Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Q&A with Cynthia Orozco about Mexican American Civil Rights Activist Adela Sloss-Vento

The essayist Adela Sloss-Vento (1901–1998) was a powerhouse of activism in South Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley throughout the Mexican American civil rights movement beginning in 1920 and the subsequent Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s. At last
More info
presenting the full story of Sloss-Vento’s achievements, Agent of Change revives a forgotten history of a major female Latina leader. 


Cynthia E. Orozco's Agent of Change: Adela Sloss-Vento, Mexican American Civil Rights Activist and Texas Feminist is the first comprehensive biography of a formidable civil rights activist and feminist whose grassroots organizing in Texas made her an influential voice in the fight for equal rights for Mexican Americans.

Give us the elevator pitch for your research and the resulting book.

Adela Sloss-Vento was one of the most important Latina civil rights activists of the twentieth century. Her life spanned the rise of the Mexican American civil rights movement before 1960 and the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She operated independently in predominantly male environments: civil rights activism; politics; and, as an essayist, public-affairs journalism. Even though she lacked a college education, lived in rural South Texas, was married with two children, and worked as a jail matron, she left an unprecedented array of writings in English and Spanish. She even wrote the presidents of the United States and Mexico offering advice. She was unique.

How did you get interested in the subject of your book?

I met Adela Sloss-Vento in 1978, when she was seventy-five and I was college sophomore conducting research on the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest and most important Latino civil rights organization in the nation. She had written a book on Alonso Perales, its founder and her co-activist. Sloss-Vento helped me by sharing her archives, which dated back to 1927. At the time, she did not mention the central role she herself had played in the Mexican American civil rights movement and even the Chicano movement. Thirty-three years later, I saw some of her writings in the Perales archive and realized how important she had been.

What lessons can activists learn from Adela Sloss-Vento’s work in grassroots organizing in Texas?

While Sloss-Vento’s efforts toward racial desegregation, women’s rights, labor justice, and immigrant rights did not result in any change in state or federal legislation, she provided a voice for all these interests during the era of Jim Crow/Juan Crow and before the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. With every op-ed, letter to the editor, or letter to an official, she made a political statement—a statement few other Mexican American women were making. Her tenacity is most impressive.

How did Sloss-Vento advance her progressive views rhetorically and how was her voice unique and impactful?

Sloss-Vento never studied government, social sciences, or literature at a university; as a public intellectual, she appealed to morality and Christianity. She believed in democracy and justice, even criticizing European fascism during World War II and calling for true pan-Americanism for Latinos and Latin America.

In what ways did some of the long-forgotten archives you consulted in your research challenge outdated scholarly trends?

There is not enough research on “organic” public intellectuals, those who never received college degrees. Before the internet, to be a public intellectual activist meant really having something valuable to say and saying it repeatedly. Sloss-Vento reminds us that sometimes we are surprised by those whom society und
erestimates—in this case, Mexican American women.

Cynthia E. Orozco is a professor of history and humanities at Eastern New Mexico University, Ruidoso. She is the author of No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement and coeditor of Mexican Americans in Texas History.



Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Decade's Bestselling Books

The University of Texas Press ended the previous decade (2001–2009) with a Texas barbecue book topping our trade list and a study of the Mexican American civil rights
More info
movement topping our scholarly list. In 2009, Wyatt McSpadden's Texas BBQ showed the photographer's odyssey into the world of traditional barbecue. The book sold so well that we asked Wyatt to expand on it to reflect the changing landscape of barbecue in Texas. Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown was published in August 2018 and captures the new urban BBQ scene, epitomized by Franklin Barbecue, as well as small-town favorites such as Snow’s in Lexington.

More info

The end of the last decade also featured a wonderful work in Latinx history: Cynthia E. Orozco's No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. The first fully comprehensive study of the origins of the League of United Latin-American Citizens (LULAC) and its precursors, it shows how the organization incorporated race, class, gender, and citizenship to create bold new understandings of a pivotal period of activism. Ten years later, Cynthia E. Orozco's newest book, Agent of Change: Adela Sloss-Vento, Mexican American Civil Rights Activist and Texas Feminist, is publishing January 10, 2020.


