Karen Roybal, 2011 Mellon Fellow


When Karen Roybal began attending land grant association meetings in New Mexico as part of her job at the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, she noticed that women were an important part of the discussion.  Land grants given by the Spanish and Mexican governments to groups of people settling in the southwest are an important part of the political landscape in New Mexico; and Roybal grew up in northern New Mexico where land grant issues are hotly debated. But she was surprised to realize how deeply women were involved in the legal and other battles that involve the land.

Her observation took her to the library where she began to research the history of Hispana/Mexicana women in the southwest and their relationship to the land.  A number of women have written autobiographical novels in which the land played an important part in the lives of the characters.   Her dissertation, "Land, Gender and the Politics of Identity formation: Uncovering Hispana/Mexicana Voices in the Southwest" examines the lives of four women through the novels they wrote.   Roybal reviews Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton's book "The Squatter and the Don," Jovita Gonzalez' book "Caballero," Fabiola Cabeza de Baca's book "We Fed Them Cactus" and Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce's book "A Beautiful, Cruel Country" for the way the books portrayed  the voices of the women.

"Women were involved in land struggles long before the land grant movement of the 1960s and 70s.   I am arguing that these women were precursors to the land grant movement – to Chicana feminist thought," says Roybal.  "I argue that the novels are actually testimonies where the women discuss literal and metaphorical struggles about the land."

Roybal says the Mellon Fellowship gave her an opportunity to concentrate completely on research and writing and allowed her to complete work for her doctorate in four years.  She successfully defended her dissertation on May 5, 2011.

She is not taking a break.  Roybal now hopes to complete a book based on her dissertation work.  She has a post doctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she will be teaching in their Latina/Latino Studies Department in fall 2011.  She credits Jesse Alemán, associate professor of English at UNM for encouraging her to apply for this prestigious post-doctoral fellowship.

Media Contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; e-mail kwent2@unm.edu