Faculty Profile: Alicia Arrizón

Alicia Arrizon

Alicia Arrizón

Gender & Sexuality Studies

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

E-mail: alicia.arrizon@ucr.edu

For Professor Alicia Arrizón, chair of UCR’s Department of Women’s Studies, UCR is more than simply a place to work and teach. It is also a living laboratory for her research into how cultures and the people within them adapt and change over time.

A native of the Arizona border town of San Luis, Arrizón immigrated with her parents to the United States in the 1970s. She began her collegiate career at Arizona Western College, and then attended ASU to receive her B.A. and then a master’s degree in Spanish literature, working throughout her college years to support her education.

She subsequently decided that she wanted to teach at the college level and received a full fellowship to Stanford University, earning a Ph.D. in Spanish with an emphasis in 20th century Latin American Literatures and U.S. Latino cultures in 1992.

“It has been a very interesting journey, from the desert border town to college, then going to Stanford, then eventually to UCR,” she recalled, smiling.

In 2008, she shared the fifth annual Modern Language Association Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies for her book, “Queering Mestizaje: Transculturation and Performance.” The book also won the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) 2008 Award for Outstanding Book in Theare Practice and Pedagogy.

Her book examines the concept of mestizaje, specifically the mixing of races between European colonists and the indigenous peoples of Central America and later the Philippines. Theories of postcolonial cultural studies, including performance studies, queer and feminist theory are employed to investigate the way that the phenomenon exists in three geographically diverse areas: the United States, Latin America and the Philippines.

“Half or more of the Latin American continent is mestizo, a blending of the languages and cultures of the colonizers and the indigenous peoples,” she said.

“I really enjoyed writing this book,” she said. “I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do, to deal with the issues of transculturation and mestizaje and look at the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.”

The term transculturation was coined by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz to explain the process of how cultures merge and change, and how people within these cultures respond to these changes.

Arrizón said that Riverside is a practical, living laboratory for the concepts behind transculturation and mestizaje.

“About half of our students here at UCR are of mixed cultural background or mixed heritage,” she said. “Look here at Southern California. Many different cultures combining. We are a mixed nation, a mestizo nation, right here in the United States.”

Arrizón also enjoys challenging her students’ beliefs and conventions. “Gender Theory is one of my favorite courses, because I make them think about the issues related to their gender and sexuality that are sometimes taken for granted,” she said. “People tend to only question others, but never question themselves. Getting them to question their thinking about issues they take for granted helps open themselves to new knowledge. They learn about the construction of the self in addition to feminist theories. That is fascinating to me.”

She cites as an example the notions of hetero and homosexuality. “People will ask the question, ‘When did you decide you were gay?’ But they never ask, ‘When did you decide to be heterosexual?’ or ‘Who told you to be heterosexual?’”

“It is about being afraid of difference. In America, people tend to want the world to be homogeneous, to be all the same. They don’t understand when other people aren’t like them.”

As the chair of the Women’s Studies department, Arrizón looks forward to continuing to help build the discipline. “Within 10 years, our department will be very strong. We will offer master’s and Ph.D. programs in genders and sexuality and should have graduated our first class from that Ph.D. program,” she said.

And when her time as the department chair ends, she hopes to teach abroad, perhaps in Spain, Central America or Mexico. But wherever she is, she plans to continue teaching.

“Teaching makes you feel young forever,” she said. “You need to constantly be updating yourself to prepare for the next generation of students. It keeps your mind fresh.”

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