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Reflexiones 1999

Reflexiones 1999
New Directions in Mexican American Studies

This volume invites us to consider the complex relationship between cultural identity, racial and ethnic politics, and the production of knowledge.

Center for Mexican American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
January 2000
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168 pages | 6 x 9 | 9 b&w photos, 11 tables |

Established in 1970, the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin is a national leader in teaching, research, and publications in Chicano studies. Reflexiones, its annual review, highlights work in progress by scholars affiliated with the center. It may also include work by other authors and artists who have offered presentations sponsored by the center. Reflexiones 1999, the third volume in the series, invites us to consider the complex relationship between cultural identity, racial and ethnic politics, and the production of knowledge.

Consistent with the rich tradition of Mexican American studies, the contributors to Reflexiones 1999 hail from a variety of disciplines. Almeida Jacqueline Toribio (linguistics) offers an analysis of Spanish-English code switching among U.S. Latinos. Douglas Foley (anthropology) reflects upon the political pressures of researching and writing an ethnography about the Raza Unida Party. Lisa J. Montoya (political science) examines the media's depiction of Latinos as a "sleeping giant" in U.S. electoral politics. Bárbara J. Robles (public affairs) analyzes the status of Latina scholars and graduate students in the academy. Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez (journalism) discusses the accomplishments and legacy of the pioneering Latino journalist Rubén Salazar. Other contributions include an evocative short story, "Es el agua," by Rolando Hinojosa and reproductions of a recent series of Liliana Wilson Grez's drawings and paintings.

  • Introduction (Richard R. Flores)
  • El corrido de Américo Paredes (raúlrsalinas)
  • One. Mr. White (Américo Paredes)
  • Two. Rubén Salazar: Passionate Observer of Strangers in Their Own Land (Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez)
  • Three. The Sleeping Giant in Latino Electoral Politics (Lisa J. Montoya)
  • Four. The Politics of Studying Raza Unida Politics: Reflections of a White Anthropologist (Douglas E. Foley)
  • Five. Vuelcos (Liliana Wilson-Grez)
  • Six. Latinas in the Academy: Profiling Current and Future Scholars (Bárbara J. Robles)
  • Seven. Spanglish? Bite Your Tongue! Spanish-English Code-Switching among Latinos (Almeida Jacqueline Toribio)
  • Eight. Es el agua (Rolando Hinojosa-Smith)

Richard R. Flores, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, is Director of Graduate Studies for UT's Center for Mexican American Studies (1998-2000).


On Cinco de Mayo, 1999, the Center for Mexican American Studies, the University of Texas, and the Greater Mexican community lost an esteemed colleague, teacher, mentor, and scholar: Américo Paredes. Only a few months later his spouse, Amelia Paredes, an inspirational figure and civic leader in her own right, also passed on. This is not the venue to trace the contributions and influences of Américo and Amelia Paredes, as if such a task were indeed possible; their lives and contributions reach too far and deep to be discussed in a brief introduction. This is the place, however, to demonstrate that the paths they forged continue to guide and influence the scholarly, literary, and artistic work of those who follow.

As a prelude to this issue we are privileged to publish a corrido about the gran corridista himself, written by Raúl Salinas. Salinas pays tribute—in the very form that Paredes so well understood—to Don Américo as a teacher and scholar with deep roots in his own community. Through rhyme and meter, Salinas offers an important assessment of Paredes's life with the dignity of voice and spirit that only a fellow poet could provide.

All of us connected with this issue of Reflexiones feel honored to be publishing what may well be the final installment of Don Américo's distinguished writing career: his story "Mr. White." In this story Paredes provides yet another example of how his critical vision and sharpened pen bring into relief the social contradictions addressed by much of his scholarly work. Emblematic of his writing, this story draws the reader into the comfortable if not recognizable social world of Mr. White only to have it turned around through a nuanced revelation of complex social characters. This story-elegant, perceptive, concealing yet candid—describes a world that continues to render difference through a politically and racially tinted lens. The works that follow, it seems to me, serve to dialogue with and expand the critiques that Paredes has artistically shaded in this story.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez's contribution on the slain journalist Rubén Salazar reminds us of the life of a man who was not only a key chronicler of the Chicano movement but also a journalist who spoke hard truths in a trying time—in some ways, not unlike Paredes. Salazar was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times when he was killed by the police, while covering a protest of the Vietnam War. Rivas-Rodriguez, a professor in the journalism department and herself a former journalist, offers us a clear, elegant, and important account of Salazar's work. For many who have come to know the movimiento only through the pages of books, this essay provides an insightful glimpse into a career and life cut short.

