Professor Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, PhD, was installed as the Theiline Pigott McCone Chair in Humanities on October 30, 2018.
The Theiline Pigott McCone Chair in Humanities, a two-year appointment, is dedicated to promoting scholarly life among faculty. The President of Seattle University bestows this award to a member of the College of Arts and Sciences faculty who is an outstanding teacher and scholar in one of the basic humanities disciplines.
Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, PhD, is a Professor in Modern Languages and Women and Gender Studies, past Director for The Center for The Study of Justice in Society, and, now, Theiline Pigott McCone Chair in Humanities. She is a poet, literary critic, cultural worker and mother. She is the author/editor of eight books of poetry, criticism and culture, and multiple articles, encyclopedia entries, opinion pieces. She received her MA and PhD from Stanford University. She studied Masters degree work in Mexico, Spain, France, Portugal and Brazil. She is first editor of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, and editor of Rebozos de Palabras: An Helena Maria Viramontes Reader,(winner of the 2014 International Latino Book Award) as well as Word Images: New Perspectives on Canícula and Other Works by Nora Elia Cantú, nominated for various academic awards and Communal Feminisms:Theorizing the Space of Exile, Class, and identity . She also authored the recently published and forthcoming poetry collections: Kneading Words: Amasando Palabras and How Many Indians Can We Be? (Mango Press). Her published poetry collections are The Runaway Poems, A Most Improbable Life and The Plastic Book. She has presented her work all over the world, multilingually, and specializes in expanding subjectivity. She was a Commissioner for the Arts for the state of Washington (2014-2017) and is the daughter of migrant farmworkers, as well as a past field and cannery worker herself. Her poetry has been anthologized and read around the world, and she has given keynotes and poetry readings globally.
Gutiérrez y Muhs shared these remarks at the installation.
“Overall, the Mexican migrant experience helps reinforce the reality that the human spirit has no borders, whether in academia or in the borderlands.” Steven Bender, Word Images
Abundant Narratives: A trajectory of theorizing the world, a life, a new language.
In the past I have been accused of being too grateful, I will only get to thank a handful of people today. Although I was definitely guided by the holy spirit, other people also intervened in my success here at Seattle University. For colonized people greetings, acknowledgments, goodbyes and gratitude are necessary, because we believe in communal survival. I am all of you, In lak’ech, “you are my other me, I am your other you.” I am in this position, because of all of you, and your contributions.
Mary (Mary-Antoinette Smith) is the First African American woman with the Gaffney Chair, I am the first Chicana with the Pigott McCone Chair. There are many forces of nature among us, Jeanette Rodriguez is one of them, the first Latina hired and tenured at SU, who has held both the Pigott and the Gaffney Chairs in the past, a world-renowned theologian, whom we have the pleasure of MCing our event today. A cheer for her. I thank all the women on whose shoulders I rest, especially my friend Mary-Antoinette Smith, who was also my Director at one point, and with whom I share this joyous celebration. I thank my current director for WAGS, Theresa Earenfight, a tireless and sincere leader, an accomplished scholar, and I especially thank the woman who hired me twenty years ago as Interim Dean of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Connie Anthony, in Political Science, without whose support and guidance, along with the support of two other colleagues and role models Nalini Iyer and Jodi O’Brien, I would have never survived in the academy. I thank our dean, David Powers, and Kan Liang for supporting my scholarship, and especially my marvelous husband, Eric Muhs doing music today, my sons Rico and Tello, and my academic brother Steven Bender, who has changed and also expanded male subjectivity for Chicanx here at SU, with his presence and prolific persona, always supportive of all the events I throw his way. We have a Chicanx community, him and I and the new hired Latinos, thanks to him. Lastly, Dr. Martin, I am very grateful to have a Provost who speaks Spanish, and will never stop being grateful to work at a Jesuit, Catholic university.
I want to thank Christina Juárez, Administrative Assistant for Pigott McCone for pulling this together in such a short period of time. Yet, the people I thank the most, and am most grateful for their presence here, are my former students, sitting among us today, nurses, social workers, artists, graduate students in multiple disciplines, caregivers of all types, social justice inscribed on their foreheads. Our mission walking around in them, circulating all over the world. They are most significant in my work. While at SU, I have published the work of six of my students in my edited literary criticism, published mostly by University of Arizona Press, in 2013 and 2017.
