Category Archives: Diversity

Alicia Gaspar de Alba Donates Archive to the Benson Collection

Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Alicia Gaspar de Alba

BY DANIEL ARBINO

The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers. Contents include drafts of creative works such as Calligraphy of the Witch (2007), La Llorona on the Longfellow Bridge (2003), and Sor Juana’s Second Dream (1999) as well as notable academic publications like [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (UT Press, 2014), Our Lady of Controversy (UT Press, 2011), and Making a Killing (UT Press, 2010). Moreover, researchers will have access to Gaspar de Alba’s conference ephemera and early teaching files. In total, the scholar generously donated 40 bankers’ boxes that span her academic and literary career through 2017.

A native of El Paso/Juárez, Gaspar de Alba is no stranger to academia. As professor in the departments of Chicana/o Studies, English, and Gender Studies and Chair of LGBTQ Studies at UCLA, she has been a monumental figure on the California campus since 1994. During that time, she has published five academic books, three novels, and three collections of poetry and short story, establishing herself as one of the leading scholars and writers on Chicana feminism and lesbian literature.

As seamless as Gaspar de Alba’s relationship with academia might seem, tension marked its beginning. After graduating with a bachelor’s and then a master’s from the University of Texas–El Paso, Gaspar de Alba had a brief stop at the University of Iowa in the 1980s that ended with her leaving the PhD program in American Studies. She also taught English composition and ESL courses part-time at UMass Boston. Her career took off in 1986, however, with a purchase and a decision: the purchase was a used IBM Selectric typewriter for $600; the decision, to write every morning for four years.

1994 Correspondence between Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Avon Books
1994 Correspondence between Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Avon Books

Gaspar de Alba returned to her doctoral studies in 1990 at the University of New Mexico, receiving her PhD in 1994. She has lived in California ever since, now with her wife, artist Alma López. Yet the author keeps strong ties to the borderlands of her early years. In fact, Desert Blood (2005), winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel, demonstrates how her home and her career as both researcher and writer all inform one another. The novel, which came about after years of research, is a fictional account of the femicides in Ciudad Juárez told through the eyes of a lesbian graduate student.

Those unfamiliar with Gaspar de Alba’s writing will find a focus on putting forth a Chicana lesbian identity through popular culture while questioning traditional Mexican and Chicana/o discourse. Her prolific and varied writing career has led her peers to refer to her as “the quintessential bilingual/bicultural writer” and “one of the most eloquent exponents of a lesbian esthetic and promoters of the empowerment of women.” The fact that this “do-it-all” writer has donated the collection speaks to her charitable desire to make her materials accessible to students and scholars around the world. It will certainly be the purpose of many visits to the Rare Books Reading Room and pairs nicely with the Benson’s current holdings, namely the papers of other Chicana writers from Texas, such as Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Carmen Tafolla, and Estela Portillo Trambley.

Excerpt from Gaspar de Alba’s manuscript Sor Juana’s Second Dream
Excerpt from Gaspar de Alba’s manuscript Sor Juana’s Second Dream

The Gaspar de Alba acquisition is a noteworthy addition to the U.S. Latina/o Collection at the Benson, which began in 1974 as the Mexican American Library Program. The collection has since evolved as one of the most inclusive and most comprehensive in the world, with a special attention given to distinctive voices that document the cultural, political, and economic impact of Latina/o and Hispanic populations in Texas and the United States. Its mission is to support the educational needs of students as well as to facilitate the scholarly activity of the faculty of the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies.

Please stay tuned for future information and events to celebrate this exceptional collection.

________________________________________________________

Daniel Arbino is Librarian for U.S. Latina/o Studies at the Benson Latin American Collection.

Beyond Discussions of Race

Beyond Barriers

In April, the Libraries hosted “Beyond Barriers: The Community’s Role in Sustaining Diversity,” a panel featuring state and local civic, education and library leaders for an evening of dialogue.  Our goal was simple:  provide a platform for discussing how these institutions can work together to foster and sustain equity in a diverse society. I was pleased to moderate this conversation which included the university’s Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Gregory Vincent and Austin Mayor Steve Adler, as well as my professional colleagues American Library Association President Julie Todaro and Texas Library Association President Ling Hwey Jeng. The discussion was broad-ranging and vigorous, addressing both personal experiences with race and participant perspectives on social issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Mayor Adler’s efforts in launching a framework to address institutional racism in the city of Austin provided the catalyst for this event, but libraries — by virtue of their mission and nature — have long served as a neutral space for community discussions of diversity. Libraries serve diverse communities. Libraries offer information without bias to opinion. Libraries provide resources and services to those without access elsewhere.

Libraries, though, haven’t necessarily highlighted their contributions to social equality and inclusion, because it’s simply part of what they do to serve the public. We hope that the platform provided by this event will be a first step toward embedding the UT Libraries as a participant in larger efforts to build more equitable systems for the community.

Engaging in the conversation is a good first step, but we need to consider playing a larger role to underscore our value as contributors to solutions. While libraries may not be able to stand alone to fix the problems we share as a community, we can certainly be partner agents of change for a better, more equitable Austin.

Contributing to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Beyond Barriers.

In 1928, the city of Austin adopted a plan contracted by a Dallas urban planning firm that effectively segregated the city’s African American and white populations.

Nearly ninety years later, the effects of that decision were still being experienced by minority populations in the city as evidenced in a study by the University of Toronto that showed Austin-Round Rock as the most economically segregated large metro area in the country.

Last November, Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced the formation of a task force that would try to address facets of a community-wide problem by assessing the effects of institutional racism on issues of equity in the city. The resulting committee of business and civic leaders, community activists, educators and law enforcement officials was charged with developing an action plan to address institutional racism and issues of economic and racial disparity across the city’s demographic and geographic landscape to provide city leaders a framework to systematize solutions.

The university itself has recently experienced sometimes newsworthy incidents of bias and intolerance that have encouraged calls from the community to address inequality and privilege on campus. Administrators have responded with both assurances and new policies intended to engender an environment of inclusivity and tolerance across a diverse, global population.

Libraries have traditionally served as a sanctuary from dogmatic attitudes where a currency of knowledge provides a bridge for reasoned debate and discussion on opposing viewpoints. How then can institutions where the rational exchange of ideas is a norm apply its experience to influence or contribute to a larger dialogue on issues of diversity, equality and inclusivity?

Austin Mayor Steve Adler will join UT Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe along with UT Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Gregory Vincent, AISD Board of Trustees Paul Saldaña, and American Library Association President and Austin Community College Library Services Dean Julie Todaro, for a broad-ranging discussion on the impact of inequality in local communities and how core institutions of government and education can work together to implement solutions to create a better society for all. Topics will include:

  • The unique relationship between the university and city of Austin, and how that relationship influences concepts of equality in the area.
  • The respective roles of the university and libraries in fostering inclusivity across the shifting demographics of a city experiencing a period of substantial growth.
  • How K-12 education can overlap with institutions of higher education to create opportunities for underserved populations.
  • Efforts to promote information literacy as a means to combat cultural/social misperceptions.
  • Ways of addressing institutionalized racism in civic and educational systems.

The event — “Beyond Barriers: The Community’s Role in Sustaining Diversity” — takes place Thursday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the Perry-Castañeda Library, and is free and open to the public.