From the life of the journalist we move to the journalistic portrayal of the Latino electorate in the article by Lisa Montoya. A member of the Department of Government, Montoya explores how journalists, politicians, and others have characterized the growing Latino electorate as a sleeping giant. Analyzing over one hundred articles from more than nineteen U.S. newspapers, magazines, and newsletters, Montoya shows that the Latino electorate is misunderstood, misrepresented, and perceived as a threat. In and of themselves, journalistic discussions of the "sleeping" Latino electorate seem relatively benign. But as Montoya demonstrates, these depictions coalesce with the anti-immigrant proposals in California and the growing anti-affirmative action movements in several other states, including Texas. Her article reminds us that in such politically charged moments it is especially important to scrutinize portrayals of the Latino electorate.

Doug Foley offers us a glimpse of his forthcoming book with an essay that recalls his early years studying the Raza Unida Party in South Texas. In this probing, challenging, even courageous piece of writing, he reconsiders not only the political postures of the Raza Unida leadership but his own political leanings in the 1970s. Foley demonstrates, creatively and poignantly, that the interaction between race, culture, and scholarship can blind as well as illuminate. The lesson we learn from him is not to sidestep difficult issues that implicate our own racial and political sensibilities. Instead, Foley suggests, it is our very engagement with these issues—a dialogic encounter between ones personal politics and the ethical responsibility to the community studied—that allows for insight into the processes of committed scholarship.

At this point I am delighted to introduce the work of Liliana Wilson-Grez. Wilson's paintings, mostly acrylic on wood, are recognizable by their sensitive lines and smooth textures. There is a softness to her work through which the observer is pulled into the colors and forms of what turn out to be images that surprise, contradict, and provoke shock and disbelief. What is a pig doing flying? Why is that boy's head aflame? Why does the girl cover her eyes, no longer willing to see? The longer you spend with Wilson's work the more intrigued you become by her imagery, her vision, and the poignancy of her politics. I invite you to explore.

Questions related to scholarship and racial, ethnic, and gender identity have increased over the last few decades, especially as more women and people of color have joined the ranks of the professoriate. The challenges these groups pose to academe are no less important than those they face in securing positions therein. Bárbara Robles's essay profiles issues facing Latino women as they attempt to enter and stay in the academy. Scouring various data for their implications concerning the Ph.D. pipeline for Latino women and men, Robles finds hopeful news in spite of the serious problems that remain. The Latino Ph.D. pipeline, Robles argues, is sound. But the uneven experiences Latinos face while in graduate school are of serious concern. Too often these students are left without proper mentoring, access to research, and teaching assistantships, and too often they meet faculty unfamiliar with their research interests. Robles, who draws on both qualitative material and quantitative reports, completes her examination of this important issue with a series of policy statements that set a clear agenda for future action.

One of the continuing areas of discussion in studies of education, public policy, and identity in the Latino community is that of language usage, maintenance, and practice. Jacqueline Toribio explores one aspect of this debate—code-switching between English and Spanish—in her contribution. Interpretations of code-switching vary widely, from those that see it as the demise of both "proper" English and Spanish to some that celebrate it as a hybrid, authentically new form of communication. Toribio, who presented these views during her stay as a visiting professor at the Center for Mexican American Studies, examines code-switching by four Latinos from Santa Barbara, California. Her conclusion serves as an important reminder that any assessment of Latino linguistic practices must come to terms with the diversity of the Latino community from which they emanate.

Finally, this issue closes with a story by Rolando Hinojosa-Smith. Like Paredes, Hinojosa-Smith is from the South Texas border and, like Paredes, he is a renowned writer. His story recalls the travels of Fructuoso Garcia—to France, the midwestern United States, and his native land of Texas—as a farmworker. Through it all, it is his South Texas home in the Rio Grande Valley to which he returns and belongs. Why? Por el agua, of course.

In 1971, Américo Paredes became the founding director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His vision provided direction and inspiration in the early years of the center. Today, his achievements continue to influence many, imparting a standard of teaching, collegiality, mentorship, and, above all, scholarship. The works of the artist, the poet, the writers, and the scholars who contributed to Reflexiones 1999 serve as key examples of his legacy, now and to come.