To close the current decade, we have gathered the best-selling trade and scholarly titles from the last ten years below. Here's to the next decade of excellent reading and research!

The Decade's Bestselling Books

2010


More info
With words by Charles Bowden and artwork by Alice Leora Briggs, Dreamland: The Way Out of Juárez is a striking work of graphic journalism that pairs previously unpublished creative nonfiction by Charles Bowden with provocative scratchboard drawings by Alice Leora Briggs to create a vignette of daily life in Juárez, Mexico. Winner of the Border Regional Library Association's Southwest Book Award, Dreamland has the feel of a graphic novel, the look of an illuminated medieval manuscript, and the harshness of a police blotter. Bowden and Briggs capture the routine brutality, resilient courage, and rapacious daily commerce along the U.S.-Mexico border.


More info
In 2010, the regularly updated Educator's Guide to Texas School Law had sold more than 70,000 copies and the new seventh edition was the standard legal resource for Texas educators. Attorneys and educators Jim Walsh, Frank Kemerer, and Laurie Maniotis streamline the law and provide the authoritative source on all major dimensions of Texas school law, one that is both well integrated and easy to read. Now in its ninth edition, The Educator's Guide to Texas School Law  has sold nearly 95,000 copies since the first edition was published in 1986. In 2018, much had changed in the area of school law since the first edition. The ninth edition covers all major dimensions of Texas school law through the 2017 legislative session.


2011


More info
Photographer Michael O’Brien's Hard Ground reveals our common humanity by depicting the men, women, and children who survive on the streets. O'Brien got out of his car one day in 1975 and sought the acquaintance of a man named John Madden who lived under an overpass. Their initial contact grew into a friendship that O'Brien chronicled for the Miami News, where he began his career as a staff photographer. O'Brien's photo-essays conveyed empathy for the homeless and the disenfranchised and won two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. In Hard Ground, O'Brien joins with renowned singer-songwriter Tom Waits, described by the New York Times as "the poet of outcasts," to create a portrait of homelessness that impels us to look into the eyes of people who live "on the hard ground."
More info

Drawing on a wealth of oral histories from pioneering Chicana activists, as well as the vibrant print culture through which they articulated their agenda and built community, Maylei Blackwell's ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement presents the first full-scale investigation of the social and political factors that led to the development of Chicana feminism. Maylei Blackwell also co-edited a newer volume, Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era, alongside Dionne Espinoza and María Eugenia Cotera. This groundbreaking anthology brings together generations of Chicana scholars and activists to offer the first wide-ranging account of women’s organizing, activism, and leadership in the Chicano Movement.


2012


More info
The award-winning biography of Ann Richards by Jan Reid offers a nuanced, fully realized portrait of the first feminist elected to high office in America and one of the most fascinating women in our political history. Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with Ann Richards’s friends and associates and her private correspondence, Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards won the following distinctions: the Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Non-Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize, and the Liz Carpenter Award for Research in the History of Women from the Texas State Historical Association.
More info

The first book in our series The Katrina Bookshelf, Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora, edited by Lynn Weber and Lori Peek, reached readers with a moving ethnographic account of Hurricane Katrina survivors rebuilding their lives away from the Gulf Coast. The Katrina Bookshelf is the result of a national effort to bring experts together in a collaborative program of research on the human costs of the disaster. Supported by the Ford, Gates, MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Russell Sage Foundations and sponsored by the Social Science Research Council, the Katrina Bookshelf is the most comprehensive social science coverage of a disaster to be found anywhere in the literature.



2013

More info


Former president George W. Bush temporarily brought down our website in 2013 after sharing his Chief White House Photographer Eric Draper's book Front Row Seat on his Facebook page. Our website had never before had so many visitors at one time! An extraordinary collection of images, many never before published, Front Row Seat presents a compelling, behind-the-scenes view of the entire presidency of George W. Bush, from dramatic events such as 9/11 to relaxed, intimate moments within the Bush family.
More info

Another book with roots in Texas politics to make a splash in 2013 was historian James L. Haley's The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836–1986. Haley, the award-winning author of Sam Houston, Passionate Nation, and Wolf: The Lives of Jack London, offers a lively narrative of Texas’s highest court and how it helped to shape the Lone Star State during its first 150 years. H. W. Brands, whose history haikus will be published in 2020, called The Texas Supreme Court “important and entertaining—a potent combination!”






