Get to Know Vanessa Fonseca

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Get to Know Vanessa Fonseca, an Arizona State University doctoral student graduating from the Spanish program at the ASU School of International Letters and Cultures. Hear about her contribution to the school’s “Hispanidades Project,” which seeks to engage Hispanic students from various countries of origin and in different cities together in conversation through the use of storytelling and technology, and how her academic work has helped to bring Hispanic communities together.

Thank you for joining us. Vanessa Fonseca is graduated with a doctorate in Spanish from the international school of letters and cultures. Joining me as we get to know Vanessa. Welcome to Horizonte. Congratulations on getting your doctorate.

Vanessa Fonseca: Thank you.

Josè Càrdenas: Give us just a quick sketch of your dissertation and then I want to get background and we'll talk more specifically about your work.

Vanessa Fonseca: It expands years of literary history in the southwest. I worked into the colonial periods to look at the different negotiation strategies between colonial relationships. During the Spanish colonial period we'll look at how that becomes more complex over years of history.

Josè Càrdenas: I have a lot of questions about the specifics of that and what it means. Before we do that you were born and raised in New Mexico.

Vanessa Fonseca: Yes.

Josè Càrdenas: Your family roots go back pre-admission of New Mexico to the United States.

Vanessa Fonseca: Yes. I'm from the Chavez family from northwestern New Mexico, from the gallup grants in the area. They were kicked out during the Pueblo revolts and came back to New Mexico later on. They are actually two Chavez families, one who went to the northwest, one who went further north in New Mexico.

Josè Càrdenas: How does that history affect your choice of topic for your dissertation?

Vanessa Fonseca: It was a topic always interesting to me. My grandmother's first cousin is a genealogist from New Mexico. She has spent a lot of her life work tracing our family's lineage. She has written books and contributed numerous articles to New Mexico literary journals about the founding families of New Mexico and her Chavez family in particular. Her book was catalyst for a lot of information I included in the dissertation mostly because as I began to look at the Chavez family history there are a lot of different voices that come into play. I looked in the library at the University of New Mexico and they have a lot of competing histories about the Chavez family and the area my grandparents were from. That was sort of my main interest. Also the areas I lived in New Mexico were very conflicted in terms of the relationship between Hispanics and Native Americans. I grew up in Grants, 70 miles west of Albuquerque, close to Acoma Pueblo. The primary text I used for the dissertation deals specifically with relationships between Acoma and Hispanics in that area.

Josè Càrdenas: We're talking about years from the conquest of Mexico to the war of independence or conclusion of the wars of independence in . Two pieces of work, one you mentioned. The other is los Camachos. The significance of those and the work you're doing.

Vanessa Fonseca: It's really interesting because it talks about providing the foundation for these contemporary ideas that New Mexico is so attached to that Spanish colonial legacy. You have a number of Statues in the southwest there to honor this figure. One of the latest statues was put up in Texas right near the airport. It's the largest equestrian statue in the world. They did a film about it in which talks about sort of these ideas that are related to Spanish colonial legacies in a contemporary context and how the Indians were reacting to the idea of this giant statue being put up to celebrate who was perceived to be a murderer by the Indians. Those things are very important. We talk about New Mexico being this tri-cultural harmonious state. You see in literary production that's not always the case, especially when you put up Statues like this that are glorifying one history over another it creates this conflict between the different groups.

Josè Càrdenas: The Angelo American colonial period dates from the conclusion of the U.S.-Mexico war to 1965 and the Chicano movement. Why that time period and what was the focus of your research?

Vanessa Fonseca: We can see in history even before that the minority groups in the southwest specifically the Mexican Americans were already starting to resist these dominant forms of power with the Anglo-American occupations and trying to create a presence and trying to enforce that idea of speaking Spanish and maintaining cultural and maintaining traditions within a literary sphere and New Mexico sphere. They had a big political presence in their state which is not the same case in California or Texas during that time period. It's interesting to look at those forms of resistance culminating with the civil rights movement in general and in more particular cases the Chicano movement.