I especially thank Veronica Eldredge for coming from California for this. She has created the covers for two of my books: Word Images and The second volume of Presumed Incompetent, forthcoming with University of Colorado Press in March 2019, and today I would like to show you her illustrations of one of my poems, a children’s book for which we already have a contract with Floricanto Press. We actually have worked on two children’s books together, given our time limitations, you only get to see one. I hope you can appreciate its intersectional presentation and non-heteronormative focus.
As I read my formal talk for you, I would like to flash a series of slides in the background, and some excerpts of a few of my short poems, many of them presented in Alicante, Spain last April, when I keynoted for the opening of their Programa de Estudios Hispanoestadounidenses.
When African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi talks to us about the dangers of a single story, we, as a nation have applauded her Ted Talk and narrative tremendously, underlining the importance of multiple subjectivities and intersectionality. Today I would like to talk to you about the dangers of multiple erroneous and biased narratives. My research and my life seem to be joyously weaved together in this respect, where my main goal as a scholar has been to expand the notion of what Latino and Chicano, Latinx and Chicanx mean to mainstream America, as a literary critic, creative writer and researcher. I have attempted to expand the rooms of our Chicanx mythic homeland, which is Aztlán, the place of origin, which according to some Chicano scholars could be Seattle, place of lakes, place of herons, or Michigan.
When people get to know my story, they sometimes presuppose that I am the archetype of what a migrant child has endured: the Catholic daughter of immigrant migrants, field workers, who fought with César Chávez and the Teamsters for the rights of workers. You might assume I was foreign born, but I would like to realign those thoughts by stating that my family has been commuting across cultures between Mexico and the US for centuries, I am the genetic result of several races, and I will respond yes, when you ask if I am an American citizen, even though I often wear rebozos and huipiles, the common outfits of my indigenous ancestors and grandmothers.
I have an accent when I speak English, because I am a polyglot, and because my mother brilliantly decided when my sister was tormented in a US kindergarten classroom, for being Mexican, by the only other Mexican child in the classroom, that we should go back to Mexico and learn our mother tongue, so we would not be ashamed of our background.
You may assume my grandparents were illiterate campesinos when you hear the beginning of my story, growing up in the Southwest and Mexico in dire poverty, but my grandmother on my mother's side spoke and read in French and was a schoolteacher in Porfirian Mexico. My other grandmother was an indigenous woman, violated by a landowner who fathered all her children, whose first language was not Spanish, but from whom I inherited healing practices, foreign to modern medicine.
People might assume that Mexican women want to have male children because they grew up under a patriarchally stratified country and their ancestral practices induce them to think males are superior. I will however assure you that given the number of women who died giving birth in Latin America in previous centuries, and the amount of babies who died before reaching the age of five, mothers simply do not want to have daughters who will die young, suffering during childbirth. My aunt Manuela had 20 children, 10 of them died before the age of 5; as a smart and tremendously strong woman, she would have been braced to lose more, she had prepared herself for loss, as was expected of women.
Institutional and structural biases are like the flu, they spread quickly and are often unexamined. For example, the value of professors of color is often undervalued, our intangible worths according to the Supreme court ruling of 2014 are “Intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement, but which make for greatness.” Devalued often as "opportunity hires.” For this reason, I carried the well known volume of Presumed Incompetent: Working Class Women and Women of Color in Academia, on my back, for several years, knowing initially that there was a necessity to publish it, because I knew that these truths about professors of color needed to be proven, with statistics and charts as well as with testimony and empirical studies. I, along with two other editors, have just finished editing, as per continual requests from scholars, a second volume of this invaluable book, that has marked my academic trajectory and enriched me by feeling empowered to have produced both empirical research and testimonials about the true trajectories of working class women and Women of Color in the academy, that have ameliorated and sometimes radically improved the lives of many. Presumed Incompetent is now utilized across the nation by reading groups in major universities, organized by administrators throughout colleges and universities, as well as by rank and tenure committees and tenure track individuals, as a guidebook for working class scholars and POCs for navigating academia.