2014


More info

In 2014, the Ransom Center featured their Gone With The Wind holdings from the David O. Selznick archive in a major exhibition to celebrate the film's seventy-fifth anniversary. In the book The Making of Gone With The Wind, Steve Wilson collects more than 600 rarely seen items from the David O. Selznick archive—including on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage, restored costumes, and Selznick’s infamous memos. The volume offers fans and film historians alike a must-have behind-the-camera view of the production of this classic movie.


More info
Another book that draws on classic Hollywood is Judith E. Smith's Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical. Spotlighting a vibrant episode in the evolution of African American culture and consciousness in America, this book illuminates how multitalented performer Harry Belafonte became a civil rights icon, internationalist, and proponent of black pride and power. From his first national successes as a singer of Calypso-inflected songs to the dedication he brought to producing challenging material on television and film regardless of its commercial potential, Harry Belafonte stands as a singular figure in American cultural history—a performer who never shied away from the dangerous crossroads where art and politics meet.




2015

More info

In 2015, we published Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by musician and author Kristin Hersh, founding member of the bands Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave. A haunting ode to a lost friend, this memoir by the acclaimed author of Rat Girl offers the most personal, empathetic look at the creative genius and often-tormented life of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt that is ever likely to be written. NPR's Michael Schaub called the book "not only one of the best books of the year, [but] one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written.”


More info
An important work focused on our hometown of Austin, Texas, was published in 2015, Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City, edited by Javier Auyero with an afterword by Loïc Wacquant. In Invisible in Austin, the award-winning sociologist Auyero and a team of graduate students explore the lives of those working at the bottom of the social order: house cleaners, office-machine repairers, cab drivers, restaurant cooks and dishwashers, exotic dancers, musicians, and roofers, among others. Recounting their subjects’ life stories with empathy and sociological insight, the authors show us how these lives are driven by a complex mix of individual and social forces.




2016



More info
With authentic recipes, behind-the-scenes stories, and recommendations of where the locals eat, The Tacos of Texas is the indispensable guide to Texas’s appetizingly diverse tacos and taco culture by the authors of Austin Breakfast Tacos. Now full-fledged television stars, Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece have two series under their belts: United Tacos of America on the El Rey Network and PBS's Tacos of Texas docuseries!
More info


The award-winning Another Year Finds Me in Texas: The Civil War Diary of Lucy Pier Stevens, from Vicki Adams Tongate, is one of few women’s diaries from Civil War–era Texas and the only one written by a Northerner. This previously unpublished journal offers a unique perspective on daily life and the ties that transcended sectional loyalties during America’s most divisive conflict. Another Year Finds Me in Texas received a Publication Award from the San Antonio Conservation Society.


2017

More info


Created across thirteen years, forty-eight states, and eighty thousand miles, photographer Jack Spencer's This Land: An American Portrait is a startlingly fresh photographic portrait of the American landscape that shares artistic affinities with the works of such American masters as Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Mark Rothko, and Albert Bierstadt. Jarred by the 9/11 attacks, Spencer set out in 2003 “in hopes of making a few ‘sketches’ of America in order to gain some clarity on what it meant to be living in this nation at this moment in time.” The result is a vast, encompassing portrait of the American landscape that is both contemporary and timeless.
More info



Frank Denius was not yet twenty-one when he fought his way across Europe and was awarded four Silver Stars, a Presidential Unit Citation, and two Purple Hearts. His autobiography On the Way: My Life and Times describes Denius’s formative experiences during World War II in gripping detail and will cause any reader to wonder how he or she might have held up under similar pressure.






2018


More info
A New York Times Editor's Choice, The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand, by award-winning author Geoff Dyer, features one hundred essays about one hundred photographs, including previously unpublished color work, by renowned street photographer Garry Winogrand.

More info
Expansively researched and illustrated, Adam Arenson's lively history Banking on Beauty recounts how the extraordinary partnership of financier Howard Ahmanson and artist Millard Sheets produced outstanding mid-century modern architecture and art for Home Savings and Loan.






