Meet CLS Chair & Professor Amelia María de la Luz Montes
The Department of Chicano & Latino Studies community is thrilled to welcome Dr. Amelia María de la Luz Montes. Dr. Montes comes from the University of Lincoln, Nebraska, with affiliations in Ethnic Studies and English.
Can you tell us about your interest in the University of Minnesota?
"First, I am delighted to join the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies (CLS) at The University of Minnesota. I have worked with various faculty from CLS throughout the years and have also taught or included their work in my teaching and research. During my tenure as Director of The Institute for Ethnic Studies at The University of Nebraska - Lincoln, I invited one of your former CLS Chairs, Dr. Edén Torres (author of Chicana Without Apology), to give the Spring Celebration public lecture. Professor Torres also met with the students and faculty. It was a memorable and important week learning from Dr. Torres, sharing our work, our community networks, and collaborating. Months later, students were still talking about her visit. I’ve also had the pleasure of participating on conference panels with CLS faculty or my work has been published in anthologies alongside CLS colleagues. I have always been impressed with the work being done here and the department’s long and successful history. Second, the University of Minnesota is well-known as one of the most comprehensive land-grant research universities. There are many opportunities here for students and faculty to develop their research and to make community connections."
What/how does a Chicano Latino studies frame guide you and your work?
"I am always guided by our Chicanx/Latinx studies commitment to scholarly examinations of race, ethnicity, gender, and culture in our communities, at the state and national level, and internationally. Chicanx/Latinx studies is also grounded in social justice and community empowerment. I think of these two areas metaphorically: this framing that guides me sits at the confluence of two important rivers or streams of action and thinking. The two waterways continually overlap. There is the theoretical framework that becomes our research (our publications) which then runs parallel with our community action in social justice."
How did your upbringing impact your identity as a scholar and writer?
"My parents emigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles, California. There, the household they created mirrored their specific regional Mexican cultures and language. I was fortunate to have a full immersion in Mexican culture and language while also learning and understanding U.S./Southern California culture and language. Because we lived so close to the border, we often visited family in Mexico. Growing up bilingual and bicultural gave me the opportunity to develop keen observational skills necessary to live in multiple worlds and perspectives. This led me to double-major in English (literature/creative writing) and Spanish (literature) in college. My passion in these areas never waned. In graduate school I continued to study American literatures with specific fields in U.S. Latinx literatures along with creative writing. I feel fortunate to have made this my career: to study, write, and teach in the areas of Chicanx and U.S. Latinx literatures from the nineteenth century to the contemporary period."
As you begin learning about the Latinx community/communities in Minnesota, what excites you about engagement? What excites you about possible collaborations?
"The communities here in Minnesota have a long-standing history with the Department of Chicano & Latino Studies. The interconnected relationships with community leaders and among the schools is an important one. These ties help each entity grow and develop, which in turn assists the students. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone in order to further strengthen these connections, especially with our neighboring elementary and high schools. I’ve already visited El Colegio and met the Executive Directors of El Colegio and Academic Cesar Chavez. They are doing fantastic work!"
What are you most excited about in joining the Chicano & Latino Studies faculty at the University of Minnesota?
"I’m most excited about joining such a vibrant department whose history is legendary, whose faculty and staff are passionate and committed to, as the CLS goals state, “support and increase the presence of Chicanos and Latinos in the intellectual, political, and social professions, both within and beyond the Midwest” which then “promote cultural affirmation, social justice values, and community service.” This is key to the mission of our department which “demand(s) that the university work for our people” (El Plan de Santa Barbara). We must continually demand this of ourselves through our intellectual/academic work, our teaching and service to the communities of Minnesota. Our outreach is also national and international—all very exciting!"
Tell us about your research and academic interests.
"I am a trained scholar and a creative writer. Both disciplines inform each other. I began my career focusing on the first California novelist: the nineteenth-century Mexican American writer, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton. Her writings are an entrance to understanding the various ways that colonization, racism (including “inter” and “intra” cultural racism), gender inequalities and assimilation occurred and how we are still experiencing the impact of that historical moment today. I edited and published The Penguin edition of Ruiz de Burton’s novel, Who Would Have Thought It? and I included her personal letters which specifically discuss the writing of her book, her observations about Manifest Destiny, her experiences living in two worlds. It was important to have Penguin Classics acknowledge early Mexican American writing within its classical and national/international listings. Because I’m interested in how the past and the present are interrelated, my research and publications have taken me from the nineteenth century to the twentieth and now the twenty-first century. These publications are both academic and creative (fiction/non-fiction). As I earlier noted, these disciplines are inter-linked. For example, I have published analytical studies on writers who investigate and write creatively on various aspects of immigration. I further my analysis by publishing fiction, such as my story, “La Omaha Mariachi Dyke” (Afro-Hispanic Review), which is set in a meat-packing plant and the Mexican immigrant neighborhood of South Omaha, Nebraska. Additionally, my work is international. I am a Fulbright Scholar (The University of Novi Sad, Serbia, 2017/2018). The former Yugoslavia has an important historical connection to Mexican and U.S. Latinx studies. While there, I taught a graduate course in Chicanx/Latinx literature and my forthcoming book, La Llorona on the Danube: A Chicana in Serbia (The Ohio State University Press), examines my observations within a post-war landscape, making vital links to why former Yugoslavians look to Chicanx/Latinx writings in order to understand and make meaning of colonizing ideologies and nationalisms. Looking forward, I am also preparing a multi-genre work that investigates Diabetes and its impact on the Chicanx and U.S. Latinx communities."
What is your favorite work to teach?
"An impossible question to answer! There are so many authors I love to teach and authors who write in multiple genres: fiction, non-fiction, poetry and mixed genre writings. I always look for works that speak to each other, that create interesting energies which can spark complex discussions leading students to think deeply and critically. For example, last year I designed my Chicanx literature class thematically and I chose immigration as the area of investigation. Two of the works of literature I taught side-by-side were Luis Alberto Urrea’s book, The Devil’s Highway with Reyna Grande’s memoir, The Distance Between Us. Before even beginning these texts, I had students read historical and theoretical articles on immigration. These helped prepare them which also enlivened and enriched our discussions. I also make sure to have students investigate “craft” in these writings, so they understand the creative mastery that makes these works excellent. Teaching is an art. The structure of a course is one that should lay the groundwork for optimal learning and it all begins with the authors one chooses to teach. Each text or article read should build upon the previous one. By mid-semester, the students then have the theories and readings to synthesize and make meaningful connections. When that happens, we are in that powerful dimension of arriving at a plethora of astute insights. It's exciting when students begin noticing multiple connections. The classroom then becomes an energetic, kinetic space of learning."