Josè Càrdenas: What are the pieces you look add that for this?

Vanessa Fonseca: I looked at one text, the Squatter and the Don written in 1885 by a woman from California. It deals with her reactions to the Mexican American war during the later 19th century. Then I chose the Dew on the Thorn. This was written in the 1940s. It's a later account of her family's reaction to the Mexican American war.

Josè Càrdenas: I want to talk about the last period, to the present, and then talk about the differences and similarities between the three periods and the literature you studied. The colonial period?

Vanessa Fonseca: Post-colonial period. The idea that the Chicanos wanted to assert this resistance to dominant forms of economic forms of repression, cultural forms of repression, linguistic forms of repression, asserting themselves as a different type of people, creating themselves in this third space, which is a concept in literary criticism, that we are the inheritors of colonial legacy and we're attached as much to a colonizing legacy as a colonized legacy. They formed this resistance to people giving them an identity and they create an identity within the space. The text that I chose for the post-colonial period talks about three different protagonists. One from the Spanish colonial period, one from the Anglo colonial period -- the interesting thing about his text is he recuperates history from three different periods and they talk about the 500th anniversary of the Americas. The idea that Spanish legacy isn't all it's cracked up to be, so he kind of breaks down these conceptions of Spanish colonial legacy as being something romantic and heroic and he looks at the contemporary period which is which is the 500th anniversary. He's writing this three years after. These are asking a writing to tell their story and to tell the readers in specific about what this Spanish colonial legacy means in a contemporary context.

Josè Càrdenas: Speaking of meaning in a contemporary context, what does your work mean to your contemporaries?

Vanessa Fonseca: I think that my work is really important in the sense that this is a force work done from a literary aspect. We talked about the history of Mexican Americans, about the period of Mexican American history, occupied America, all these are fundamental texts from social scientists from his tore from a political standpoint, but this is the first project from a literary standpoint.

Josè Càrdenas: You mentioned Occupied America. That's been the subject of some controversy in Arizona, one of the texts used in the ethnic studies program in Tucson that were eliminated. What does your research and writing -- what relevance do they have in that context?

Vanessa Fonseca: There's a project we're engaged in that we starting about two years ago.

Josè Càrdenas: We have some video about that which we'll roll while we talk.

Vanessa Fonseca: It was started as a joint of the between Columbia University and Arizona state. We wanted to link different Hispanic identities throughout the U.S. to talk about commonalities and differences. This is one student named Gary Thompson. He was particularly interested in artistic representation in southeast Tucson. His father lived in south Tucson, so this was really interesting for him to look at the different ways that art tells a story about history, stories about religion, tells stories about conquest, so all these are really interesting topic that we cover within the project.

Josè Càrdenas: Related directly to the work you were doing.

Vanessa Fonseca: Related directly to this. Because I engage in Chicano history we came up with a different set of topics to introduce to the students. We talked about immigration, we talk about Spanish, artistic expression. Students are free to grab any topic and do this ethnographic research.

Josè Càrdenas: It's been done in conjunction with Columbia spreading to other universities?

Vanessa Fonseca: They are also working with the University of Washington. The idea wasn't to pair up Arizona with New Mexico or with Southern California. We wanted to branch out and look at what it's like to be Hispanic in different localities throughout the U.S. The ethnic studies ban was particularly interesting because I have been doing a spinoff of the project with the north Tempe boys and girls club, a lot of it in response to the ban and the idea we can't teach those histories in K-through-12 schools. These teens were really interested in doing that. We got great support from the ASU community and the local Tempe community. What this club is doing is looking at what it's like to be Hispanic in Tempe.

Josè Càrdenas: Thank you for joining us to talk about your work. I under you're off to the University of Wyoming for a teaching assignment.

Vanessa Fonseca: Yes.

Josè Càrdenas: Thank you.

Vanessa Fonseca:Doctoral Student, Arizona State University;

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