I have been thinking long and deep about what support we give “the diverse, the queer, the people of color, the professors who come from the working class.” I think we have barely scratched the surface of the support not given to mothers in academia, but these other populations of people who do not receive support are worth mentioning, and even underlining.
When I was in college my generation was taught that academics, and educated people were objective. Since then, we have learned that objectivity might simply not truly exist, because bias interrupts its full definition. Instead, we have been taught to look between the lines of history and uncover historiographies, in particular of the colonized people and POCs in the United States, and women. I have been blessed to live in this time, and have the resources I now have. I represent 2% of the population in the US academic population, that is a full professor at a university today. I don't forget that for a while.
My research and book production thus far consists of seven published books (The Plastic Book, A Most Improbable Life, Communal Feminisms, Presumed Incompetent, Rebozos de Palabras, Word Images, The Runaway Poems) since my arrival at SU, and seven more in the pipeline, five with contracts (PI Volume II, How Many Indians Can We be? Mango Press, Chicanx/Latinx Poetry in the US, an anthology, with a contract in Spain, Orange and Red, Yvan, Y Van with Floricanto Press), Amasando Palabras: Kneading Words, Anthology of Chicana/Latina Literature in the US, many research papers and countless poems and national and international keynotes, readings and presentations, with which I have proven that we must continually produce evolving multiple and blooming narratives.
My current and future theoretical work and research addresses spirituality and religiosity as represented in Latinx/Chicanx literature, which will be my focus for next academic year.
In expanding subjectivity, I will particularly bring to campus, and for the benefit of our colleagues, staff and students Latinx/Chicanx themes, and of course Latin America, also including all those who have been othered in mainstream narratives, Queer an Trans people and as a Professor of Women and Gender studies discussions on issues like Masculinities, which is one of our major programs described in the flyer in front of you as stated in my proposal for the Pigott McCone Chair. Download the brochure from the installation ceremony.
We also have another event in November about Latinos and the Law in coordination with our School of Law and Steven Bender, a post election analysis with major Washington political leaders presenting.
In the winter we will have two teach-ins on Puerto Rico, in coordination with our Physics Professors and the School of Science and Engineering, and Mexico, as the Astronomical Society will be meeting in Seattle this year, and we wish to connect their work with Puerto Rico and the aftermath of hurricane María. To honor and highlight both Jesuit Catholic values and WAGS philosophies we will host a Taizé renowned woman vocalist Robin O’Brien who specializes on the work of St. Hildegarde, a Catholic, German Benedictine nun, composer, writer, philosopher and Christian mystic and visionary from the 12th century. She will also lead a workshop on Hildegarde’s work, considered the founder scientific natural history in Germany.
Going back to my talk and away from events I will continue by saying: They say, every person has only one story to tell, in multiple ways. As the daughter of farmworkers, this is the punch line of my story, we feed an ungrateful nation, we clean a forgetting peoples, we conduct caregiving for children and the aged, in masse, and every day is Groundhog Day, not the holiday, but yes the movie with that name, a forgetting bunch emerges every morning, to do the same thing to their own people, sometimes, sometimes to the "othered." Most of the men and women who surrounded me in the fields, while I lay as a baby in the apple crates, (when the patrón wasn't looking, otherwise on the soil, while my parents picked fruit so we could eat it, and get paid for picking it) are dead, as well as their children. They all died when they were my age, or younger, and they contributed tremendously to the rich California central coast, we now possess, yet these hard working men and men like this continue to be historically unprosecutable and yet ongoingly criminalized. Our current president, winning his candidacy by portraying a disdain towards the acceptably despicable, towards mainstream America, although all of this is continually unspoken, biases against the poor, Women, Latinx and particularly Mexican immigrants, or LGBTQ people, still truly unpacked, yet undeniable.
We, in mid 2018, as a nation, have become violence numb, especially in regards to POC and particularly children of color. The entire world mourned the three-year-old Syrian boy drowned and photographed, face down on a Turkish beach in September of 2015, fortunately so, and then we were done. American people can cry and suffer for those children far away, not for us when we were children, or our children in communities, living far worse fates than many in "the third world." We do not feel responsible for spreading gang violence in Central America and Mexico, as well as South America, we created the virus, but have not claimed responsibility for the spread of the virus' inhumanity.