2019


More info
And finally, the year we are bidding adieu to is 2019, which brought the absolute treasure of Hanif Abdurraqib's Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest. Hanif's third book rose as high as #8 on the New York Times bestseller list, earning some of the most gorgeous book reviews we've ever read. The book was named A Most Anticipated Book of 2019 by Buzzfeed, Nylon, the A.V. Club, CBC Books, and the Rumpus, and was chosen as Winter's Most Anticipated Book by Vanity Fair and The WeekGo Ahead in the Rain received starred reviews in Kirkus and Booklist and was called "warm, immediate and intensely personal" by the New York Times.

More info
The late Norman D. Brown's Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys: Texas Politics, 1929–1932, edited and with an introduction by Rachel Ozanne, is a deeply researched sequel to Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug, published in 1984. In Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys, a master storyteller of Texas politics brings to life pivotal moments of backroom wrangling, economic crashes, and aftershocks still felt nearly a century later. Taking readers to an era when a self-serving group of Texas politicians operated in a system that was closed to anyone outside of the state’s white, wealthy upper echelons, Brown unearths riveting, little-known stories whose impacts continue to ripple today at the Capitol.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Q&A with Rachel Elfenbein on Gender and Labor in Bolivarian Venezuela

Rachel Elfenbein's Engendering Revolution: Women, Unpaid Labor, and Maternalism in Bolivarian Venezuela is the first in-depth study of the overlooked yet pivotal role played by poor and working-class women’s unpaid labor, maternal gender role, and organization in propelling and sustaining Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. It demonstrates that the Bolivarian revolution during Chávez’s presidency cannot be understood without comprehending the gendered nature of its state-society relations.

We asked Dr. Elfenbein a few questions about her book. Engendering Revolution is out now.

Describe your research and the resulting book. 
More info

In 1999, Venezuela became the first country in the world to constitutionally recognize the socioeconomic value of housework and enshrine homemakers’ social security. This landmark constitutional provision formed part of the larger Bolivarian state transformation project aiming to construct a new social contract between the state and society by expanding poor and working class—or popular-sector—participation and inclusion. This new social contract privileged popular participation in community service delivery and political mobilization. Because of their primary responsibility for household and community care work, popular women became key to this contract. The Bolivarian government recognized their centrality, asserting that the revolution had “a woman’s face.” In other words, the government was aware that there was no revolution without popular women’s participation.

My book brings to light a crucial tension at the heart of the Bolivarian revolution during Hugo Chávez’s presidency: state recognition of the centrality of poor and working-class women’s unpaid labor and maternal gender role to the revolutionary process rendered them vulnerable to state appropriation. To paraphrase one feminist activist, the state wanted popular women’s work, but not their power.

State recognition of the importance of popular women’s unpaid labor to national development created new opportunities for popular women’s organizing and their articulations with the state. The state instituted several programs that recognized some popular women’s unpaid labor, lightened and/or socialized their care burdens, and improved their and their families’ welfare.


Women's meeting with President Chávez, Caracas, 2012
Yet the Bolivarian government included popular women by drawing on the extant hegemonic gender role of women as mothers and resignifying it in service of the revolution, producing a revolutionary maternalism. While honoring popular women, the government’s revolutionary maternalist approach relied on and deepened the gendered division of labor. The government expected popular women to be both mobilized and contained for what it saw as the revolution’s broader interests.

My book shows that during Chávez’s tenure, the Bolivarian state forestalled initiatives to legislate homemakers’ social security, and many homemakers could not access it. I contend that popular women performed much of the unpaid social and political labor necessary to build and sustain the revolution, even as many of them remained socially, economically, and politically vulnerable.

My argument is developed by combining field research on three understudied areas of Bolivarian Venezuela: 1) the legal codification of women’s labor rights; 2) political mobilization around those rights; and 3) the lived experiences of women in the popular sectors. It is built from one and a half years of qualitative research with popular women, feminist analysts and organizations, social security analysts, state archives, and state women’s leaders and institutions in different geographic regions of Venezuela.

How did you get interested in the subject of your book?

