Emerging Professional Profile: Desirée Valadares

ICOMOS Canada aims at highlighting and celebrating Emerging Professionals in the cultural heritage sector. These emerging professionals play an integral role in influencing cultural heritage practices and policies, through their contributions and innovative thinking. ICOMOS Canada engaged in conversation with some of these individuals on their role in the discipline.

Members Profile

Desirée Valadares

Formally trained as a Landscape Architect, Desirées’ work engages with interdisciplinary debates in critical heritage and infrastructure studies, environmental and oceanic histories, carceral geographies, and migration and mobility studies in the Indigenous Pacific.

ICOMOS Canada: Tell us more about your academic background and what led you to pursue a career in cultural heritage and historic preservation.

Desireé Valadares: I started my Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in the Architecture: History, Theory, and Society program. Since arriving in the US in 2015, I worked summer jobs with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington DC as US/ICOMOS Intern as well as with the National Park Service in the Pacific West and Alaska Regional Offices in the Cultural Resources Division. In these roles, I worked in multidisciplinary teams with accomplished co-workers, and I drew on my perspective and professional training as a landscape architect.

Though I didn’t have formal training in preservation, faculty like Dr. Nate Perkins and Dr. Cecelia Paine (Guelph) nurtured my interest in cultural landscapes, heritage conservation, historic methods, and archival research. During a semester exchange at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, I took specialized courses in heritage conservation and worked part-time with the National Trust for Scotland’s Gardens and Designed Landscapes. Upon my return to Canada, I was invited to present my research at The Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation (AHLP) and was excited to meet many heritage landscape practitioners from Canada and the US who remain important mentors! Another formative experience was working alongside Dr. Tania Martin (Laval) on a field school documenting the material culture and extant remains of expropriations from Forillon National Park in Gaspe, Quebec.

In sum, I have a rather circuitous trajectory with a range of experiences, including work in landscape architecture private practice, in educational settings, and in museum, cultural, and heritage organizations. My more recent involvement in shaping heritage policy in the US has allowed me to develop an additional set of skills in working alongside communities that have been historically excluded in preservation discourse – especially, Indigenous, and racialized peoples.

ICOMOS Canada: Tell us more about your dissertation titled: “The Reparative Circuits of Second World War Confinement Camp Preservation: Hawai’i, Alaska and British Columbia”

Desireé Valadares: In my current project I focus on the spatial and racial politics of war commemoration. I study three Second World War internment (or confinement) landscapes in outlying former U.S. Territories in Oceania and Alaska and in Western Canada. My dissertation research stems from an interest in land tenure and historic preservation and considers the policy implications of preserving former internment landscapes given the various entanglements with the land on which they sit.

At Berkeley, I completed coursework in Ethnic Studies and Legal History to understand struggles over land. I grew interested in how histories of colonization, western imperialism, and militarism in Asia-Pacific and the Arctic shape Asian migrant and Pacific Indigenous subjectivities and relationships to land and war memory.

This project contributes to a growing body of scholarly work that addresses Asian-Indigenous relationality, land tenure, and environmental histories of Second World War prison camps in North America. The project’s transnational or “hemispheric”  framework also exposes critical legal distinctions in US and Canadian wartime histories and in subsequent movements for redress and symbolic reparations (such as memorials, heritage sites and markers) that shape the built and natural environment.

ICOMOS Canada: What methods do you use to study these locations and populations of interest?

Desireé Valadares: My dissertation project relies on a mixed-methods approach. I entered the Ph.D. program interested in combining my familiarity with traditional archival research (in legal, cartographic, and pictorial collections) with place-based pedagogies and ethnographic methods (such as field schools photography, archaeology, gardening, and architectural documentation).

I also challenged myself to look beyond traditional forms of evidence and sources.  In my project, I center the importance of unarchived, embodied cultural practices and non-English language sources. I consider a range of intangible cultural heritage associated with the Japanese North American diaspora and Indigenous (Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, Coast Salish) peoples to reveal culturally specific modes of remembrance and ancestral and multiple, overlapping connections to place. I argue that these diverse sources, when analyzed together, reveal deep conflicts between land tenure and commemorative practice.

ICOMOS Canada: Given your research and training with cultural landscapes, historic sites, and ethnic histories, what outcome do you hope to achieve through your work?

Desireé Valadares: Simply put, my project aims to upend old ideas about war reparations, subsurface cultural heritage, and public land in settler colonial contexts. It unsettles landscape preservation discourses which remain object-oriented and predicated on regimes of property, ownership, and expertise. My project tries to intervene in debates in landscape history, cultural landscape studies, and preservation practice. I aim to show how multiple historically injured parties negotiate claims to space and remembrance despite their dissimilar relationships with the state, public land, commemorative practice, and wartime injustice.

Ultimately, I aim to imagine a heritage politics attuned to competing and overlapping Asian settler war memories of unjust incarceration amidst unresolved Indigenous (Pacific Islander, Alaska Native and Coast Salish) land claims in these disparate landscapes.