We hand out compassion, in portions like pills or food bank products. We Americans, give compassion and charity in limited quantities, as long as it does not affect our summer vacation or cruises in large ships where we eat in a continuous feast, and "forget everything," meanwhile other Americans are unable to forget that they live in rat infested neighborhoods, limited in their diets by the food bank and food stamps quotas, fated to eat food left over from large markets or growers, who benefit by donating. Our charity is the result of our cleanliness and business ethics, not our generosity or ethics: we give what we no longer use or need, not what others need. We give what we are able to get credit for giving. We have only begun to worry about the farmworkers, as brilliant Chicana author Helena María Viramontes states, "when we realized that the products that create deformities in the children of farmworkers, would also affect the consumer is when the American consumer listened."
We are a nation of anxious, depressed, ambitious, lonely car-buying people, who envy immigrants for their frugality, tenacity, hard work without complaints, appreciation of our country and ability to buy a "home in community," with their friends and family, while our middle class children will never afford one, self-indulged as they are in video games, entertainment, travel, dining out, as they do, and self-deprecation. We envy the immigrants ability to be content and grateful, for the minimum wage job, for the used car, for the food bank foods, for the second-hand clothes. Because, in reality our worst enemy is our shaming value and disdain towards the poor. They constantly remind us that a large number of the White ancestors of this country come from desperation and dire poverty as well, making us more similar than we envisioned, before Ivy League universities, summer camps, and suburbs were created, to separate the poor from the rich, the industrial revolution occurred, and many immigrant children worked in factories, no matter where they came from in Europe. And we, as middle class and upper class Americans have chosen to forget those unpleasant details of history. These details of the past for white Americans, make them so much like Mexican immigrants, that it might be too painful, intolerable.
We dispense nutrition education, only the wealthy can implement, yet we feel like a "first world nation," giving catsup to inner city students as a vegetable, saving the organic vegetables for the rich, instead of distributing them among those who need them most, because their mothers, working hard as they do, cannot afford expensive vitamins, while the middle and upper class Golden shower our oceans with expensive urine and antidepressants.
Most people had no rage, anger, or surprise two thousand fold, as should be the case for the caged children on the Mexico/US border, a large number of whom still remain in this October month, jailed. We were not even surprised that this hate towards Mexicans had come to a boiling point, like hot chocolate, we/they expected it, awaited it-to boil over. Some were content, putting us in our place once again, yet we evolve emotionally and culturally. Yet, we succeed as intellectuals, becoming soon more than a fifth of the population of this nation, of empowered, whole people, with magnificent future dreams of art, engineering, poetry and more.
Individuals did not extricate from their exhausted bodies the acceptable reaction to the astonishment of living in a country governed by inhumane laws and rules... Yet in our memories as people who were adults in the 80s we still remember the scandalous newspaper and TV headlines for Polly Klaas' disappearance, beginning a long trail of foundations for missing children, we stand to the side as our president incarcerates Mexican and Central American children, pulling them away from the arms of their parents, unjustifiably and indefinitely, and what I call "animalizing" dehumanizing them, because these types of cages had not been used by human beings in a long time, by a government. And, I doubt that if hundreds of babies and small toddlers with blue and green eyes had been caged, that people would not have run over to "save them," with special policies, yet our babies, were not worth saving, as they have not yet been "saved."
Because of all this, I chose today to talk about the importance of expanding subjectivity around us, which is the main theme of my Chair. When I teach Spanish I, which is often, I ask my students to contact someone who speaks Spanish, and they tell me they know no one, yet our school is full of people who clean and cook in Spanish. Oftentimes, finding our humanity is only a breath away.
I wanted to theorize a bit more the notion that “All immigrants are theorists.” They have to recreate the world they have arrived into in order to prosper and survive, something few of us have had to do.
The image of immigrants as theorists is what I would like to leave you with, because each “poor immigrant” that you see has had to theorize their situation, languages, space and existence as they fully arrive into our country. May we stand up for them, they could be the future professors of your children.
Poetry: Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, PhD. Illustrations: Veronica Eldredge