My interest in this subject began far from Venezuela, when I was living and doing work around gender violence, labor, HIV/AIDS, and public health in southern Africa. I witnessed how poor and working-class women’s unpaid labor was vital to household and community survival in the face of structural unemployment, the HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis pandemics, and neoliberal state restructuring. In community after community, many poor women were organizing and doing so much of the necessary care work that held communities together. Yet a lot of that work went unrecognized and unpaid, and left the workers who carried it out themselves vulnerable to poverty, disease, and gender violence. I became interested in institutional mechanisms to recognize such work and socially protect the workers who carry it out as a means to mitigate their vulnerability. And that is when I heard of Article 88 in Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution, which recognized the value of unpaid housework for society and entitled homemakers to social security. I wanted to find out what Article 88 meant for the poor and working-class women in Venezuela largely carrying out unpaid labor.

How was the Bolivarian government able to leverage poor and working class women’s political participation during Chávez’s presidency?

The Bolivarian government’s approach to poor and working-class women’s political participation was not uniform. That said, the government was populated by leaders who knew that popular women, their labor, and their organization by and large sustained the revolution. The government knew that women voted more than men, that women mobilized politically at grassroots levels more than men, and that women organized more than men to meet community welfare needs. As government officials often asserted, “the revolution ha[d] a woman’s face.” Because of this awareness, the Bolivarian government progressively created a range of popular women’s organizations through which it incorporated thousands of women across Venezuela into the revolutionary process. Many of these new state-directed women’s organizations provided social and economic assistance to popular women and their families as well as opportunities to engage with the state, other women, and their communities in new ways. Yet these new organizations rendered popular women’s unpaid labor and organizing vulnerable to clientelistic use by the state. Popular women were more vulnerable to state authorities’ political direction and manipulation when they depended on the state for resources, like cash transfers, because the state could more easily control them, their organization, and their mobilization. It’s important to note that these clientelistic exchanges were not about traditional vote buying, as most popular women already supported the Bolivarian government. This was their process, a process that they helped to build and in which they saw themselves represented by Chávez and the revolution more broadly. Rather, the clientelistic exchanges were for popular women’s continuous political organization in support of the Bolivarian government and its interests.


At the same time, the broader political context of intense and constant political polarization hampered popular women’s organizing for their own rights and power. Many popular women—whether or not they were in state-led organizations—felt that they must unify to defend the government in the face of ongoing domestic and international opposition threats.


International Women’s Day parade, Coro, Falcón, 2012
Describe the broad tenets of the Latin American Left’s promotion of popular power and social justice. 

The Left came to national power in the majority of Latin America at the beginning of this century by recognizing popular and social movement demands to redress long-standing inequalities exacerbated by neoliberalism. The institutional Latin American Left did not promote a unified social justice program throughout the region; it varied nationally and sub-nationally. However, across the region, the Left prioritized redressing inequalities by reversing (some) neoliberal policies and reintroducing states’ progressive interventionist roles in markets and societies. Central to such interventions were expanded social spending and social protection programs. Yet the Left largely relied on a sustained primary commodity boom, and extractive industries in particular, to finance its pro-poor policies. And it largely relied on poor women’s unpaid labor to sustain its expanded social policies, which my book underscores in the case of Bolivarian Venezuela. This is why in Venezuela during Chávez’s tenure, poverty was massively reduced but the gendered burden of poverty did not change: women continued to bear it disproportionately. In other words, Bolivarian Venezuela’s and much of the Latin American Left’s reliance on natural resource extraction enabled large-scale social redistribution, yet Venezuela and most of the Latin American Left did not commit to large-scale social redistribution of reproductive labor.

The institutional Latin American Left also sought to politically incorporate groups historically excluded from liberal democratic institutions and constitution- and policy-making processes, such as the popular sectors, women, and indigenous peoples. A number of countries governed by the Left, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, rewrote their constitutions, enshrining new rights for previously excluded social groups, such as homemakers’ right to social security in Venezuela. In most countries governed by the Left, redressing political inequalities included the creation of new institutions for participatory democracy. In Bolivarian Venezuela, the government instituted a number of new participatory democratic mechanisms in order to promote popular power.

What context might be missing from current coverage of Venezuela’s instability and how might that affect women and families?

