The last time I spoke with Vincente Ximenes we talked about my hometown of San Angelo, Texas. He recalled with nostalgic humor how the Tejanos and Tejanas in West Texas were a bit stubborn and a bit set in their ways. Ximenes followed this accurate critique by telling me that those that did listen to the message of progress and equality via Mexican American Civil Rights were some of the most dedicated and most vocal activists he had ever met.
After our conversation, I reflected on the importance of Ximenes’s work to scholars such as myself. As a young woman raised and educated in West Texas, I was a definitive homegrown scholar, as much a part of my community as I was a part of academia. Through Ximenes’s stories about my hometown, I began to acknowledge this and embrace it. What an honor it was to come to this realization through Ximenes’s fond memories of San Angelo and his time there as an activist and organizer.
As a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of New Mexico, I am taking a path like the one forged by Ximenes on his journey from Floresville, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico, I have made my way west to cultivate the academic side of my role as citizen scholar. My dissertation, titled “The Chicana Speaks: Dolores Huerta and the Chicana as Rhetor,” is the cornerstone of this journey. My dissertation examines the role of Dolores Huerta as a paradigmatic Chicana rhetor. Known as “La Huelgista,” Huerta has worked tirelessly for the last four decades in pursuit of Mexican American labor and civil rights. Through her position as lobbyist and speaker for multiple organizations and foundations, she has accomplished the monumental feat of the Chicana voice from the oikos into the polis. I take as my primary texts for analysis Huerta’s own words, her 1969 Statement to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, a 1973 debate between Huerta and Chuck O’Brien of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and her 2009 Commencement Keynote Address at UCLA. Ultimately, I argue that the confluences of Huerta’s upbringing, her critically progressive embodiment of Chicanisma, and her adept rhetorical skills positions her as an efficacious Chicana rhetor. My work is in honor of activists and speakers such as Huerta and Ximenes and the profound impact they have made in American Rhetoric. I believe that the time is upon us to begin cultivating these voices as part of our canon.
As Ximenes scholars, we all strive to move the work we are doing within the confines of academia into the community. An example of this came with the 2013 Writing the World Symposium, held at the University of New Mexico on April 19th, 2013. As the 2013 Chair of UNM’s Writing Across Communities, I had the pleasure of helping to organize this symposium with a cadre of like-minded citizen scholars. This symposium brought together academics, poets, tutors, students, and community members in forum on issues concerning literacy practices in our dynamic and diverse university and community. Vibrant and varied panels led to personal and professional connections for presenters and attendees. From these connections arose continuing conversations on how to best engage and enact literacy practices that are local and vocal and effective to our communities.
Vincente Ximenes’s legacy of interweaving civic duties with scholarly endeavors lives on through the Ximenes Scholarship and those, such as myself, who have the honor of receiving it.
c/o Professor Michelle Kells, Associate Professor, Rhetoric & Writing, University of New Mexico