Commencement '20: grads reflect

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Carlos Alonso Nugent  / Tucson, AZ
Phd, English
Speaking from Somerville, MA

What did you write about for your doctoral thesis?
I wrote a dissertation called Imagined Environments: Mediating Race and Nature in the US-Mexico Borderlands. “Imagined environments” is a term that I’ve developed for the way that different human communities represent and relate to and reside in their more-than-human worlds. So, I use this term to look at how, in this shared space—the territories that we currently call Arizona, California, New Mexico, or Texas—how native groups, populations we now call Latinx and white, have developed very different ways of depicting and dwelling in the same space.

To give one example, for many people in the US, the desert is a site of aesthetic and spiritual freedom, a place where we have an event like the Coachella music festival or the Burning Man. That idea, the desert as a space for personal exploration, emerged in the early twentieth century, when modernists like Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mary Austin, Ansel Adams, and Georgia O’Keeffe reached the peak of their success in the borderlands. But in that same period, a much-less-known literary and artistic tradition was flourishing among Nuevo Mexicanos, Mexican Spanish-speaking communities descended from settlers who’d been there since before the area was controlled by the US.

Many of these groups who’d been fighting to reclaim their lands had been dismissed as bandits or militants or terrorists. But in fact, they produced texts and images that rival those of their much more famous contemporaries. And I show how they can offer us more sustainable ways of living in the desert.

Will you be teaching next year?
Next year I’m doing a postdoc at Stanford, and then after that I’m taking a tenure-track position at Vanderbilt.