Broadly speaking, current coverage in the Global North of Venezuela’s crisis tends not to situate it within the broader geopolitical and historical context shaping it. Specifically, much coverage of the Venezuelan crisis tends not to note how US sanctions and a US-led oil embargo have crippled the Venezuelan economy. Venezuela historically has been, and remains, heavily reliant on the oil industry for foreign currency. The Bolivarian government inherited an extractive economy, and despite its aspirations and initiatives to sustainably diversify the economy, Venezuela has remained a petro-state, heavily dependent on importation of essential goods. The Bolivarian government renationalized the oil industry, and has since used oil revenues to fund basic public services—like healthcare, housing, and subsidized food—for many people and communities throughout Venezuela. Currently, with very limited public oil revenues, the Bolivarian government is struggling to guarantee basic welfare. This is not to deny the domestic factors shaping the economic, social, and political crisis in Venezuela; rather, it is to highlight that the US-led intervention has severely compounded the mutually reinforcing crises in the country.

The current coverage of Venezuela’s crisis has rightly highlighted how it has been devastating for poor and working people in Venezuela. Yet it has largely ignored how the crisis itself is gendered; that is, how it affects poor and working-class people differently based on their gender and their positioning within the gendered division of labor. Research from past crises in Venezuela and many other countries has shown how poor women tend to bear much of the burden, because of the gendered division of labor, gender inequalities in the public and private spheres, and gender roles that charge them with the bulk of household reproduction responsibilities. In times of crisis, poor women tend to have to do more work with fewer resources in order to ensure their households’ survival. My book reveals that the Bolivarian revolution during Chávez’s tenure did not transform the gendered division of labor; it reinforced it, and in many cases, deepened it. The revolution preserved the normative underpinning of maternal altruism, while resignifying it as revolutionary. Because of the lack of transformation of the gendered division of labor in Venezuela, poor women, their maternal gender role, and their unpaid labor continue to be essential to ensuring households’ and communities’ subsistence during this crisis, especially as the state is no longer capable of meeting many welfare needs. And much of this labor that is so crucial to weathering the crisis remains invisible.


An independent scholar, Rachel Elfenbein holds a PhD in sociology from Simon Fraser University and was a Fulbright scholar to Venezuela. She was awarded the Latin American Studies Association’s 2018 Helen Safa Award for the research featured in Engendering Revolution. She works as an educator, researcher, facilitator, and counselor with civil society organizations in North America and southern Africa.


Monday, November 18, 2019

This Wednesday: atCentral with Stephen Harrigan and 'Big Wonderful Thing'


Wednesday, November 20
Doors at 6:30 PM
Begins at 7 PM
with Stephen Harrigan and Jeff Salamon
Thursday, November 20 at 7 PM
Central Library Special Events Center
Stephen Harrigan has devoted much of his life to exploring and explaining Texas, ever since his family crossed the Red River from Oklahoma in 1953. He's written numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including A Friend of Mr. Lincoln and The Gates of the Alamo.

Join us for a celebration of Harrigan's latest work, a big wonderful history of Texas! Harrigan will talk about the book with Texas Monthly senior editor Jeff Salamon, followed by a book signing with book sales provided by BookPeople.

This is event is free, but advance tickets are encouraged. Doors open at 6:30 PM, with priority seating for ticket-holders. For front-row seating and priority in the author signing line, become a member of The Library Foundation.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Q&A on Quinceañera Style with Rachel Valentina González

Quinceañera celebrations, which recognize a girl’s transition to young womanhood at age fifteen, are practiced in Latinx communities throughout the Americas. But in the consumer-driven United States, the ritual has evolved from a largely religious ceremony to an elaborate party where social status takes center stage. Examining the many facets of this contemporary debut experience, Quinceañera Style: Social Belonging and Latinx Consumer Identities by Rachel Valentina González reports on ethnographic fieldwork in California, Texas, the Midwest, and Mexico City to reveal a complex, compelling story. Along the way, we meet a self-identified transwoman who uses the quinceañera as an intellectual space in 
More info
her activist performance art. We explore the economic empowerment of women who own barrio boutiques specializing in the quinceañera’s many accessories and made-in-China gowns. And, of course, we meet teens themselves, including a vlogger whose quince-planning tips have made her an online sensation.


