the face of land dispossession, genocide, forced assimilation, and other forms of American aggression.

In a local context, History of Survivance reveals the ways that the Dakota and Anishinaabe peoples negotiated the indigenous and Western worlds with grace (“Colonization”). Negotiation, in this case, encompasses a wide array of actions taken by Indigenous communities to reclaim agency and reify their continued presence on their own land as the imposing hegemon insists on a narrative of near-extinction, racial inferiority, and unwarranted aggression against defenseless White settlers (“Colonial Narratives”). The project thus contextualizes these colonial narratives as incomplete, if not outright false. I locate History of Survivance as another exercise of global digital humanities in context—it uses digital technologies to discuss questions of positionality, access, race, religion, power, and oppression while simultaneously highlighting the alternative epistemologies and technologies developed by these Indigenous communities to address how these questions present themselves in a local context.

As the project traces narratives of survivance in the Upper Midwest, it exists within the larger matrix of resistance that I have tracked throughout this annotated bibliography as (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui. History of Survivance thus validates the lived experiences of the Dakota and Anishinaabe peoples, particularly as individuals and communities continuously (re)construct their paths of resistance against concurrently evolving Euro-American (or ‘Western’) domination.


Worlds & Knowledges Otherwise (WKO)

WKO is a digital open-access dossier that takes a global approach to “social transformation” that is not hindered by language, geographical, or historical boundaries because “the future can no longer be imagined from one single and overarching perspective and its internal diversity.” As such, WKO acts as a site of convergence of multiple epistemologies that exist as alternatives to Western configurations of knowledge. This project recognizes the importance of global discussions of positionality, access, power, and social and academic legitimacy to creating the titular world and knowledges otherwise. The Global Digital Humanities theme thus appears throughout the entirety of the WKO project, though it is extremely evident in the three-part third volume of Dossier 1: “Decolonizing the Digital/Digital Decolonization.”

This three-part volume is particularly conducive to understanding the overlapping networks of colonization and its subsequent structures as they affect new digital technologies. The volume also addresses the possibilities for alternative futures that are unearthed when traditionally marginalized epistemologies influence digital technologies and their implementations. The Worlds & Knowledges Otherwise project, as a whole, considers these alternative epistemologies as inextricable from their geohistorical locations—thus concretizing the dual significance of local and global contexts to envisioning worlds otherwise.

In their attunement to a multilingual global public, the coordinators of this web dossier acknowledge that futurity and liberation cannot be completely identified within Western epistemologies. Indeed, the project coordinators emphasize their dedication to giving a platform to arguments from “different local histories and therefore inserted in different traditions.” As it repeatedly emphasizes a multiplicity of worlds and knowledges otherwise, the WKO project is aligned to my own pursuits for (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui.


As I have outlined in this annotated bibliography, the threads of decoloniality, feminism, and intersectionality can be woven into different configurations for different liberatory pursuits. (Re)constructing Coyolxauhqui, then, is the continual process of weaving and unweaving our collective decolonial feminist epistemologies to acknowledge the validity and multivalence of traditionally marginalized peoples’ lived experiences. The multiplicity and hybridity of epistemologies that is afforded to us through (re)construction is extremely important to maintaining a multiplicity of voices as these epistemologies inevitably continue to converge/diverge/transform in unpredictable ways.

By foregrounding the varying legacies of resistance that can be tracked within communities from different local contexts, the ten projects above engage the concept of (re)constructing Coyolxauhqui. Further, each project also engages the Global Digital Humanities theme—as outlined by MSU’s learning goals for the Digital Humanities Minor optional track—in that they each attend to questions of power, positionality, access, and other theoretical and physical sites of oppression as related to digital technologies. Though each project approaches these questions differently, locating them as global digital humanities projects in context unveils the similarities (and differences) in their respective goals and points of departure.

I have intentionally gathered projects that utilize a multiplicity of digital technologies to similarly unveil the benefits/drawbacks of individual methodologies in combination with their respective technologies. My hope, ultimately, is to highlight the opportunity for new sites of possibility that exists when we bring these projects and their methodologies, technologies, and epistemologies into contact with one another. I emphasize, as well, the importance of vetting new epistemological configurations against their theoretical lineages to ensure that we do not lose sight of collective liberation from colonization in its various forms. Pinpointing the interstices of various digital projects that recover, interpret, or otherwise interact with global legacies of resistance is only the first step towards this goal.

(Re)constructing Coyolxauhqui is a tool with which we can begin to create bridges, coalitions, and community across these interstices. In fact, the possibility for an ever-changing network of recentered epistemologies that challenge Western paradigms has always already existed—it is up to us to shift our own understandings of knowledge to lift the veil and locate Coyolxauhqui. Such an endeavor, of course, begins with acknowledging and validating the multiplicity of epistemologies and narratives of being in the world. By assembling and reassembling Coyolxauhqui—in the context of this annotated bibliography, this involves engaging with the ten digital projects and attending to the intertextualities between any number of them—we are effectively engaging in an act of knowledge remixing to uncover alternative liberatory paths and futures.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Making Sense of Digital Humanities Copyright © 2022 by Karina Ocañas Suarez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book