Disrupting assumptions, such as the belief that Latino communities in the United States can’t desire upward mobility without abandoning ethnoracial cultural legacies, Quinceañera Style also underscores the performative nature of class and the process of constructing a self in the public, digital sphere.

Give us the elevator pitch for your research and the resulting book.

Quinceañera Style explores the cultural practices of quinceañera celebrations as unexpected spectacles of luxury in Latinx communities.

How did you get interested in the subject of your book?

I never had a quinceañera, but in graduate school I was asked to present to a group of undergraduates on the significance of dress in the tradition and I realized how little research had been done. I decided I wanted to fill in those gaps.

What kind of expectations are placed on young Latinas for their quinceañeras?

It depends on who asks. Families expect young women to put a good face forward—as young women and as respectable young adults. The church wants them to manifest obedience. I think American society, however, wants Latinas to remember their place; they want to see humility and deference to assumed cultural narratives of poverty, undereducation, and social trauma. Instead, girls defy these expectations and demand to be seen.

Can you establish what you’re looking at when you say quinceañera consumer practice?

Quinceañeras are a cultural practice, but dependent on consumer practices like shopping for goods and services. I am invested in how Latina/os spend their money, and how it reflects what's valuable in their lives.

Did the regions and communities you studied differ in surprising ways?

Not really. What I found most interesting is how consumer practices, especially those circulating through deterritorial forms like internet ads and online shopping, create communities through a shared practice of consumption. While each region has its own identity, overall the styles of dresses vary because individual designers are eager to set themselves apart in a national and international versus regional fashion scene.

Briefly position your research and book in the context of other studies on quinceañeras.

My book examines US Latinx contexts of cultural production and is also interested in the church as a major framing discourse. This is not a religious history of the sacramental or even a study of ethno-racial identities, but instead is examining secular quinceañera practice through a lens of consumer citizenship.

How does your background as a folklorist make your book unique?

Being a folklorist means my primary goal is to look at the creative acts of everyday people. And in working with Latinx communities, that means that my perspective is one of examining art as a form of social resistance and place making for people who have been historically, socially, and economically marginalized in the narratives of ideal Americanness. But it also means that the primary interlocutor in this study is the practice itself—and being open to following the practice and its variations into a variety of different ideological and physical places.


Rachel Valentina González is an assistant professor of Mexican American and Latina/o studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a Woodrow Wilson Early Career Fellow and is the coeditor of Race and Cultural Practice in Popular Culture.



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Andrew Smith on the 25th Anniversary of George Foreman's Historic Heavyweight Title

Olympic gold medalist. Two-time world heavyweight champion. Hall of Famer. Infomercial and reality TV star. George Foreman’s fighting ability is matched only by his acumen for selling. Yet the complete story of Foreman’s rise from urban poverty to global celebrity has never been told until now.

Raised in Houston’s “Bloody Fifth” Ward, battling against scarcity in housing and food, young Foreman fought sometimes for survival and other times just for fun. But when a
More info
government program rescued him from poverty and introduced him to the sport of boxing, his life changed forever.

In No Way but to Fight: 
George Foreman and the Business of Boxing, Andrew R. M. Smith traces Foreman’s life and career from the Great Migration to the Great Society, through the Cold War and Culture Wars, out of urban Houston and onto the world stage where he discovered that fame brought new challenges. Drawing on new interviews with George Foreman and declassified government documents, as well as more than fifty domestic and international newspapers and magazines, Smith brings to life the exhilarating story of a true American icon. No Way but to Fight is an epic worthy of a champion.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of George Foreman becoming the oldest heavyweight champion, we asked Andrew Smith to recount Foreman's path to this historic distinction. No Way but to Fight publishes January 10, 2020.

George Foreman's 1994 Heavyweight Title

By Andrew Smith


In 1987, almost ten years and at least 50 pounds away from his last prize fight, George Foreman had a dream. “I’m not trying to rain on [Mike] Tyson’s parade,” he told the New York Times’ Dave Anderson. “He’s the youngest champion, I just want to be the oldest.”

The 38-year-old Foreman wouldn’t have to wait very long to meet the age requirement. He was chasing the record that “Jersey” Joe Walcott set in 1953. At 37, Walcott beat Ezzard Charles to win the heavyweight title. Two years later he relinquished his title to Rocky Marciano and promptly retired from boxing.

Foreman said he intended to win the heavyweight title at 40. It didn’t quite work out as planned. His 40th birthday came and went, and although he kept fighting—nearly 20 times in two years—he struggled just to get his bouts with lackluster opponents televised, let alone secure a title shot.

Maybe it was an impossible dream. No one over 40 had ever worn the heavyweight crown. A quarter-century after Walcott’s last fight, the 36-year-old Muhammad Ali became champion for the third time, but abdicated his title the next year. Ali had one more shot at the title when he was 38, but he was badly outmatched by Larry Holmes. He retired for good the next year, like Walcott, before he turned 40.

Foreman kept his eye on the heavyweight prize as he eased into his comeback, while Holmes—just ten months younger than Foreman—had never really left. Although Holmes lost his championship at 36, he threatened Walcott’s record by challenging Tyson two years later. “Kid Dynamite” was 17 years younger and only needed 12 minutes to rebuff Holmes’s shot at history. Rumors swirled that Tyson would also give Foreman a chance at the championship belt—and the record that he coveted. Though Foreman’s chances of beating Tyson were not much better than Holmes’s had been, he would never have the opportunity to test them. Tyson lost to James “Buster” Douglas, who promptly gave it up to Evander Holyfield while Tyson was convicted of rape, and sent to prison.

Holyfield gave Foreman his shot, making his first title defense against the now 42-year-old in 1991. Their “Battle of the Ages” was much more competitive than expected, with the sport’s elder statesman taking Holyfield the full twelve rounds, even winning one or two, depending on who was counting. Foreman was still standing at the end of the fight, but so too was Walcott’s record. “I played too much jazz,” Foreman said of his conservative approach to Holyfield, and many wondered if that was in fact his swan song.

Two years later, however, the World Boxing Organization pitted him against Tommy “The Duke” Morrison for its vacant championship. Foreman was the betting favorite, but Morrison, who claimed to be a nephew of John Wayne, channeled his inner sheriff and marshalled Foreman around the ring. Now 44, Foreman could be seen more often on television commercials than in a prize ring. Like other aging yet popular athletes, it seemed that “Big George” would be relegated to the broadcaster’s booth, calling the fights for a new generation of champions, including Holyfield’s next defense against Michael Moorer.

More than four decades after Walcott’s last stand in 1953, it seemed the age gap in heavyweight boxing had only widened as Holyfield and Moorer—both a chiseled 214 pounds—faced off. Although he was outside the ring, Foreman didn’t pull any punches in his commentary. He questioned the action, the scoring that gave Moorer a contested decision, and how much influence Moorer’s management had over the outcome.

In retaliation, Moorer’s people insisted that he would not fight on an HBO broadcast again if Foreman was in the booth. They got their wish, in a way: Moorer’s first title defense was on HBO, but Foreman wasn’t calling it from the table, because he was in the other corner. The nature of the sport, especially after Tyson’s redemption story lost all redeeming qualities, meant that Moorer could earn the highest purse not by fighting the best contender, but the most popular one. The bald, round Everyman of the prize ring, George Foreman, fit the bill.

On November 5, 1994, George Foreman—now 45-years-old—got one more chance. Nine rounds of boxing only seemed to prop up Walcott’s record. Moorer circled Foreman throughout the fight, landing punches seemingly at will. But boxing is one sport where 27 minutes of dominance can be undone in the blink of an eye; 90 points can be obliterated in just one shot. During the tenth round, Foreman caught Moorer with a left jab, and followed it up with a straight right hand that went through Moorer’s gloves and hit the point of his chin. Moorer collapsed to the mat. When he regained his senses, he was staring up at the oldest heavyweight champion in modern boxing history.




Andrew R. M. Smith is an assistant professor of sport management and history at Nichols College. Originally from Guelph, Ontario, he lives with his wife and daughters in Woodstock, Connecticut. Visit his website at: https://andrewrmsmith.com.